Firoozan red card swings game away from plucky visitors

Old Tonbridgians 1st XI
2 : 1
Old Harrovians 1st XI
  • December 11th 2021, Tonbridge School Playing Fields, 12pm
  • Premier Division
  • Referee: Ronaldo Burtrus
  • Weather: Sunny, calm
  • Pitch: Excellent
No. Starting XI Goals Yellow & Red Cards Subs On/Off
1 Fraser McGuinness (c)
2 Fabian Dobree
3 Doug Pratt
4 Ed Beecham
5 Cyprian Owen Edmunds
6 George Gould
7 Charlie Bick
8 Daniel Firoozan
9 John Koutalides 37'
10 Ollie Atkinson
11 Ciaran Jordan

Dan Firoozan’s first ever red card for the OHAFC sadly tilted this fixture the way of the hosts, despite a superb effort from an under-strength Harrow side down in Kent. A fine first half display saw the visitors lead 1-0 at the break courtesy of a goal on debut from winger John Koutalides. The Blues had several chances to stretch clear, but a second yellow card for Firoozan on the hour mark saw the visitors reduced to ten men and the Tonbridgians took full advantage, scoring twice in the closing quarter of an hour to register a rather fortunate victory.

It was tough luck on Fraser McGuinness and his men, who rather belatedly appear to be finding their competitive edge in the Premier Division following an awful start to the campaign. Again missing several regulars, and with some of those playing in less than stellar condition on arrival at the school, the visitors performed superbly in the first half, taking the game to a Tonbridge side that had gone into the fixture second in the table behind the Old Carthusians having been beaten only once in nine League games.

Pleasingly, it was some of the lesser lights who shone: 2s centre-back Doug Pratt was a colossus at the back, forming a rock solid partnership alongside 1s vice-captain Ed Beecham; 3s wide man Ollie Atkinson also showed no sign of nerves on his full debut for the senior side, offering a constant threat down the left, Cyprian Owen Edmunds backing him up well; and John Koutalides performed superbly on his first ever appearance for the OHAFC, matching Atkinson’s endeavour and skill on the right of the midfied, linking especially well with George Gould.

It was these two players who combined to give the visitors a deserved lead eight minutes before the break. Numerous half-chances had been spurned, with the rather suspect positioning of the Tonbridge keeper noted early and encouraging plenty of efforts at goal from the blue shirts. Further probing play down the left from Atkinson saw him combine with Gould and having worked the ball to the edge of the area, the latter wasted no time in testing the Tonbridge keeper. Despite making a decent initial save, the ball ran free and Koutalides pounced to fire in.

It was almost a perfect half of football from the OHAFC, although the nagging suspicion persisted that the lead could, and should, have been greater when the half-time whistle blew. At this stage, the yellow card meted out to Dan Firoozan for what appeared a minor indiscretion midway through the half seemed somewhat of an irrelevance, but that, sadly, proved an inaccurate assumption.

At half-time, skipper McGuinnes urged his men to continue to press forwards, eschewing the natural instincts to sit back and protect the slender lead. With only a bare eleven available, personnel changes were unavailable, simplifying the captain’s options somewhat.

The second half started well enough, with the visitors continuing to harry and harass their opponents at every opportunity. Tonbridge threatened sporadically on the break, but the continuing excellence of Pratt and Beecham at the back, alongside wing-backs Dobree and Owen Edmunds, ensured McGuinness remained relatively untested in the Harrow goal. But with an hour played, the defining moment of the match arrived: a Tonbridge surge through the middle of the pitch, a late lunge by Firoozan and a second yellow card. The visitors were down to ten, their task now considerably tougher. The two wide players were tucked in closer to Gould and Charlie Bick in midfield, Ciaran Jordan now the lone attacker.

Initially, the visitors held strong, even creating a couple of half chances to double their advantage. But a foul from Owed Edmunds on the left allowed Tonbridge to swing a free-kick into the box, the ball was flicked on, possibly off a Tonbridge arm, and belatedly arrived at the feet of an attacker inside the six yard box. He prodded in and the sides were level with a quarter of an hour remaining.

All the pressure was now concentrated at the Harrow end of the pitch, but it took another slice of fortune for the visitors to snatch the win with just under ten minutes remaining: a volleyed effort from the Tonbridge left winger appeared to be comfortably saveable for McGuinness, but the ball skipped off the surface and caught the Harrow skipper by surprise, the extended arm proving insufficient to prevent the shot nestling inside the far corner.

One final chance was created by the visitors as time ran out, Koutalides and Gould combining once more, but the shot from the former whistled just over the bar, consigning the visitors to a ninth defeat in ten League games. It had been a hugely frustrating afternoon for the side, but there is growing evidence that all may not yet be lost in a bid to salvage their Premier Division status come the end of the season. Whether or not that outcome is actually desirable is another matter entirely.

The side now enjoy a well-earned break, returning to action in the New Year with a trip to Gunnersbury Park in west London to face the Old Bradfieldians on January 8th.