2s extend unbeaten run to four with battling display

Old Chigwellians 2nd XI
2 : 2
Old Harrovians 2nd XI
  • October 22nd 2022, Old Chigwellians Club, 10:45am
  • Division 2
  • Referee: Will Hoyle
  • Weather: Sunny, calm
  • Pitch: Fair
No. Starting XI Goals Yellow & Red Cards Subs On/Off
1 Rory Craig
2 Doug Pratt
3 Tom Ward
4 Giacomo Grasso
5 Piers Bourke
6 Jack Dolbey
7 Azhar Yaqub-Khan
8 Pablo Hutchinson 12' 82'
9 Miles Kellock 49'
10 Olly Roberts
11 Karl Obi 68'
12 Matteo Grasso 60'

An OHAFC 2nd XI side missing several regulars extended the team’s unbeaten run to four games in Division Two with a third 2-2 draw of the season, this time away to Old Chigwellians 2s on Saturday morning. As usual, this proved a hugely competitive meeting between two sides that know each other well, with the sides trading goals in each half. Pablo Hutchinson, in his first outing of the season, fired the visitors ahead early on with a powerful volley, Chigs levelling ten minutes later. Miles Kellock restored Harrow’s lead early in the second half with a sweetly-struck left foot effort from the edge of the box, but the Blues found themselves under increasing pressure as the half wore on and the home side earned a share of the spoils ten minutes from time. The point sees the Blues slip to sixth in Division Two, albeit just two points behind the third-placed Alleynians 2s – their next opponents.

Despite waking to a beautiful, crisp autumnal morning, the conditions were not quite as welcoming as hoped for. On arrival at the Old Chigwellians Club, the sides discovered that they would not be playing on one of the two pristine main pitches in front of the clubhouse, but a rather worn surface up the hill towards the school. The visitors were also hampered by several key absences, not least the skipper himself: Geoff Taunton-Collins was forced to travel to Dorset to help the 1s fulfil their Dunn Cup fixture. Combined with the absences of both Pittalis brothers, Max Curry, Tristan Ward (who pulled out the night before with sickness) and David Lederman (a groin strain forcing him to miss his first 2s game in nearly four years), the side that started the game had rather an unusual look to it.

Fortunately, several players stepped up to offer their services, including veteran Piers Bourke at left-back and 3s regualar Olly Roberts, who, quite wonderfully, offered to play in this game before being transferred to the other side of London to take the 3s in their fixture against the Wellingtonians. Hutchinson’s return up front, following some desert marathon madness in Jordan, was a boost, as was the availability of Karl Obi, playing in only his third ever 2nd XI League fixture. The side was also indebted to the late effort made by Matteo Grasso, younger brother of Giacomo, in providing cover on the bench, despite not having played any competitive football for five years.

The Blues set up in their usual fluid 4-5-1 formation but nearly made a catastrophic start to the game when they somehow allowed a Chigwellian to run through on goal straight from kick-off. A simple pass through caught out Ward and Grasso and only an errant finish prevented Chigs from taking a stunning lead. Further sloppiness from the visitors saw another chance spurned, this time keeper Rory Craig was required, diving to his left to divert a powerful shot past his near post. The Blues’ slow start continued, an excellent move down the opposition’s left wing saw a low cross fired in but evade the onrushing attackers and run harmlessly wide of the far post.

Having barely got out of first gear, the visitors somehow took the lead on twelve minutes from absolutely nowhere. Craig’s long goal kick down the inside right was missed completely by the Chigs centre back and Hutchinson ran on to thump a volleyed effort across goal. The strike was definitely on target but may have been saved by the keeper. That was until a lunging defender diverted the ball inside the near post, the goalkeeper already committed in the wrong direction. Bizarrely, barely a minute later an almost identical chance presented itself, with Hutchinson now rampant. Another ball down the inside right saw the striker smash a low shot across goal, the keeper this time making the save.

The game now settled into a highly competitive encounter, with the uneven pitch, and equality of the teams, preventing spells of domination for either side. The visitors maintained their lead mainly thanks to the prowess of new keeper Rory Craig, who was called on once again following a corner: the ball wasn’t cleared and a low shot appeared destined for the bottom corner before the Harrovian stuck out a left leg and deflected it wide.

Five minutes later, however, the hosts were level. A rather humdrum spell of play in midfield was broken by a magnificent crossfield pass that caught Bourke on the wrong side of his man at left-back. The winger ran on and just beat the onrushing Craig to the ball, toeing it past him before an anxious wait ensued as Ward scrambled back in a desperate bid to prevent the ball crossing the line. The attempt narrowly failed, both man and ball ending up in the back of the net.

The Harrow keeper was in the thick of the action, enjoying a huge slice of fortune just before the half-hour mark when he spilled a shot from distance only to breathe a huge sigh of relief as the ball rolled just past the post and out for a corner. But he then immediately redeemed himself, tipping over a header from the subsequent delivery with another useful save.

The closing stages of the first half saw both sides threaten sporadically, the visitors forcing a corner and free-kick, both of Kellock’s excellent deliveries were well defended. The home side then broke upfield to force a corner of their own but the header was planted wide of the near post and Will Hoyle’s whistle signalled the end of a rather frantic, breathless but even half of football.

Stand-in skipper Tom Ward decided against making any changes at the break, waiting to see how long Hutchinson could last given his continuing fitness struggles post-Jordan. But it was agreed that the game was there for the taking and the visitors flew out of the blocks at the start of the second half, quicker and more aggressive in the challenge and, perhaps for the first time in the game, forcing the hosts onto the back foot.

This early pressure reaped a tangible reward just six minutes in: a long throw from the right was cleared to the edge of the box whereupon it was returned first-time with force courtesy of a superb left-foot half-volley from Miles Kellock. Again, the strike took a slight nick off a defender, but such was the technique, such was the cleanliness of the strike, it’s unlikely the keeper would have been able to save it anyway.

The Blues continued to press, constructing arguably their best move of the match when Kellock and Hutchinson combined down the left to tee up Azhar Khan in midfield. Disappointingly, the shot failed to match the quality of play that preceded it, the ball flying harmlessly over the bar. And any thoughts of a comfortable romp to victory were suddenly dispelled as a rather careless loss of possession inside the Harrow half saw the winger fed down the inside right channel but Craig was up to the challenge once again, this time using his right foot to deflect the low shot out for a corner. For such a tall keeper, the ability to react and make saves with his legs is a rare quality at this level of the game and here it was proving especially useful.

Hutchinson finally ran out of steam after an hour, being replaced by Matteo Grasso. But his breather would prove short-lived as less than ten minutes later a rather shattered Karl Obi, who had given the Chigs defence plenty of headaches with his constant forward runs, traipsed off the pitch in need of a sit down. Grasso proved a solid addition on the right wing, the goalscorer returning to play the central striker role.

As the half wore on, so the visitors’ dominance faded. Tiredness was undoubtedly a factor, but the hosts also deserve credit for refusing to throw in the towel. The Harrow back four held firm, Roberts and Bourke both growing into the game and enjoying strong halves down either flank, whilst Ward and Grasso continued to defend with purpose and tried, when possible, to play out from the back.

For the most part, it appeared as though the visitors would be able to hang on, Chigs forcing a few corners and free-kicks but little else. Certainly Craig was far quieter in goal than he had been prior to the interval.

But with ten minutes remaining, the hosts did find an equaliser, similar in nature to Harrow’s first goal. A long goal kick was slightly misjudged by Olly Roberts, the ball skimming off the top of his head and straight into the path of the left winger. The back four were now on the back foot, struggling to get goalside of their men. The winger bided his time and picked his pass perfectly, squaring the ball across the box and allowing the opposite winger to calmly plant a first-time shot back across goal, Craig’s momentum carrying him the wrong way.

Understandably, the momentum was now with the hosts and their phalanx of supporters on the touchline roared encouragement in an effort to spark a winner. It never came. The Blues created one final chance, the two goalscorers combining, Kellock teeing up Hutchinson but his left-foot shot across goal was comfortably saved. At the other end, a Chigs break ended in similar fashion, Craig making his final save of the morning and preserving a precious point.

On balance, a draw was absolutely the fair result, the two sides continuing to prove well-matched outfits in this division. It was a great shame the two main pitches were being saved for later in the weekend, otherwise a higher quality game may have developed. Nevertheless, the visitors should be pleased with another strong effort, especially given the difficulties faced in the build-up to the match.