Defeat leaves OHAFC with wait to discover their fate
- April 1st 2023, Old Chigwellians Club, 11:15am
- Division 1
- Referee: Bola Lepe
- Weather: Cloudy
- Pitch: Astroturf
|Yellow & Red Cards
|Ed Beecham (c)
|Cyprian Owen Edmunds
The OHAFC 1st XI face an anxious wait to discover whether or not the twenty points earned this season in Division One will be enough to avoid a second successive relegation following a rather unlucky 3-1 defeat away to champions Forest in the Blues’ final game of the season. Charlie Bick converted a penalty for the second successive weekend to draw the visitors level at 1-1 just before the break. Forest scored from a set-piece with just over twenty minutes remaining but the result was only settled in the closing minutes: Murray Barr snatched at a glorious chance to equalise, screwing a free shot wide from the penalty spot, before the hosts broke up the other end and scored a third with the last kick of the game. The Blues are now left to wait on the results of the two teams directly below them in the table: the Old Salopians and Old Berkhamstedians must both win their remaining games to send the OHAFC down.
Despite this final day defeat, there was much to admire in the visitors’ performance, with the Forest coach expressing his admiration for the pressure his side had been placed under, especially in a highly competitive first half. For the second week running, and in contrast to much of the early part of the season, skipper Dan Firoozan was able to name a strong squad – despite missing out himself with a knee injury sustained playing during the week. Indeed, for only the second time this season, the Blues named a full fourteen players on their teamsheet, with Ollie Atkinson making his first appearance in several months and the front two of Will Payne and George Taylor hoping to continue their recent goalscoring exploits.
With the grass pitches at Fairlop, Old Forester’s regular venue, deemed unplayable, the fixture was switched to the excellent new astroturf facility at Chigwell School. There was some difficulty gaining access to the grounds, with all the main gates locked. But both sides arrived in time to start at the prescribed 10.30am kick-off time, only to discover referee Bola Lepe had had no such luck. Unfortunately the match official turned up over half an hour late, with the game eventually kicking off just past 11.15am.
Unsurprisingly, given the Blues’ superb performance in the 5-3 win over the Old Rugbeians a week ago, skipper Dan Firoozan opted to stick with a back three, on this occasion comprised of Beecham, Cassius Kidston and Ciaran Jordan. John Koutalides and Cyprian Owen Edmunds were the wing backs, Bick, Barr and Jordache the midfield triumvirate with Payne and Taylor the forwards. Stan d’Angelin and Fabian Dobree joined Atkinson on the bench. The instructions were clear: make life as tricky as possible for a Foresters side who had scored eight against them just a month ago, whilst trying to maintain a strong threat on the break. For the first hour of the game, this tactic worked beautifully.
The visitors did make a slightly sluggish start, some early Forest pressure saw the Harrow back five dither on a couple of occasions when a simple clearance was available, inviting a couple of long-range efforts. But a quick break down the right highlighted the Blues at their best, Jamie Jordache carrying the ball half the length of the field only to overhit his cross with two men waiting in the middle. Play was then interrupted for several minutes when Cassius Kidston fell awkwardly under a high challenge, jarring his right knee. The youngster limped off and would take no further part in the match, Stan d’Angelin a direct replacement in the back five.
The hosts gradually began to ramp up the pressure and for a few minutes found themselves camped in the Harrow half, bombarding the box with crosses and shots. One effort drew howls of protest for a handball, a second, struck from outside the box, whizzed past McGuinness in the Harrow goal only to crash against the post and rebound out. Moments later the deadlock was broken: a delicate chip over the top caught the Harrow keeper in two minds whether to come or not, his sprint out of goal proving the wrong decision as the Forest forward just beat him to the ball, toe-poking it past him with an outstretched leg into the back of the net. Worse was to follow as the keeper collided forcefully with retreating defender Ed Beecham, the impact leaving the Harrow gloveman crumpled in a heap for several minutes – although he would see out the game, McGuinness would spend the night in a south London hospital with a bruised kidney.
Forest then spurned a glorious chance to double their advantage when an attack down their right created a one-on-one inside the box but the finish was wild, the ball blazed over the bar and behind. But having weathered this spell of pressure, the visitors began to claw their way back into the game, the comeback sparked by some industrious play from Payne, who charged down an attempted clearance inside the Forest penalty area only to see his effort on goal foiled by the keeper.
Suddenly there was belief in the Harrow ranks, play now far more evenly distributed across the pitch. Payne created the next chance also, winning possession inside the Harrow half before feeding Taylor through the middle. Following last week’s hat-trick heroics, the youngster was favourite to add to his tally for the season but disappointingly his first-time effort was within reach of the keeper, who saved well to preserve Forest’s lead.
The five minutes prior to half-time saw drama at both ends of the pitch. A Forest ball over the top was shielded out by Ciaran Jordan, but a Forest winger didn’t give up the chase and fell under a tangle of legs on the goal line. Once again, referee Bola Lepe remained unmoved despite vociferous appeals. Play switched to the other end and a well-worked move earned Harrow a throw-in on the right. The hosts momentarily switched off, the quick throw allowing Taylor to drive along the goal line into the box where he was brought down as he prepared to cross. This appeared more of a foul and the referee agreed, pointing to the spot and allowing Charlie Bick to convert his second penalty in consecutive games and earn the visitors parity at the break.
Skipper Dan Firoozan rang the changes, with a rather disappointing Murray Barr withdrawn, alongside Taylor, the pair replaced by Fabian Dobree and Ollie Atkinson. The second half began with plenty of endeavour from both sides but a distinct lack of quality, with neither side looking remotely threatening. One Forest free-kick from the left caused consternation inside the Harrow box, McGuinness able to clear his lines eventually. The hosts enjoyed more of the ball, but the Harrow defensive shape was excellent, two banks of five proving tricky for the hosts to break down.
With twenty-five minutes remaining the game was in the balance, the three points on offer a far more important prize for the men in blue. But another set-piece from the left saw Forest regain the lead: the ball was whipped in towards the far post, the Harrow keeper straining to turn the effort onto the bar only for it to be returned with force by an acrobatic volleyed shot from the penalty spot, the Forest striker twisting to get his knee over the ball with superb technique, the ball rocketing over McGuinness but just under the crossbar. The Harrow keeper then kept his side in the game with a fine save to deny a one-on-one moments later.
Firoozan had seen enough and re-introduced Taylor in a final bid to earn something from the game. The visitors enjoyed plenty of possession but continued to lack a cutting edge, too often play breaking down inside the Forest half. As time ticked down it was increasingly difficult to spot just where an equaliser might arrive from. But with 88 minutes on the clock, a glorious opportunity presented itself. A free-kick midway inside the Forest half was curled into the box but the defensive header out was a weak one, the ball landing on the penalty spot at the feet of Barr. Unfortunately he snatched at the shot, the ball screwed wide before cannoning into a Forest leg and flying over the bar.
The Blues compounded their frustration in the final minute with a crazy decision to play short from a corner, trying to work space out wide only to have their pockets picked. With everyone up for the attack, two Forest players broke down the left and completed the simple enough task of drawing the keeper and tapping into an empty net. It was the final kick of the game.
Despite the defeat, spirits remained high in the Harrow camp after the game, with acknowledgement that their final two performances of the season had probably been their best – it’s amazing what can be achieved with strong, consistent availability. Indeed, the praise from the Forest side was equally effusive, manager Billy Jenkins confirming it had been one of Forest’s toughest fixtures all season.
Nevertheless, the cold hard facts remain that far too often this season it has been a real struggle for skipper Dan Firoozan to name a competitive squad and there is still a chance the side will be punished for this lack of commitment with a second successive relegation. If the Blues survive, and this won’t be known until April 15th at the earliest when the Salopians and Berkhamstedians next play, a stronger showing next season must be demanded.