Long-range effort enough to sink Blues deeper into the mire
- March 11th 2023, Philathletic Ground, 10:30am
- Division 2
- Referee: Stephen Bodell
- Weather: Sunny, calm
- Pitch: Good
|No.||Starting XI||Goals||Yellow & Red Cards||Subs On/Off|
|2||Geoff Taunton-Collins (c)|
A solitary long-range strike midway through the first half was enough to condemn the OHAFC 2nd XI to their sixth League defeat in seven games and deepen relegation worries at the foot of Division Two of the Arthurian League. Despite a strong showing against League leaders the Old Radleians, the lack of a recognised striker cost the hosts dearly and they could not find a way past a resolute defence despite lengthy spells of pressure in both halves. The loss keeps the OHAFC ninth in the table, just two points behind the Old Sennockians but with only three games remaining – including the visit of the Sennocks to the Hill for the final, potentially decisive game of the season.
If last week’s defeat to the Old Chigwellians 2s owed much to failures at both ends of the pitch, with several poor goals conceded and a number of clear-cut chances missed, there was little to reproach the Blues for in their efforts this time around. Shorn of any regular centre-halves, midfielders Max Curry and Murray Barr were forced to retreat into the back line and both performed excellently, keeping a tight rein on the Radley forwards.
Indeed, for much of the first half it was the home side in the ascendency, with Payne and Kellock out wide again causing plenty of problems and Dan Firoozan in the middle a constant source of calmness personified on the ball. Whenever the ball was moved quickly, the hosts threatened to create chances, with the opening quarter of an hour almost resembling a basketball match as play switched from end to end at a frantic pace.
Frustratingly, the visitors had barely mustered a chance of note when they took the lead from a seemingly innocuous attack down their left. The ball was lifted into the box, Taunton-Collins headed clear but a Radley midfielder collected five yards outside the box and produced a swerving, dipping shot that caught McGuinness by surprise, the ball speeding in at the near post under the keeper’s dive.
The Blues did their best to respond, with Griffiths running the channels eagerly up front, although even in the early exchanges there always appeared an element of security in the Radleians’ defence. Fabian Dobree was brought on in place of Griffiths shortly before the break, with the mood one of optimism despite the adverse scoreline.
The second half provided a titanic struggle between the two sides, both seemingly gaining the upper hand at various points without converting spells in the ascendency into goals. The Radleians came close with several long-range efforts but McGuinnes proved up to the task in the Harrow goal with one excellent diving stop and a superb punch clear at a set-piece under severe pressure. But the hosts’ back four continued to perform strongly, packing the edge of the box to deny forwards space and clear runs on goal.
Going forwards, the Blues tried everything to forge an opening. The attacking play was varied, with coruscating runs through the middle from Firoozan, the ball seemingly stuck to his boots with Superglue at times, several Radleians resorting to crude fouls as the only means to stop the master of the dribble. Kellock and Payne continued their impressive displays, Payne perhaps spurning the best chance of an equaliser when he fired wide of the near post from a tight angle with two teammates awaiting the square pass. Several times it appeared as though a Harrow player had just done enough to burst into space only for a desperate challenge to avert the danger. No fewer than three Radleians were booked as their desperation to hold onto the win took on an overly-physical approach. Payne was extremely fortunate to avoid a similar fate when he produced an ugly verbal blast at referee Steve Bodell, a harsh talking to deemed sufficient.
But for all the effort, for all the bouts of excellent play, there was to be no late saving goal, no late drama and, ultimately, no end to the run of League defeats for the 2s that now stretches to seven from the last nine outings. The Aldenhamians, who sit bottom of the division, visit the Hill next week for a huge game, with a trip to Eton the week after followed by that final fixture against the Sennockians at the end of April. It is now, without doubt, crunch time.