Azagra double fires 2s to vital win

Old Harrovians 2nd XI
3 : 2
Old Aldenhamians 1st XI
  • March 18th 2023, Philathletic Ground, 10:30am
  • Division 2
  • Referee: Andre Small
  • Weather: Cloudy
  • Pitch: Fair
No. Starting XI Goals Yellow & Red Cards Subs On/Off
1 Kyri Pittalis
2 Geoff Taunton-Collins
3 Doug Pratt
4 Ed David
5 Ed Pagani
6 Alexi Pittalis
7 Will Monroe
8 Ben Harrison
9 Miles Kellock 56'
10 Tristan David
11 Pedro Azagra 21', 60'
12 David Lederman

A battling, determined display from the OHAFC 2nd XI was enough to secure a vital 3-2 victory over bottom club the Old Aldenhamians on the Hill on Saturday morning, prolonging the Blues’ battle to avoid the drop for at least another few weeks. With only three fixtures remaining, including this one, a win here was essential if the 2s were to have any hope of scrambling clear of the drop zone and overhauling the Old Sennockians – the side who sat just above them in eighth in Division Two at the start of the day, with the two teams meeting at the end of April in a now potentially decisive final game.

The Blues excelled in an exciting first half that saw both sides come within inches of scoring inside the first five minutes, Pedro Azagra’s cool finish after twenty minutes the only goal to separate the teams at the break. Although the second half was drawn 2-2, the play was actually not as fluid, with the visitors pressing late on and forcing a nervy five minutes that seemed unlikely given the three-goal lead established by goals from Miles Kellock and another from Azagra. But the hosts held on and can now look forward to the trip to Eton next weekend knowing that there is still all to play for.

For this final fixture on the Philathletic Ground before the cricket pitches take precedence, skipper Geoff Taunton-Collins was again left scrambling around to cobble a side together, with several players carrying injuries. The starting XI was a strong one, with the welcome return of Doug Pratt to the heart of the defence following a knee injury and Pedro Azagra in the striking role. Ben Harrison made his second appearance of the season for the side in midfield, fervently hoping this outing would prove more enjoyable than the miserable 4-1 drubbing endured in appalling conditions at Kimbolton back in January. Will Monroe completed a new-look midfield, with Max Curry away and Lederman ruled out with an ankle injury picked up in the Radley defeat – he was listed as the only substitute here, with responsibility for securing the three points resting firmly on the shoulders of those starting the game.

And what a start it was. Within five minutes of kick-off, Alexi Pittalis had bulldozed his way through the Aldenhamians half only to be denied by the keeper rushing off his line and smothering his shot, before an Aldenhamians winger spurned an equally presentable chance at the other end, latching onto a through-ball only to place his shot against the foot of the post, Doug Pratt scrambling back to block the rebound effort from a narrow angle.

Both sides looked to attack, with the visitors also still in with a chance of securing survival, albeit at longer odds than their opponents. But as the half wore on, it was those in blue who began to assume control, with Kellock and Tristan David continuing to provide a threat out wide and Azagra and Harrison driving through the middle at every opportunity. Azagra had already spurned one decent chance when he fired rather tamely at the keeper, but he made no mistake second time around. A slightly underhit goal kick landed at the feet of Kellock in the middle of the Aldenham half and he supplied a perfect cushioned, first-time pass into Azagra’s path, the youngster taking a couple of touches to the edge of the box before composing himself and planting a shot just inside the near post. The Ronaldo-esque celebration that followed could be forgiven in the circumstances.

Chances continued to flow at both ends, with Kellock firing into the side netting at the near post before then just failing to connect with a wicked, curling delivery from the right by David. But the visitors forged chances of their own, with several corners spelling danger for the hosts. The lack of a reply from the Aldenhamians saw them switch to a 3-5-2 formation, although this appeared to have little impact on the flow of the game, which continued generally in Harrow’s favour. Nevertheless, with the score 1-0 at the break, there was little to separate the teams, skipper Geoff Taunton-Collins urging his side to press whenever possible on a shaky Aldenham back four.

The start of the second half saw little action at either end, but the game suddenly burst into life just before the hour-mark, the hosts scoring twice in quick succession to take a stranglehold on proceedings. Both goals were made by Tristan David, the first a simple cut back from the left allowing Miles Kellock to sidefoot home his ninth of the season, the second almost saw the winger score himself but the stand-in Aldenham keeper made an excellent diving stop away to his right only for Azagra to follow up and tap in his second of the game.

With half an hour remaining and a three-goal lead, this should have been the signal for the home side to close the game down, keep possession and frustrate their opponents. Instead, exactly the opposite happened, with the men in blue, for some unknown reason, panicking with the ball, constantly turning possession over and offering hope to the Aldenhamians that all was not lost.

Fortunately, the hosts were able to hold on with their lead in tact thanks mainly to the superb performances in midfield of Will Monroe and Ed David – who had switched positions with Alexi Pittalis after the break, Pittalis settling easily into the back four and heading everything that came his way. The workrate of this trio was magnificent, alongside the rest of the Harrow back four, so that, initially at least, Kyri Pittalis remained well protected in the Harrow goal.

As the clock ticked towards the closing twenty minutes, it appeared as though the visitors would be frustrated in their efforts to claw their way back into the game. But a lovely team goal changed that and set up a tense finish. A slick passing move through the middle saw the ball played out to the right and the first-time cross back into the box was headed in at the near post with aplomb. Now the Blues had a fight on their hands, the visitors imbued with a renewed sense of belief. Pittalis was forced into two superb saves, one a reaction stop diving to his left, the second an acrobatic leap to tip a rising shot over the bar. Several corners were scrambled clear before, with five minutes remaining, another set-piece delivery caused havoc inside the six yard box, the ball prodded in by an Aldenham defender.

Unsurprisingly, the visitors poured forwards in the closing minutes in a desperate bid to salvage a point. The hosts defended well, with the only shot of note turning out to be the final kick of the game, a rising effort that failed to trouble the Harrow goal. Despite the rather frantic, untidy nature of the second half performance, the Blues deserved their win for the excellent first half and the immense effort expended in holding onto the lead late on. The win lifts the side back above the Sennockians into eighth in the table with three games remaining. The fight for survival goes on…for another few weeks at least.