Taylor hat-trick highlight of superb 1s display

Old Rugbeians 1st XI
3 : 5
Old Harrovians 1st XI
  • March 25th 2023, Lincoln Fields (4G Astro), 2pm
  • Division 1
  • Referee: Elijah Marrs
  • Weather: Sunny, windy
  • Pitch: Astroturf
No. Starting XI Goals Yellow & Red Cards Subs On/Off
1 Kyri Pittalis
2 Stan D'Angelin
3 John Russell 67'
4 Felix Tritton 82'
5 Ed Nicholson
6 Cyprian Owen Edmunds
7 Ed Beecham 78'
8 Daniel Firoozan
9 Charlie Bick 1'(p)
10 Will Payne 16'
11 George Taylor 17', 27', 71'
12 Ali Buckley 55'
13 Hugo Morrell-Roberts 55'

Just a week on from arguably their worst performance of the season and a 7-1 drubbing at the hands of the Old Johnians, the OHAFC 1st XI produced unquestionably their finest display of this, or any recent season to deservedly defeat the Old Rugbeians 5-3 on the astroturf in Whitton, in the process taking a giant stride towards securing their Division One status for next season. If it was hard to be more critical of the shambolic performance against the Johnians, no praise would be too strong here for a remarkable display that saw the Blues lead 4-0 at the break and left those watching on in amazement wondering just where such a performance came from.

The visitors were sensational in the first half, destroying their opponents with some free-flowing, attacking football that produced four quality goals and a host of other chances. It could conceivably have been six or seven at the break and although the hosts displayed a stronger resolve in the second half, taking advantage of the prevailing wind to score three times, the Blues remained in control, running out deserved winners. Such was the abundance of excellence from those in blue, it was even debatable whether striker George Taylor, who helped himself to a hat-trick, was the Man of the Match. Regardless of any individual accolades, the three points earned could yet prove the difference between the side staying in Division One or suffering a second successive relegation.

Given the importance of the encounter, it was gratifying to see a strong Harrow side make the trip down to southwest London. Felix Tritton joined John Russell and Ed Nicholson in a back three, with Stan d’Angelin and Cyprian Owen Edmunds the wing backs. Skipper Dan Firoozan was joined by Charlie Bick and Ed Beecham in midfield with Taylor and Will Payne the front two. Ali Buckley was joined on the bench by Hugo Morrell-Roberts, set to make his first appearance for the OHAFC.

The newly-resurfaced artificial pitch in Whitton now offers an ideal venue for the League, although on this occasion both sides were forced to deal with a stiff southerly breeze blowing towards one end of the ground. The visitors began with the wind at their backs and wasted little time in taking advantage. Barely thirty seconds had elapsed when a stray pass across the middle of the pitch allowed Payne to intercept, turn and drive towards the Rugby penalty area. The ball was slipped left into the Taylor’s path, but as he cut back inside ready to shoot a Rugby defender clipped his standing leg and referee Elijah Marrs pointed to the spot. Charlie Bick stepped up and found the top corner, the Blues now on their way.

The contrast with the first half offered up earlier that day by the OHAFC 2nd XI and their Etonian counterparts in Windsor could not have been greater than the football on display here. The Blues set about their task with energy and composure, passing the ball with such fluid automation across the pristine turf that those watching on almost had to rub their eyes in disbelief. Firoozan and Bick drove forwards from midfield, ably assisted by the tenacious Beecham, with both forwards Taylor and Payne proving a real handful for a rocky Rugbeian rearguard. Further goals appeared a certainty.

The second arrived after sixteen minutes, although from a rather unpromising position. A throw-in on the left, deep inside Harrow territory, seemed to offer the Rugbeians little cause for concern. But a scrap in midfield saw the ball break to Firoozan and he carried forwards before unleashing Payne down the left. The winger had only one thought on his mind, driving into the penalty area before firing home powerfully with his weaker left foot. A minute later it was three. Payne was again involved, brilliantly chasing down a booming goal kick from Kyri Pittalis, just reaching the ball before it crossed the goal line to flick it back across goal for Taylor to head in at the near post – the youngster having shown great awareness to join the attack when it initially appeared something of a lost cause.

The Blues were in dreamland but the excellence continued with some lovely football befuddling a shell-shocked Rugbeians side who had barely managed a shot on target inside the opening half an hour. Taylor duly scored his second, Harrow’s fourth, with a scrappy finish at the second attempt after the keeper smothered his initial shot, but the build-up that preceded it was magnificent – a laser-guided through-ball from Bick delicately flicked on by Payne into his strike partner’s path, the defence almost watching on in appreciation.

Indeed, the only disappointment at the break was that the lead was only four: Taylor could, indeed should have scored twice more, prodding one chance straight at the keeper, poking another effort wide of an open goal. The Rugbeians keeper then kept out a strong effort from Firoozan as the visitors continued to slice through their opponents almost at will. The half-time team talk was a simple one: continue playing exactly the same way and win the second half. No changes in personnel were made initially, although Buckley and Morrell-Roberts were given fair warning to warm up. The one thing that would certainly change was the wind advantage, with the Rugbeians now playing with the conditions in their favour.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given both the wind and the comfortable advantage, the second half began slowly for the Blues. The passing wasn’t as crisp, attacks were sporadic. The home side certainly enjoyed playing far more in the Harrow half, but they continued to labour in the pursuit of creating chances, with Pittalis rarely tested in goal. The two substitutes were introduced ten minutes into the half, Owen Edmunds and John Russell coming off.

Midway through the half there had been little action of note. The visitors had just begun to look a bit sharper as spaces opened up, Firoozan, Payne and Taylor enjoying a couple of quick breaks. But it was the hosts who struck the opening goal of the half: an attack down the Rugby right should have been cleared but some hesitant defending allowed a Rugbeian time and space on the edge of the box and the finish was an excellent one, the shot curled into the far top corner leaving Pittalis motionless.

Any hopes of an unlikely comeback were snuffed out three minutes later when another Harrow break allowed Taylor to complete his hat-trick, Firoozan collecting a clearance in midfield and feeding the striker through the middle to run on and comfortably beat the advancing keeper from the edge of the box.

The hosts responded almost immediately, yet again some rather slack defending on the Harrow right allowing a low shot to beat Pittalis at his near post, the score now 5-2. The only flashpoint of the entire game then occurred when Taylor went down rather softly under some mild pressure inside the Rugby penalty area. Having already been booked, the Rugbeians wasted little time in asking the referee to produce a second yellow card, but Elijah Marrs decided a quiet word in the youngster’s ear was sufficient.

The Blues should have scored a sixth with eight minutes remaining when a defensive slip on the halfway line saw Bick and Payne advancing against a lone Rugby defender. Unsure whether to pass or go for goal, Bick decided to try his luck from the edge of the box, his fierce shot crashing into the underside of the crossbar before bouncing away to safety.

There was still time for the hosts to score a fine third goal, a sweetly struck half-volley from just outside the box that sped past the Harrow keeper to give the scoreline a more respectable look than it perhaps deserved. But the final few minutes produced no further excitement, the Blues having long since secured the win that lifts the side into eighth in the table, above the Old Salopians. The maths is now very much in Harrow’s favour, with the Salopians needing at least a point from their final game to have any chance of overhauling the Blues, whilst the Berkhamstedians have no room for error – only two wins from their final two games will offer them a chance of salvation.

After a long, somewhat turbulent season, the OHAFC are left with one final fixture to play: a trip to north London to face the unbeaten champions, the Old Foresters. Whilst it is perhaps unrealistic to expect a victory, avoiding a heavy defeat may yet prove important given the respective goal differences of the sides at the bottom.