Blues left hoping for one final chance of salvation
March 25th 2023, Eton College (Dutchmans), 11:30am
Referee: Hugh Wylie
Weather: Sunny, windy
Yellow & Red Cards|
Geoff Taunton-Collins (c)|
Two goals of wildly differing quality, twelve minutes apart, consigned the OHAFC 2nd XI to an unfortunate 2-1 defeat away to the high-flying Eton 2s in this crunch Division Two clash with repercussions at both ends of the table. A scrappy game, played on a slightly bumpy pitch in high winds, saw a first half pass by with barely a serious effort on goal. It always appeared as though the result would be settled by either a mistake or a wonder goal – and the hosts took advantage of both early in the second half, pouncing on an error from Harrow keeper Tom Mitchell before smashing in an unstoppable shot from forty yards out. Despite centre-half Tom Ward halving the deficit with twenty minutes remaining when he prodded in from a corner, the Etonians held on to maintain their title challenge – the Blues left to wait until the end of April to discover if their final fixture at home to the Sennockians still leaves them with a chance of survival or not.
Given the recent issues with availability that have hampered the three Harrow sides, it was a relief for skipper Geoff Taunton-Collins to be able to name both Ward and midfielder Pablo Hutchinson in the starting eleven for this crunch clash. Ward has been out of action since January 7th with a broken foot, Hutchinson was making only his third appearance of the season and his first since late October. With Alexi Pittalis absent, the added height of the returning duo was an added bonus against an Eton team that usually features several ‘giants’. Jack Dolbey joined Hutchinson and Max Curry in midfield, with striker Pedro Azagra keen to add to the two goals he scored in the previous week’s win over the Aldenhamians. And Tom Mitchell took over in goal, the earlier kick-off seeing him play for the 2s with Kyri Pittalis featuring for the 1s later in the afternoon.
If the strong wind and bobbly pitch were to be expected in Windsor, what was certainly not was the appearance of the home side in a gaudy orange and black kit – their traditional sky blue ensemble having unfortunately been left in London that morning. But the bizarre apparel of the home side was just about the most interesting thing on display in a fairly turgid first half for those watching on from the side. Both teams made an effort to get the ball down and play, but conditions were clearly the determining factor, with the result that there was little of any note for either goalkeeper to become duly concerned with.
The visitors suffered a hefty blow after only six minutes when Azagra pulled up chasing after a ball over the top and, unable to continue, he was replaced by Callum Barrett. This required a shuffle of positions, with Hutchinson moving up front, Barrett slotting into midfield. Eton carved out a couple of half chances but tame efforts were comfortably dealt with by Mitchell in goal. For the OHAFC, the pickings were even slimmer – a couple of long balls over the top the sum total of their efforts. The closest either side came to a goal before half-time was a decent Eton move down their right wing that ended with a deflected shot from a tight angle – the ball rising over the crossbar off an outstretched defender’s leg. Kellock fired a free-kick well over the bar from five yards outside the box…and that was that for one of the least eventful halves of football the 2s have been involved in this season.
With no further reinforcements to call upon, the visitors were sent out for the second half knowing that a critical forty-five minutes awaited. The game was balanced on a knife-edge, with one mistake or one piece of magic the key to breaking the deadlock.
It was the Etonians who started the second half on top, camped in the Harrow half and dominating possession. There was one extremely concerning moment for the Blues when skipper Taunton-Collins collapsed to the turf in agony clutching his knee. Fortunately, however, it turned out to be an impact injury and, following some delicate jogging, he was able to continue, albeit with a sizeable bruise to show for his troubles.
The visitors responded following this initial Etonian pressure, gradually moving play back up the pitch and creating an excellent chance of their own: jack Dolbey won possession inside the final third, fed Max Curry on the right and his low cross to the near post was turned just over the bar by a stretching Hutchinson. It would be a defining moment of the game. Within thirty seconds, the hosts had taken the lead. From the restart a long ball over top of the Harrow back four seemed to be meat and drink for Mitchell to sweep up. But the keeper hesitated on the edge of his own area, unsure if the ball would run through to him or not, and took a heavy touch trying to control, an advancing Etonian the grateful recipient, sidefooting the ball back into the unguarded net.
Understandably, Harrow heads dropped briefly, the home side now pressing for a decisive second. A flowing move down the Eton right ended with a shot flying just over the bar. Once again, however, the visitors regrouped and for ten minutes play returned to a scrappy contest between two evenly-matched sides. Without a hint of an effort on goal, the Etonians then produced a rabbit out of the hat – one of the centre-halves collected the ball just inside the Harrow half, took a couple of strides forward before unleashing an unstoppable shot that carried on the wind and flew straight into the top corner.
It would have been easy for those in blue to believe this wasn’t to be their day, but the Harrow 2s never lack spirit and within three minutes had forged their way back into the game. Tristan David curled an excellent free-kick on goal, the Eton keeper diving to his left to palm the shot around the post. But from David’s resulting corner, whipped into the far post, Hutchinson climbed highest, heading the ball back into the danger zone and Tom Ward was on hand to force the ball in from the edge of the six yard box.
Twenty minutes remained for the Blues to find an equaliser but chances remained few and far between and it was actually the Etonians who produced the one moment of class in the closing stages: a short corner caught the Harrow defence napping somewhat and a couple of passes teed up a midfielder on the corner of the penalty area, his curled shot catching the underside of the crossbar, before it bounced down and was smuggled clear.
The OHAFC must now wait to discover their fate. Although the side currently sit in eighth, just outside the drop zone, only a solitary point separates them from the Old Sennockians in ninth. The Sennocks play three times before the sides meet at the end of April, knowing that five points will relegate the OHAFC. Anything less, and the two teams will meet in a relegation play-off on the Harrow astroturf on the final weekend of the League season. For the Blues, this is their last remaining hope.