Blues respond with excellent display to thwart the leaders
- November 4th 2023, Hampton Sports Centre (3G), 12pm
- Division 1
- Referee: Fatmir Sherifi
- Weather: Cloudy
- Pitch: Astroturf
|No.||Starting XI||Goals||Yellow & Red Cards||Subs On/Off|
|5||Cyprian Owen Edmunds|
It’s amazing what a week in football can do. Seven days after suffering an embarrassing 5-0 defeat at home to the Old Marlburians, having played a quarter of the game without a kit, the OHAFC 1st XI turned up fit and refreshed and duly delivered their best performance of the season to date, becoming the first team in Division One to deny the Old Johnians a victory in an entertaining 2-2 draw played on the astroturf at Hampton School in southwest London. The hosts opened the scoring early on with a contentious penalty, Ed Beecham harshly penalised for a shove in the back. But the visitors responded superbly to turn the game on its head, wide men Oli Acar and Will Payne scoring. But some sloppy defending cost the Blues the win, the hosts levelling before the break courtesy of an excellent finish past stand-in keeper Yunus Sert. Both sides had chances to win it in the second half but had to settle for a point, a late controversial Johnians goal correctly ruled out by referee Fatmir Sherifi.
Following the unfortunate extra-time defeat at home to the Old Chigwellians a fortnight ago, this was further proof that when the 1st XI turn up with a strong squad and the right attitude, they are capable of mixing it with the best. Prior to Saturday, the Johnians enjoyed the only 100% record in the Arthurian League – six games played, six games won, 18 goals scored and just seven conceded. They had also knocked the Old Sennockians out of the Dunn Cup 3-1 for good measure. But here they finally met their match, with a Harrow side determined to put things right following last weekend’s embarrassing capitulation to the Marlburians.
Things got off to a good start with Oli Acar actually arriving on time with the kit, skipper Dan Firoozan reverting to an old Quentin Baker trick of naming the meeting time well in advance of where it actually needed to be. There was further good news with the debut of recent leaver Walid Nsouli who took his place in midfield alongside Jamie Jordache and Will Brounger, who was making his 1st XI debut having only just recovered from injury. With a strong back four and front three available, the only concern for skipper Dan Firoozan was the lack of an available keeper, Yunus Sert hoping to bring his cricketing skills to the role. And without a twelfth man, Lederman, having played seventy minutes for the 2s, made the long trip from the Hill for the second half in case of emergency.
Last week there were three goals inside the first twenty minutes, all for the Marlburians as the Blues compounded their kit fiasco with some shoddy defending. Here, it took just under half an hour for the three goals to arrive, but this time it was the visitors who enjoyed the better of things, taking the lead following an unfortunate early setback. Not for the first time this season the OHAFC conceded a needless penalty, although the decision to penalise Ed Beecham for a nudge in the back from a long throw seemed extremely harsh. Sert was beaten and the visitors found themselves behind with only six minutes on the clock.
But to their credit, the eleven rolled up their sleeves and got on with the task in hand. They were led in their endeavours by the superb Nsouli, who took to Arthurian League football immediately, using his strength and pace to good effect. He was heavily involved in the equaliser which followed just three minutes after the opener. Will Brounger played a superb ball forwards to Nsouli who turned and threaded the ball behind the back four for Oli Acar to run onto. The forward made no mistake, clipping the ball across the keeper into the bottom left corner and helping to pay back some of the debt owed following his late arrival last week. Acar could and probably should have scored his second a few minutes later following another excellent Harrow move, this time Ciaran Jordan holding the ball up and feeding Stan d’Angelin down the right, but his cross was volleyed just over the bar by the Harrow forward.
The visitors were in the ascendency, Nsouli to the fore, but they had to wait until just shy of the half-hour mark to take the lead. Will Payne took advantage of a poor back-pass from the Johnians right-back to just reach the ball before the onrushing keeper, go round his opponent and slot the ball into an empty net.
The Johnians were stunned, but as the half drew towards its close they gradually began to bare their teeth and show the form that has made them hot favourites for the Division One title this season. Nevertheless, it took an error from the visitors to allow them to reach the break on level terms, which was scarcely deserved. Will Payne rather carelessly lost possession on the edge of the Harrow box and before Jamie Jordache could react, a Johnian forward had pounced, spotting Sert marginally out of position and curling the ball over and around him into the far corner with a precise finish.
With no substitutes available, skipper Firoozan could merely encourage his men to continue their excellent performance to this point. And the visitors nearly regained the lead soon after the restart when Acar was once again played through the middle only for the Johnian keeper to produce an excellent diving save. The Blues then came even closer when Beecham’s header down from a corner was hacked clear off the line by a Johnians defender. But the hosts responded, forcing an excellent save from Sert when a low cross from their left was helped towards goal with a rather sliced effort.
The final half an hour resembled something of a basketball match with both sides tearing upfield at pace, the Johnians continuing to look dangerous down their left, the Blues finding an outlet in Nsouli on the left and Payne through the middle. There were two significant moments in the closing stages that could have seen either side snatch the win. The Blues should have scored when an excellent move down the right ended with a low cross from Will Payne somehow being sliced wide of goal by Ciaran Jordan on his left foot. But the visitors then endured a worrying moment of their own when a long ball forwards from the back caught one of the two thin wires than traversed the pitch. The ball landed at the feet of a Johnian who passed it forwards, the attacker then turning and chipping the stranded Sert from forty yards out. Every Harrow player had, by this stage, stopped, with the players having been informed before the game that a drop-ball would restart play should any of the wires intervene. Following some vociferous Harrow protests, common sense prevailed and the goal was annulled and play restarted from when the ball had landed.
The incident was remarkably similar to that endured by the OHAFC 2s against the same opposition a couple of seasons ago – then, Kyri Pittalis was chipped with all the Harrow players having stopped when the ball struck referee Stephen Bodell on the touchline preventing what would have been a certain throw-in. Although that Johnians goal was allowed to stand, the Blues were allowed to walk the restart in to ensure sanity prevailed.
The reaction of the Johnians skipper at the end of the game was telling, enquiring of Firoozan why, on the evidence of that ninety minutes, was his side struggling this season. The Blues have clearly now shown what they are capable of, the challenge will be to reach this level on a consistent basis. The addition of the lively Nsouli, on a semi-regular basis at least, should help.