Flat performance sees Blues slip to fourth defeat

Old Harrovians 2nd XI
1 : 2
Old KCS Wimbledon 2nd XI
  • November 4th 2023, Philathletic Ground, 10:30am
  • Division 3
  • Referee: Andrew Leach
  • Weather: Sunny, calm
  • Pitch: Fair
No. Starting XI Goals Yellow & Red Cards Subs On/Off
1 Rory Craig
2 Geoff Taunton-Collins (c)
3 Giacomo Grasso
4 Alex Ellis
5 Callum Barrett
6 David Lederman 75'(p) 70'
7 Alexi Pittalis 70'
8 Jack Dolbey 65'
9 Miles Kellock
10 Tristan David
11 Owain James
12 Ludo Palazzo 25'

The inconsistency that has plagued the OHAFC 2nd XI so far this season continued unabated on Saturday morning when the Blues followed up their excellent win away to the Old Epsomians last weekend with a humdrum display in losing 2-1 at home to KCS Wimbledon 2s on the Hill. Whilst the home side weren’t awful, they never enjoyed a spell of control in the game, with the visitors playing the better football, especially in the first half. The result hinged on a fifteen-minute spell towards the end of the game with the hosts reduced to ten men following Tristan David’s sinbinning for back chat. The Blues threw caution to the wind and levelled at 1-1, Lederman converting a penalty following a foul on Miles Kellock. But within a couple of minutes of David returning to the field, the visitors broke upfield to snatch the winner. Despite concerted Harrow pressure in the final ten minutes, the Blues failed to find a second equaliser and suffered a fourth League defeat from their eight games played.

The performance, and result, were all the more galling give the prescient pre-match words of skipper Geoff Taunton-Collins, who pointed out that the last time the Blues had arrived on the Hill with a strong squad on the back of an excellent win the previous week they had grossly under-performed and suffered a dreadful defeat. This was a far closer affair than that 6-2 loss to the Epsomians, but still highlighted the fact that the side are yet to play to anywhere near their potential on a regular basis.

The main Phil pitch was in decent condition, initially at least, and with the rain thankfully abating moments before kick-off, conditions were actually far better than the players could have expected during the soggy trip up to the Hill. Indeed, much of the game was played in decent sunshine and it was the visitors who started the brighter, passing the ball with confidence across the slick surface. The Harrow press was partially effective, forcing the opposition to retreat on numerous occasions, but the ball was rarely won in the final third and Wimbledon switched the play effectively, forcing the men in navy to chase around manically in a bid to keep up. Chances were few and far between, with the hosts offering little as an attacking force, the visitors looking most threatening from corners, with a tall left-footer curling in a number of dangerous deliveries that had keeper Rory Craig on high alert. Wimbledon came close to taking the lead following one such delivery, the ensuing goalmouth scramble ending with a shot from eight yards that crashed against the crossbar before being hacked clear. But shortly afterwards another corner was made to count, the ball rebounding off a Harrow defender on the edge of the six yard box and falling neatly for a Wimbledon player to smash home.

The hosts weren’t helped in their endeavours when midfielder Alexi Pittalis was forced off with a hand injury midway through the half, a Wimbledon player unhelpfully landing with his full weight on the Harrow man. Ludo Palazzo was a ready-made replacement on the bench, but the hosts could not find any fluency to their play. The struggles were especially acute in the final third, with the wingers often isolated when receiving the ball and therefore forced to take on several defenders at once. The hosts’ set-piece delivery also failed to match that of their opponents despite several corners and promising free-kicks being won.

The half-time team-talk was more animated than usual, with those in blue clearly frustrated at the forty-five minutes that had gone before. Lederman, who had endured an underwhelming half, was withdrawn, with Pitallis and Dolbey now partnering Palazzo in midfield.

The first twenty-five minutes of the second half were far more evenly contested with the hosts coping better with their opponents’ patience on the ball, but there was still little offered going forwards. The result was a game devoid of chances and goalmouth action for those watching on. There was one amusing moment to brighten the spirits, however, when a Wimbledon midfielder complained to the referee about one of the Harrow masters on the sideline wearing a dark top and clashing with the hosts’ navy shirts. The fact he was walking his two dogs, both of whom were on leashes, didn’t, apparently, offer a clue as to his inability to participate in the match!

But as the game entered its final quarter, a fixture that appeared to be drifting quietly towards its conclusion suddenly burst into life. The hosts had just started to gain the upper hand, with Kellock on the left and Tristan David on the right enjoying a few more touches on the ball. A long pass down the right wing offered David the chance to test the pace of his full-back, the ball frustratingly running out of play. But the Harrow man carried on his sprint towards the penalty area despite the Wimbledon players all stopping. Following a brief, unnecessary verbal exchange with the referee, the Harrow man was unceremoniously sent to the sin bin and the Blues were down to ten for the next ten minutes.

A goal down, a man down, there was little left for the hosts to do other than throw caution to the wind and they adopted a 4-3-2 formation, Kellock and Owain James almost playing as a conventional front two. This seemed to unsettle the visitors and suddenly there was a bit more bite to the Harrow play, the ball being played forwards quicker and more players joining in support. It still took a slice of the luck for the Blues to force the equaliser, Kellock being fed on the left before carrying the ball into the box, twisting past his man on the outside and going down under a rather tame challenge. All the Harrow players appealed, all the Wimbledon players claimed a dive. Referee Andrew Leach, who had officiated throughout with authority, deliberated momentarily before pointing to the spot. Lederman made no mistake, firing into the bottom corner past the strangely static Wimbledon keeper, and the sides were level at 1-1.

The next few minutes passed without incident, the hosts clearly now with the belief that they could go on and win the game. And those thoughts only increased with the return to the field of the sinbinned David. But, incredulously, within a couple of minutes of the hosts regaining their full complement of players, they conceded a second. Concerted Harrow pressure had begun to build in the Wimbledon third, but when possession was lost on the edge of the box, the ball was played swiftly forwards and a lack of numbers at the back was exposed, the final through ball bisecting the retreating centre-backs and the Wimbledon forward showing excellent composure to take the ball around keeper Rory Craig and roll it into the empty net.

Further drama followed as the visitors were then reduced to ten fit players following a couple of late injuries. This led to the Blues dominating the closing stages, camped in the Wimbledon half, the visitors desperately clinging on to their slender advantage. Frustratingly, everything was right about Harrow’s efforts barring the final ball, with several ideal crossing situations worked only for the ball to be played straight at the keeper or the first defender. The Wimbledon keeper actually ended the game having barely had to make a save.

The Blues still sit fourth in the Division Three table but there is now a slight gap to the three sides above them and victory away to the second-placed Sennockians next weekend is imperative if the side are to approach the Christmas run-in with their promotion hopes still in tact.