Blues held to entertaining 4-4 draw by Brentwoods

Old Harrovians 2nd XI
4 : 4
Old Brentwoods 2nd XI
  • February 3rd 2024, Philathletic Ground, 10:30am
  • Division 3
  • Referee: Kacper Ignatiuk
  • Weather: Cloudy, breezy
  • Pitch: Fair
No. Starting XI Goals Yellow & Red Cards Subs On/Off
1 Rory Craig
2 Ludo Palazzo
3 Paul Molloy
4 Yunus Sert 33', 70'
5 Kyri Pittalis
6 David Lederman 75'
7 Alexi Pittalis
8 Murray Barr 80'
9 Geoff Taunton-Collins (c)
10 Owain James 26'
11 Max Curry 10'
12 Phil Berry 45'

The OHAFC 2nd XI built on last weekend’s excellent 3-1 win away to Haberdashers with a hard-fought and entertaining 4-4 draw against the Old Brentwood’s 2s in the side’s final home game of the season on the Hill. Having led 3-1 at half-time and 4-2 with under half an hour remaining, it was natural that there was a tinge of disappointment among the squad at the final whistle that only a solitary point had been garnered. But in truth the visitors fully deserved a share of the spoils having dominated the second half for long spells. Most encouragingly for the home side, as the season draws to a close with away fixtures against the top two teams in the division, is the return of side’s goal threat – having found the net just once in the four League games prior to last weekend’s win at Habs, the Blues have now scored seven times in 180 minutes.

Despite the club only fielding two sides on Saturday – the 1s enjoyed a week off before playing their final two games of the season – skipper Geoff Taunton-Collins was still left scrambling around in a bid to name a competitive side, with numerous players unavailable for one reason or another. The upshot was that the squad of twelve named must surely have been one of the oldest to take the field for the OHAFC in regular competition: Lederman and Molloy are both approaching 50, Taunton-Collins and Phil Berry, making his first appearance of the season, are bone fide veterans, with Max Curry, Kyri Pittalis, Murray Barr and Yunus Sert all the wrong side of 30 and Alexi Pittalis only just on the right side. Fortunately, there were some younger legs to carry the load, with Ludo Palazzo lining up at right-back, Owain James reprising his role on the left wing and Rory Craig in goal, still aiming to have played every single minute of the 2s’ campaign once the final whistle is blown on the season.

Conditions on the Hill were somewhat dreary with the Phil pitches, in use for the first time since Christmas, still heavy from the consistent rain earlier in the year. Having been eliminated from the Junior League Cup a fortnight ago by the Brentwoods 3s and lost 6-1 to Saturday’s opposition on the opening weekend of the season, there was little doubt that this would prove a tricky encounter, especially with the Brentwoods 2s in the midst of a relegation scrap. But the home side started well, pressing high up the pitch and switching play relatively confidently on the soft, slightly uneven playing surface. The experience of Molloy and Sert at the back proved invaluable and provided a solid base from which to build momentum. Just as a week ago, the Blues enjoyed an early lead when, following a spell of pressure primarily down the right, Lederman collected the ball just inside the Brentwoods half and fired a long ball over the top of the centre halves for Max Curry to latch onto. The ball skimmed off the top of the retreating defender’s head, the striker taking one touch to control and firing past the keeper with his second.

The game quickly developed into an entertaining one with both sides looking capable of hurting their opponents. Fortunately for the Blues, keeper Rory Craig delivered an impeccable first half display, sure in his handling and decision-making, as well as his kicking. And it was this final trait which provided the catalyst for Harrow’s second just before the half-hour mark – a booming goal kick was completely misjudged by the Brentwoods centre-backs and Owain James had plenty of time to compose himself before clipping the ball over the onrushing keeper.

Despite the two-goal advantage, the feeling persisted that there was still plenty of football to be played and that proved to be the case as the visitors quickly pulled a goal back to reduce the deficit to one again. A quick break down the Brentwoods left saw the Blues caught short at the back and the low cross was diverted into the top corner via a collision between the striker and right-back Ludo Palazzo, the forward undoubtedly claiming the goal.

But, infuriatingly for the men from Essex, further sloppy marking from a set-piece saw them fall two goals behind once again. The visitors had already looked vulnerable from set-pieces when Lederman curled a corner beyond the far post, an unmarked Sert adjusting his feet superbly to plant a first-time sidefoot volley inside the near post. Alexi Pittalis then came close with a header from a corner and a long free-kick just evaded several Harrow players at the far post, the visitors’ defending looking less than certain.

Phil Berry was brought on at half-time with Palazzo initially making way and the veteran immediately found himself in the thick of the action as for the opening quarter of an hour of the half, the hosts barely made it out of their own third. Having played in fairly benign conditions up to this point, it was somewhat galling for the hosts to suddenly find themselves playing into a stiff breeze. Coupled with having to kick up the slope, it was fairly unsurprising that play was now concentrated almost exclusively inside the Harrow half, the hosts now finding their defensive abilities under the spotlight.

The initial period was just about dealt with, several corners and pot shots the sum total of the visitors’ efforts. But it was little surprise when the goal did arrive, sustained pressure in the final third saw the ball worked out to the right and, from a fairly narrow angle, a superb low shot was driven past a static Craig just inside the far post.

At this stage those watching on from the sidelines could have been fully justified in picking the visitors as the favourites to go on and claim all three points such had their dominance been since the interval. But that all changed ten minutes later when, just as the hosts had begun to ease their way up the pitch slightly, they again found success from a set-piece. This time it was a corner from the right, delivered by Palazzo, the ball skimming off a defender and again making its way through to an unmarked Sert at the far post. This finish was even better than the first, the defender swivelling and managing to control a knee-high volleyed shot to send the ball flying into the top corner from fifteen yards out.

Now the Blues had a decisive advantage and only twenty minutes to hold on. But, following some initial frustrations that had referee Kacper Ignatiuk once more reaching for his notebook, the visitors again channelled their efforts into fighting their way back onto level terms. The third arrived via some decent play down the left that ended with a looping cross beyond the far post that spelt trouble as soon as it left the winger’s boot. Craig had no chance to reach the ball, Kyri Pittalis was beaten to it by the attacker who headed in from five yards out and with fifteen minutes remaining the sides were once more separated by just a solitary goal. Brentwoods needed less than half the remaining time to grab the equaliser, Harrow’s back four now creaking under the weight of pressure. The goal was slightly fortunate in its creation, several ricochets on the edge of the box saw the ball run perfectly for the striker to hit, but the finish was low and true and again left Craig with no chance of affecting a save as it sped inside the near post.

Despite being roared on by their substitutes and supporters, the final ten minutes proved surprisingly devoid of any real goal threats from either side, perhaps the footballing gods deciding that there had been enough excitement on the Hill for one day. The draw was perhaps an indication of the change in fortunes since that very one-sided opening day win for the hosts in Essex, the OHAFC now recovered into a secure mid-table spot, Brentwoods still with work to do to ensure it is they, and not their 3rd XI, who will be playing in Division Three next season.