Four-goal second-half blitz earns 2s superb win at leaders

Old Merchant Taylors 1st XI
3 : 5
Old Harrovians 2nd XI
  • February 10th 2024, Merchant Taylors' School, 11am
  • Division 3
  • Referee: Kevin Turnbull
  • Weather: Cloudy
  • Pitch: Excellent
No. Starting XI Goals Yellow & Red Cards Subs On/Off
1 Rory Craig
2 Geoff Taunton-Collins (c)
3 Giacomo Grasso
4 Ed David
5 Kyri Pittalis 85'
6 Ludo Palazzo 50'
7 David Lederman 35'
8 Alexi Pittalis 49'
9 Tristan David 54'(p)
10 Owain James 52', 89'
11 Max Curry 58'
12 Matthew Harrison
13 William Brounger 45'

An extraordinary four-goal blitz inside nine minutes at the start of the second half propelled the OHAFC 2nd XI to a stunning 5-3 victory away to Division Three leaders the Old Merchant Taylors on Saturday morning. A fairly nondescript first half saw the hosts take advantage of a defensive error to open the scoring ten minutes before the break but the game was turned on its head when Alexi Pittalis, Owain James, Max Curry and Tristan David, from the spot, all scored in quick succession. It took Taylors a while to recover but two late goals gave them a chance to rescue an unlikely point only for the Blues to break upfield in the final moments and snatch a clinching fifth goal. The win lifts the OHAFC into second in the table, their highest League placing this season, ahead of Saturday’s final fixture away to the third-placed Old Alleynians 3s.

Even given the vagaries of an OHAFC 2s season that has seen the team fail to register consecutive victories at any stage, Saturday’s performance was quite extraordinary. The first half saw the Blues struggle string three passes together, the visitors’ lone bright spell coming midway through the opening forty-five minutes with some decent build-up play down the left that saw full-back Kyri Pittalis latch onto several flicks from Owain James to deliver crosses into the box. Striker Max Curry was starved of the ball, even with the return to the side of leading scorer Tristan David on the right wing, who was industrious as ever. Too many times, however, the side tried to cut through Taylors’ defence with wildly optimistic through-balls that proved ineffective, possession squandered regularly.

Fortunately, at the other end of the pitch the visitors’ defending was steadfast, a couple of rather soft free-kicks on the right notwithstanding. But all set-pieces were cleared effectively and the hosts were limited to a couple of long range efforts from the edge of the box. It was disappointing that the only goal of the half, which arrived just after the half-hour mark, came from an attacking Harrow set-piece. Lederman’s ball into the box was headed clear and Taylors raced upfield on the break. But the final ball forwards looking for the striker was a poor one, Kyri Pittalis unfortunately redirecting his header straight to another forward on the right who cut inside Ed David and placed a firm shot low into the near corner beyond keeper Rory Craig.

Matthew Harrison was brought on for the final ten minutes of the half, but the flow of the game remained largely the same: Taylors enjoying slightly more territory and possession but unable to create any real chances. Will Brounger replaced Ludo Palazzo in the middle of midfield at the break, with several players frustrated that they had not received more of the ball and, possibly, that they had not done more with it whenever they had been in possession.

But what followed in the next fifteen minutes soon made these minor grumblings seem totally irrelevant. Taylors actually began the second half on the attack, but once the Blues had won the ball back it was one-way traffic. An excellent spell of possession in midfield saw the ball worked out to the left wing. Ed David supported from behind and when brother Tristan laid the ball back to him, he delivered a devilish cross to the near post Alexi Pittalis, as he has done so often, timing his run to perfection to send a glancing header into the back of the net.

Before Taylors knew what had hit them, they found themselves 2-1 down. Kyri Pittalis atoned for his first-half error with some excellent defending on the right, winning the ball back and feeding Owain James down the wing. Suddenly the break was on, James doing superbly to find Max Curry ahead of him, who carried the ball down the line before looking up and squaring a superb pass across the face of the penalty area for James to run onto and clip a first-time shot over the advancing keeper.

Two minutes later and it was 3-1, the hosts and their vocal supporters on the touchline now silenced by the events unfolding before them. Owain James was again the instigator, collecting the ball on the right and cutting inside, drawing a challenge from a defender that sent him sprawling to the turf. Referee Kevin Turnbull had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Tristan David made no mistake, this time choosing to go straight down the middle following his miss against Brentwoods in the Junior League Cup when he hit the post trying to find the bottom corner.

The fourth goal, four minutes later, was the pick of the bunch an excellent team move that involved five or six players exchanging passes inside the Harrow half before the coup de grace was administered by Brounger, who took advantage of the time afforded him to pick out a fine through-ball for Curry to run onto, the veteran biding his time before planting a pinpoint finish into the bottom corner.

Tempers began to flare as both sides reacted to this sudden transformation on the scoreboard, Matthew Harrison earning a yellow card for an outburst the referee did not appreciate. He was fortunate that his strong challenge at full length a couple of minutes later made a clean connection with the ball otherwise he could have been in rather more serious trouble. But the visitors then came within inches of putting the game beyond their opponents when Tristan David’s long free-kick into the box was flicked on by Alexi Pittalis, Brounger heading just wide of the post as the keeper stumbled attempting to clear.

At this stage, it was hard to envisage anything other than a comfortable Harrow victory. But to Taylors’ credit they fought back and began to show just why they are strong favourites to earn promotion back into Division Two following a two-year absence. The men in black made it 4-2 with just over twenty minutes remaining, a long ball just skimmed off the head of Ed David allowing the striker to run and lob Rory Craig from just inside the box. And then, with nine minutes of the ninety remaining, the deficit was reduced to just one when the hosts enjoyed a slice of luck, a low shot from the edge of the box was deflected just inside the post.

The hosts piled on the pressure in an intense ending to the game, the visitors’ rearguard creaking under the strain. Several times an equaliser seemed likely, only for a desperate block or clearance to avert the danger. With less than a minute remaining Taylors were camped inside the Harrow half but the ball was cleared out to the right wing and Tristan David carried into space. Initially, it appeared as though he might head for the corner flag, but having spied James striding through the middle, he timed his pass to perfection and the striker did the rest, cutting inside a retreating defender before calmly placing a shot inside the far corner to spark wild scenes of celebration.

This was just Taylor’s second League defeat of the season and means the Blues have taken four points off the side at the top of the table in their two meetings this campaign. Although promotion still appears unlikely given that most teams still have at least three games in hand on the OHAFC, a win away to the Alleynians next weekend would certainly make things interesting as the squad embark on a lengthy break before next season.