Payne double helps 1s end their season on a high note

Old Marlburians 1st XI
2 : 3
Old Harrovians 1st XI
  • February 17th 2024, Lincoln Fields (4G Astro), 12pm
  • Division 1
  • Referee: Errol Barnett
  • Weather: Cloudy, breezy
  • Pitch: Astroturf
No. Starting XI Goals Yellow & Red Cards Subs On/Off
1 Fraser McGuinness
2 Murray Barr
3 Yunus Sert
4 Ed Beecham (c) 20'
5 Cyprian Owen Edmunds
6 Jamie Jordache
7 Walid Nsouli
8 Doug Morrison
9 Ciaran Jordan
10 Will Payne 41', 60'
11 Oli Acar

Two goals from leading scorer Will Payne and a third from skipper Ed Beecham helped the OHAFC 1st XI end their season on a positive note with a deserved 3-2 win away to the Old Marlburians on Saturday. The victory, which could have been by a greater margin, should almost certainly see the side finish sixth in the Division One standings once the dust has finally settled on the season and helped avoid an unwanted run of five consecutive defeats to end the campaign. Skipper Beecham gave the visitors the lead after twenty minutes but the hosts levelled from the spot following a rather soft penalty decision against Walid Nsouli. Will Payne restored Harrow’s advantage just before the break but again the hosts levelled, this time from a free-kick, a few minutes after the restart. Fortunately it proved third time lucky for the men in blue as a sweeping move on the hour mark allowed Payne to fire into the bottom corner and this time the visitors held on to the lead, recording their first League win since early January.

Injured skipper Dan Firoozan was absent for his side’s final outing of the season and the short trip beyond Twickenham to the Whitton astroturf which is now an excellent surface following its recent upgrade. Following some late adjustments to availability, the Blues were only able to name a bare eleven – the eighth time this season that no substitute has been present for a 1s game. But the side was a strong one, led by Ed Beecham, with a return to the 4-3-3 formation and a potent front three of Payne, Acar and Ciaran Jordan backed by a midfield of Jamie Jordache, Walid Nsouli and Doug Morrison – playing just his third game of the season. Murray Barr was asked to fill in at right-back, with Yunus Sert partnering Beecham in the middle and Cyprian Owen Edmunds on the left. Fraser McGuinness donned the gloves once more – the keeper now nearing 150 appearances for the club.

With half the teams in the division still having four games to play, this fixture was something of an oddity in that it was the final outing for both sides prior to an extremely long summer break. The Marlburians have enjoyed a decent season in Division One but never looked capable of overhauling the Johnians or Tonbridgians in pursuit of the two promotion places. Nevertheless, the hosts should have approached this game with confidence having thrashed a slightly under-strength Harrow side 5-0 on the Hill back in October.

But it was the visitors who made the better start here, passing the ball with confidence and enjoying the lion's share of possession. Chances proved hard to come by despite this, with neither keeper tested in the opening twenty minutes. But Harrow pressure gradually began to build and it was firmly with the run of play that the opening goal arrived. Ciaran Jordan won a corner on the right, his shot turned away by the keeper. The ball was whipped in by Owen Edmunds and headed clear at the far post and out for a throw-in. The throw was quickly taken and delivered to Sert who was loitering midway inside the Marburians’ half. He took a couple of strides forwards and decided to chance his arm, unleashing a powerful strike on goal. Although the effort was straight, the Marlburian keeper found the strike too hot to handle, bundling the ball back into play and allowing Beecham to prod home from close range.

The hosts came close to equalising barely five minutes later, their first serious attack of the game earning a free-kick thirty yards out from goal that was powerfully struck, beating McGuinness in goal but cannoning back off the crossbar. But five minutes after that the home side were level, albeit in hugely controversial circumstances. The ball was played down the Marlburians' left hand side and passed into the penalty area. The forward took a touch but was challenged by Nsouli, who appeared to get a good foot on the ball as well as the player. Referee Errol Barnett pointed to the spot and, despite lengthy Harrow protests and some time-wasting from McGuinness, the spot-kick was confidently tucked away into the bottom corner, the visitors left with it all to do once again.

But if the visitors were feeling hard done by after that incident, they felt even more aggrieved shortly afterwards when what appeared an even stronger claim for a penalty of their own was this time denied by the referee. Murray Barr clipped the ball into the box from the right and Doug Morrison stole in ahead of the centre-back only for the defender to pile through the back of him. Somehow Harrovian claims fell on deaf ears and the remaining ten minutes of the half were played out with a burning sense of injustice fuelling the visitors’ efforts.

The men in blue channelled their anger to good effect, retaking the lead minutes before half-time following some energetic pressing deep in Marlburian territory. A goal kick was played short but the Harrow forwards sensed a chance to put the hosts under pressure, Will Payne stealing in on a defender who tried to turn away with the ball at his feet. Harrow’s leading scorer took a touch to open up the angle and finished beautifully, directing his shot inside the bottom left corner.

Understandably, the half-time team talk was generally positive with the visitors fully deserving of their lead and slightly frustrated the difference between the sides wasn’t even greater. The stiff breeze that had been behind the players’ backs in the first half would now be blowing into their faces so the back four decided to drop their line five yards deeper. But this proved somewhat counter-productive and the Blues had to endure their toughest period of the game in the ten minutes immediately after the resumption. Penned in deep inside their own half, the visitors struggled to clear their lines and it was little surprise that the Marlburians took full advantage, levelling matters for the second time in the game after just four minutes of the second half. A free-kick midway inside the Harrow half on the Marlburian right was curled beyond the far post, bypassing all the Harrow defenders, headed back across goal, allowing a simple tap-in from close range.

It took the Blues a while to work their way back into the ascendency but as the half progressed they once more began to look the more threatening side. Walid Nsouli, who has enjoyed a very promising debut season for the club, dropped deeper to bolster the midfield and he used the ball intelligently, spraying passes out to both flanks and feeding Oli Acar down the middle. The visitors were soon causing problems for their opponents and on the hour-mark they concocted a superb team goal to take the lead for the third time in the match. Murray Barr collected the ball at right-back and fed Sert inside. He turned, beating the attackers’ press in the process, and played the ball forwards to Nsouli who in turn fed Acar. The striker carried the ball forwards against a now retreating Marlburian rearguard before feeding Payne on the right. Several vociferous appeals for offside were ignored and Payne took full advantage, taking one touch to control the ball before delivering a precise low strike into the far bottom corner with his second.

The Marlburians responded with a couple of free-kicks, one of which was headed just over at the far post. But aside from a couple of other quick breaks, the Blues managed the remainder of the game well, Sert and Beecham using their experience to tidy up at the back and the midfield trio working prodigiously to deny their opponents a way back into the game. The visitors had a couple of breaks of their own but they too came to nothing and the final quarter of an hour passed without either side looking likely to score, the visitors sealing a deserved seventh League win of the season that should see them finish sixth in Division One.

It has proved a rather inconsistent campaign for the Blues but there are undoubtedly some green shoots of recovery beginning to appear following a few tough years for the OHAFC’s senior side. Next season skipper Dan Firoozan will return to action and, with a couple of additions to the squad, sights should be set rather higher than mid-table.

A full review of the 1st XI’s 2023/24 season will appear on the website in the next few weeks.