Cruel final twist sees Blues end season with narrow defeat

Old Alleynians 3rd XI
2 : 1
Old Harrovians 2nd XI
  • February 17th 2024, Dulwich College 4G astro, 10am
  • Division 3
  • Referee: Heidar Sawa
  • Weather: Cloudy
  • Pitch: Astroturf
No. Starting XI Goals Yellow & Red Cards Subs On/Off
1 Rory Craig
2 Geoff Taunton-Collins (c)
3 Kyri Pittalis
4 Giacomo Grasso
5 Ed Pagani
6 Ludo Palazzo
7 David Lederman 62'(p) 65'
8 Jack Dolbey 60'
9 Tristan David
10 Owain James
11 Max Curry
12 David Griffiths 35'

The OHAFC 2nd XI ended their season, and the reign of long-serving skipper Geoff Taunton-Collins, in tortuous fashion on Saturday morning as a last-minute penalty for a bizarre handball gifted the Old Alleynians 3s a 2-1 victory on the newly-built astroturf at Dulwich College. In a game of very few chances, the visitors took the lead midway through the second half when they were fortunate to earn a penalty of their own, Lederman converting following an adjudged foul on striker Max Curry. The hosts levelled ten minutes later with a low shot that deceived keeper Rory Craig and the game appeared to be heading for a draw until the final minute when Giacomo Grasso rose inside the penalty area to head clear, only to be nudged from behind and literally punch the ball away with his hand. The Alleynians made no mistake from the spot and claimed the win that should eventually see them earn the second promotion spot from Division Three alongside Old Merchant Taylors. The Blues have finished their campaign strongly but are likely to have dropped to fourth or fifth in the table by the time the final whistle has sounded on this season.

This proved the cruellest of endings for Taunton-Collins, who has poured his heart and soul into the OHAFC 2s since taking over the reins from Jack Orr-Ewing for the 2015/16 season. The Blues finished mid-table in Division Three in that first season and nine years on find themselves in a remarkably similar state with another mid-table finish and a slightly negative goal difference despite having scored more goals than nearly every other side in the division. But it would be plain wrong to assume there has not been a mountain of progress in the intervening years, with promotion secured in season two, missing out on the Division Three title only on goal difference following a titanic struggle with the upwardly mobile Old Alleynians 1st XI. In subsequent seasons the 2s finished 8th, 6th and 4th in Division Two before Covid interrupted everything. A solid 7th place was gained in 2022/3 before a highly unfortunate last-day relegation last season despite earning 18 points. Two semi-final appearances in the Junior League Cup saw the side narrowly miss out on a first ever trip to Finals Day for an OHAFC side.

This season has proved a real rollercoaster ride for the 2s, who have failed to secure consecutive victories at any stage during the campaign and, paradoxically, have a far better record against the top sides in the division than against the strugglers. But the side deserved more than to end their term with a defeat here, matching the Alleynians throughout the game as both sides enjoyed spells in the ascendency without creating any real chances of note. Indeed, although there was some decent football played throughout, this must have seen the lowest xG (expected goals) of any OHAFC fixture this season: neither keeper was really tested, a good early save from Rory Craig aside, and two of the three goals coming from soft penalties.

On the pristine new astroturf pitch built at the southern end of the Dulwich College grounds, the hosts tested Craig early with a header from a free-kick but the Harrow keeper was up the task, producing an excellent early block. It was to prove almost an isolated incident as neither keeper was then called upon again until the final third of the match. There were decent spells of possession from both teams but a distinct lack of a cutting edge that saw goalmouth incidents non-existent.

The second half appeared to be heading much the same way as the first until a controversial decision from referee Heidar Sawa, who awarded the visitors a penalty when striker Max Curry collided with the Alleynians keeper. The reaction of the Alleynians on the sideline was instantaneous and furious, with the ‘coach’ subsequently booked for his vehement protestations. Once the hullabaloo had died down, Lederman assumed responsibility, Tristan David happy to hand over penalty duties following his successful effort against Merchant Taylors last weekend. The veteran made no mistake, seeing the keeper shift his weight to his left before planting the ball high to his right.

The hosts responded well however and earned parity following a spell of pressure inside the Harrow half that ended with a sudden shot from a narrow angle on the Harrow left. There appeared little danger with plenty of defenders between ball and goal, but the sudden effort found Craig totally unsighted and although the strike wasn’t the cleanest, it travelled unimpeded into the far bottom corner.

The closing ten minutes saw the hosts probably shade territory and possession but the Harrow back four appeared to have everything under control until a cruel final twist. A ball into the box saw Giacomo Grasso twice try to intercept with his head, only for the defender to receive a slight nudge in the back the second time, sending him off balance and resulting in his arm flailing up in the air, his hand almost swatting the ball away as if he was attempting a spike on a beach volleyball court. This time the referee had no choice but to point to the spot, both sets of players almost stunned into silence at this unexpected intervention. The spot-kick was struck firmly into the top corner, Craig left with no chance even if he’d guessed the aim correctly, and the Alleynians had snatched victory with almost the final kick of the OHAFC’s League season.

The Blues will now have a lengthy wait to discover their final position in the Division Three table with the continued bizarre fixture scheduling from the League seeing both the OHAFC 1s and 2s finish their seasons in mid-February – well before any other sides apart from the Old Marlburians in Division One. Although there have been some notable disappointments – the six goals conceded to the Epsomians on the Hill in September when they were reduced to ten men midway through the first half a particular low point – the Blues have finished the season strongly, proving they can match and beat any side in the division. Whoever takes over from Geoff Taunton-Collins will have huge boots to fill, but the foundations are firmly in place for the 2s to challenge for promotion to Division Two in the very near future.