Set-pieces and defensive resilience return 2s to winning ways

Old Haberdashers 1st XI
1 : 3
Old Harrovians 2nd XI
  • January 27th 2024, Haberdashers Aske School, 2pm
  • Division 3
  • Referee: Adam Knight
  • Weather: Sunny, calm
  • Pitch: Excellent
No. Starting XI Goals Yellow & Red Cards Subs On/Off
1 Rory Craig
2 Will Monroe
3 Alexi Pittalis 8'
4 Giacomo Grasso
5 Ed Pagani
6 David Lederman 50'
7 David Griffiths 64' 85'
8 Jack Dolbey
9 Geoff Taunton-Collins (c)
10 Owain James
11 Max Curry 58'
12 James Monroe 45'

The OHAFC 2nd XI halted a run of four League games without a win with an impressive 3-1 victory away to the Old Haberdashers on Saturday afternoon. In a game that had to be replayed from mid-October when the home side fielded several ineligible players, the visitors got off to the perfect start when Alexi Pittalis headed home from a corner inside the first ten minutes. The hosts dominate possession for much of the game, but the Harrow defensive organisation held firm, largely protecting keeper Rory Craig. And the game swung firmly in the visitors’ favour early in the second half when two goals followed in quick succession, Max Curry superbly heading in Jack Dolbey’s cross before David Griffiths fired in from close range following another corner. Although the hosts pulled a goal back with just over twenty minutes remaining, the visitors held on to record their first win since the end of November.

Following four successive defeats in League and Cup, and having failed to score in their three previous League games, there was significant determination among the Harrow ranks to rescue what was threatening to become a disappointing end to the season. The squad was shorn of the first-choice wide men with Miles Kellock unfortunately ruled out for the remainder of the season with an ankle injury sustained in last weekend’s defeat away to the Carthusians, whilst Tristan David (and his brother Ed) were both skiing. But Jakc Dolbey made a welcome return to the midfield, with David Griffiths yet again making the trip to Hertfordshire for a Habs away game – the only team he seems able to don OHAFC colours. Fortunately, Will Monroe’s brother James was a late addition, David Lederman having already endured seventy minutes of football on the Hill.

Conditions at the school were impeccable with a beautiful playing surface, little to no wind and only the low-flying planes landing at Elstree Aerodrome over the road proving any semblance of a distraction. Adam Knight took charge of proceedings, his first OHAFC fixture of the season.

The visitors began brightly in their usual 4-5-1 formation, Max Curry the lone forward with Owain James switching out to the left wing in the absence of Kellock. Indeed, the striker was heavily involved early on with Ed Pagani receiving plenty of the ball at left-back and the Blues passing neatly into midfield and beyond. Some promising attacking play down that flank earned the visitors an early corner and Lederman delivered a fine cross to the edge of the six yard box which was met with a thumping header from Alexi Pittalis – his third goal of the season.

The OHAFC more than held their own for the first twenty minutes of the match, pressing high up the pitch and working tirelessly to deny their opponents the space to play. Although the hosts had plenty of the ball, it was mainly concentrated inside their own half and the Harrow back four looked comfortable. But the longer the half wore on, the more the home side pressed, working the ball patiently from side to side in a bid to forge an opening. Again, the defensive shape from the visitors remained solid enough, although several crosses were delivered from both sides which required attention. Craig remained relatively untroubled throughout, a couple of long-range efforts sailing wide the sum total of the home side’s efforts.

Nevertheless, as the half-time whistle blew with the visitors still a goal to the good, the feeling persisted that there was a lot of football still to be played and the result was far from a foregone conclusion. Lederman, who by this stage had played two hours of football and was understandably shattered, was withdrawn in place of James Monroe, the substitute taking his place on the left wing, Owain James reverting to his usual striker’s role, with Max Curry dropping back into midfield.

Almost immediately, the game developed into a pattern that would pretty much last for the entire half. Habs enjoyed plenty of the ball once more, progressed into the Harrow half, but came up against a brick wall in the shape of the back four. Pittalis and Grasso blocked and tackled and cleared anything that came near them, Pagani and Will Monroe offered both defensive assistance and attacking support out wide and the midfield trio of Curry, Dolbey and Griffiths expended every last ounce of energy in a bid to match their opponents. The difference in the second half was that the Blues offered a genuine threat on the counter-attack that had been relatively lacking previously.

Suddenly, space began to open up with James and Curry holding the ball up well, Dolbey driving forwards with energy and Will Monroe and skipper Taunton-Collins offering plenty of width on both sides. The Blues had already served notice of their attacking intentions with a couple of decent moves down the left, James firing over the bar before a neat one-two down the left allowed Monroe to cross only for the hosts to clear. But Dolbey then took charge, collecting a ball on the left of the area, craftily beating his man on the outside before pulling a cross back to the near post where Max Curry twisted superbly to loop a header inside the far post.

Within six minutes the visitors were in dreamland as the two became three. A corner from the right was curled in by Will Monroe, Curry and Pittalis challenged and the ball dropped perfectly for Griffiths to spin and fire home from six yards out. The looks on the faces of the Habs players said it all, with those watching on from the side unable to fathom how a sudden weakness from crosses had appeared.

Unsurprisingly, the home side threw everything at the final twenty-five minutes and scored an excellent goal within five minutes of falling three behind. A well-worked move through the middle of the pitch ended with a precise low finish into the bottom corner from the edge of the box, Craig left with no chance of affecting a save. It was one-way traffic for much of the closing quarter of an hour but the Harrow defence continued to battle superbly, denying their opponents the chance to shoot cleanly on goal. Craig made one confident claim from a long cross, the judgement and execution typifying the ebullience of his colleagues. The demands of the game proved just too much for Griffiths as he succumbed to cramp with five minutes remaining, Lederman rejoining the fray rather reluctantly. But the job had been done and the visitors could celebrate a deserved triumph that ensures they enter the final three-game stretch of the season with a top-half finish in Division Three still firmly in their sights.