1st XI crash out of Dunn in dramatic fashion

4 Feb 2012

Old Tonbridgians 6 Old Harrovians 5 AET

The dream of lifting the Arthur Dunn Cup for the second time in the club’s history was dashed on Saturday in quite dramatic fashion as the OHAFC 1st XI valiantly struggled to hold off a determined Tonbridge comeback in front of a vocal home crowd. Harrow twice led by three goals midway through the second half but were forced to play the final half an hour of normal time and the whole of extra-time with only ten men as three key injuries left the side unable to make any further substitutions. The numerical disadvantage eventually told, the home side scoring less than ten minutes from the end of the extra period to secure their place in the last four.

For Harrow, the day started poorly and only got worse. Several players endured difficulties getting to the ground after a long journey from London, with Will Orr-Ewing unfortunately involved in a minor accident and getting to the pitch barely five minutes before kick-off. The fixture had already been switched to an artificial 3G surface with the school pitches frozen. The warm-up demonstrated the slowness of the surface, with the ball not travelling anywhere near as fluidly as on a normal grass pitch, something that clearly did not benefit the fast passing style Harrow like to play.

However, despite the tricky pitch and less than ideal preparation, the visitors made a fine start to the match. Barely three minutes had elapsed when Poulter fed Lederman down the right, he cut back and delivered a fine cross with his left foot, requiring only the deftest of headed touches from Haddon-Paton to send the ball arrowing into the far corner to give Harrow the lead.

Any thoughts of a comfortable ride against opponents a division below were quickly dispelled though as Tonbridge soon hit their stride and began to pass the ball around with confidence. For half an hour Harrow struggled to string even three passes together and whenever the ball was cleared, it invariably came straight back. The home side were clearly worthy of an equaliser but the Harrow back five held firm: Raffety in goal pulled off one fine save low down to his left and there were several goalmouth scrambles which saw the home side go close. Despite holding onto their clean sheet until the break, Harrow’s chances were dealt a serious blow when two key players were forced off with injury, unable to return. Fred Milln flew into an aerial challenge inside the Tonbridge box and fell awkwardly, damaging his back. A minute before the break, Olly Haddon-Paton was fouled from behind on the touchline and his knee gave way forcing him too to be replaced. The shuffle saw Fred Richardson come on in central midfield, Paul Molloy drop to centre-half, with Luke de Rougemont replacing Haddon-Paton up front.

The instructions at half-time were clear: for the team to relax and start to play football in a more deliberate fashion, the perception being that everything in the first half had been too frantic and ill-disciplined – the visitors had conceded numerous free-kicks, although it must be said the side had been given little from the referee up to this point.

After a reasonably even ten minutes, Harrow appeared to take a decisive grasp on the tie when they scored twice in the space of ten minutes. Fred Richardson finished coolly after excellent build-up play between Lederman and de Rougemont. With an hour gone Harrow then made their final substitution with Freddie Brunt replacing Piers Bourke on the left of midfield. He made an immediate impact, latching onto a deep Lederman cross to go past his marker and fire home at the far post. At this point there appeared to be no way back for Tonbridge, with even their previously vocal supporters who had braved the cold on the touchline subdued into silence.

Two minutes later and Harrow’s decision to use their final substitute was made to look rather hasty as Harry Hoffen, who had endured a frustrating afternoon, pulled up in severe pain whilst chasing a long ball over the top, a torn hamstring the immediate diagnosis. With the striker barely able to walk, Harrow were left with little choice but to try and see out the remainder of the game with ten men, de Rougemont asked to plough a lone furrow up front.

Tonbridge sensed a way back into the tie and within minutes had pulled a goal back, a cross from their right headed in at the back post to make the score 3-1 to Harrow.

The renewed optimism from the home team and supporters was extinguished moments later when Harrow broke upfield to score their fourth and re-establish the three-goal cushion. Brunt delivered one cross with his left which was half-cleared back to him. This time he curled in a wicked right-footed ball which eluded everybody except Lederman, who arrived at the far post to turn the ball in through the ‘keeper’s legs.

Again, any thoughts of seeing the game off comfortably were quickly ruined when moments later the Tonbridge right-back went on a strong run through the heart of the Harrow midfield and finished with him curling a perfect left-foot shot into the top corner from twenty-five yards out past a despairing Raffety.

Suddenly the atmosphere changed and panic began to set into the weary Harrow side. As the match wore on, the play became more and more concentrated in the Harrow half, with Tonbridge crosses raining into the visitor’s box with regularity. With twelve minutes to go one such cross caused a mix-up between Molloy and Orr-Ewing, both players going for the same ball and although it appeared as though the threat had been cleared, a flailing Orr-Ewing leg caught the Tonbridge striker in the stomach and he went down, leaving referee Richard Wilson to point to the spot. The penalty was comfortably converted leaving Harrow to hang on for just over ten minutes with a one-goal lead.

They couldn’t manage it. Just three minutes from the end of the ninety minutes another cross from the Tonbridge right curled over the Harrow defence and was headed in at the back post to spark scenes of jubilation among the home support and send the tie into extra-time.

Despite the enormous disappointment of seeing their lead slip in the final minutes of normal time, Harrow began extra-time determined to once more go on the attack to try and get a goal to put pressure back onto the home side. Raffety was forced into making another excellent save to keep the scores level and Harrow managed to cling on as the first half of extra-time wore on, glad to hear the referee’s whistle go to signal just fifteen minutes remaining.

However, to their enormous credit, the visitors somehow appeared to get stronger as extra-time wore on and were looking reasonably comfortable defensively when, with seven minutes remaining, disaster struck. An over-hit cross was collected at the far post by Lederman, but with no teammate ahead of him, the winger tried to carry the ball upfield, only to lose out to the left-back. The defender crossed into the box and the smallest player on the pitch rose between the centre-halves to head the ball in a perfect arc into the top corner and give Tonbridge the lead for the first time in the tie.

Despite managing to launch the ball into the Tonbridge box and coming close on several occasions, Harrow could not force the equaliser and the whistle for full-time was the cue for huge celebration from the home fans and dejection for the visitors. It had been a cruel defeat for the OHAFC side, one that will not be forgotten in a hurry, but enormous credit must go to Tonbridge, who maintained their belief and effort despite twice seemingly being in a hopeless situation.

Sir Alex Ferguson could not have summed up the feelings of the Harrow contingent any better as they made their way back round the M25 to south-west London: ‘Football, bloody hell.’