Vets held by Witan in opening friendly
The OHAFC Veterans kicked off their season with a hard-fought and, at times, fractious 1-1 draw against the Old Witan Vets on Sunday morning at the Bank of England ground in Roehamton. Despite the fixture being nominally a friendly, there was little love lost between the teams as tensions rose late on, both sides straining for the elusive winner.
The OHAFC, playing for the first time under new skipper David Lederman, were aided by several faces new and old, with former captain John Wyn-Evans delighted to just be able to turn up and play without having to worry about anything else. Little seems to worry Charlie Feather, and his presence was well-received alongside son Ollie and a few of his OH mates. Mumtaz Habib is better known for his abilities as a cricketer but he made an excellent debut for the side at centre-half, with former stars Paul Molloy, Ru Hoffen and Piers Bourke, alongside Vets Cup regulars Matt Davies and Dave Mutter completing a strong lineup. There were only two things missing: a goalkeeper, Lederman happily donning the gloves given his appearance for the 2nd XI the day before, and a referee, the original one having been drafted into a Cup fixture the evening before. Fortunately, Phil Bearn was kind enough to volunteer, handing over the whistle with twenty minutes remaining in a bid to grab some glory up front.
Despite the visitors, sporting a rather snazzy new yellow and green strip, enjoying more possession in the first half, the OHAFC looked rock solid at the back, with the two Feather’s, Habib and Wyn-Evans restricting their opponents to a few pot-shots at goal and little else – something the skipper was very grateful for. When Witan did break through, Lederman proved up to the task, blocking one shot at point blank range, the ball fortunately driven straight at him, and diving to his left to collect another weaker effort.
Going forwards proved rather more of a struggle despite the strong front pairing of Hoffen and Davies. Bourke struggled to get into the game on the left and the midfield duo of Molloy and Mutter failed to exert the kind of influence that might have been expected. Nevertheless, it was precisely these two players who combined for the opening goal just after the half-hour mark. Having barely threatened, a couple of corners aside, the hosts swept upfield courtesy of a pinpoint first-time through-ball from Molloy that sent Mutter storming through the middle. He made no mistake with the finish and the OHAFC found themselves a goal to the good somewhat against the run of play.
The only other notable incident of the first half was a somewhat reckless foul by the Witan keeper, who sprinted off his line outside the box, missed the ball completely, but felled Rupert Hoffen. On another day the keeper could have been in some trouble but on this occasion a free-kick was the sole punishment and the visitors successfully defended the resulting cross.
Half-time saw a couple of changes in personnel but the game became somewhat scrappy, not helped by a number of free-kicks that were given and probably a fair few more that should have been. The back four, now featuring Hoffen at right-back, continued their sound positioning and the visitors were frustrated in their efforts to level, a few shots flying wide of the mark.
With a quarter of an hour remaining Bearn replaced Davies up front for the OHAFC, but it was the visitors who finally found the back of the net, a well-delivered corner from the Harrow right finding a Witan head at the far post, the ball flying into the top corner from close range.
Several rather unsavoury incidents followed, with a couple of minor skirmishes breaking out, both sides clearly treating the game as rather more than just a friendly. Once tempers had settled, it was the hosts who created the clearest chances to score the winner and, most frustratingly of all, it was Phil Bearn who spurned the best of the lot late on, blazing over the bar from just inside the box after an excellent move down the right saw the ball crossed to the far post and unselfishly headed back across goal.
A late penalty shout for handball inside the Harrow box went begging, much to Witan’s displeasure – had VAR been in play, there would have been little doubt a spot-kick would have resulted. But in the end both sides had to settle for the draw, the famously excellent post-game shower and changing facilities sadly being foregone due to the Covid regulations.
An excellent run-out for the OHAFC against strong opposition, with the two sides set to lock horns again in early December. The Vets should have one more friendly lined up prior to their first taste of Cup action in mid-November.