Vets somehow lose Plate semi despite dominating

19 Mar 2024

The OHAFC Veterans crashed out of the Derrick Moore Plate competition at the semi-final stage on Sunday morning with a hugely frustrating 3-2 defeat at home to the Old Wykehamists on the Sunley Field. Despite dominating for long spells in both halves, the hosts somehow found themselves 3-0 down at the break, the visitors scoring three times on the break with practically their only three attacks. The OHAFC cranked up the pressure after half-time, pulling two goals back instantly courtesy of a Geoff Taunton-Collins header and a Paul Molloy close-range finish. But the equaliser failed to materialise, despite fairly constant pressure. The Wykehamists move onto the final in late April where they will face either the Old Carthusians or the Old Foresters.

This defeat was cruel on the OHAFC, who were as devoid of luck in this tie as much as they had benefitted from it in the quarter-finals against the Reptonians. In that fixture, three weeks ago on the astroturf, a fortunate Harrow penalty and immediate sin bin for the Reptonians helped the black and white stripes earn a 4-4 draw before scraping through 5-4 in the penalty shootout. But on this occasion, all the refereeing decisions went the way of the visitors, with two of the three Winchester goals allowed to stand despite fairly clear fouls in the build-up and two strong Harrovian penalty appeals waved away – one of which seemed fairly blatant, the other a marginal call on whether the foul was inside or outside the area.

But despite this, the home side had only themselves to blame for not progressing against a well-organised but limited Winchester side. A fairly even start on the pristine Sunley Field gave way to increasing levels of Harrovian pressure, with numerous corners and free-kicks won as the home side began to pass the ball with confidence. Khan, Lederman and Harry Hoffen all had presentable chances but failed to test the keeper, the Wykehamists defending stoutly, albeit pushing the boundaries with some of their tackling, one of which led to their own player snapping his Achilles tendon as he executed a rather crude hack on Piers Bourke down the left.

The visitors had barely concocted an attack of note, some rather rudimentary route one football occasionally leading to heightened tensions inside the Harrow half on a few occasions, but, remarkably, they then proceeded to score three goals in the twenty minutes before the break as the home side fell apart defensively. Two of the three came from quick breaks following Harrow corners. The first saw the ball headed clear from the first defender and thumped long down the left wing. The lone forward cut inside Chopra but appeared to have fouled the covering Ru Hoffen as he lunged in studs up going for the loose ball. The referee waved play on and although keeper Alex Fraysse blocked the first effort, the forward picked himself up off the ground and slotted in despite Warner’s presence on the goal line.

If that jolted the home side, the concession of a second goal ten minutes later, with another questionable challenge in the build-up, left them stunned. Another break forwards saw the ball eventually run loose midway inside the Harrow half. Taunton-Collins went to control but was caught on the top of his boot by another late challenge from a Wykehamist. Remarkably, the referee again waved play on, despite the Harrow man lying in a heap on the ground in obvious discomfort. The ball was eventually fed towards the edge of the box and was curled past Fraysse into the far corner, the keeper getting a decent glove on the ball but unable to keep it out.

Understandably, the sudden concession of two goals in these circumstances rocked the hosts and the final ten minutes of the half were played almost in a daze. As the final seconds of the half ticked down, another corner was won and Lederman delivered the cross towards the penalty spot. Again it was headed clear. Again it was hoofed long down the pitch, the Wykehamists somehow finding themselves with a three on one, Warner the only obstacle to their progress. This time the visitors took advantage without any assistance from the match official, playing the ball out to the left from where it was curled beautifully into the far top corner beyond the reach of the Harrow keeper.

The hosts had left themselves with a mountain to climb. Wyn Evans and Ingram were introduced at the break, Chopra and Ru Hoffen the men to make way. Despite the scoreline, there remained genuine belief that the tie could still be salvaged, such had been the level of Harrovian dominance to that point and the unfortunate nature of two of the three goals conceded.

And those levels of optimism only rose in the ten minutes after the break as the hosts scored twice, Geoff Taunton-Collins the architect of both goals. Sustained pressure straight from the restart saw the OHAFC camped in the Winchester half. From one corner, Taunton-Collins rose superbly to head home from the penalty spot. Moments later he drove powerfully down the right, cut the ball back across goal and Molloy was the man to profit, stabbing home from close range after the cross cannoned back off a defender.

At this stage it appeared as though the hosts would coast to victory, such was the incessant pressure on the Winchester goal. But midway through the half, with the visitors barely clinging onto their slender lead, the game suddenly became rather fractious, the referee’s whistle constantly interrupting the flow. Tempers flared from a sudden flashpoint down the Harrow left, Ru Hoffen and a Wykehamist involved in a tangle following a foul by the Winchester player - he was booked and both players were given a stern lecture from the referee. Disappointingly, this interruption somewhat stalled the hosts’ momentum and it wasn’t until the closing ten minutes that the pressure again began to build on the Winchester goal.

By this stage the hosts were throwing men forwards at will and were in danger of being caught on the break again, Warner at times the lone defender inside his own half. But still lady luck was nowhere to be seen. Harry Hoffen was fouled by the Winchester skipper inside the box but again no decision was forthcoming. Then, a more marginal call that again went against the hosts as Ru Hoffen was fouled right on the edge of the box – although the offence was penalised, it was deemed to have taken place a foot outside the area. Khan fired a very presentable chance wide, a Winchester defender sliced a clearance just wide of his own goal. The ball just would not run for the men in black and white.

The final whistle signalled the end of a hugely frustrating ninety minutes for the OHAFC, but there was little more the side could have done to ensure a place in the final. The Wykehamists go on to play the winners of the other semi-final between Old Carthusians and Old Foresters. The OHAFC will potentially have two further fixtures this season – a friendly against the newly-formed Old Alleynians Vets and the second staging of the Dom Danos Memorial game.