Sandy’s strike for Dunstable sinks Kettering

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Eliot Sandy scored the only goal of the game as Dunstable Town beat Kettering Town in a pre-season friendly on Tuesday.

In perhaps the tightest of the pre-season friendlies, Sandy’s early strike was preceded and followed by two other efforts hitting the post and crossbar, thus denying him a possible hat-trick.

But Dunstable’s overall team performance was distinctly encouraging. As preparatory games go this one seemed to have the earnestness of a league game.

Happily for the Poppies, who were tonight playing in green and white, this particular visit to Creasey Park was a good deal more relaxed than their last visit, where after succumbing to a thorough defeat, they were on the brink of extinction.

But with clubs and individuals donating cash they were able not only to survive, but reach the play-offs of the Central Division. In doing so they beat the Duns at their Burton Latimer ground 2-0 and are tipped by some to gain promotion next season. After the 3-3 draw with Marlow, where a two goal lead was lost in the later stages of the game, a sterner performance was the outcome and a much better showing at defending set pieces.

But in terms of attacking opportunities, these were plentiful in the opening stages and a goal looked likely even before the successful strike timed at just over five minutes. A lob from the left from Chris Marsh had caught the opposing goalkeeper in a disadvantageous position and the ball struck the far post and Sandy’s instinctive follow-up was just kept from crossing the line. But Sandy’s stylish strike - a fine header – was enough to set up a good competitive game.

Kettering went on the attack and had one shot tipped over the bar and from the corner we saw a creditable attempt at an overhead kick which was way too high. A smart combination involving Ben Herd and Charlie Henry saw the larret essay a header that was gathered comfortably, and then a shot from the pleasingly persistent Herd was on target but directly at the keeper.

A following cross from Henry once again set up the eager Sandy whose fine shot rattled the crossbar. With Terry Dixon looking for the loose ball and Chris Marsh sending in crosses from the left, this was a good spell of attack from the Duns.

Kettering responded when play allowed and if beaten back in one attack they were able to keep possession to attempt another. The impressive defending of Leon Cashman and Nick Beasant was enough to spoil a few forays by the patient Poppies, and at the other end Newman Carney put in a strong free kick and a decent shot from range, which were both saved.

A Kettering shot was deflected for a corner with Cashman imperiously rising for the defensive clearing header, but this was a fairly expressive spell for the visitors who began to win more challenges and look purposely for the equaliser.

One Dunstable counter attack was ended with a over robust challenge by Henry Eze who was cautioned. Eze in the last league game had proved himself something of a hero for the Poppies, but has the mercurial temperament that fails to endear him to the officials.

With Carney’s free kick ably tipped over the bar and Dunstable winning corners, they went to the interval deserving of their lead in terms of created chances and a decided lead in terms of shots on target.The second half proved to be a lot tighter, with not as many clear chances and a somewhat combative struggle in midfield.

Dixon had one on-target effort saved and kept looking for more. He could or perhaps should have exploited his one-on one chance earlier Ben Barnes came on to replace Jamie Head in goal – as he did in the last game and Jamale McKenzie-Lowe was also employed but was not able to gain the freedom or space to run on goal, and Kettering defence showed a good level of steadfastness.

The Poppies laboured a little in preparatory play and their goal attempts this half were rather lacking, but from what we saw of them they look very solid.Play was far from dull but it was more concentrated even with the pace varying.

If a free kick was given away cheaply in a worrying position, at least the Duns’ defence had this properly sorted, but there were moments where the marking could have been a little tighter.

That seems a little unfair as they kept a clean sheet, but it was just as well as some crosses were over-hit. This applied to the Duns as well. In the first half they had thrilled with some lovely ‘dinked ‘ through balls that were grist to the mill for the likes of Dixon and Sandy, but in the second period the pleasing accuracy dissipated somewhat.

But the team kept its shape admirably with players communicating well and organising one another efficiently. Slim as this victory was it was effective and augers well for the forthcoming campaign. That there was some impressive, flowing play cannot be denied and we should not overlook the calm and effective defensive work from Carney and Cashman – so cool under pressure.

Sandy was a revelation and Herd’s instinctive positioning was of great value. There was also and a notable performance from Scott Davies and all in all home supporters had no trouble in discerning the strength in depth of the squad.

The managers are of course tight-lipped on the eventual league starting eleven, and there are couple of pre-season games to come – Aylesbury away on Saturday, August a2 nd a late addition of neighbours Barton Rovers on Tuesday, August 5. The latter will be of considerable interest as the Rovers were the only team to secure a league double over the Duns last season – and they are also the opponents in the first round of the Red Insure Cup -(The Southern League Cup).

But supporters went away wondering just what sort of game it might have been had Sandy not been denied by the woodwork.

Dunstable Town: Jamie Head, Ben Herd, Newman Carney, Nick Beasant, Leon Cashman, Scott Davies, Adam Watkins, Charlie Henry, Terry Dixon, Eliot Sandy , GOAL 5 minutes, Christopher Marsh. Substitutes – Jamale McKenzie-Lowe, Ben Barnes, Ryan Plowright, Tony Fontanelle, Lee Roache, Shane Blackett.