BULLER FOILS THE DEAN
Karl Curtis reports:
It was a lovely pitch, perfect evening down by the Thames and a good-sized crowd for the renewing of acquaintances between us and our old rivals. We'd had to make a couple of changes to the team, with Dan Wilson returning at centre-back in place of the suspended Paul Sharpe, and Jon Schaaf coming in up front in place of the holidaying Dale Wright.
Both ourselves and Marlow had had very good opening day results and we knew we'd be in for a tough game.
We started well, imposed ourselves on the game and put Marlow on the back foot from very early on. Lee Hawkins had the first good chance for us with 5 minutes on the clock when he went on a mazy run down the inside-left channel and struck a powerful shot from 10 yards which 'keeper John Buller did very well to tip on to the post, the ball rebounding to safety. 10 minutes later, Xavi Etienne picked up a great touch-off from Schaafy to get a low shot on-target from 25 yards, which Buller spilled. With a defender all over his back, Schaafy followed up and managed to get an effort on-target from the rebound but Buller somehow recovered to get up and finger-tip the ball over the bar for what was a quite brilliant save.
We were well on top now and shortly afterwards, after a free-kick was half-cleared, Dave Saunders swung over a deep cross which Dan Wilson helped on to Etienne, who contolled it on his chest before smashing a tremendous right-footed, half-volley on-target, which looked to have 'goal' written all over it. However, Buller once again had other ideas and made a fantastic, full-length save to keep it out.
The next chance arrived on 25 minutes when, from a left-wing cross, Schaafy unfortunately couldn't connect cleanly and, with the goal gaping, the ball squirted wide from 4 yards off the inside of his heel.
On the half-hour mark, a great passing move ended with the impressive Hawkins driving in a superb early cross to Etienne but he too unfortunately couldn't connect cleanly when well-placed and his rushed effort went horribly wide.
We then had a decent penalty shout turned down when one of the United defenders was struck on the wrist by a bouncing ball, the officials deciding that he couldn't get out of the way of it.
To add insult to injury, referee Hitt then gave Marlow a penalty after a very similar incident in our 18-yard box, when Dan Wilson was allegedly struck on the arm from point-blank range, following a Marlow corner that we'd half-cleared. The decision was ridiculous, to the point that the players and spectators from both sides didn't know what Hitt had whistled for.
Once our lengthy protests had died down, skipper Dan Flint stepped up and scored from what turned out to be United's only effort on target in the first half.
We still had time to have another effort cleared off the line up the other end before the half-time whistle blew. I couldn't believe we were 1-0 down after being so on top for the first 45 minutes.
We started the second half quite well but Marlow had reverted to a 4-5-1 formation to try to prevent us attacking with the same penetration as the first half, and, to their credit, we were finding it much more difficult to create anything clear-cut. Then, on 55 minutes and with our back four uncharacteristically all over the place, Aaron Clarke was played onside as he ran on to a ball through the middle and did well to slot past Dave Olver to give United a healthy-looking 2-0 lead.
It was always going to be difficult to come back from that but to our lads' credit they didn't give up and kept going in an effort to get back into it, and there was still plenty of time left for us. However, despite huffing and puffing, we only got one effort on target during the next 30 minutes, when Etienne latched on to a through ball from Schaaf to lash in a powerful, angled drive which Buller once again did well to keep out.
With 5 minutes to go, we got an unexpected lifeline when Buller fumbled substitute Richard Jones' cross over the line to reduce the deficit. It was totally out of keeping with the United stopper's performance on the night but gave us a glimmer of hope that we may just get something from the game.
As we moved into stoppage time, we had several corners which the United defence did well to deal with under pressure, and our last chance came in the final minute of injury time when another substitute, Sean Gavagan, headed on to the bar from Arron Lennon's outswinging corner.
The final whistle blew, Marlow celebrated and we were left to reflect on a first half of great football but missed chances, compounded by a staggering refereeing decision which undoubtedly affected the balance of the entire game, coming at the time it did.
I was proud of the effort the lads had put in but ultimately left feeling bittery disappointed about the defeat.
We now look forward to welcoming Theale to the Alfred Major on Saturday where we will look to get back on track. Theale have strengthened over the Summer, bringing in the likes of former Highmoor/Ibis pair Chris Bark and Dave Givens plus former Westwood winger Sam tucker, so it will be another tough test for us.