Boxing Day really can’t pass without a boxing analogy, and
for the Bucks and the Harriers a draw on points sets both sides up for a
rematch on the first day of 2018. Neither side came close enough to landing a
knockout blow on the other, however the Bucks can be pleased that they traded
punches with a more fancied opponent and looked comfortably in their class.
Rob Edwards made two changes to the side that took a point
in a 1-1 draw at Brackley Town three days earlier. Henry Cowans and Anthony Dwyer
took the places of Max Leonard and Elliot Newby, with the home team using a
4-3-3 formation, albeit a somewhat loose one.
Wet weather on Christmas Day meant that the playing surface,
damaged by frost, snow and waterlogging through December, cut up badly
underfoot. With both sides keen to keep the ball on the floor and pass, it was
the Bucks who seemed to adapt more quickly, and they had the better of the
In just the fourth minute the Bucks could and perhaps should
have taken the lead. John Marsden’s shot from 20 yards was charged down but was
recycled to Ross White, making ground on the right; his cross on the run from
tight to the goal-line was met at the far post by Marcus Dinanga, however
Harriers’ keeper Brandon Hall palmed his effort away. Kidderminster responded
with a shot from the right by Emmanuel Sonupe; Singh saved his effort and then
watched Andre Brown’s overhit cross from the opposite flank pass safely through
his penalty area for a goal-kick.
On 11 minutes the Bucks were just inches from taking a lead.
Hall and Dinanga were again involved, the keeper punching clear as they
challenged for a ball in the area. Ryan Wilson, who enjoyed possibly his best
performance for the club to date, beat Sonupe to pick up the clearance on the
left edge of the penalty area, and his left-foot shot grazed the outside of
Hall’s right-hand post.
Harriers’ full-back Joel Taylor was looking uncomfortable
against the direct play of Anthony Dwyer on the right, however the away side
started to establish a foothold and chances became fewer as a result. Just
before the half-hour mark, some ponderous Harriers defending in their own box
allowed Marsden to steal in and control the bouncing ball before lashing a
fierce right-footed effort off the underside of the bar, with Hall beaten. The
ball bounced down close to the line but any Geoff Hurst-style controversy was ruled
out, the referee awarding a free-kick after his assistant adjudged Marsden to
have handled in the build-up.
Henry Cowans, another player who enjoyed a fine game, burst
forward with purpose and chose to look for Ebanks-Blake when he may perhaps
have taken a shot himself, the move breaking down. Harriers then won a
free-kick on the left edge of the home penalty area; former Buck James
McQuilkin cleared the defensive wall but as his effort dipped below the
crossbar Singh got across to his right to tip the ball over for a corner. From
the kick, Singh was again in action, colliding with his right post as Harriers
returned the ball into the area, the keeper eventually claiming the ball under
With just over five minutes left in the half the Harriers
suffered a blow as both McQuilkin and Joe Ironside went to ground, injured,
with seconds of each other. The former recovered but Ironside was eventually
forced from the field at the break, unable to continue. He did bring a save
from Singh before doing so, wrapping his foot around the ball from Sonupe’s feed
from the right edge of the area, but at half-time it was honours even.
HALF TIME: AFC Telford United 0 Kidderminster Harriers 0
With Liam Truslove replacing Ironside, the half began with
the Bucks successfully defending a McQuilkin free-kick, then Hall was again
forced to punch clear from inside his six-yard box, the Bucks forcing an early
corner. It took until 56 minutes for a clear chance to be carved out. Harriers
Elton Ngwatala got to the goal-line to Singh’s right, then pulled the ball back
for Brown; he got a shot away but Singh blocked it, with Connor Johnson blocking
any rebound opportunity and Sutton finally clearing the ball out of the area.
The Bucks replied with one of their own best chances; on 62
minutes, White again got forward and put over an inviting cross which Dinanga
rose to head wide of Hall’s goal. The Bucks’ top scorer reacted as though he
felt he should have done better. Four minutes later came perhaps the best
chance yet, when a cross from the left found Sutton in the area, but with the
ball bouncing the captain couldn’t keep his shot low enough, and he cleared the
bar with Hall isolated and the goal at his mercy.
Edwards replaced Dwyer with Elliot Newby, and he was soon
into the action, seeing a shot from the right blocked, as was Jordan Lussey’s
follow-up effort. Harriers responded and from McQuilkin’s pull-back, Truslove
fired high and wide when he should surely have tested Singh in the Bucks goal. Rain
had been forecast, and with just 15 minutes or so remaining it started to fall,
making conditions even trickier. Sonupe’s last act before being substituted was
to fire a low cross in from the right, the ball fizzing through the six-yard
The Bucks forced a couple of corners, and from the second
Newby had a shot from the edge of the area blocked. The ball fell back to him
and he showed superb footwork on the churned-up turf to weave past two players;
his attempts to walk the ball home were denied at the death, another corner
resulting. Harriers cleared it and broke, with Truslove setting up Ngwatala on
the counter to shoot wide when well placed. Minutes later Truslove worked another
opportunity for himself, but after cutting in from the right and running
parallel to the edge of the box his shot was deflected safely into Singh’s
The last meaningful chance of the game came on 84 minutes.
Harriers won a corner on the left and the resulting kick was flicked on,
clearing the defence and passing just wide of the far post, to gasps from the
away fans packed behind the goal. The Bucks were unable to find a final chance
of their own, aside from an incident when a flare was thrown onto the pitch
from behind Hall’s goal the last few minutes saw both sides close ranks and
settle for a hard-earned point.
At the whistle, the crowd responded warmly to both teams,
having been served up a tasty post-Christmas game that delivered in most
respects, other than the one that really counts: goals. That referee Sam Mulhall
maintained order without having to caution any of the participants was
something of a small miracle when, on a difficult surface, mistimed challenges
could have been expected. The return game on 1st January promises to
be a similar contest.
FULL TIME: AFC Telford United 0 Kidderminster Harriers 0
Bucks: Singh, White, Wilson, Johnson, Sutton (c), Lussey, Dwyer
(Newby 66), Cowans, Ebanks-Blake, Marsden, Dinanga (Murphy 85).
Unused subs: Hayden, Martinez, Leonard.
Kidderminster Harriers: Hall, Taylor, Pearson, Croasdale,
Horsfall, O’Connor, Sonupe (Austin 74), McQuilkin, Ironside (Truslove 45),
Unused subs: Wright, Vaughan, Digie.
Referee: Samuel Mulhall.
Assistants: Jonathan Maskrey, Paul Stonier.