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Kidderminster Harriers match report
Bucks and Harriers claim a point each in Boxing Day draw

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 early exchanges.

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 his bar.

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 box untouched.

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 grateful grasp.

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), Ngwatala, Brown.

Unused subs: Wright, Vaughan, Digie.

Referee: Samuel Mulhall.

Assistants: Jonathan Maskrey, Paul Stonier.

Attendance: 1,995.

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