2 v 1
It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish, or so the song says, and although the Bucks didn’t start this game where and in the way they wanted to, the important thing is that they finished it where they wanted to be.
As the game moved into its final ten minutes, Kevin Wilkin’s team trailed to Alex Prosser’s fine strike just after the hour, and the Bucks appeared set to fall victim to a Glassboys smash and grab, both literally and metaphorically.
Incredibly, within the space of no more than three minutes, the Bucks turned a deficit into an advantage, and there was even time between the goals that swung the contest for Stourbridge’s Harvey Portman to be dismissed for a second yellow card.
After Orrin Pendley’s 85th-minute close-range equaliser, a cheeky backheeled finish from the central defender, substitute Ricardo Dinanga conjured a moment of magic which released a wave of jubilation within the home fans and plunged the Glassboys followers into despair and disbelief.
Stourbridge could point to the fact that they had denied the Bucks many clear opportunities as evidence of this being an unjust outcome; however, the Bucks deserve credit for sticking to their guns, and to their task. The Glassboys may feel they didn’t deserve to lose, but it would also be hard to argue that the Bucks deserved to be beaten.
Wilkin wasn’t afraid to admit that his attempts to generate more scoring chances hadn’t paid off as hoped, and Wilkin isn’t the sort of manager to allow the dizzying excitement of the final few minutes to disguise his side’s deficiencies.
The good news for Wilkin is that there are many more entries in the Bucks’ credit column than in their debit column, which they can draw upon whilst they work on the rest.
The Bucks started this game with two changes from the side that was held by Coalville Town in midweek. Matty Stenson hadn’t fully recovered from the foot injury he sustained in that game, and Wilkin accommodated new signing Kyle Storer by rejigging his forward options. Reece Styche was preferred over Montel Gibson as the spearhead of an attacking three, flanked by Ellis Brown and Byron Moore, but they failed to mesh.
Brown has delivered a generally good standard of performance but had what Wilkin described as his poorest performance in a Bucks shirt so far. Moore didn’t make it to half-time, forced off by what appeared to be a hamstring injury, whilst Styche was the focus of what appeared to be a conscious effort to get under his skin by the away side.
The collective misfire meant it was a first-half of few chances for either side. It was also 45 minutes punctuated by some curious officiating by referee Alex Rolfe. Within the first 10 minutes, debutant Storer was booked for a trip on the halfway line in a passage of play where little looked likely to emerge. That booking would have been more palatable had the Glassboys’ Aaron Forde also been booked a few minutes later for a foul on Styche, which was late, from behind and overly aggressive.
That seemed to signal that it was open season and emotions were bubbling barely below the surface for a few minutes.
Storer showed his passing range on a couple of occasions, searching out Styche but finding him half a yard offside. Portman continued the targeted aggression towards the Bucks forward, depositing him on the turf and testing his temperament further.
Just before the half-hour mark, Moore came off worst in a tackle and got slowly to his feet, clearly feeling an impact on his hamstring, one which was already heavily taped. He continued for a few minutes but eventually succumbed to the injury and was replaced by Dinanga.
The Bucks had been making more inroads down the left-hand side, where wing-back Nathan Fox, a consistent and key performer, went to another level above his usual standard of quiet efficiency. Unfortunately, his excellent deliveries were rarely identified by his teammates, with Fox’s efforts going to waste.
At the other end, Ellis Myles was watchful under pressure to back-head a dangerous Niall Flint cross away from the heading of the waiting Koby Arthur in the six-yard box.
With half-time closing in and the game starting to feel as if it was heading in the direction of the Bucks’ last three home matches, all of which were drawn, the Portman-Styche bout moved from the undercard to become the main event.
Styche turned away from Portman and made a determined drive into the 18-yard box. Portman followed, grappling with Styche and both men grabbed a decent handful of each other’s shirts in their efforts to gain an advantage. Portman and Styche went to ground, the former putting the ball into touch, but the fuse, once smouldering, was now well and truly fizzing.
Styche got off the floor to remonstrate with Portman, and the Glassboys player appeared to feel that getting his retaliation in first was the way to handle the situation. Portman struck out at Styche, who fell back to the turf, and chaos ensued. Two Glassboys players rounded on the floored Styche, feeling he was embellishing the contact, whilst others jostled and exchanged unpleasantries.
Referee Rolfe gave yellow cards to both, but that didn’t calm the situation, and as the teams headed for the dressing rooms a scuffle broke out, with the Glassboys’ Alex Prosser felt by some observers to have struck out at Fox. Stewards helped to restore a relative level of calm, but as Mr Rolfe left the field, the home fans left him in no doubt that they felt his handling of the game had precipitated the flashpoint.
Stourbridge were now very much pantomime villains, and whether that was by design or not they responded early in the second half by looking more positive. Bucks keeper Brandon Hall, largely a spectator, had to kick clear hurriedly from a short Pendley back pass, but he didn’t have to intervene when Kacy Butterfield made space for a shot but skied his effort high and wide.
The warning signs were there, however, with the Bucks blocking a Kian Ryley shot after he too worked himself into a shooting opportunity, and after 61 minutes the visitors applied the coup de grace. Good play helped them set up Prosser in the ‘D’ of the penalty area and he struck a powerful shot that curled away from Hall’s grasp as it beat him to find the net to his right.
The 100 or so Glassboys fans celebrated, and the Bucks knew three points and their 16-game unbeaten run was on the line.
The response wasn’t instant, but it came; however, irrespective of what the Bucks came up with, Glassboys keeper Charlie Price was equal to it. He presented a big barrier, snapping up inaccurate crosses and, when the Bucks broke through, he used his body to block Remi Walker’s attempt to direct the ball underneath him.
Styche had made way for Gibson and Walker was then replaced by Jordan Piggott, now recovered from injury. Dinanga was starting to become more influential too; he won a series of corners as he tested the Glassboys’ defence, and it was that route that eventually brought an equaliser.
From their 11th corner of the afternoon, Pendley’s presence in the six-yard box prevented a proper clearance, and as the ball landed in the six-yard box Pendley, facing away from goal, improvised to backheel a scrambled effort past Price to level.
As a minimum, the Bucks appeared to have saved their unbeaten run. Better was soon to follow, but before that came a dismissal for Portman; attempting to prevent another Bucks surge, he was ruled to have used his arm to stop the ball getting into space behind him. A second yellow card equalled red, and Portman trudged from the furthest corner of the field to the dressing room.
What followed confounded belief. From another corner, the Glassboys headed the ball clear to the edge of the box; Dinanga possesses plenty of attributes but seems to lack belief at times, but any doubts evaporated as he controlled the ball, moved it to his right and then back to his left to sidestep a defender. Having made half a yard, he released a shot that travelled like a bolt from a crossbow, straight and true and into the top right-hand corner. Price flailed at thin air as delirium broke out, Dinanga leaping to punch the air wildly in front of jubilant fans in the main stand.
A few minutes of added time were played out in a fevered atmosphere before the final whistle and celebration of a victory that few could have foreseen ten minutes earlier.
Match Date: January 27th, 2024 3:00 pm
Competition: Southern League Premier Central
Kick Off: 15:00
Venue: New Bucks Head
- Byron Moore (replaced Ricardo Dinanga, 39 minutes)
- Reece Styche (replaced Montel Gibson, 58 minutes)
- Remi Walker (replaced Jordan Piggott, 1 minutes)
Referee: Alex Rolfe
Assistant 1: Mark Riley
Assistant 2: Liam Brace
Official 4: n/a