Colney Heath unlucky but beaten on historic Southern League debut

Colney Heath played their historic first game in the Southern League at Creasy Park against AFC Dunstable

Colney Heath played their historic first game in the Southern League at Creasy Park against AFC Dunstable. - Credit: NEIL METCALFE

A historic first game in the Southern League ended in disappointment as Colney Heath fell to a 2-0 defeat at AFC Dunstable.

After seemingly having their hopes dashed by the two curtailed seasons, the Magpies were given their deserved promotion following the FA's decision to go ahead with their non-league restructure of steps four and below.

The first half didn't go to script though as BJ Christie and Kwan Hepburn fired Dunstable into a healthy advantage.

But the second half was pretty much one-way traffic and it was a surprise that Heath were unable to find a way through.

It should, and no doubt will, give the squad even more belief that the former Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division side belong at the higher level.

The opening squad saw one full debut, Charlie Clayton getting the start, and three making a second debut, the returning trio of Connor Sansom, Sam Doolan and Jon Clements.

And although they didn't have the ball as much as their hosts, Colney looked a good match for the more experienced at this level Dunstable.

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However, with the visitors happy to soak up the pressure with solid defending, there was still a feeling that something was missing.

The two goals certainly lit a fire under the Magpies and brought out their typical fighting spirit. That though was probably due to the fact they should have been avoidable.

Dunstable opened the scoring on 24 minutes through the prolific Christie as Colney Heath appealed for a foul in the build-up.

The star striker was also involved in the second, delivering the final ball after the home side had counter-attacked superbly down the left, for Hepburn to knock home first-time at the back stick.

That had come for a third wasteful free-kick from Colney that was fired into the box.

The first two were easily claimed by Jamie Head and the third was easily cleared, starting the decisive break.

But that was the spark that brought the old Colney Heath out, the side who had dominated the SSML for the last few years.

Dominic Knaggs fired in a much-better set-piece that was flicked on by Doolan to Clayton.

His shot on the turn bounced agonisingly wide.

Clements brought a full-length save out of Head too and then a Max Jessop shot from the edge of the area spun away from Knaggs and into Head's arms.

There was an injection of fresh blood for the Magpies at the start of the second half as manager Ryan Thompson switched Max Jessop, handed a first start for Luke Metselaar.

But there was also fear that the half-time whistle would derail the away team's momentum.

That wasn't the case though and Colney started in much the same manner with the substitute's physical presence causing problems for the Dunstable defence and getting Colney on the front foot.

Clayton almost got them one back with a ball into the box that almost deceived everyone, Head just getting a hand to the effort as he back-pedalled, tipping it onto the roof of the net.

There were two more debutants for Colney Heath coming off the bench. Dan Ferrigno was one and George Sippetts the other, son of former St Albans City and London Colney striker Gary.

And both contributed as the pressure continued to come from the visitors.

A quick free-kick, played short by Harry Shepherd to Brett O'Connor, was then moved onto Knaggs who drilled a shot from just over 25 yards inches wide of the keeper's right-hand post.

A series of corners had kept the Dunstable goal under pressure throughout the half, a couple frantically cleared under pressure and another sent whizzing through the box without a black and white shirt getting the vital touch.

AFC did have chances on a couple of rare forays forward, Christian Tavernier heading wide and then Ben Farrell slicing horribly wide.

The final real chance fittingly fell to Colney Heath but again it failed to nestle in the net.

A free-kick from Ferrigno caused havoc in the box but after being poked back into the middle, and with Head nowhere, Doolan's shot was saved and then O'Coonor fired over.

There was still drama as Dunstable substitute Jermaine Hall was sent off for an elbow as the clock hit 90.

But there was no time for a dramatic finale and Colney Heath will have to wait for their first success in the Southern League.

Colney Heath: Sansom, Knaggs, O'Connor, Boodhoo, Doolan, Fitzgerald, Jessop (Metselaar 46), Griffin, Clements, Clayton (Sippetts 63), Shepherd (Ferrigno 70).

Subs (not used): Ferrigno, Glesson, Rahho.

Booked: Clements 31, Boodhoo 55

AFC Dunstable: Head, Longden, Okito, Frater, Ferrell, Carney, Hepburn (Hall 77), Farrell, Christie, Harvey (Lauder 85), Tavernier (Smith 85).

Subs (not used): McClelland, Abraham.

Goals: Christie 24, Hepburn 34

Booked: Carney 31, Longden 70

Sent off: Hall 90

HT: AFC Dunstable 2 Colney Heath 0

Referee: Oliver Mackey (Leicester)

Attendance: 105