The season of goodwill was little evident with the on-going rivalry between Histon and Cambridge United spilling over into distasteful headlines and accusations of a lack of respect as the teams line-up to face each other three times in 18 days.
Round one went to United with a 1-0 win in a compelling Boxing Day encounter which unfortunately stirred up the dark-side of football with a Histon player being investigated for alleged racist abuse towards U’s forward Leo Fortune-West. Histon, on the other hand, were unhappy with less-than flattering comments in the United match programme and players’ cars being refused entrance to the Abbey Stadium.
Luckily none of this vitriol was evident in the return Blue Square Premier fixture on New Year’s Day at Histon’s Glass World Stadium. Both teams were roared on by two sets of passionate supporters in a game showed live on TV with the Stutes coming out on top with an identical 1-0 scoreline. Defender Matt Mitchell-King hit the winner, to end the Stutes’ run of four defeats in five games.
To a backdrop of ten Setanta TV cameras and a 3,700 full house, the game kicked off in a lively atmosphere with the Us fans comfortably out-singing their Histon counterparts. As is often the case in a derby game, the match took a while to settle down, with the midfielders dominating proceedings. Fortune-West was the first to threaten, putting Stutes’ keeper Danny Naisbitt under pressure and forcing him to tip the ball over the ball.
Skipper Adie Cambridge was the best Histon man early on, using his long throws to good effect. Danny Wright did get clean through on goal in after 17 minutes but play was brought back for a foul on United’s Mark Albrighton. The first real chance fell to Antonio Murray five minutes later after being put through by Nathaniel Knight-Percival. The United keeper Danny Potter, however, was equal to the task and saved well.
Histon striker Wright then continued his wretched form in front of goal and, after missing a series of sitters in the Boxing Day encounter, somehow attempted a diving header to a knee-high cross with only the keeper to beat.
As the half drew to a close United started to impose themselves. Rob Wolleaston had two good shots saved by Naisbitt and Albrighton almost recreating his winner from the first game, but this time his shot was off target.
The second half had not soon began and U’s boss Jimmy Quinn, in his trademark flat cap, had only just finished a TV interview, when Histon took the lead somewhat against the run of play. Adie Cambridge’s free kick was floated into the box and flicked on by Matt Langston and, with the United defence motionless, Mitchell-King, who was very doubtful for the game through injury, helped the ball into the net. Cue massive celebrations in the Histon dugout with even the normally reserved Steve Fallon dancing around with glee.
United tried to immediately bounce back and the previously anonymous Scott Rendell had a couple of chances to pull his side level with a speculative overhead kick and a poor attempt from six yards after neat wing link-up between Wolleaston and Stephen Reed.
The goal made the game much more open and Erkan Okay was causing problems at the other end and the ex-Ipswich Town man teed up another chance for Wright who again fluffed the shot. The 6’2” striker was soon sympathetically withdrawn from the fray by Fallon during a flurry of substitutions which also saw Lee Boylan and Robbie Wilmott on to bolster the United attack.
United then resorted to the long ball game, trying to reach the big target men and it almost worked with Boylan having two shots saved including a crucial block by Naisbitt from a narrow angle.
United were not finished, however, and, with the game entering stoppage time, Wolleaston, Albrighton and Boylan again wasted good chances to snatch a draw.
The euphoric scenes on the pitch, including Chairman Gareth Baldwin punching the air for joy, and the boisterous singing in the Histon dressing room showed how much the win meant to the unlikely Play Off contenders. Steve Fallon was equally as emphatic: “We had many good chances to score today and I was surprised it took us so long to get the goal. It’s a great way to start the year and we hope we can go onwards and upwards”.
Paraphrasing the fans’ favourite song, Fallon added: “We may be situated in a small village but we have some good players.” U’s boss Quinn, somewhat bitterly, added to the war of words between the two clubs and was less than complimentary of Histon’s tactics: “We should be beating teams like this who just whack it.”
Histon play Cambridge United in the FA Trophy on 12 Jan, 3pm (£13/2)