It was an entertaining if not ultimately disappointing game on Saturday, away to league leaders Bicester United.
Woodstock assembled a young squad to make the short trip down the A34 and were hindered further with several late withdrawals.
The hosts themselves had issues with their own squad, assembling the bare 11, cut to 10 when Mark Brighton injured his hip in the warm up and had to be taken to hospital via ambulance, resulting in a slight delay in the kick off with the halves shortened due to the referee having a personal matter to attend to immediately after the game (one could only assume based on his performance that this appointment might be optician related).
The visitors had the brighter start as Bicester attempted to adapt to their forced formation change. 17 year old full back Ciaran Murphy was pushed up field starting on the wing and provided Woodstock with a useful outlet, stretching Bicesters back three and providing several dangerous crosses in the warble exchanges, none of which could be converted. The best chance of all fell to Matthew Walker, who for some reason attempted to smash the ball in to the roof of the net from 5 yards when it was easier to tap in to the unguarded net, Walkers shot clearing the bar, the club house and several gardens!
By the 20 minute mark, Bicester had grown into the game and had several chances of their own, however none were clean cut and Cullen remained untroubled. For a side pushing for promotion, it was surprising to see Bicester favour the long ball, usually the Achilles heal of the Woodstock backline, which on this occasion, was ably dealt with by Mundy, Knight, Howes and Pike. Indeed it was Pike who put in the tackle of the game with a thunderous last ditch slide to deny a certain Bicester goal. Cue the home players surrounding the referee, who was about to cave to pressure when, to his credit, the Bicester player who was tackled informed the referee that Pike had taken the ball cleanly and fairly.
Woodstock had further chances from Walker and Haynes but shortly before the break they were the architects of their own downfall, showing their naivety and lack of experience. Parker rushed his free kick and played an ill advised cross field ball which was easily intercepted by Marcus Collier who raced through on goal and provided a neat chipped finish over Cullen.
Woodstock pressed at the end of the half but resolute and dogged defending by the hosts snuffed out and chance of a first half equaliser.
After the break, the game continued in similar fashion with The Reds unable to unlock a determined Bicester rearguard. The most clear cut chance fell to Haynes who fluffed his lines and chipped the ball harmlessly into the grateful hands of Lacey in the Bicester goal.
As the half went on, Bicester began to assert some midfield dominance, showing why they are favourites for the title, however Ward proved a match for them and put in a combative performance to break up any Bicester attacks before they could cause and damage. Ward was singled out for some old school rough stuff, seeming being elbowed in the head. However, referee Strong only saw fit to demand an apology from the Bicester player to avoid further punishment, a decision that left both benches scratching their collective heads. Indeed, it would not be the last contentious decision of the afternoon.
A piece of individual brilliance from Collier gave the hosts some much needed breathing space. Dropping his shoulder and cutting inside, he struck the ball with the outside of his boot to curl it past Cullen before Knight could close him down. A moment of quality in a game that lacked any other real clear cut chances for either side.
Woodstock again pressed and pressed by each wave was broken by the strong Bicester backline, who attempted to hit Woodstock on the break, who's own backline stood firm.
The second half flash point came when an innocuous shoulder to shoulder tussle resulted in Tom Leach being shoved in the face and it was Leach who got a yellow card for his troubles. Both benches again left scratching their heads as the referee proved that he was 'Strong' in name only.
The final chance of the game fell to impressive substitute Ashley Young who latched on to a Haynes through ball, nipped past the keeper only for Ford to clear the resultant shot off the line.
The match ended 2-0 to the league leaders when in truth Woodstock deserved at least something out of the game. Hats off to the hosts who fought hard and made their 10 men difficult to break down. The difference between the two sides being the naivety of Woodstocks young squad and Bicester having greater quality in key areas taking their chances well.
6 weeks ago, Woodstock would've lost the game by a more handsome margin, but with their first season in senior football now well underway, a narrow 2-0 defeat to such an experienced and close knit side demonstrates how far our young squad have come and developed. If only the more experienced players were available for this one..........