"A game of two halves" is an often overused phrase in football and in truth, Saturdays 4-3 win over high flying Summertown Stars was more a case of "a game of 2 thirds and then another third" (stay with us, you'll see what we mean later).
Summertown are a great community club who have shifted from their traditional Five Mile Drive home (where reserves player manager Liam Walker spent his formative footballing years) to a superb clubhouse in Cutteslowe Park. Unfortunately Oxford City Council haven't seen fit to provide Summertown with the playing facilities they deserve, with same the sunken vintage goal posts that have been a feature at Cutteslowe Park for the past 20 odd years (again more about these to come).
It was a very young side that took the field at Cutteslowe Park, the oldest player being Carl Shirley at just 23 years old returning to the club from junior side Carterton Rangers. There was also a debut for 21 year old Patryk Wartalski. James Ward was still sidelined with a shoulder injury sustained against Bicester United the previous weekend meaning that Jacob Haynes dropped back into midfield to partner Morgan Parker. Shaun Pike made his second start at the heart of defence.
Following an impeccably observed minutes silence, the game was only seconds old (17 seconds in fact) when the ball was in the back of the net, somewhat unusually for a Woodstock goal, all without the hosts touching the ball. From the kick off, the ball was played out to debutant Wartalski who played a probing ball down the line for the razor sharp Shirley to square for Haynes to power home via the bottom of the left post.
The reverse fixture (a 3-0 defeat) had seen Woodstock start the much better as Summertown were slow out of the blocks but on that occasion, the Town were unable to capitalise on the early pressure. This was a difference affair as Woodstock should have been further ahead a few minutes later with Ryan Chambers getting on the end of an Ashley Young cross only to see his effort hit the underside of the bar and bounce on the line. Chambers felt that it was in but the referee and linesman thought otherwise and play went on. Remember we mentioned those old sunken goals? Well had they been the correct height (they're about 6"-8" too low), then the ball would've been in the top corner for 2-0!! Oh well......
Woodstock were cruising with Summertown forced to counter but with pike leading the line well, Cullen's goal rarely looked in trouble.
At the other end, Woodstock looked dangerous with every attack. Ashley Young nipped the ball past the on rushing Twomey in the Summertown goal, clipping the keeper in the process and then inexplicably checking the keeper was ok instead of rolling the ball into an unguarded net.
Minutes later is was 2-0 with Shirley capitalising on a poor clearance, keeping a cool head to round Twomey and tuck the ball home.
There was a talking point at the other end soon after the restart where Summertown appealed strongly for a hand ball decision (and with some justification) but those appeals were waved away by the referee and Summertown were denied the opportunity to reduce the arrears from the spot. It might have been some earlier theatrics that made the official reticent to blow his whistle with Summertown players going down a little too easily in the area, in any event, the hosts were justifiable left smarting.
As if to add insult to injury, Woodstock were given the chance to increase their deserved lead yet further from the spot following the softest of penalty calls. Haynes was tripped with his back to goal but in truth whilst there was contact, it looked minimal and hardly worthy of a spot kick. However, with the luck Woodstock have had with officials over the past few matches, they were certainly not complaining! Ryan Chambers cooly sending the keeper the wrong way to put Woodstock 3 goals to the good and send the home bench into uproar.
Further chances followed for the visitors, Haynes seeing a shot fizz past the post, a clearance off the line following a corner and some last ditch defending to keep a rampant Woodstock front line at bay.
Leading 3-0 at the break was uncharted territory for the young Woodstock side, so used to having scant reward for their endeavours this season.
At the start of the second half, Woodstock should have been out of sight with a series of efforts on the Summertown goal, but to no avail. With the beleaguered Summertown defence at sixes and sevens, Woodstock attacked at will with Young having the beating of the Summertown left back and probing the defence with testing centres. Young was unlucky not to score himself as he raced through and chipped the keeper only to see his effort hit the inside of the post and roll agonisingly across the line, Chambers unable to keep the follow up shot down.
Young was involved in the goal of the game, exchanging passes with Shirley, who then threaded a pinpoint pass to Chambers to slot the ball home for his second and Woodstocks fourth. That should have been it. Game over at 4-0 with 30 minutes left to play. But Woodstock Town Reserves don't do things the easy way.
With two thirds of the game gone, Woodstock took their foot off the gas and allowed Summertown to grow into the game. Knight, looking well off the pace, dived in to a ball he had no chance of winning, allowing Summertown to break down the right flank, the ball being squared to Thompson to slot past Cullen to reduce the difference to 3.
However, the goal buoyed Summertown and they pressed again. Woodstocks characteristics 'Laurel and Hardy' defending reared its head again, this time with Substitute Lloyd Thomas shanking his clearance to Weedon who made it 4-2.
The home side were rampant and devoid of leadership on the field (captain Joe Knight left that in the Black Horse sometime in the early hours of Saturday morning), Woodstock looked decidedly shaky and a shadow of the team so dominant in the first 2 thirds of the game).
Summertown had another handball penalty appeal turned down, this time it was less clear cut although they have certainly been given.
The persistence of the home side paid off, with the help of some more absentee defending. Somehow with Woodstock in possession well up the field, a direct ball left a 2 on 2 situation at the back allowing Weedon to capitalise on Knight again diving in to get his second and the hosts third.
At 4-3, the omens were not looking good for Woodstock who were denied an equaliser by a world class save (a term not used too lightly on this occasion) from
Cullen who got down well to a bullet header from point blank range and preserve Woodstocks precarious lead.
Summertown looked to have got their equaliser at the death when a free kick was flicked on for a Summertown player to prod home, albeit from an offside position. The resulting protests were out of character from a game that was played in an otherwise fair but comparative spirit.
There were further handbags at the final whistle when the linesman, who was previously shoved in the chest and abused by a Summertown player when leaving the pitch got involved in an altercation with another Summertown player (who in fairness only wished to confirm that the offside decision was a correct one). A simple, if understandable misunderstanding (for which the linesman expresses his apologies) shouldn't detract from what must have been an enthralling game to watch as a neutral, less so if you are a member of the Woodstock management team, who all aged 10 years a piece in the final 30 minutes of the contest.
Good luck to Summertown for the rest of the season. A great club and a great addition to senior football in Oxfordshire.