Football is a funny old game (copyright Jimmy Greaves) and this Saturday saw Woodstocks second string prove just that as they not only threw the form book out of the window, they tore it up and set fire to it first with a comprehensive 5-3 demolition of high flying Garsington.
Going into the game, Garsington needed just 4 points from their last two games to guarentee the championship ad could have sewn it against Town if Bicester failed to beat Eynsham. They were high on confidence, perhaps to the point of arrogance with some of their players openly voicing that they would "easily smash" Woodstock during the pre-match warm up!*
Woodstock suffered late changes to the squad with some unacceptable no shows from players forcing some last minute re-jigging of the tactics and team selction. This meant that 17 year old Brazilian winger Victinho was drafted in as a makeshift striker on his first start for the club on only his second senior football match alongside Carl Shirley, looking for revenge after the horror off the ball challenge at the reverse fixture back in January. First Team skipper Richard Brooks was drafted into midfield in the absence of Mo Parker as well as appearances from Kieran Strange and Kevin Davies in the starting line up.
The 2-1 defeat at Garsington earlier in the season was harsh but gave Woodstock an insight into the way they play and consequently how to beat them. Firstly to nullify their albeit effective agricultural brand of punting upfield for the quick men to chase (a la Cambridge United circa 1989). Secondly and most importantly not to respond to the over zealous challenges that were expected (given the experiences of the previous away game) and hope the referee was strong enough to deal with their inevitable ill discipline (and for once this season, the official did not disappoint). Both teams were warned by the referee prior to kick off about his zero tollerance to dangerous play and abuse of officials but as it turned out, these directions fell on deaf ears in the away dressing room.
Shifting to a 3-5-2 formation in order to combat the long diagonal ball onslaught, it was the ressies who started much the brighter, taking the game to the favourites in the early stages. The early pressure was rewarded when Jack Morgan stunned the visitors with a fantastic 20 yard strike into the roof of the net leaving Sam Jeffrey rooted to the spot in the Garsington goal.
Woodstock looked comfortable and knocked the ball around well but could not find the final ball to trouble the visitors further.
In typical Woodstock fashion however, with dominance came complacency and after being 1 up for the first 15 minutes, they were 3-1 down after 20 minutes with all the goals coming in a characteristically mad 5 minute spell.
On 16 minute, the Garsington winger was given too much time on the edge of the box and was allowed to shoot. Cullen got down well with a strong arm to push the ball wide but the loose ball was scuffed home past the young Woodstock stopper as he scrambled to make the second save.
1-1 became 1-2 just three minutes later when a speculative long range effort squeezed in past Cullen in the near top corner. If he meant it, great goal, but we're not entirely sure that's where he was aiming!
To add insult to injury, Garsington quickly added a third after another hit and hope long ball unlocked the Woodstock backline (not exactly blessed with pace) to slot home past Cullen.
Woodstock needed to regroup as Garsington pressed to put the game to bed. Cullen made several vital saves including a fantastic one on one stop to keep the rampant title favourites at bay.
Garsington didn't have it their own way as Jacob Haynes went close, forcing a fine save from Jeffrey, tipping the ball round the post. The visitors were let off the hook again minutes later when following a Woodstock corner, a blatant two handed shove on Haynes sent him slamming into the Garsington keeper head first. The view of the referee was unfortunately blocked and nothing was given.
Woodstock struggled to maintain their foothold and looked out of sorts in the middle of the park and struggling to string passes together.
Wartalski got the home side out of jail late in the first half chasing back and clearing off the line after Garsington again beat the three man back line.
The home side were handed a lifeline 5 minutes before the break after some more needlessly rough defending was punished by the referee, awarding a spot kick following a challenge in the area resembling a rugby tackle. The spot kick was clinically dispatched by top scorer (for both 1st and reserve teams) Kevin Davies amid verbal abuse directed towards the official from both the visiting players, bench and supporters. The cracks in the young championship contenders were beginning to show and the expected ill discipline and lack of experience began to show as the dangerous tackles began to fly in with increased regularity, abuse towards the official and opposition players intensified but most pleasingly of all, they became less fluid on the ball, seeming caring more about kicking opponents and arguing with the referee than playing football. It was against this backdrop that the Reserves went in at half time only 1 goal down and with the opposition in disarray.
To say that football is played as much in the mind as it is on the field we never better illustrated than in the home dressing room at half time. The arrogance and lack of respect shown by Garsington towards the end of the half was all the motivation needed and made the customary team talk redundant. Never were a group of players more motivated to put in a performance. Things hadn't gone well individually and there was a lot needed to change but the attitude of the Woodstock team was a credit to them all. They were determined to derail the Garsington promotion party and refused to be intimidated by their bullying tactics.
Unchanged, Woodstock took to the field for the second half and for the next 45 minutes proved they were the better side in all aspects of the game. They were hungry for the ball and combative in the middle of the park with Brooks, not one to be put off by the kicking and shoving, showed his class and experience to assert control and dominance over the opposition midfield. Haynes also began to grow into the game following a disappointing first half. Knight, Howes and Strange were rock solid at the back with the forwards working hard to close down the defence before they could hoof the ball long.
After putting in a great shift on his full debut, young Victinho was replaced by Ryan Chambers to put pressure on a very vertically challenged Garsington back line. This change paid off almost immediately as he was involved in the build up which saw Shirley take the ball down well to square to Davies to fire home from 18 yards into the bottom corner on 55 minutes.
7 minutes later Chambers put Woodstock into a deserved lead with a brilliant headed goal to convert a free kick, timing his run perfectly to lose his marker and out jump the Garsington defence to power the ball into the top corner. Despite this, and Cambers starting his run from the edge of the box, the visiting linesman saw fit to flag for offside. Thankfully, he was correctly overruled by the referee (not for the final time either as the flag went up with almost every attack)
Garsington heads dropped and with that went any last shred of discipline. It was now a case of seeing the game out. Wyatt replaced Howes to add some pace to the Woodstock back line.
Seemingly with no plan B, the visitors appeared to run out of ideas and with that frustrations boiled over. Garsington were soon down to 10 men after a player shoved a Woodstock man in the face.
Jeffrey was then booked for smashing the ball intensionally at Jordan Wyatt as he lay injured and prone in the Garsington area another damning indictment of Garsingtons style of play.
With every piece of ill discipline, with every late tackle, with every threat and piece of verbal abuse from the sidelines, Woodstock became emboldened with the realisation that the pre-match master plan was working. Garsington were doing all they could to lose the game themselves.
Davies poked home a 5th for the hosts to compete his hat trick and put Woodstock in pole position to see the game out. They were aided further when more ill discipline saw Garsington down to 9 after they had a player booked for a foul, only to then receive a second yellow for abusing the referee. To be fair to the official he did warn both sets of players before kick off (Garsington might do well to adopt the £10 club fine imposed on any Woodstock player who abuses a match official).
Woodstock went to a more familiar 4-4-2 with Polish winger Patryk Wartalski making way for Shaun Pike to come in as full back.
Woodstock should have been out of sight, but were wasteful in both possession and in front of goal. Sam Jeffrey pulled off some vital saves late on to give the visitors a glimmer of hope, but the comeback never materialised, with his teammates and manager losing the plot (he was once 15 yards onto the field of play with the game in full flow).
The referee correctly waved away appeals for a late penalty to the visitors when Strange made a fine tackle to nip the ball away from the Garsington striker 15 yards out from goal.
Knight was also alert to danger showing why he is regarded as one of the best headers of the ball at the club to return the Garsington long balls with interest, allowing Town to hit the visitors on the break.
There were some ugly scenes at the final whistle with the referee being abused by the travelling Garsington contingent, who also saw fit to abuse Woodstock committee members and the victorious Woodstock team as they left the field. Thankfully everything calmed down and things were far more cordial in the bar after the players were changed.
A vital win for Woodstock which shows the power of doing your homework on the opposition. Tactically everything went right and the players all took responsibility for pushing the plan through to get all 3 points and ensure that Garsington were taught a lesson in humility and respect by a young Woodstock side who refused to be drawn in to nastier side of the game and won with dignity and class. Brooks was key in running the game with Davies providing the clinical finishing needed to get the result.
Thankfully for Garsington, Bicester could only draw with struggling Eynsham which means that the title is still in their hands. If they win their final match and Bicester don't win their last match on the same day against Woodstock at New Road then they will in the title.
However, a third permutation is possible with Middleton Cheney able to become OSL Division 1 Champions despite a shock 1-0 defeat to OUP this weekend. They play Garsington on the 21st of April in what might be a title decider in more ways than one. However their toughest task if they with the first three of their remaining fixtures is the final game of the season at New Road against Woodstock!
It would appear that Woodstock will have a big say in the title chase.
CB: Howes (off 60')
LM: Wartalski (off 75')
CM: Brooks (c)
CM: Davies ⚽️⚽️⚽️
RM: Morgan ⚽️
CF: Victinho (off 50')
Sub: Chambers (on 50') ⚽️
Sub: Wyatt (on 60')
Sub: Pike (on 75')
Davies (40' pen, 54' & 73')
Parker Contract Cleaning Man of the Match awarded to: Richard Brooks
*OK, so we admit we hadn't been entirely honest in the build up to the match. There was never any real danger of Liam Walker having to squeeze his sizeable trunk into a shirt at the age of 39, as Matty Pike had put all 1st Team players registered with the Reserves at their disposal earlier in the week. A few mind games never hurt from time to time, particularly when they pay off so spectacularly, as they did on Saturday! Mind games and energy gels are the way forward!!