A young and depleted Woodstock side were shaded out by 2 goals to nil in the season opener at New Road against an equally young Abingdon Town Development side.
Matty Pike had some selection issues with several key players unavailable through holidays, work or injury. It was a makeshift squad made up of numerous graduates from last years reserve side as well as a handful of last seasons first team squad.
Lining up in the familiar 4-5-1 formation:
GK - Josh Cullen (18 and making his first team debut)
LB - Callum Rolfe (17 years old)
CB - Joe Knight (graduate of last years reserve team making his first start for the first team)
CB - Callum Emmett (making his club debut)
RB - Kevin Pike
LM - Addy Pande (graduate of last years reserve team)
CM - Tom Dale (graduate of last years reserve team making his first team debut)
CM - Jacob Haynes (graduate of last years reserve team)
CM - Callum Green
RM - Jordan Buckley
CF - Ollie Hawkins
Carl Shirley (graduate of last years reserve team)
Ryan Chambers (graduate of last years reserve team)
James Leake (GK)
The visitors started strongly as Woodstock toiled to find their feet in the early stages. Indeed, it took the Abbots just 7 minutes to score their first of the season. A clearance was cruelly deflected on the halfway line and the rebound fell kindly to former Woodstock man Matty Walker in acres of space as the Woodstock backline was slow to push up. His slide rule pass found Lexxus Pande (cousin of Addy Pande) who raced through to slot home past Josh Cullen. There was a degree of irony as Lexxus had been with Woodstock throughout pre-season before deciding to sign for Abingdon on Thursday.
This goal appeared to spark a bit of life into the Reds who pushed forwards themselves. Woodstocks high pressing game caused panic in the Abbotts defence on more than one occasion with player manager David Michno shanking a clearance out for a corner. the resulting flag kick saw Callum Green apparently hauled down in the box but the referee waved away all appeals. Michno was lucky to stay on the field when a few minutes later, he appeared to stamp down on the shins of Addy Pande who had been giving him a torrid time. Thankfully for the Abbots gaffer, the referee did not see it and he escaped without even a yellow card!
Abingdon doubled their lead on 27 minutes when a cheap free kick was floated into the box. Woodstock failed to cut out the cross and the header back across goal cruelly struck Hawkins square in the face and the ball managed to squirm past a despairing Cullen into the bottom corner. It could be argued that this was against the run of play but it was clear that Abingdon were more clinical and cynical that the hosts and were able to capitalise on their chances.
Woodstock stepped up another gear with Hawkins firing over from 6 yards, Kev Pike putting a free header into the ground and seeing it bounce over the bar before Hawkins saw another header shave the far post. Abingdon were riding their luck and luck seemed in short supply for Woodstock.
Debutant Tom Dale fired a series of probing balls into the box from set pieces but Woodstock were unable to force the ball home on each occasion.
Despite the pressure, Abingdon Town nearly made it 3-0 before the break. a combination of an under hit back pass from Knight and Josh Cullen slow off his line nearly allowed Pande in for a second but some great covering from Callum Emmett playing his first game for the club spared any blushes.
The Reds were unlucky not to have anything to show for their first half effort and the second half continued in similar fashion with Woodstock paying the price for not capitalising on their chances. Pande should've scored but saw his scuffed shot hit the legs of the keeper. The impressive Emmett went close with a header from a corner and Callum Green squandered several chances by deciding to go for power over finesse.
At the other end, 18 year old Josh Cullen had little to do on his debut although he did well to hold a vicious free kick, getting down well to his left. Callum Emmett was strong and imperious and tenacious, and gave a man of the match performance in stifling every Abingdon attack with aplomb.
Green was unlucky not to see his late free kick squeeze in at the near post but a second half of grit and determination failed to pay dividends due to a lack of quality and composure in the final third and some wasteful finishing. In truth, Town created enough chances to win the game several times over but let themselves down when it mattered most with the game finishing disappointingly at 0-2.
After the game, manager Matty Pike was not too disheartened and felt that certain aspects of the game were pleasing. "There are more positives to take out of the game than negatives" he said. "We were slow out of the blocks and didn't impose ourselves on the opposition until we were already behind but then we dominated for 70 minutes". He added "we know what we need to put right and we have players returning this week which will hopefully give me different problems in selecting a squad. That said, nobody had a bad game and everyone worked hard as they were asked to do so. We were unlucky not to get anything from today, but we can't keep saying that, we need to start making our own luck".
Dan Collier, Jordan Wyatt, Toby Smith, Bruce Lay and Marcus Woodington are all expected to make a return this week and there are a few irons in the fire in terms of new signings so things are looking up. Its safe to say that finishing drills will be on the agenda at training this week.
Man of the Match
CALLUM EMMETT - a good debut which saw him grow into the game after a nervous start. Dominant in the air, strong in the tackle and confident in bringing the ball out from the back,