As is the case numerous times this season, in a game where Woodstock have a chance of getting something (or at least being involved in a competitive game), they found themselves up against what was effectively a Clanfield first team in all but name. Oxfordshire is a small place and players and managers talk so it was not entirely unexpected but nonetheless disappointing considering the reverse fixture was a close 0-0 encounter.
In wet conditions and on a less than perfect pitch which was holding water, the game kicked off with Woodstock having a point to prove against players from a higher division. Ollie Hawkins, playing in an unfamiliar midfield role, went close early on with a header which forced a save from the Clanfield keeper (one of the few players not to feature in the first team).
Clanfield settles quickly and began to press looking for an early goal but Emmett and Spackman were able to keep them at bay at ten back with a midfield trio of Pike, Simmons (making his debut) and Hawkins battling hard to hassle and harass to break up play. Woodstock has their own chances too but without really creating anything clear cut in the early stages.
The deadlock was broken when on 21 minutes, Joe Knight appeared to need less hack down a Clanfield player in the area with the resultant spot kick sending Cullen the wrong way. It was a cruel way to go behind given the endeavour and spirit shown by Woodstock.
Woodstock presses forwards with like having an effort fly over following some neat interplay and Hawkins go close again shortly after but was ruled offside in any event.
The spell of Woodstock pressure was ended when Pande was put in the sin bin for allegedly saying something to the linesman and it was during this period that Clanfield doubled their lead with a well taken goal. A one-two in the middle of the park and a further exchange inside the final third saw the home side break the Woodstock backline and neatly slide the ball past Cullen into the bottom right corner. 2-0 to Clanfield but the balance of play had the game much closer than the score would suggest.
Remember a couple of weeks back we had the ref who didn’t give us a stonewall penalty and then blew before we could take a free kick? Well, he was at it again threatening to send our keeper to the sin bin for having the temerity to go down injured (having also to get up and kick the ball into touch).
The two teams went in at halftime with Town 2 goals down but with lots of positives to take from a half where they were well organised and worked hard to keep superior opposition at bay.
Woodstock came out for the second half buoyed by how they had managed in the first half with 16 year old Nathan Emmett causing a nuisance up top to pressure the less than impressive Clanfield centre back pairing but couldn’t make the early pressure count and without really troubling a nervous looking keeper.
As the half wore on, Woodstock’s own keeper had to make a string of fine saves to keep the hosts from extending their lead.
In the latter stages, it was fitness that was the factor as several Woodstock players ran out of gas. One notable exception was young Jake Harvey who looked to get forward from left back at ever opportunity, really working up and down the flank with a never say die attitude.
Woodstock eventually cracked with 3 goals in quick succession. On 74 minutes after another world class save from Cullen, the rebound ball was slotted home. The goal was ruled out (correctly) however for an offside following the original shot (oddly the referee did nothing about the vile abuse directed towards the linesman unlike in the first half). Moments later however a cross whipped in from the right was converted with a smart headed effort that left Josh Cullen with no chance. Another good well worked goal from Clanfield.
On 78 minutes, the Woodstock defence was caught to square (with Knight treading water after being run off his feel all night) allowing Clanfield to break and lob the ball over Cullen from 20 yards to make it 4-0.
It was 5-0 a minute later when Simmons lunged in to trip a Clanfield forward and a penalty was correctly awarded. Cullen got a strong hand to to penalty after guessing the right way but couldn’t divert it past the post.
5-0 it finished but it could have been worse and Woodstock will be able to take plenty positives from the game. It’s cliched to say that Town weren’t 5 goals worse off than their opposition but in this case, there is definitely an argument to be made. Considering that Clanfield (we might as well just talk about the first team as this most certainly wasn’t a Development team) have won 5 of their last 6 league games, their form going into this was probably better than their mediocre league position would suggest, so to compete in the way that a young Woodstock team did is a real positive sign and bodes well for next season when this young squad (average age of yesterday’s starting lineup was 19.9 years old) will have gained more experience.
It’s not for us to question other teams approaches to development teams and bringing young players through but you can’t help but feel for the players who were left out of the side at the expense of 1st team players (as we said, the Oxfordshire football community is a small place so we’ve had it from the horses mouth so to speak). We are a club that value player development and morally would not make that call, but as we said, each to their own).
Our main issue is that 1st team players being draughted in to play in development teams skews the league and doesn’t give a true reflection, we won’t name clubs but it’s not only Clanfield who do this. The game would have most likely been a closer affair had we got to play against players of comparative ability and experience as in the first game against Clanfield. We might have lost that game too, but at least it would have been more competitive. And with stong (from the horses mouth) “rumours” of clubs that shall remain nameless having no intention of fielding a side at another club (who shall also remain nameless) due to the inconvenience of travelling, it makes league positions even more pointless and effective gives us nothing to play for.
It’s high time that the league put measures in place to at least limit the number of first team players in development teams to ensure competitive football. If not, clubs who are victims of this cinicism will lose players and run the risk of going to the wall. Every action has consequences. Managers and league officials need to decide if they want competitive football and a league that is truely a meritocracy and not just a kick about for players who have the ability to play much much higher. Food for thought....