U14: Combe Junior Sports 3-3 Chipping Norton Swifts
Swifts U14's came away from a tough game against Combe with a point, keeping them within touching distance of the summit of the 'B' league.
A game that almost didn't happen due to a late, last-minute venue change from Enstone all the way out to Cassington, ended up being a hard-fought, thoroughly entertaining match-up, between two strong sides aiming to both make an instant return to the 'A' League after relegation last season.
Swifts were without Charlie Rose for the game through injury, but were delighted to welcome back Lewis Pretorius for his first game for Swifts since the opening day of the season - due to both injury, and his commitments in the Oxford Mail Youth League. Such is Pretorius' importance in the side, he was immediately given back the captains armband by his teammates, and began the game from the start. Kian Cozier remained in goal, with Pretorius supported across the back four by Owen Hancock, Jerome Davies and Freddie Jeffrey. Jacob Benham and Rex Chiles made up a midfield two, with Combe only having the 10 players available for the afternoon. Going forward, Swifts were settled, with Alex Ford on the left, Ben Hughes on the right, and Ajay Itah up front. From the bench, Swifts' newest recruit - Matty Cottrell, signed from Chadlington just two weeks ago, made his first Swifts appearance.
From the outset, Swifts looked comfortable on the ball, and were very impressive, particularly for a team that had not played since the very end of September. They were confidently moving the ball around the pitch, were happy to go backwards in order to work the ball into better areas, and seemed completely in control of the game. When called upon, the back four were winning their headers, and if necessary, letting the ball run across them, and using Kian Cozier in the Swifts goal to clear their lines. It was a thoroughly organised, professional performance.
They created plenty of chances, testing the Combe goalkeeper on several occasions. They got themselves in front early; just 9 minutes had passed when a really good move saw Jerome Davies win a header in the back four, with the loose ball brought down by Jacob Benham. He then flicked the ball into the path of Alex Ford, who after a short drive forward, played a neat one-two with Rex Chiles before threading a pass into the path of Ajay Itah who had made the third man run - he took one touch before lifting the ball over the onrushing 'keeper, to make it 1-0 to the visitors.
The pressure continued much the same way for Swifts - Ajay Itah, Alex Ford, Ben Hughes, and Rex Chiles all had shots inside the opening 20 minutes, with most being saved, or parried, and eventually worked to safety by the hosts. A lot of joy seemed to be coming from the right-hand side, with Lewis Pretorius prepared to step forward with the ball, creating space and finding the forward runs of Jacob Benham, Ben Hughes, and Ajay Itah. This pattern continued right the way through the entire first half, with Combe limited to brief cameos inside the Swifts final third. The only criticism of Swifts from their opening 35 minutes work, was that they weren't further in front.
HALF TIME: COMBE JUNIOR SPORTS 0-1 SWIFTS
Such is the frustration with this Swifts team at the moment - the team just cannot seem to keep their concentration for the entirety of a match, and struggle to see out games as a result - a completely different team came out for the second half; with Swifts suddenly second to every ball, and finding themselves out of possession, and on the back foot against a side they had comfortably brushed aside for a whole half just 10 minutes prior.
Less than three minutes of the second half had passed when Combe leveled the game - a corner from the left was swung in by the winger, only to be swept away on the front post by Jacob Benham. The ball dropped on the edge of the box where Swifts were second to the loose ball again, with the ball being nodded back into the 6-yard box, where the number 16 was completely unmarked, with four black and white shirts stood watching him, as he turned and poked the ball past Kian Cozier, who could do nothing from such close range.
But it somehow got worse. Swifts still hadn't woken themselves up, and inside the first 5 minutes of the second period, a long ball through the centre had set the same man clear, one-on-one with Kian Cozier once again. He was given the freedom of the pitch to bear down on goal, open his body up, and set himself to slide the ball into the back of the net to put his side 2-1 up. A team that hadn't threatened at all in the first half had suddenly flipped the game on its head within a few minutes of madness.
Slowly but surely, Swifts began to play again, and chances were being created again. Ajay Itah started to work the channels once again for Swifts, which opened up the spaces for the wingers and midfield to drift into scoring positions more often. It was this exact movement that bagged them the equaliser - around 15 minutes remained in the game when Lewis Pretorius found one of Ajay Itah's channel runs again. Itah stood up his man and after initially having his attempt at a cross blocked, flicked the ball back towards the edge of the box, where Ben Hughes picked it up; taking one touch before tucking the ball into the far, left-hand corner, across the goalkeeper and into the side netting.
In much the same way as Combe did earlier on in the half - Swifts quickly compounded the misery on their opponents, by backing up their equaliser with another goal just minutes later, putting them in front. A Corner from Ajay Itah on the left was, in truth, scuffed towards the front post, and should have been comfortably cleared. Instead, it was miscued by the Combe defender, gifting Itah another corner, and another chance to swing the ball in. This time, he made them pay. A much flatter, drilled cross came into the area - it was just missed by the head of Jerome Davies who was flying in at pace, but instead was flicked into the top corner, of all people, by Ben Hughes, who grabbed his second of the day and fifth of the season so far.
Unfortunately though for Swifts, despite further pressure - they weren't clinical enough, and couldn't find that final goal to kill the game off at long last. Instead, they were punished by a late sting in the tail - Combe's ever lively number 16 was played in down the right flank, skipping past a couple of Swifts defenders before cracking a low effort into the back of the net - Kian Cozier got a touch on the ball with his foot, but it just wasn't enough to keep it out as it kissed the far post before nestling into the back of the net.
The draw was probably a fair result based on the second half of the game; and credit to Combe who found a complete new lease of life after the break and did excellently to find a foothold back in the game - however it really shouldn't have been a contest at that point, with Swifts so utterly dominant in the first half, and should, and could so easily have been 3 or 4 goals to the good.
Lessons will be learned, and Swifts will go again as they always do - their next game is a friendly on remembrance weekend, at home vs Witney Vikings, before they resume their league campaign with a Home game against Easington Sports (November 18th).