U14 Champions Cup: Chipping Norton Swifts 6-0 Easington Sports
Swifts U14s began 2019 in perfect fashion, convincingly ending a run of seven games without a win with a high-scoring victory, and clean sheet, over Easington Sports.
Swifts had no subs once again, but could thankfully still field a full 11 for the game - something which they certainly won't take for granted after their troubles in the last 18 months. They set up in their unorthodox, but calculated 3-1-4-2 formation, which has been adapted over the course of the past 3 or 4 games in an attempt to get the best out of their small, but committed squad of players. Kian Cozier continued in goal, guarded by a back three of Louis England, Owen Hancock and Freddie Jeffrey. In front of them; Jerome Davies anchored the midfield in a slightly deeper role, providing a foil for a midfield of Rex Chiles and Jacob Benham, and wing-backs of Lewis Pretorius and Cole Davies, to roam forward and look to create. Up front, that left Ajay Itah and Ben Hughes, with the latter allowed a more free role to drop into midfield to receive the ball, making the formation look more of a 3-1-4-1-1.
As the game began, it was apparent that the wind, and slight hill of the pitch, would both be important factors in the flow of the game. In the early exchanges Swifts struggled to clear their lines, with many of their attempted clearances catching the wind and coming straight back at them - and it took them a while to adapt. Despite struggling early on in terms of territory, there were very few scares for Swifts, and it was they who appeared the more likely to carve out a decent chance - their first came when a Ben Hughes ball over the top found Ajay Itah, who was forced into an early shot by the Easington defender, which was comfortably saved.
The chance clearly gave Chippy the confidence to continue pressing and from the 10-minute mark onwards, they began to dominate proceedings. Another good opportunity for Ajay Itah was well saved, before two through balls into Lewis Pretorius both ended with the Easington 'keeper gratefully clutching the ball in his arms. Then came a big moment in the first half - Ajay Itah seemed clean through on goal after a good pattern of play between himself, Rex Chiles and Jacob Benham, only for Itah to be brought down by the final Easington defender. Somehow though, nothing was given and the hosts got away with no punishment for the obvious infringement.
But eventually the pressure told - another run in behind from Ajay Itah ended in the Swifts man being brought down, this time for a free kick on the left flank, around 30-35 yards from goal. After an initial disagreement with who should take the kick, and what approach was best to take from that range - Rex Chiles stepped up and swung in a teasing ball, which wasn't dealt with fully by the Easington defender. The headed clearance dropped right at the feet of Jerome Davies, who after an initial close-range block, managed to adjust and flick the ball into the far corner to give Chippy a deserved lead, with his 8th goal of the season.
There was still time in the half for another big refereeing decision - Cole Davies was played clean through by Rex Chiles and while one-on-one, was brought down by the defender in a tangle of legs, in an attempt to recover the ball - it looked another clear foul but once again, the referee decided there was no contact, from his view in the centre circle.
The only sour note for Swifts was an injury to Lewis Pretorius, with a few minutes of the first half to play. He suffered a recurrence of his hip problem which has plagued his season so far - Swifts were forced to see out the first half, and play the entire second with 10 men, however the sporting nature of the Easington side, coupled with a slight knock to their centre back and captain, meant the second half was played 10v10.
HALF TIME: SWIFTS 1-0 EASINGTON SPORTS
Swifts adapted their formation ever so slightly to deal with the loss of Lewis Pretorius at right wing-back; with Ben Hughes being asked to shift across to the right to cover when out of possession, and help Louis England, in case he was to be left 2 vs 1. In truth, the change wasn't really needed, as Swifts, now aided by the wind and hill that they had battled against in the first half - put their opponents to the sword in a convincing display.
Chippy were dominant for most of the opening minutes of the second half, creating several half-chances that, in truth, they should probably have grabbed a goal from. Instead, they needed something special to set them on their way. After a very quick passing move from Jerome Davies, Jacob Benham and Ajay Itah, the ball was eventually cleared by Easington. Owen Hancock made sure the ball stayed firmly in the opposition third, with a first time, no-nonsense clearance. The Easington defence didn't deal with the long ball at all well, with the 'keeper and centre back getting in a muddle, only managing to scuff the ball away into the feet of Rex Chiles, who cracked a stunning first time effort from all of 40 yards over absolutely everyone, including the 'keeper, and into the far corner. A super goal.
Swifts then ran away with the game, with Freddie Jeffrey firmly involved, from left centre-back. It was Jeffrey who rolled a pass through the defence to set Ajay Itah clear, who smashed home Swifts third of the game, before Jeffrey then put in a fantastic tackle to win the ball back for his team and set about scoring the fourth. The ball popped up into Jeffrey's feet, but instead of passing the ball, was allowed to continue his run, wrong-footing his man as he strode into the box, and cracked a low effort into the near post for his first of the season. Suddenly Swifts were 4-0 to the good and cruising.
In the final minutes Swifts managed a couple more - this time the provider for both was the other wide centre-back, Louis England. His stunning through ball split the entire Easington team on its way through for Ajay Itah, who touched the ball on and drilled a low drive into the net, past the goalkeeper for 5-0, and his 11th of the campaign. Itah now just 6 goals away from his tally from all of last season. The scoring was eventually finished off at 6-0 just two minutes from time, when Louis England's corner was headed home brilliantly by Cole Davies - who got his first goal since rejoining the side just before Christmas.
A superb performance, and hopefully a sign of things to come in a successful 2019 for the team, after a difficult couple of years. They come away with plenty of positives - the losing run is ended, plenty of goals scored, and a first clean sheet of the season. Their next game comes next week, as they face a test against old foes Bampton Town in the next match day of their Champions Cup group (January 20th).