U15: Chipping Norton Swifts 1-2 Ducklington FC
The final Swifts unbeaten run of the season finally ended, as the U15s suffered their first dropped points of the season in a thoroughly entertaining game with Ducklington at Greystones.
Swifts had a squad of 14 for the day; and opted to set themselves up in a 4-3-3 formation, which has become familiar to the vast majority of the team over recent seasons. Sam Hurst was, as always, in between the sticks, supported this time in defence by a back four of Zach Ibrahim, Rory Hlustik, Charlie Fisher and Matthew Lonsdale, who made his first start of the season after making a long-awaited return from injury. Jack Williams, Jonny Carroll and Felix Robertson made up the midfield three, with Kyle Hurley on the right, George Thomas on the left, and Ben Reeves-Smith up front. From the substitutes bench; Max Walsh, Josh Hart and Daniel Broome were all involved in the actions.
The first chance of the game came to chippy only a couple of minutes into the game; a good run and cross from Kyle Hurley flashed across the face of goal and fell on the back post to Jonny Carroll - whose shot was defected just wide of the near post. However, despite the chance, the opening 10 minutes of the game were largely dominated by Ducklington. They had the majority of the possession, and most of the game was being played in Swifts half of the pitch.
But it was Swifts who took the lead on 11 minutes, with a smartly played move. Ben Reeves-Smith found George Thomas, who with his first touch, threaded a pass forward, into the space to meet Jonny Carroll's third man run. Carroll made no mistake when one-on-one with the 'keeper; side-footing home off the inside of the left-hand post to give Swifts the lead with his 8th goal of the season.
Swifts grew into the game a little following the goal and could have scored again, as George Thomas’ effort from the edge of the box was saved by the feet of the Ducklington goalkeeper. But instead, Ducklington took a chance and grabbed themselves what was probably a deserved equaliser, based on the balance of play in the first half. A through ball down the left hand side found the number 15's smart diagonal run, who was Ducklington's most influential player all day; he stayed composed, rounded Sam Hurst who was forced to charge out of his goal in and attempt to narrow the angle, and tapped the ball home.
Ducklington grew in confidence after scoring, and were the better side throughout the first half - the visitors seemed to possess more quality on the ball and were putting together the better passages of play - Swifts were holding firm, but didn’t really pose too much of a threat going forward; they were sloppy in possession and gifted the ball back all too often; heaping the pressure on their back four and keeper with every missed pass. They were forced into some real "backs to the wall" defending midway through the first half, as a goalmouth scramble that lasted almost an entire minute was somehow hurried clear, after several goal-line blocks.
Swifts really should have gone in at half time behind, when a Ducklington through ball after a couple of missed Swifts tackles found the number 16, but he dragged a shot wide when one-on-one.
HALF TIME: SWIFTS 1-1 DUCKLINGTON FC
There were no half time changes for either side, but the balance of play did seem to shift - it was a much better start from Swifts. Jonny Carroll had two shots from distance, both comfortably saved, before Felix Robertson played in Ben Reeves-Smith, who saw his effort from a tight angle well saved by the goalkeeper.
Then came a big moment in the match. Swifts were given a penalty after Ben Reeves-Smith was judged to have been pushed in the back; perhaps a harsh decision considering the amount of pushes all over the pitch that were ignored for both teams throughout the game. Jack Williams stepped up to take the kick, striking it hard and true towards the bottom right-hand corner; but he was denied by a brilliant save from the Ducklington 'keeper, who got down sharply to his left and not only kept the ball out, but held it too.
Swifts posed much more of a threat in the second half despite not really creating anything clear-cut - Felix Robertson struck a free kick over the bar, and then hit the crossbar with a flicked near post header from Rory Hlustik's long throw.
However there was five minutes of madness from Swifts, which ultimately cost them. They were let off big time initially, a harsh free kick given against them on halfway wasn't dealt with, with the second ball being won by a yellow shirt and ending with the number 16 being played clean through - his shot was tipped just wide by Sam Hurst's outstretched hand. But they didn't learn their lesson, and gifted away possession once again - the Ducklington right winger then skipped past both Rory Hlustik and Zach Ibrahim with a superb piece of skill, before drilling in a low cross. It's initial target, the number 15, completely missed his kick but the ball fell to the man on the back post, who slotted the ball into the roof of the net to put Ducklington in front.
The remainder of the game became a case of long balls, long throws, and constant Swifts pressure, but in truth they never really did enough to get themselves back in the game. There were too many off-days throughout the team and ultimately it led to a sub-par Swifts performance. They really should have taken at least a point from the game though; a late move summed up the performance, as a beauty of a cross from Charlie Fisher dropped perfectly onto the back post - but once again, chippy were slow to react, as the ball rolled agonisingly past the far post, with no-one alert or on their toes to touch it home.
A couple of late substitutions gave swifts some added impetus in the closing exchanges, but it was all too little too late - and Ducklington did superbly to grind out a result. Swifts as a result remain top of the 'B' League table, but drop their first points of the season, and now have Carterton breathing down their necks in second place. Swifts will hope to put this result behind them and get straight back to winning ways next weekend, with an away trip to face Launton Athletic (November 18th).