U11: Chipping Norton Swifts vs Highfield Juniors
Swifts' U11s were far from their best, but still played more than their part in an 11-goal thriller against Highfield Juniors at Greystones.
Swifts had a squad of 11 for the match, as they opted to start in the 2-1-3-2 formation that has served them fairly well in the previous few games. They began with Oliver Hayes in goal, supported at the back by Beau Lawrence and Jacob Kedward, with Ben Seward slightly ahead of them in a holding midfield role. In midfield, Oliver Edwards, Joe Walsh and Toby Norman started the game, with both Theo Petrosanu and Henry Clements up front. This meant that from the substitutes bench, Alex Goode and Tom Sayers both made an impact.
The game started and it was Chippy who made the first move - they grabbed the opener very early on, with Joe Walsh's run from deep being found by a Theo Petrosanu cross, with Walsh touching the ball home on the stretch for his 7th goal of the season - making him Swifts' joint top goalscorer this season from midfield.
However, all this seemed to do was make it easier for Swifts to take their foot off of the gas, and they quickly allowed Highfield a way back into the match, as they grew more and more into the game with every pass. Swifts were slow to every ball, and didn't seem to have anywhere near the usual intensity they have, both in and out of possession. Oliver Hayes made a superb save with his feet to deny the visitors an equaliser, as he flicked the ball over the bar, but this just delayed the inevitable, in a poor first half for Chippy.
Highfield then equalised with a super goal. A good turn from the central midfielder started the move, before the ball was sprayed out to the right hand side. The winger took one touch to control, another to bring the ball out of his feet, and a third to drill a superb effort over Oliver Hayes, who stood little chance as the ball arrowed into the corner. Almost instantly, the visitors doubled their tally and took the lead, compiling the misery on Swifts as a corner from the right side was poorly dealt with by the defence, allowing a free man to run onto the second ball, and fire home via a deflection.
Swifts were not at the races at all. Highfield, a team supposedly a league lower than Chippy, had arrived for this cup game and were playing Swifts off of the park. As if the lack of quality wasn't enough, Swifts weren't getting any refereeing decisions their way either, as the lead was extended even further. Ben Seward was clearly fouled by the Highfield midfielder, who, accidentally, wiped him clean out off the ball. Nothing was given, and as play carried on Highfield got a shot away, only for Oliver Hayes to collide with the post while making a save in an ugly-looking collision. The ball dropped loose, and as the Highfield player tapped the ball into an empty net, goal given. Highfield then compounded the misery once again, as they found fourth with a sharp counter attack.
Before the break, Swifts managed to steal one goal back - and with a decent move. Henry Clements brilliantly ran Swifts clear, twisting and turning away from several players as he drove forward, and eventually the support came from Joe Walsh. Walsh initially lost possession, but quickly recovered the ball as it ran back to Ben Seward. Seward knocked it long into Theo Petrosanu, who with his first touch, bounced the ball back to Alex Goode, off the bench, who smashed home from range.
The second half didn't start at all well for Chippy. There was a slight rotation in a couple of positions ready for the second half, and the team talk during the break focused on their desire to win the ball back for their team, and how effective they can be when they do win it back. Unfortunately, in the opening 5 minutes of the second period it seemed that these words at half time had fell on deaf ears, as a simple through ball split the entire chippy defence, leaving the striker with the comfortable task of firing past Theo Petrosanu, who was deputizing in goal after Oliver Hayes' injury, following his collision during the 3rd goal.
Swifts' half time team talk was proven correct midway through the half though, as for the first time in the game, Swifts pressed as a team. Some superb battling from Joe Walsh and Tom Sayers to hassle the Highfield fullback in a dangerous area, led to Walsh recovering the ball in a threatening position. He squared to Oliver Edwards, who in turn rolled the ball into Henry Clements. Clements stayed composed, rounded the goalkeeper and tapped into an empty net. Swifts had hope.
Hope rapidly turned into real belief, as Swifts grabbed another - their fourth - immediately from the restart. Joe Walsh picked up the ball in midfield and rolled the ball into Henry Clements once again. This time though, Clements had a lot to do, he controlled the ball well, dropped a shoulder to beat his man and then drilled a shot across goal, and into the net at the far post. Swifts were suddenly right back in it.
But Highfield still continued to cause problems for a Swifts side making several basic mistakes, which is so unlike them. Theo Petrosanu was forced into making a really impressive save, diving to his right to deny the number 3, as the visitors enjoyed another strong 10-minute spell of pressure. They continued on course to see the game out for another 5 minutes, but had nothing to show for their pressure other than a couple of half-chances from range, which sailed over the bar.
Swifts held firm, for the first time in the game, despite the pressure from the visitors, and there was still a real sense across the entire pitch, and also among the coaches and spectators, that there was a big Swifts opportunity to grab the leveller, and effectively snatch a result from the jaws of defeat, despite it being a substandard performance.
And so it proved. From nowhere, with only a couple of minutes left on the clock, the big chance came. Swifts had resorted to long balls at this stage, and it was evident that Highfield weren't comfortable in defending them. On two occasions a little more application from Swifts would have saw them steal a chance, but it didn't materialize. That was until the third cross from deep, when the ball dropped to a black and white shirt. It fell to who else but Henry Clements, who had seemed to put the team on his back in the second half - to convert another for his first ever hat-trick. He got in front of two Highfield defenders to poke the ball home and level the game, with his 7th of the season.
However there was still to be another cruel twist. If the Swifts equaliser wasn't late enough - Highfield snatched back the points with near enough the final kick of the game. Swifts suddenly thought they had a chance to completely turn the game and nick another goal, with the Highfield team visibly frustrated, and gutted about the situation they found themselves in. They began to throw bodies forward with no more than a minute to go - and all it did was leave them open at the back to throw the game away again. The Number 10, who had been lively all day and deserved a goal, ran completely clear, kept his head, and rolled into the far corner.
A disappointing day for Swifts, which wasn't on the cards at all. A below-par performance which came from nowhere, but happens to the best of teams on occasion. In truth, Henry Clements' third goal would have given them a perhaps unjust point on the balance of play, so in reality they got what they deserved, but in the cruelest of fashions. There is a lot to look at, and some positives to take - and they will look to bounce back quickly, starting in their next game; another home clash against Banbury Irish (February 2nd).