Report - Wealdstone 1-1 Oxford City
The Stones and City share the spoils at The Vale
Oxford City rode their luck in second half stoppage time as they battled their way to a good point against a strong and organised Wealdstone side.
With temperatures at The Vale registering somewhere between 'Arctic' and 'Baltic', overnight flurries of snow left some fans wondering if they might see the orange balls dusted off for the first time this season. Their fears (or hopes) proved unfounded with the pitch in significantly better condition than Marsh Lane had been on Tuesday night.
Mark Jones' side packed a couple of surprises with the gaffer's two new signings, Kaiman Anderson and Wilson Carvalho both starting despite their recent arrival. The inclusion of Jefferson Louis also raised a few eyebrows, the striker having played all 120 minutes of Tuesday night's cup game, but the player's desire to take on his former club overrode any concerns over his fitness. Josh Ashby's injury forced the manager to move Godfrey Poku into midfield with Jordy Ngathe taking on an increasingly familiar role at full back. Finally, 18-year-old Sami Khawaja was given his first sniff of league action, his lively midweek performance rewarded with a place on the bench.
Wealdstone got off to an almost perfect start, taking the lead within 5 minutes through debutant Joshua Walker. A deflected shot found the striker in plenty of space inside the City box, allowing him to fire confidently past Craig Hill with his first meaningful touches of the ball.
The early goal was a blow to City but didn't stop them from providing a threat of their own. Scott Davies, seemingly enjoying the familiar surroundings of The Vale, demonstrated time and again his range of passing with a series of balls into the box. His 8th minute free kick was narrowly headed over by Niate whilst his beautifully shaped cross evaded everybody 5 minutes later. Anderson also started the game brightly, covering a large amount of ground as he probed for space and put pressure on defenders in possession. It was the latter which won City a corner in the 17th minute, another quality delivery from Davies somehow not being met in the 6 yard box.
Wealdstone's defence was proving very tough to break down in open play. City's new signings were working extremely hard, each showing flashes of their ability with the ball at their feet, but didn't seem to have built the understanding needed to break down such organised opposition. Louis was also having a tough time against opponents who knew his game well.
Despite this, it was Louis who won a free kick on the edge of the area in the 18th minute. Davies' initial shot was comfortably blocked but the defence struggled to completely clear the ball. It was Reece Fleet who eventually took the initiative, striking a half volley towards goal from the edge of the area which was easy for Jonathan North to collected in the home side's goal.
The Blues' best openings came in quick succession midway through the half. Another Davies free kick, won by Carvalho on the left wing, found Niate near the penalty spot. A good touch put the ball at the centre half's feet but two opponents were immediately in place to block his shot. Just a minute later Louis was released down the right wing, showing his pace to make it to the byline with Anderson arriving in support. The cross, hit while off balance, failed to find his teammate.
This spell of City pressure was brought to an abrupt halt in the 24th minute as a bizarre series of events almost saw Wealdstone double their lead. Scott Davies, helping out in defence, slid to play a ball back to Craig Hill. The 'keeper, making only his second first team appearance of the season, was penalised for handling the backpass – resulting in an indirect free kick just inside the box. Wealdstone seemed to try and catch the defence off guard by taking the kick quickly. The referee, who seemed not to have given permission for play to restart, demanded that it be retaken despite having amounted to nothing. The set piece was eventually played back to Hunt, the midfielder's placed shot clipping the bar as it went over.
There followed a quiet period in which the referee's whistle saw more action than any players, both sides being penalised for a series of minor infractions. The game was brought back to life just after the half hour mark as patient possession football saw Wealdstone work the ball from right to left. A longer ball found Green who beat Ngathe with ease before shooting across goal, Hill doing extremely well to get down low to his left and push the ball around the post.
Both sides found time for one final meaningful attack before the break. With 5 minutes of the half remaining, Fleet played Anderson in down the left channel, the shot which followed forcing North into a good save at his near post. Fleet was on hand to put the ball back into the danger zone but with nobody else following up the ball was scrambled clear. Up the other end, Niate had Davies to thank for an excellent saving tackle after the Frenchman gifted the hosts possession in the final minute of the period.
At half time, Wealdstone were relatively good value for their lead, looking the more dangerous side from open play and defending well throughout the half. City did however demonstrate their ability to threaten North's goal from set pieces and were by no means out of the game with just a one goal deficit.
If Wealdstone's start to the first half was almost perfect then City's start to the second has to be described in equally effusive terms. The Blues looked certain to score within 3 minutes as a low ball across goal was met by Louis, his low drive looking destined for the bottom corner until a strong hand from North pushed it wide. Poku was well placed to follow up but North recovered quickly to close the angle and force the utility man to shoot wide.
Fortunately, there was no time to dwell on the missed opportunity as Carvalho's 50th minute cross was met by Louis, the loose ball took a touch from a defender before falling to Anderson, the striker finishing from close range with the outside of his boot for a well-earned debut goal.
With parity restored City were almost masters of their own downfall as, just 5 minutes later, Hill ventured out towards the touchline to claim a long ball. The 'keeper saw his clearance collected by the opposition and, as he scrambled back into position, Wealdstone's Green tried his luck from range. The shot eventually sailed well wide but there is little doubting that Hill would not have made it back in time had the shot been more accurate. Wealdstone had another sight of goal just a minute later as Walker drilled a shot narrowly wide of the far post.
The hour mark came and went with the match in the balance, both sides creating chances as the referee began to let the game flow more than in the first half. Poku came extremely close to giving the Hoops the lead in the 63rd minute, experiencing no opposition as he met Grant's wonderful whipped cross at the near post and narrowly missing the top corner. This proved to be his last act of the game as he was replaced by Ngamvoulou.
Wealdstone took their turn to threaten from a dead ball situation when Fleet conceded a free kick on City's left wing. The set piece was floated in towards the near post where it was headed wide by Hamblin. City however got back on the front foot immediately - Ngamvoulou releasing Anderson down the left, allowing the goalscorer to win yet another City corner. Davies mixed things up with a low pass to Grant on the edge of the area, his blocked shot making its way back to the taker who delivered a far post cross which troubled North as Niate pressured him.
City's second sub saw a show of class from the home fans, Jefferson Louis receiving warm applause as he made way for Mike Fondop.
With 15 minutes remaining there was a horrible sense of de ja vu in the City defence as Hill once again ventured out wide to claim a long ball., this time being met with opposition in the form of loanee Jon White. The referee played advantage when Hill brought down his man and Wealdstone were able to work the ball to Wright. With three defenders on the line the finish was never going to be simple but it still took good feet from Ngathe to block the shot and clear the ball to safety.
City made their final change in the 82nd minute with Winters replacing Carvalho.
The final stages of the game were dominated by Wealdstone. An 86th minute free kick nearly saw them retake the lead as Oshodi headed over at the far post following a good flick on at the near post. With just two minutes of added time to be played – a surprising figure considering the 6 substitutions which had been made during the half – Wealdstone fans would have been forgiven for beginning to edge towards the exits. Those who did will have missed what was possibly the longest 2 minutes of the season for the City defence.
A quick attack from the hosts saw Danny Green work his way into a shooting position. His shot across goal was extremely well hit, seeing Hill at full stretch to push it over with two strong hands. The resulting corner found the head of Wright, his effort bouncing off the inside of the post and falling dangerously within the 6 yard box. Somehow, the City defence scrambled the ball clear but immediately found themselves dealing with another cross. Hill as able to get two hands to the ball but dropped it under pressure from a mass of bodies, somehow smothering the ball at the second attempt.
The final whistle was a welcome relief, bringing to an end the madness which had been stoppage time.
In his post-match comments, Mark Jones looked upon the game as a point gained:
“We'll take the point at the end of the day. It was a tough game for us, we got off to a poor start which really frustrated us because we've spoken a lot about making sure we start well and finding ourselves a goal down after 5 minutes isn't good enough really."
"We kept going and kept battling first half – I didn't think there was an awful lot in it. Second half we had our best spell of the game in the first 15-20 minutes where we got on the front foot and scored the goal to equalise. To be fair to them they then got back into it a little more, playing down the hill with their fans behind them and we relied on Craig Hill to make some great saves for us and get us a point."
"It’s not a bad point looking at some of the other results, it’s never easy to go to Wealdstone and they were on the back of a couple of defeats and really wanted to stop that rot. I thought we showed some good battling qualities, we kept going and it’s a decent point for us."
“There's still lots of things we can improve. I felt that we were just a little bit reactive to things, particularly in the first half, just on our heels too much and not really making things happen or reading situations. We've got to do that much better. I think it was nice for Kaiman Anderson to get a goal on his debut. We did keep going, kept battling and we've managed to earn a point."
"We look forward to three home games now where hopefully we can make home advantage tell for."
Oxford City: Hill, Ngathe, Grant, Davies, Henderson, Niate, Poku (Ngamvoulou 64), Fleet, Louis (Fondop 72), Anderson, Carvalho (Winters 82).
Subs Not Used: Peake-Pijnen, Khawaja