Report - Oxford City 1-1 Dartford
City leave it late to earn a point against Dartford
A superb stoppage time strike from debutant Ezra Forde gave The Hoops a hard-earned point against 3rd placed Dartford in a closely contested game at Marsh Lane.
Mark Jones' team selection once again featured a number of young players: Matt Peake-Pijnen and Jordy Ngathe both started at full back whilst Kaiman Anderson and Sami Khawaja featured in attack. Niate, Poku and Henderson rounded out the defence with Fleet and Davies ahead of them whilst Jefferson Louis started up front and Craig Hill kept goal.
The game got off to a slow start with neither side looking after the ball well enough to create any openings. City's first sniff of goal came in the 12th minute as Louis collected a cross and drove down the right hand channel. He was unlucky to see his attempted cross not only cannon back off of his marker but also strike him on its way behind for a goal kick. Minutes later a smart Davies free kick found Peake-Pijnen in a similarly promising position but his cross was blocked comfortably.
The first card of the match was shown just before the half hour mark, Dartford's Alex Brown going into the book following a handball on the edge of his own area. Davies took the opportunity to shoot from the free kick but saw his effort saved easily by Deren Ibrahim.
City were forced to make their first change after 30 minutes as the injured Reece Fleet was replaced by Wilson Carvalho.
Dartford's two best chances of the half came in quick succession. A deep corner was played back across the 6-yard box for Tom Murphy to head goalward from close range, forcing an excellent reflex save from Hill. The Dartford fans were celebrating what they thought was a goal two minutes later when Andy Pugh was afforded time and space in the penalty area to rifle a shot at goal. His effort rippled the side netting tantalisingly but was inches wide of the near post.
Peake-Pijnen, who made his full debut against Dartford last season, had an unexpected sight of goal in the 37th minute as a Craig Hill free kick was cleared awkwardly across the box. The young defender had the confidence to unleash a left-footed volley from the corner of the area which curved just wide of the far post.
Shortly after this near miss, the game was brought to a halt by an injury to referee Savvas Yianni. With one of the assistants called upon to deputise, a qualified official was pulled from the crowd to run the vacant line and play restarted after a delay of approximately 15 minutes.
With the momentum of the half all but destroyed by this lengthy stoppage neither side looked particularly threatening until Davies tested Ibrahim with a fierce, dipping volley from outside the area. Whilst the effort wasn't far from the Dartford stopper, its sheer power saw him scrambling to beat it away.
At half time the 0-0 scoreline was a relatively fair reflection of a half which had seen very few clear-cut chances, both 'keepers being forced into just one meaningful save apiece.
The second half began with Dartford preferring a more patient attacking style than the first period. Their increasingly intricate passing saw Wanadio released down the right wing in the 58th minute, working his way into the box before playing a ball across goal which Pugh was just unable to reach. Dartford's patience did, however, pay off 20 minutes into the half as they calmly played the ball back and forth around the City area. A square pass eventually found Ryan Hayes with a yard of space on the edge of the area and he took full advantage, drilling a curled effort into Hill's bottom corner. It was Hayes' 99th goal for the club, although this fact did not spare him from a booking for his overzealous celebrations with the crowd.
The goal brought a bit more life into the game as Niate tangled with substitute Ofori-Acheampong, the Dartford player appearing to strike out at the City defender's face whilst they awaited delivery of a corner. Despite this, the opposing penalty area quickly became the focus of everybody's attention as Kawaja saw two shots blocked at close range before Fondop - who had replaced Anderson minutes before - had an effort deflected behind for a corner. It was Kawaja's last action of the game as he made way for Forde in City's third and final change.
With less than 10 minutes to find a goal The Hoops weren't overzealous in their attacking play – allowing Dartford to keep up their moderate pressure, confident that openings would present themselves. A bizarre but effective corner routine nearly provided that breakthrough moment: with 3 or 4 City players coming short for the kick there was plenty of space for Henderson to flick a cross on to Louis. The experienced striker controlled the ball well before letting loose a powerful effort on the turn which flashed narrowly past the far post.
As full time neared and the referee's assistant signalled just 3 minutes of stoppage time, Dartford could and maybe should have sealed victory as Wanadio once again broke free down the right. The forward eased into a shooting position but immediately found Hill off his line, narrowing the angle and forcing the shot wide.
With the 90 minutes up and that letoff fresh in their minds, City rallied to produce an equaliser in stunning fashion. Carvalho set the scene with a delightful stop and turn on the half way line to beat two defenders before finding Peake-Pijnen on the left. With the Dartford defence backing off of him, the wide man was able to wait for Forde to make his run and feed a neat ball into his path. The 17 year-old picked up the ball inside the Dartford area with only one thing on his mind, unleashing a vicious left footed effort which fizzed beyond the helpless Deren Ibrahim and into the far corner.
Whilst there were still two minutes to play, the time passed without incident and the referee's whistle saw City extend their unbeaten run in the league to 4 games. It was a result which the players clearly enjoyed, particularly having been on the receiving end of a similarly late equaliser just a fortnight before.
Speaking after the game, Mark Jones was extremely pleased with the battling performance:
“It was fantastic to keep going in the game and get that last minute equaliser because I think we deserved a point out of the game. It was another hard fought game – Dartford are obviously 3rd in the table: they're consistent, they're strong and our boys had to make sure they gave absolutely everything which they did. Even if we didn't get that last minute equaliser I still would have said that we'd given absolutely everything today.
Its difficult to play on that surface, its difficult to have a good game of football with the ball bouncing all over the place but I was delighted with our lads in terms of their application and their attitude.”
Talking about the equaliser, Jones was just as impressed as the City faithful:
“It was a fantastic goal to get the point in the last minute – two young lads combining with Matt Peake-Pijnen giving the assist for Ezra Forde to produce a fantastic finish. It was the opposite of how we felt against Bath when we were on the other end of a last minute equaliser but today it went for us.”
With the point in the bag, the manager is now looking ahead to two tricky games against two very different opponents:
“I'm really pleased with the players again and what we need to do now is back it up against Weston-Super-Mare away next week and then Whitehawk to see if we can get some more points on the board. It was a difficult game but we kept going, kept working and I think deservedly got an equaliser in the last minute with a great goal.”
Oxford City: Hill, Ngathe, Peake-Pijnen, Davies, Henderson (c), Niate, Poku, Fleet (Carvalho 31), Louis, Anderson (Fondop 64), Khawaja (Forde 82).
Unused Sub: Ngamvoulou.