Poole have the quay to victory
By Ryan Bratley
A lively first half performance was not enough for Oxford City as they were narrowly beaten by playoff contenders Poole Town.
Luke Roberts's 77th minute header was all it took to seal the three points for the visitors, providing a rare highlight in an otherwise flat second half in which neither side were effective in possession.
Following an embarrassing 6-1 defeat away to Maidenhead Mark Jones made a number of changes to his line-up, particularly to accommodate his three midweek signings [http://www.oxfordcityfc.co.uk/news/three-new-signings-one-departure-1768985.html]. George Essuman was handed a full debut, partnering Lee Henderson in the centre of defence, whilst Guri Demuria and Connor Furlong were both awarded places on the bench. Godfrey Poku appeared in his slightly more familiar role on the right side of the back four with Freddie Grant returning from injury on the left. Wilson Carvalho, Scott Davies, Reece Fleet, and Matt Peake-Pijnen lined up in midfield with Jefferson Louis and Ezra Forde up front.
City could have got off to the perfect start as a 3rd minute corner struck a defender in the box, sparking appeals for handball from both players and supporters which were quickly waved away by the distinctly unimpressed referee.
Forde was the first player to bring any real quality to proceedings as, in the 6th minute, he wriggled free of two defenders to drive into the box. A heavy touch took him wider than he would have liked but the young striker was still able to attempt a ball across goal which was well blocked at the near post. Will Spetch was gifted a much clearer sight of goal a few minutes later as he capitalised on a mistake from Fleet. A product of the Poole Town youth system, the #10 needed no second invitation to run at goal but his early shot cleared Craig Hill's crossbar with ease.
With a quarter of an hour played, the Hoops forged a golden chance to take the lead. Carvalho's trickery proved too much for the opposition as he was brought down on the corner of the area. Davies' delivery had the required quality, curling to the far post where Henderson rose exceptionally well to meet it with a thumping header which was just off target. The visitors responded quickly with an incisive move down the left which saw Steve Devlin shoot right across the face of the City goal.
Having played in defence for the past few games, Peake-Pijnen seemed to be enjoying the opportunity to push forward more often and almost got himself on the scoresheet in the 20th minute. Carvalho did well to reach the byline and deliver a ball into the box which his teammate was able to take down before striking a well placed shot on the turn. Hit low and hard, his effort drew a smart save from Nick Hutchings, the visiting stopper not only keeping the ball out of the back of the net but also gathering at the second attempt.
Whilst City's defence was looking considerably more solid than it had midweek, the pace of Poole's forwards posed a significant threat on the break. This was amply demonstrated in the 26thminute as a long ball over the top saw Spetch in on goal, forcing an excellent save from Hill as he shot for the bottom corner.
With the half drawing to a close and the scores still level, the Blues were able to put together a spell of dominance which yielded two good opportunities. A defensive mixup handed Forde the opportunity to take control of the ball in the box, holding off two defenders before seeing seeing his goalbound effort well blocked by the upper leg of Jamie Whisken. Minutes later, Peake-Pijnen was able to shoot from the edge of the area, driving his effort narrowly wide of the far post.
Despite having created more chances in a half than they had in the entirety of the previous game, City went into the break without having made the all important breakthrough.
The Hoops were once again on the front foot from the restart, Forde winning the ball in the attacking third to set up an attacking which saw Fleet shoot from range. His effort was well struck but Hutchings was equal to it, making the save down to his right. It was, unfortunately, one of very few times the Dolphins' 'keeper was tested in the half.
A 51st minute foul on Henderson saw City earn a free kick deep inside their own half. Whilst Hill delivered a solid long ball, the midfield failed tot ake control and quickly saw their opponents on the front foot. Luke Roberts was able to come away with the ball and, whilst Henderson did well to force him wide, he still found himself in a shooting position. Hill, quickly back on his line having taken the free kick, positioned himself superbly to save with his body.
With the game still in the balance, City made two substitutions. Furlong was handed a debut, replacing Fleet just after the hour mark, and Carvalho made way for Ngathe in the 75th minute.
Although there had been very little quality on show over the course of the half, Poole were able to produce a single moment of excellent football to take the lead in the 77th minute. An angled cross from the left wing found Luke Roberts on the corner of the 6 yard box and his header back across goal was perfectly placed to beat Craig Hill.
With just 10 minutes left to salvage something from the game, Jones made his final change – Kaiman Anderson replacing Freddie Grant to bolster the attacking options.
The substitution almost paid off as, in the 89th minute, Poole failed to clear their lines following a Scott Davies free kick. The ball fell to Anderson on the edge of the area but his shot could not penetrate the mass of bodies in the area.
In his post-match comments, Mark Jones was keen to take away some positives despite the disappointment of defeat.
“Overall it was a frustrating afternoon for us. I thought there were lots of positives from our play – it was a much better performance than Maidenhead in the week – and I felt that we were always fairly in control of the game. They had a lot of possession in the first half but I thought we had the better chances. Second half there was about half an hour where we were well on top and pushing hard, what we needed to do was score in that time but we couldn't find that goal. When you can't put it in the back of the net you're always susceptible to a counter attack or a set piece.
We've conceded a goal which perhaps we could have defended better but we have to put the ball in the back of the net when we're on top and that's been our problem all season. Looking back we haven't scored enough goals and that puts pressure on the defence and the other areas of the team. The lack of goals has been a big problem for us all year and we've never found the right solution.
But still there were lots of positives, its so much better than what we produced on Tuesday night and now we go into a huge game against Bishop's Stortford. Results have gone for us today in the main, so now we've got to keep going, keep working and hope we can score some goals and take some chances. I can't fault the lads' effort or their attitude, we just unfortunately lacked that little bit of quality in the final third when it really matters.”
Oxford City: Hill, Poku, Grant (Anderson 81), Davies, Henderson, Essuman, Carvalho (Ngathe 75), Fleet (Furlong 62), Louis, Forde, Peake-Pijnen
Unused subs: Demuria, Daramola