City down Claret
By Ryan Bratley
Oxford City produced the ideal response to last week's heavy defeat at the hands of Hampton & Richmond Borough, putting together a fine display to prevent Chelmsford City confirming their place in the playoffs.
A deft finish from Ezra Forde and a fortuitous Godfrey Poku goal gave the hosts victory over their more prestigious opponents, who finished with 10 men after Josh Rees was shown a second yellow card late on.
Having admitted to misjudging his team selection last week, Mark Jones returned to a more tried and tested lineup with a number of senior players returning. Lee Henderson, Jean Niate and Guri Demuria formed a back three ahead of goalkeeper Craig Hill with Godfrey Poku and Freddie Grant operating as wing-backs. Scott Davies and Reece Fleet sat in the centre of midfield, behind a front three of Ezra Forde, Kaiman Anderson and Jefferson Louis.
City were the quicker side out of the blocks, holding possession well in the opposing half and forcing an early corner, and were able to capitalise on this early spell of pressure with a 9th minute goal. Louis received an awkward ball on the edge of the area but was still able to flick a pass ahead of Forde who showcased his predatory instincts by lobbing the onrushing 'keeper from a tricky angle. Despite the best efforts of two backtracking defenders, his shot had just enough power to find the back of the net and put the youngster on the scoresheet for the third time in his brief City career.
The goal left the visitors a little shellshocked but they were able to test Hill for the first time in the 18th minute: Louis Theophanous breaking free down the right only to see his effort pushed comfortably behind. Minutes later, Robbie Willmott's cross from the right wing was met on the volley by Kane Haysman but the forward's effort was wild at best.
Just after the half hour mark, Poku produced an excellent defensive header to spark a counter attack. The wing-back combined well with Louis to get the ball forward quickly before working it out wide to Anderson. The young winger opted to take the ball wide before cutting inside to shoot. His curling effort looked promising initially but refused to drop into the top corner.
Another excellent header almost set up a second for City, Forde this time rising well to produce a huge flick-on for Louis. With Anderson in space alongside him, the experienced forward saw a gap at the near post and tried his luck, drilling his effort narrowly wide.
With the visitors struggling to create chances and Jones' 5-at-the-back set-up seeming like a good solution to his side's recent defensive frailties, the Hoops were good value for their half time lead.
Despite the Clarets making a half time sub, the second half began in very much the same way as the first with City looking assured in possession. The visitor's frustration began to spill over as Scott Davies found himself on the wrong end of some heavy challenges, earning both Ashley Miller and Josh Rees bookings.
Despite this, Chelmsford's best chance of the game arrived in the 56th minute when Willmott broke having intercepted a square ball from Poku. His cross found Chris Dickinson at the far post but his effort somehow failed to find the target.
The letoff spurred City back into life and their response was almost instant. Louis held off his man to control a bouncing ball down the right channel, proceeding to cut between two defenders before unleashin a powerful drive from a tight angle. Clarets 'keeper Ross Fitzsimons did extremely well to make the save, sticking out a strong right hand to keep his side in the game.
Louis was involved again minutes later, winning a free kick on the corner of the box for Davies to deliver. His cross found Henderson unmarked at the far post but the centre half's header cleared the bar comfortably.
Although City has not managed to double their lead, Chelmsford continued struggling in front of goal. Josh Rees produced a well-hit effort from range in the 81st minute but failed to trouble Hill. The resulting goal kick saw Davies play a ball over the top for Anderson only for his ambitious early effort to sail over the bar.
With 5 minutes remaining, the Claret's hopes of getting back into the game were dealt a severe blow as Rees came in with a high challenge on Poku. Already on a booking, he left the referee with little choice but to give him his marching orders.
With their opposition down to 10 men, City smelled blood in the water and began pushing for a second. Forde did well to control a long ball and worked his way to the byline before pulling the ball back to Poku. The defender didn't make the cleanest of contacts but still saw his effort trickle into the far bottom corner.
Speaking after the game, Mark Jones was full of praise for his side:
" Its a great win for us today against a team who have only lost five all season and I thought we got it spot on today in terms of how the team approached the game. Obviously it was very difficult out there conditions wise on a very hard pitch so we went with three very willing strikers who we knew would chase everything down and put them under pressure. Its not always about who plays the most attractive football but sometimes, especially at this level, its about who makes the least mistakes. I thought our concentration and decision making was very good today - the back three cleared their lines very well and we were able to then put them under pressure.
I thought it was an excellent display today and we made a team who have done very well this season look quite average. Its difficult to pick a man of the match because everybody contributed well, from Craig Hill in goal all the way through the team. We spoke last week about a lack of sevens and eights out of ten but today the whole team have contributed excellently
Its an excellent performance and a great reaction to a disappointing performance last Saturday. We hadn't managed to beat a team in the top 4 so today was a big achievement. Its been a good day, a good reaction and now we need to back it up with another good performance at Gosport."
Oxford City: Hill, Poku, Grant, Demuria, Henderson, Niate, Fleet, Davies, Louis, Anderson, Forde
Subs not used: Essuman, Carvalho, Peake-Pijnen, Daramola, Furlong