City beach Margate
By Ryan Bratley
Oxford City bid farewell to the Marsh Lane faithful for the season as they ground out a 1-0 win against a toothless Margate. Jefferson Louis' unorthodox first half strike was enough to seal the three points as The Hoops kept their third consecutive clean sheet.
Mark Jones was forced into making one change to the squad which dispensed with Gosport Borough, the injured Lee Henderson replaced by George Essuman. The loanee lined up alongside Jean Niate and Guri Demuria to form 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 began the game on the front foot, Fleet firing over from range in the opening minutes, but it took 10 minutes for a clear sight of goal to present itself. Davies' corner was flicked on by Louis and found Essuman at the back post where the centre half headed narrowly over.
With 20 minutes played, Grant went on the first of many forays into the attacking third as he took control of a cross-field ball and danced his way to the edge of the area. As he was about to pull the trigger, the left back was taken down from behind. His left footed effort from the resulting free kick looked promising but just cleared the bar.
Whilst Margate took a long time to produce an effort on goal, it caused City a lot of trouble when it finally arrived. The Hoops failed to clear a corner and were almost punished when the ball was scrambled towards goal, forcing a good goalline clearance from Poku. The visitors felt they should have been awarded a penalty during the melee but saw the referee unmoved by their protests.
Having survived this scare, City got back on the front foot immediately when Davies' beautiful ball into the path of Poku drew the 'keeper off of his line. With the goal gaping, Poku unselfishly squared to the onrushing Louis only to see his teammate denied by a stunning tackle from Tarik Moore-Azile. The defender bore the brunt of the collision, eventually being stretchered off after a lengthy stoppage.
Anderson was the next to test Margate's Valery Pajetat as he nicked in to head a Davies free kick towards goal. Unfortunately for the young forward, the visiting stopper was equal to his effort, getting down superbly to tip the ball around the post.
The resulting corner, however, saw City finally break the deadlock as Pajetat flapped at Davies' delivery, allowing Forde to cushion a header towards Louis. With his back to goal and defenders crowding around him the experienced forward was forced to improvise, hooking the ball over his shoulder and beyond the helpless 'keeper to give his side the lead.
As the league's second lowest scorers, it would have been easy to discount Margate as soon as they went behind but the visitors quickly rallied to show that the game was not completely beyond them. Michael Thalassitis burst clear of the defence in stoppage time but, with Hill quickly off of his line to narrow the angle, he found himself robbed at the last second by a backtracking Essuman.
After 7 minutes of stoppage time, the referee eventually brought an eventful half to an end.
The second half looked like getting off to a slow start, but was quickly sparked into life in the 50th minute as Margate's Thalassitis took exception to a decision by the referee. His initial protestations earned him a booking for dissent and a further comment aimed at the official earned him a second yellow within 30 seconds.
With the visitors reduced to 10 men, the game took on a distinct 'end of season' feel. Louis and Anderson both shot wide before the former pulled up with an injury, being replaced by Wilson Carvalho.
The game was kicked back into life with a quarter of an hour remaining with the introduction of Connor Furlong. The young loanee immediately set about his task of terrorising the visiting defence, wriggling his way into the box and forcing a smart save from Pajetat.
The Full Time whistle followed shortly after, bringing to an end a very quiet second half, and ensured The Hoops ended the season with a win on home soil. City will complete the campaign next Saturday with a trip to Ebbsfleet United: a game of utmost importance for the hosts who, should Maidenhead United slip up, would pick up the National League South title with a win.
Speaking after the game, Mark Jones admitted that the game was far from the best fans had seen this season:
“It was nice to finish the last home game of the season with a win; it certainly wasn't a classic and had a bit of an end of season feel but we got the job done. I thought we were the better side and created a few chances in the first half but when they went down to ten men I would have hoped we would push on and get a couple more. We've all seen it before though – when the opposition go down a man its not always easy and our players looked a bit jaded in that second half. I don't want to go on about the pitch and make any excuses the conditions but it is very difficult to play good football out there and sometimes people might not realise that. I feel quite sorry for the players because they are trying their best.”
The boss is also looking ahead to next week's potentially title-deciding game.
“Its three wins on the spin now, three clean sheets and its going to be a great game at Ebbsfleet next Saturday. They've won against Maidenhead today so they will be going all out to beat us and it will be a great atmosphere with a crowd of at least a couple of thousand and a good surface to play on.
Oxford City: Hill, Poku, Grant (Peake-Pijnen 80), Demuria, Essuman, Niate, Fleet, Davies, Louis (Carvalho 68), Anderson, Forde (Furlong 75)
Subs not used: Daramola