Report - Oxford City 2-1 Hemel Hempstead
By Oxford City FC
Kabby Cracker Seals the Deal
Hemel Hempstead Town proved to be resilient opposition once again as the season's fourth meeting with Oxford City ended in a narrow 2-1 victory for the Hoops.
The scoreline failed to reflect the balance of play in a game where the Hoops dominated possession and forced a string of excellent saves from Hemel 'keeper Laurie Walker.
Mark Jones' lineup featured only one change of personnel from last weekend's defeat at Chelmsford City, but this spelled a significant re-shuffle in defence as Ryan Case made do with a place on the bench having limped off during the Hoops' midweek victory over North Leigh. Craig King retained his place in goal, protected by the centre half pairing of Tarik Moore-Azille and Joe Oastler, however Eddie Jones made the move to left-back with Jack Self playing as makeshift defender on the right-hand side of back four. Reece Fleet and Josh Ashby combined in the centre of midfield, behind Brandon Thomas-Asante, flanked by wingers Kyran Wiltshire and Bobson Bawling; all in support of lone striker Kabby Tshimanga.
As has been the case in a number of home games this season, the Hoops quickly settled into their attacking rhythm with some neat interplay in and around the Hemel box. This did not, however, translate into a clear opportunity as Wiltshire and Tshimanga both shot straight at Walker.
Jordan Parkes attempted to go one better at the other end, capping off a rare break with a tame effort which was easily gathered by King, before Daniel Rowe blazed an early shot high and wide of the mark.
Whilst City continued to dominate possession, Tshimanga playing a key role as he consistently came deep for the ball and evaded his marker, they found themselves lacking the final killer pass required to make their breakthrough.
It was instead the visitors who finally broke the deadlock late in the first half. An innocuous-looking free kick was played short to the unmarked Kavan Cotter whose cross was headed against the post, leaving Arel Amu to mop up the leftovers and sweep the ball home.
While the goal had come against the run of play, it also pushed the Hoops into finding the back of the net for themselves with the final kick of the half. Tshimanga once again turned his marker with ease and drove forward down the right squaring the ball to Thomas-Asante whose blocked shot fell kindly for Bawling to turn and shoot past Walker.
Having nearly lost the momentum going into the break, Mark Jones ensured his side came out with all guns blazing for the second period.
It took just five minutes for Walker to be forced into the first of many excellent saves – Ashby lining up an effort from the edge of the area which seemed destined for the top corner, only for the flying former Hoop to palm the ball around the post. Not long after, a low cross found Thomas-Asante at the near post only for his his finessed finish from 6 yards to strike the outside of the post as it went wide.
With the pressure ramping up it seemed inevitable that the Hoops would grab a second goal, but nobody would have predicted it would come in such style. Moore-Azille showed both pace and strength to marshal his man away from a through ball and immediately turned defence into attack with a delightful, curving through ball over the top for Tshimanga. The prolific striker shrugged off the attentions of his own marker and proceeded to rifle an absolute thunderbolt of a finish into the roof of the net from a narrow angle. It would be no exaggeration to say it was probably his best finish, and best overall goal, in a City shirt – and there are quite a few to pick from!
Despite leading, the Hoops were by no means guaranteed to walk away with the points as Hemel kept looking for opportunities on the break. They were, however, few and far between and - on those occasions where they were able to push forwards - the offside flag proved to be their number one enemy.
Back at the other end, Thomas-Asante's fizzing volley had Walker scrambling to see the ball around the post as the Milton-Keynes loanee seemed intent on adding his own name to the scoresheet.
Mark Jones made his first change of the game with just six minutes remaining – Craig Fasanmade replacing Kyran Wiltshire as the latter began to feel the effects of his energetic shift on the wing.
As has been their habit, the Hoops continued looking for another goal rather than sitting on their lead, and nearly got just that when Fleet stretched out a leg to stab the ball goalwards from 6 yards. Once again, however, Walker was equal to the effort – getting down extremely quickly to turn the ball around the post.
Despite a late flurry of overhit through balls from their visitors, the Hoops were able to hold firm and see out a victory which sees them not only guarantee mathematical safety in Step 2 for another season, but also surpass their points tally from last season.