The first game in the league for both sides and, although, for once, it wasn’t raining, the at times literally gale force wind played its part in the match.
Oxford City started in their usual relatively slow fashion and Middleton had the upper hand for the first 10 minutes or so, moving the ball around quickly and accurately despite the wind. This play paid off with a goal scored by Middleton’s Harry Marshall after a defensive error by City gave Hamish Hall no chance of keeping the ball out of the net.
The lead didn’t last for long when Tom Rolfe for City won a free kick on the right hand side of the pitch. Ben Stewart’s low ball into Middleton’s box was eventually converted by Tom Griffiths after a goal mouth scramble.
A speculative wind-assisted cross by Middleton had Hamish Hall scrambling to palm away the ball for a corner as it headed for the top right-hand corner of the goal. 1-1 was somehow the score at the end of the first quarter after numerous chances at both ends.
Quarter two was uneventful with both teams performing fairly evenly to leave the score equal going into the third session.
If the second quarter had been uneventful then the same couldn’t be said about the next 20 minutes. Middleton scored two goals in quick succession by Eliott Gunther and Marshall for his second, both again as a result of rare defensive errors by the City defence almost gifting goals.
City then made some quick changes and this changed momentum of the period and they showed great resilience to level the score at 3 all by the end of the quarter. Firstly, a lovely move involving Harley Firkin, Jonah Clarke and Will Jeffery lead to the second goal of the game by Will. This was quickly followed by Jeffery’s second goal created by a strong run from Tom Rolfe who won the ball near the half way line, evaded a couple of Middleton players before passing to Jeffery on the edge of the box, who turned and superbly struck the ball into the top corner from well outside the box giving Middleton’s keeper, Ben Ream, absolutely no chance.
The final quarter saw City in the ascendency, brimming with confidence after their comeback from two down, and were soon awarded a penalty after many chances had gone begging. Jonah Clarke calmly scored from the spot having sent the Ream the wrong way. Middleton, having relinquished their lead, were not to be outdone and piled on the pressure. Matthew Simms made countless amazing saves to keep City’s noses in front, many from close range one on ones, to continue to somehow deny Middleton.
OC had a good chance to make it 5 3 when Tom Rolfe again put in a low ball across the face of the Middleton goal only to see Will Jeffery, who had been deadly up to that point, put the ball over the bar from 2 yards out.
Middleton’s pressure unsurprisingly finally paid off when City were caught out as they tried to push for another goal and Middleton broke from deep in the right-back cored within their own half to go the length of the pitch for Harry Marshall to slot home calmly to complete his hat-trick and provide Middleton a well-deserved equaliser with only a couple of minutes to go on the clock.
Final score 4 all! If all the games are as exciting, even and as fiercely contested as this then the supporters are in for a treat every week. Exactly what this league should be about. Well done all involved.