City under 16's lifted the County Cup trophy on Sunday at North Leigh beating a strong and physical Carterton Town side in a thrilling and sometimes bad tempered final.
Played on a very hard, sloping pitch where the players from both side all knew each others' strengths and weaknesses after years of Carterton (formerly Ducklington) dominance it was always going to be a tense, close and very competitive match - and it proved to be exactly that.
As expected the first 20 minutes or so was played at 100 miles an hour, no space was allowed to either side as everyone worked so hard to stop the others from playing.
Two contrasting styles quickly came to the fore, City trying hard to play their 10-15 yard passes through the Carterton side on the floor and Carterton adopting a more direct longer 40-50 yard passes over the City defence.
Playing against the slope in the first half City found it hard getting out of their half and absorbed a great deal of expected pressure but the defence did well with Abu Yillah and Tom Griffiths coping, supported well by their full backs Jack Dark & Archie Littlewood. It did mean that their lone forward Will Jeffrey only had scraps to work with but as the half wore on he was able to include his midfield players as they worked to support him better. However, after a few promising attacks it was Carterton that broke the deadlock when a corner wasn't defended properly and at the second attempt the ball was bundled over the line.
Gradually City got used to the pitch, pace and slope and started making in-roads into the Carterton half with Tom Rolfe, against his former team-mates, really impressing whenever he got the ball and was a handful throughout. Unfortunately, Tom found himself being (harshly) booked for a challenge on the Carterton keeper, not the first unusual decision by the ref in the afternoon it has to be said...
A change was made and Piers Walton was introduced up front and almost immediately equalised when taking advantage of hesitation by the centre half on the halfway line took the ball past x2 players to create a one on one which he placed inches wide of the post with the keeper beaten. Piers is a strong, quick and direct player which Carterton defence aren't used to and this showed as he bullied them and caused problems all the while he was playing.
Further chances at both ends came and went and some very good saves by both keepers kept the score at 1-0 at the interval
In the second half City now had the advantage of the slope, and having made the planned changes to personnel and the formation (alternating between 4-5-1 to 4-4-2 and 3-4-3 with ease), much more of the game was played in Carterton's half of the pitch with many chances falling to the City strike force. Noah Alabi being an outlet on the left hand side caused problems for the right back and right midfielder constantly beating them inside and outside and getting balls into the box.
City's midfield combinations of Harley Firkin, Alex MacBryan, Harley Giles and Naz El-Hosney were gaining the upper hand and their passing kept creating opportunities but the Carterton keeper pulled off great saves to keep his team in front and on the break Carterton kept the City defence on their toes and Ben Owen in City's goal had to be alert on a number of occasions. As the game wore on it looked increasingly likely that Carterton would hold out, frustration started getting to both sets of players and a couple of yellow cards were shown for ill-timed tackles.
With the clock ticking down and 4 minutes left Alabi got round his defender yet again, bore down on goal and having seen his shot blocked Will Jeffrey was on hand to slot home to send the City players off to the corner flag celebrating. Another chance for City didn't go in and then extra time was required
With Carterton deflated having been so close to victory and City buoyed by their escape it felt like only one team would win this game and that was the case as the slope didn't matter now and City's passing and movement continually caused their opponents difficulty and it was no surprise when Alabi was played in by the Man of the Match Harley Giles and he buried the ball to cause a mini pitch invasion and wild celebrations.
In the second half of extra time City continued to control the game and create chances and finished the match as a contest when Piers Giles persistance enabled him to get through the defence and round the keeper to score a deserved goal to see City win 3-1.
At the end of a thrilling and competitive match City celebrated as captain Tom Griffiths lifted the trophy and champagne flowed.
All players involved deserve a mention for contributing fully to an all round team performance:
Ben Owen, Archie Littlewood, Jack Dark, Tom Griffiths, Abu Yillah, Ben Stewart, Tom Rolfe, Harley Giles, Harley Firkin, Alex MacBryan, Will Jeffrey, Piers Walton, Naseer El-Hosny, Moin Dogar, Noah Alabi, Isaac Shenton and Jonah Clarke