Tarik Moore-Azille was at the double for Oxford City on Tuesday night as his second half brace eventually proved crucial as Oxford City were to pick up their maiden Vanarama National League South victory of the 2019/20 season with a 3-2 win against strugglers Hampton & Richmond Borough.
Nana Owusu got the Hoops off the mark early, scoring his first City goal on six minutes, before Moore-Azille headed home a corner on 48 minutes, before completing his brace on the hour. However, the visitors were to set up a nervy finish, as Louie Soares got one back from the spot on 69 minutes, before Tyrone Lewthwaite brought his team back to within one with a strike on 79 minutes.
Heading into the match, Mark Jones opted to rotate his squad once again due to the early season fixture congestion. Ben Jefford returned to the starting XI, while Zac McEachran was given his first start of the season. Finn Tapp and Kyran Wiltshire were the two players who dropped to the bench for this match.
Jefford went straight back into his favoured left-back position, allowing Eddie Jones to move back over to right-back, while captain Joe Oastler and Tarik Moore-Azille operated in the central positions, all four protecting goalkeeper Craig King. McEachran took an attacking role in a central midfield that also included Josh Ashby, Reece Fleet and Jack Self, all of who took their turns operating on the right-wing, while Nana Owusu made the left-wing his own, all protecting lone striker Stefan Brown.
After drawing a blank in their first home match of the season on the opening day against Concord Rangers, the Hoops wasted little time in ensuring their home faithful were treated to their first goal of the season, on six minutes, which also saw City take the lead for the first time in the season.
It all started as Eddie Jones was allowed to run down the right flank, giving him a free pass to run into the box. He decided to take on a low shot towards the near post which may have been heading wide, however ex-Hoop Laurie Walker in the Hampton goal was not willing to take any chances and turned the ball behind for a corner.
The corner was driven low towards the edge of the box, where Owusu had evaded his marker, allowing the wide man to get a shot off. His initial effort was blocked, however the rebound fell back at his feet, where he was able to steer an effort through a number of bodies, leaving Walker with little chance as its trajectory took it just inside of his near post.
Following this, the half faded as a spectacle, yielding just a series of half chances. Josh Ashby had the first of these as he saw an opportunity to shoot from range, however his effort was well wide of Walker’s goal.
The Beavers forced their first real sight of the City goal on 20 minutes as a tricky cross from Louie Soares found Danilo Orsi-Dadomo, who was unable to guide an effort goalwards.
Seven minutes later, and another great chance for the Hoops was extinguished by the visiting defence. A ball over the top found Brown, who was able to take a touch into the box, however just as he was set to pull the trigger, Charlie Fox put in what was likely to be a goal saving tackle which saw his side able to clear up field.
There was time for one more golden opportunity before the half was over. The visitors were able to break down the right through Orsi-Dadomo, who was able to put in a perfect cross to Tyrone Lewthwaite who was unmarked in the centre, however late pressure from Moore-Azille saw the Beavers frontman only able to head against the post, the rebound falling into the grateful grasp of King.
Despite the Hoops not really able to cause the Hampton defence too many issues following the early opener, Mark Jones will still have been happy to see his side hold a half-time lead, and would have known that there was plenty more to come from his side.
He was dealt a blow, however, as striker Stefan Brown picked up a minor groin complaint in the first half, and despite starting the second half was forced to withdraw him after four minutes of the restart, allowing Craig Fasanmade to make his first appearance of the season.
Brown’s last action on the pitch was to see City double their lead. Owusu had managed to burst down the left and was able to put a teasing box into the centre. Fox, in the visitors defence, was forced to play at the ball, his deflection saw the ball head goalwards, but was thankful to see the ball drop just wide of the post.
However, that let off lasted little more than a few seconds, as the resulting corner from Ashby found an unmarked Moore-Azille in the centre, who was left with the very simple task of heading into the net.
Unlike the first period, the Hoops were able to keep up pressure on the Beavers’ defence in search of a third goal. Zac McEachran was showing his best just four minutes after the goal as he was able to dance through the centre of the defence, before getting a shot away from the edge of the box, however this was weak and easy for Walker to gather.
Set pieces were looking particularly good for the Hoops, who were almost forcing an effort with each one. A free kick from wide was crossed in to the far post where goal-scorer Moore-Azille was lurking, however on this occasion he was unable to get a good connection on his header.
Not wanting to be outdone by his centre-back partner, captain Oastler was able to meet the next one. A free-kick from the left saw the defender time a run perfectly around the defence to meet the loose ball ahead of Walker, however his first touch was probably too good which meant he took it back into a crowd, where it eventually ended with McEachran, who fired straight at Walker.
But it was to be from another corner that the third eventually arrived from, on the hour. It was another situation where the Beavers’ defence nearly put in their own net as a cross from Fleet on the by-line hit Shaun McAuley and dropped just past the far post.
The resulting corner was initially cleared, however the ball was put straight back into the box, and after a ricochet, fell to Moore-Azille who was able to smash into the net past Walker to net his second of the match.
Fans around the ground were, at this point, probably dreaming of avenging the two defeats in recent seasons that saw Hampton & Richmond net five at Marsh Lane. However, as the next 20 minutes unfolded, it all of a sudden became clear that the Hoops were going to have to cling on to earn all three points.
The comeback began in the 68th minute as a weak header back to King was intercepted by an attacker, who nudged the ball past King, with City’s stopper fouling his man in an attempt to block the ball. Referee Andrew Humphries pointed to the spot, where Louie Soares made no mistake, despite King going the right way.
Ten minutes later is when it really became heart in mouth for even the most optimistic of fans. Oastler’s foray out of defence was intercepted by the Beavers, which saw them able to get the ball out to the right to Ryan Hill, whose dangerous ball across goal was met by Lewthwaite, who finished from close range.
Despite heavy pressure from Hampton in the final 10 minutes, the Hoops were able to restrict them to fairly few chances. Lewthwaite came closest, his effort at goal not quite having the power to beat King.
The visitors pushing men forward ultimately left them vulnerable to the break, as they found out in the final of five added minutes. Danny Rowe was set away down the left, and decided to go alone as he cut onto his right foot in the box. His powerful effort looked to be heading just inside the near post, however Walker pulled off probably the save of the season so far as he got a fingertip onto the ball to send it onto the post.
The relief was obvious around Marsh Lane as the referee’s whistle followed as the ball was pumped up field, the Hoops able to find a way to cling on to what felt like the narrowest of leads in the final 10 minutes, despite having a three goal cushion with 20 minutes to play.
Oxford City are back on the road on Saturday afternoon as they head around the M25 to face Welling United in the Vanarama National League South. Kick-off is at 3pm at Park View Road.
Oxford City: King, Jones, Jefford, Ashby, Moore-Azille, Oastler, Fleet, Brown (Fasanmade 48), McEachran (Wiltshire 65), Owusu (Rowe 81), Self.
Unused: Caro, Tapp