Match report

Tiverton Town 2 - 2 Oxford City

   Tuesday 03/03/2009   Southern League Premier Division
Alan Reidy

Ladysmead’s stands looked down upon a saturated playing surface just two hours before the scheduled kick-off; standing water atop a hard surface meant that drainage speed was slow and the match against Oxford City was in serious jeopardy, but with little time and less free dates until the end of the season neither Oxford nor Tiverton wanted to try an play this game at any other time than the present. The result was that anyone that could get their feet in a pair of wellies and a their hands on a fork was out on the pitch prodding and probing in an attempt to remove the excess rainwater. It was a seemingly thankless task when work began in earnest just before 6pm, but a little more than an hour of spiking later, and with the precipitation now resided; referee Mr Oldaker gave the game the nod, to the relief of everyone concerned.

And what a great decision, for besides a brief downpour during the half time interval the rain held off, and both sides put on an exhilarating display of attacking football, which given the difficult conditions is worthy of the highest praise. The first side to push on was the visitors, and City won a brace of corner kicks early in proceedings, both after timely interceptions by Tom Gardner, and both dealt with by the Tivvy defence as much by luck as by judgement. The fist interception denied James Faulkner as Oxford broke from deep; the second a block on a shot by Mark Lambert who had driven forward and cut in from his left-back position before firing at Gardner’s legs from the edge of the area.

Tiverton earned a flag kick of their own only seven minutes in as Phil Walsh chased desperately down the right, always the second favourite to get the better of Mark Bell and then Lambert, but eventually managing to nick in close to the by-line and clip the ball off the shins of the latter. The set piece was claimed by Ryan Harrison, returning from injury between the sticks for Oxford after a month on the treatment table and showing no signs of ring rust.

The chances then dried up quicker than the pitch, but the constant investigative surveying was as inventive and original as one could have hoped for, with Oxford particularly calm and composed in possession, the vastly experience Dave Savage marginally outwitting the equally as green Mark Saunders in the middle of the park. But while Savage was the calming and creative influence, City’s Alex Fisher was the explosive factor wide on the right, and the youngster’s pace and determination nearly brought its reward twenty minutes into the game. Gardner saw his clearance down the line charged by Fisher, and the ball broke for the City player to race in and blast a shot which Steve Book did well to parry. Book was back in the thick of it two minutes later when he did enough to force Faulkner to chip wide following another move down the right in between Gardner and Paul Jarvis.

Harrison at the opposite end of the pitch was mainly untested but showed he was awake as he came off his line quickly to intercept Walsh’s weighted pass, and after half an hour he was picking the ball from the net, only for Jamie Mudge’s shot to be ruled out by a raised lineman’s flag. Seconds later Harrison should have been repeating this action but Saunders could only pass the ball wide of the post from close range having met Bobby Hopkinson’s low inswinging cross from the corner of the penalty area.

Oxford finally made the breakthrough five minutes before the interval. Adam Faux bravely intercepted a deep cross from the right but his header looped back towards his own goal, and Book needed to stretch to tip it over and out. The resulting corner from the left had the Tivvy goalkeeper copying his own exploits, this time palming the ball out for a second corner on the opposite side. This next cross came in and fell invitingly for Craig Faulconbridge to poke into the net from close range and put the visitors ahead.

It was a lead Oxford would keep for less than a minute as Tiverton immediately attacked down their right wing. Faux’s cross was blocked as far as Walsh, who laid the ball back to the unusually subdued Mike Booth just outside the area. Booth clipped the ball across goal towards the back post and Saunders was on hand to coolly and calmly pass the ball beneath Harrison and tie the game again.

Following a cautious opening to the second half, during which time Matt Villis made two excellent headed interceptions to thwart Oxford, the Yellows began to exert some authority on the match, utilising the skill and pace of Jarvis to create a brace of openings. Twice the Tivvy winger was allowed space to sprint forward and cut a cross back. The first fell to Walsh but his shot on the turn went a couple of yards wide; the second landed with Mudge but Jamie could only poke his effort just the wrong side of the upright having done remarkably well to sort out his feet in a tight goalmouth.

But the pressure eventually told and Tiverton were ahead for the first time after sixty-three minutes when Mudge made no mistake. Booth threaded a fine pass between Andy Baird and James Clarke which Saunders was onto in a flash. Harrison narrowed the angles and saved the old man’s shot but Mudge was in place to gobble up the rebound and smash the ball into an unguarded net.

Saunders soon gave was to Arran Pugh, and Mudge had a long range shot saved and held comfortably before City got a second wind and began to push their hosts back for an extended period. A sequence of corners caused commotion in the Town area, and on seventy-two minutes we were level again when Mark Bell did well to hit the line before cutting back for Faulconbridge to slide home his and Oxford’s second goal of the evening.

City had their tails up and smelt three points were available should they continue to press forward. Savage dipped a shot from well outside the area which brought a fine flying save from Book, and the shotstopper continued to defy the laws of ageing as he reacted magnificently to deny Faulconbridge a hat-trick from close range. Villis needed all of his pace to retreat and block Lambert as Oxford desperately sought a winner, but at the other end Tiverton – and Mudge – really should have won it. The Town striker raced onto a defence-cutting pass from Hopkinson, two yards clear of the defence, but Clarke closed the gap and slid to cleanly tackle twenty yards out and thwart the threat.

And that was that, a hugely entertaining match made possible by the dedication of the Tivvy groudstaff and other dignitaries, and helped by a referee who accepted the difficult conditions when administering proceedings. Both sets of players did their best to put on a show for the small crowd, the game was played in fine spirit, and the only thing missing was a winning goal.

Tiverton Town: Steve Book; Adam Faux (Paul Wyatt 81), Paul Jarvis , Matt Villis, Nathan Rudge, Tom Gardner, Mike Booth, Bobby Hopkinson, Phil Walsh Mark Saunders (Arran Pugh 69), Jamie Mudge
Goals: Saunders 42, Mudge 63
Booked: None
Sent off: None

Oxford City: Ryan Harrison; James Clarke, Mark Lambert, Liam Malone, Darren Pond, Dave Savage, Alex Fisher, Craig Faulconbridge, James Faulkner (Ryan Brooks), Andy Baird, Mark Bell (Lee Rendell 81)
Goals: Faulconbridge 41, 72
Booked: Malone 85
Sent off: None

Attendance: 175

This report ©2009 Alan Reidy






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