U14: Chipping Norton Swifts 4-1 Stonesfield Strikers
By Luke Newman
Swifts U14's final run of games in the 2018/19 season began with an impressive, hard-fought victory against Stonesfield Strikers at Greystones.
Playing in their Yellow change strip (for no particular reason other than preference on the day), Swifts had the bare 11 players for the game, with Jacob Benham and Freddie Jeffrey the absentees. They were however boosted by the debut of Harry Thomas, who slotted straight in alongside Owen Hancock in the heart of the Swifts back four, after impressing in training over the past few weeks. Kian Cozier continued in goal, with Louis England moving across to left-back, to make room for the long-awaited return of the captain, Lewis Pretorius - who played his first game for Swifts since the first week of January, after a long injury lay-off. In midfield, Rex Chiles and Jerome Davies made up a central midfield partnership, to allow a three of Cole Davies, Ben Hughes and Alex Ford to supply Ajay Itah as the lone striker, in a 4-2-3-1 set-up.
Swifts started the game well, the opening 5 minutes saw them control the tempo of the game, and were comfortably on the front foot - the link between Ajay Itah up front and Ben Hughes as the number 10 looked the biggest threat - with both players linking up to win a string of early corners for their team. Stonesfield held strong, despite a couple of very good Louis England deliveries, and were able to clear their lines.
However their resistance didn’t ask too long, as a long ball forward from Louis England, this time from a free kick inside his own half, dropped at the feet of Rex Chiles in the penalty area. He backed into his marker in a bid to retain possession, only to be dragged to the floor by the defender, winning a penalty. Ajay Itah stepped up to convert, and did so coolly, slotting into the bottom left corner to give Swifts a deserved early lead.
This wasn’t to say Stonesfield didn’t threaten at all though - they responded well to going behind, and continued to press and battle when necessary, and gave Swifts a real scare when a long punt from the goalkeeper took a bounce beyond the Chippy back four, and into the feet of the striker. He stretched to get a touch on the ball, flicking it up, over Kian Cozier, and onto the crossbar, before Jerome Davies got back to clear. Stonesfield gained real belief after that moment, but Swifts were now aware of their main weapon, and focused their attention on shutting it out.
Blocking out the long ball from the goalkeeper clearly had an effect, as they shut out next to every long punt in the first half - however Stonesfield, buoyed by their chance previously, continued to come forward, and came agonisingly close to scoring again - a cross from the right looked to be perfect for a tap-in, only for Kian Cozier to dive down and tip it away. Owen Hancock then looked to clear, only for the ball to cannon back off of a closing Stonesfield midfielder and roll inches wide.
Eventually, they pegged Swifts back. Another long punt from the goalkeeper was dealt with by the defence, but, in contrast to previous phases of play, the ball came straight back at them, with the number 9 running clear of the back four, and smartly sliding the ball into the far corner for 1-1.
Swifts refused to roll over after the goal, and after a really good 10-minute spell for the visitors, Chippy began to get a foothold back in the game, and come forward once more. They had all the territory and possession in the final 5 minutes of the half, winning a string of corners - however the half ended with the teams level.
HALF TIME: SWIFTS 1-1 STONESFIELD STRIKERS
Swifts were a different beast in the second half, and came out in exactly the same way they ended the first half. The first big chance of the game came courtesy of a lovely flowing move - Cole Davies picked the ball up on the right from Lewis Pretorius, before his deep cross towards the edge of the six-yard box was nodded clear. Louis England kept the move alive by getting to the ball first, skipping past a man and finding Alex Ford on the left with a chipped pass. With the ball bouncing, Ford flicked the ball up towards the back post, where it was met by Ajay Itah on the volley - the ball beat the goalkeeper, but rolled just wide of the far corner.
Then came another big Swifts chance - a good ball through the centre from Rex Chiles after some confident defending from Harry Thomas set Ajay Itah clear - he, in very similar fashion to his opposite number in the first half, stretched to flick the ball past the 'keeper, but could only lift the ball onto the crossbar.
Stonesfield continued to look to break on Swifts whenever they came forward, mainly from their goalkeeper kicks, so Swifts needed to hold firm and stay in the game - a skill they have struggled with over the course of this season - but this time they did just that, and defended impressively throughout the second half, and gained their reward.
Swifts took the lead for the second time in somewhat controversial style - Louis England and Alex Ford linked up on the left hand side once more, doubling up on the fullback to create a crossing opportunity. After one more fake cross, Alex Ford gained the space to whip in a low cross - Cole Davies met the cross at the back post, and with the ball through fizzing past several Stonesfield defenders, he saw it late, with the ball flicking off his right boot, off of his body and into the net, over the head of the goalkeeper. The Visiting defence appealed loudly for a handball, but neither the referee, or the Stonesfield Linesman saw any infringement, and to their surprise and disgust, the goal stood. Cole Davies' 5th of the Season, after rejoining the team in November. He almost had his 6th, heading just over from a corner no more than a minute later.
Stonesfield completely lost their temperament at this point, clearly still aggrieved at the handball decision, and were quickly put to the sword by a Swifts team suddenly flowing in confidence. Ajay Itah held up a ball forward from Harry Thomas brilliantly before winning a free-kick, 30 yards from goal. Swifts set up to get themselves on the end of another Louis England delivery - but he had other ideas - getting his head down and striking a beauty of an effort into the far top corner, leaving the 'keeper with no chance. A late entry, and heavy favourite for Goal of the Season - a much deserved first goal as a Swift for a player as committed to the cause as any, despite his short spell with the club.
There was still time for one more. Stonesfield, still way off the pace and allowing the game to bypass them, allowed Ajay Itah all the time in the world to shape himself up on his right foot from the edge of the box - big mistake. Itah lashed home the fourth, and his 14th of the Season, with a side-footed, powered effort, into the far corner.
A good performance and equally important result, as they begin their stint of four final games in the perfect fashion. All of their remaining games take place at Greystones, with the next encounter against Byfield Tigers next Sunday (May 5th).