U14: Chipping Norton Swifts 6-3 Byfield Tigers
By Luke Newman
Swifts U14s' perfect ending to the season continued, with their second consecutive win, this time against Byfield Tigers at Greystones in a competitive affair.
Swifts were down to the bare bones of their squad once again, with EIGHT players that have played for the club this season missing. In terms of recent appearances; Jacob Benham, Cole Davies, Rex Chiles, Freddie Jeffrey and Jerome Davies were all absent. This left Swifts with 9 players, which sportingly, was matched by the 12-man squad of Byfield. Chippy started in a 3-4-1 formation, common in 9v9 football. Kian Cozier, Owen Hancock, Ben Hughes, Alex Ford, and Ajay Itah all played in somewhat familiar roles, with Harry Thomas making just his second appearance, Lewis Pretorius starting on the right wing, and Louis England through the centre of midfield.
From the first whistle, Swifts had the bit between their teeth, and raced out of the traps. They were all over Byfield - Lewis Pretorius and Ajay Itah combined on two separate occasions early on - the first deflected over the crossbar after just 2 minutes - and the second forcing a superb save out of the opposition goalkeeper from less than 10 yards after just 4 minutes. Swifts had a string of corner kicks that unfortunately came to nothing, and for the opening 15 minutes of the game, the match was being played exclusively in Byfield's half of the pitch.
However, football continues to be cruel, and after a long clearance was well chased and held up by the Byfield number 17 for the visitors first venture into the Chippy third, an over-hit cross sailed past the defence, over Kian Cozier who had little chance, and into the far corner.
Still Swifts pressed forward and looked by far the better side. Ajay Itah dragged a shot just wide, Louis England took two shots from distance that were well held by the goalkeeper, and Ben Hughes had an opportunity blocked, all before Ajay Itah was denied by another superb save, with the goalkeeper quickly down to his left to parry the ball away from danger.
Unbelievably, when Byfield then pressed forward for the first time, and took their first shot of the match on 29 mins, they found themselves 2-0 up. A sloppy goal from Swifts perspective, with a midfielder allowed a free run from halfway up to the edge of the box. Eventually a defender committed to making a challenge, but it was far, far too late, with the ball already close enough to goal for a simple square pass to the feet of the striker, who finished calmly.
Byfield seemed to wake up a little once they had a two-goal cushion - Swifts were grateful for a last-ditch Harry Thomas block to deny a good opportunity from a tight angle, before Kian Cozier made an important save at the feet of a striker from the resulting corner. In truth, all this spell of Byfield pressure did was open the game up - allowing Swifts a foothold in the game. Ben Hughes started the move, bringing the ball down before driving inside of his man and into the centre. Louis England took over, dragging the ball away before drilling the ball into the feet of Ajay Itah, who took one touch out of his feet, another to take the ball away from the defender, before cracking a low drive into the far corner from the edge of the box.
Swifts could have grabbed the equaliser before the break - another brilliant save denied Ben Hughes with a header at the back post - before two really brave blocks from the resulting corner denied both Hughes and Alex Ford from close range.
HALF TIME: SWIFTS 1-2 BYFIELD TIGERS
The second half began much like the first - Swifts by far on top in terms of territory and possession - with their first chance coming within the first minute of the restart. The Byfield defence stopped after their full-back made a clear handball, but with the referee playing advantage, Louis England raced through, but could only strike his effort over the bar from a slightly difficult angle inside the box.
There was a slightly controversial moment at the other end shortly after - as Harry Thomas and the visiting striker tangled on the edge of the box. Byfield wanted a free kick right on the edge of the area, but again advantage was played, with the winger through on goal. For whatever reason, the winger seemed sure play had been pulled back - only realizing his error when it was too late, and Owen Hancock made a crucial block. By this point, the advantage had been played, and Byfield were left with nothing.
Moments later - Swifts got their richly-deserved equaliser. Lewis Pretorius brought down a goal kick from Kian Cozier, before playing the simple square pass to Louis England. With Pretorius' pass taking out the last midfielder, England had the time to drive forward and panic the Byfield back three - he eventually got to the edge of the box, where he drilled a low ball across the face of goal, which was touched in at the back post by Ajay Itah. Itah then grabbed his hat-trick, calmly converting a penalty into the same corner, having won the spot-kick himself after some good work on the left flank. Swifts were deservedly ahead for the first time in the game, and it was up to them to keep it that way.
Swifts threatened to run away with the game as they quickly made it 4-2 - a corner from the left by Alex Ford was nodded clear, only to the edge of the box where Lewis Pretorius picked up possession. He played a neat one-two with Owen Hancock, who was up for the corner, to take him into the box, before cracking a shot underneath the goalkeeper for his 2nd goal of an injury-ravaged season - with his first coming on the opening day.
At this point, there was a 5-10 minute period where the game turned a little bit nasty. On a couple of occasions, players from both sides squared up to each other, and with the visiting support getting involved at every opportunity - Byfield suddenly seemed to gain a will to chase and battle once again, and caused Swifts some problems. Swifts didn't deal with the feisty atmosphere well, and threw themselves into challenges and committed bodies to the ball when they didn't need to - this left a huge gap in the defence, for the striker to charge through, and bury a ball into the near post for 4-3.
Swifts responded brilliantly to conceding though, and in the end, put the game beyond reach on 55 minutes. Louis England's free kick from deep was poorly cleared, and dropped between bodies in the penalty area. Ben Hughes pounced - stealing the ball away from the defender and smashing it into the roof of the net. 5-3, and his 8th of the Season.
The scoring was then rounded off in the 61st minute by Ajay Itah, and his fourth of the day - a goal kick from Byfield was touched into his path, for him to crack a half-volley from distance, over the head of the 'keeper, who could only fumble the ball over the line and in. The victory was sealed, and Itah had increased his tally for the season to 18, from 16 appearances.
Swifts have two games to go, with only a week left of the season. They have two games at Greystones; against Launton (18:45 on Tuesday, 7th May) and against Combe (14:00 on Sunday, 12th May).