U11: Chipping Norton Swifts vs Highfield Juniors
By Luke Newman
Swifts U11s 2018/19 season showed no signs of simply "winding down" - as they played out another thrilling game with Highfield at Greystones.
Swifts had a squad of 12 players for the game - and initially looked to play 10v10, with the game only a friendly between two evenly-matched sides. Unfortunately, through the first quarter (the game was played in 4 periods of 15 minutes), Highfield only had 9 players, so the game began with Swifts in a familiar 2-1-4-1 formation. They were without Oliver Hayes, Daniel McAndrew and Ben Seward, so a slight reshuffle was needed. Theo Petrosanu played in goal, as he has done on many occasions previously. Jacob Kedward and Captain for the day Beau Lawrence partnered each other in defence, with Oliver Edwards in front of them as the holding midfielder. This allowed a four of Tom Sayers, Joe Walsh, Toby Norman and Alex Goode, to supply Henry Clements. From the substitutes bench, Swifts could call upon Luca Risato, and also "new-boy" Josh, who joined the team for a one-off game in today's friendly, although Swifts would love for that to not be the case.
The first chance of the game fell to Swifts just three minutes in - a ball forward from Joe Walsh towards the right hand corner was brilliantly held up by Henry Clements, who muscled his way in front of his marker, before holding the ball up and winning a corner. Clements took the corner himself, spotting the run of Joe Walsh across the first man - his touch took a deflection before striking the outside of the near post. Highfield responded with a good counter attacking move just a couple of minutes later, but Theo Petrosanu stood firm to hold the shot from the edge of the box, relieving any potential danger from the rebound.
From this point on, Highfield gained their final player for the day, and so the game was bumped up to 10v10, with Josh coming on for Swifts in the holding midfield role. The first quarter somewhat petered out after this change, with the game becoming a lot more compact. Chances were few and far between, as both sides struggled to adapt quickly.
The second quarter saw both sides return to a rhythm, and once again it was Swifts who did the majority of the pressing in the early exchanges. A shot from Toby Norman and a deep free kick from Luca Risato both threatened the visiting side, who seemed to get deeper and deeper. Joe Walsh's smart through ball then caused another problem for the yellows, resulting in a corner from the left side. Joe Walsh jogged across to take it himself, and lifted his cross perfectly onto the head of Alex Goode, whose effort lobbed the goalkeeper and dropped into the net - his 8th goal of the season.
Swifts thoroughly deserved their lead, particularly due to their dominance in the first quarter - but Highfield, despite looking worried defensively, had vastly improved going forward, and arguably against the run of the second quarter at the time, they stole a goal back. An absolutely superb run from the number 14 saw him beat his man and play a neat, delayed one-two with the centre forward, before running clear and finishing with the outside of his right boot. A lovely goal - flicking off the far post on it's way in.
From this point the game really livened up - and both sides started to create chances. For Swifts, Joe Walsh had a shot blocked, with the rebound falling back to him. He stayed composed and rather than smashing the ball goalwards again, rolled in Alex Goode, only to see his shot fizz wide of the near post. Highfield then came very close to scoring their second, a cross from the right missed three Swifts defenders - only for the man on the back post to direct his touch inches wide.
But the half time whistle sounded just after Swifts put themselves in front once more. ANOTHER goal from a corner, this time from the right - his cross sailed over the head of Alex Goode, and also the goalkeeper, who rushed towards him, clearly worried about his presence after his earlier goal. Instead, the cross took both players out and fell to the feet of Josh, who sidefooted the ball calmly into the net on the volley, for a debut Swifts goal.
HALF TIME: SWIFTS 2-1 HIGHFIELD JUNIORS
Highfield made a lighting start to the second half - the scorer of their opening goal, the lively number 14 - grabbed his second of the game, with an absolute stunner. Receiving the ball slightly wider than he would have liked on the left flank from the midfielder, he took a touch, drove forward, onto his left foot, where he lashed the ball into the top corner and into the roof of the net with his left foot, leaving Theo Petrosanu with no chance in goal. Suddenly the game was level once more.
The visitors were by far the better side for a good 10 minutes following the goal, and Swifts had Theo Petrosanu to thank for being level throughout that spell, making a couple of good saves and making countless clearances as a sweeper for the team - before proving his worth even more with a stunning TRIPLE save, denying three different Highfield players, all from inside the box, once with his hands, parrying a drive at goal, and twice with his feet, before Swifts scrambled the ball clear.
With only a few minutes to go in the third quarter, Tom Sayers began to really drive Swifts forward - he made two very lively runs down the left hand side, the second showing some brilliant footwork to beat his man, with both eventual crosses being well cleared. However his work finally got rewarded with a minute of the third quarter to go, as he quickly pressed a Highfield defender from a goal kick, stole the ball and charged down on goal, one-on-one with the goalkeeper. He kept his nerve to tuck the ball underneath the 'keeper, giving Swifts the lead once again, with his 3rd goal of the season, but more impressively, 3rd in his last 5 games.
The final quarter saw both teams cancelling each other out - both teams looked tired, and struggled to really gain a foothold in the game and create further chances. However, with the visitors 3-2 down with 5 minutes to go, they seemed to gain a second wind, and laid siege on the Swifts goal - they equalised through a cross from the right hand side - the ball was swung in with pace across the six yard box - found it's way past two defenders which clearly unsighted Theo Petrosanu. He couldn't hold the ball, and it was pounced upon by the number 5, who tapped in from close range.
Highfield were by far and away the stronger finishers to the game, and came so very close to snatching it in the dying moments, as a through ball through the middle of the pitch split Swifts open - with a flick towards goal coming off the post and away. In the end though, the final whistle blew with no further goals, ending with what was probably a fair result. A thrilling 3-3 draw.