West Oxfordshire Women play at Stonesfield Playing Field just behind the Village Hall of the Oxfordshire village, not a million miles away from Blenheim Palace. This is not my first visit to the ground, however last time I was there it was in the capacity of a coach of my girl's team after we drew Stonesfield away in a cup match (we will be back this season in the league). I'm also pleased to say that my last visit was a successful one for my team (we won 3-1) and quite special for me as a coach and a Dad, as my daughter scored her first ever competitive goal (it was a cracker too). The main pitch, which is where I was heading today, is further away from the Village Hall and cricket pavilion, towards the far end of the field. There's not too much to say about it. There are no covered areas or dugouts. This is a community playing field. The pitch slopes slightly length-wide, but not too much, and seems to be on the smaller side of recommended dimensions, especially width-wise. Although the dry weather meant the ground was quite hard, the pitch looked to be in pretty good condition.
This was the opening day of the season in the Thames Valley Counties Women's League Division One. Neither of these sides played in the league last season, well not in their current form anyway. Caversham AFC have played in the league for a number of seasons but during the Summer became Caversham United and, looking at the squad list from last season, have retained a fair few of the squad.
West Oxfordshire have also had a name change. They won Division 3 West last season as Witney Vikings Ladies and earned themselves promotion directly to the top flight.
I'm sure someone will put me straight if any of this information is incorrect.
The Goats started like a house on fire. Less than a minute had been played when a through ball found captain Emma Hopkins clean through. The Caversham striker made no mistake, slipping the ball under Amy Bourton to make it 0-1.
West Oxfordshire almost hit back immediately but stand-in keeper Sam Thoreau in the Goats goal reacted quickly to save with her feet after a quick break from the home side.
Despite the early lead for the visitors, it was the home side who settled into the game better and whilst they seemed to be quite capable of playing the ball around, they quickly found that a more direct approach, with the slope in their favour, could cause problems for the Caversham defence. Goalkeeper Amy Bourton could easily reach deep into the visitors half with her kicks and given that the ground was quite hard, the bounce was going to cause an issue. To be fair to Caversham though, central defensive pair Sophie Wicks and Shannon Hobson coped admirably with the aerial bombardment and when they did miss the first ball, Hobson's pace got them out of trouble.
At the other end, the same could be said. When Caversham did attack the narrow pitch funnelled them through the centre where West Oxfordshire defenders looked at their most comfortable.
Half-time was rapidly approaching when, after 37 minutes, West Oxfordshire's tactic came up trumps. Bourton launched another ball into the heart of the Caversham defence and for once neither Wicks or Hobson got to the bounce of the ball. Home striker Milly Downing had taken a chance and run through the defensive line. The ball sat up nicely for her and she unleashed a superb dipping volley over Thoreau to make it 1-1.
HT West Oxfordshire 1 Caversham United 1. A blistering start from the Goats but they failed to take advantage, allowing West Oxfordshire to settle and, ultimately, to look marginally the better team. The equaliser was no more than the home side deserved on the balance of play. However, with the slope against them in the second half, they were unlikely to be able to apply the same tactic.
However, ten minutes into the second period, it was the home side who took the advantage. A corner was swung in from the left, the ball dropping inside the 6 yard box. From my position it was impossible to see who got the last touch or even if the ball went over the line after it was hacked clear by a defender, but the referee signalled immediately for a goal. Judging by the congratulations from the West Oxfordshire team, I guessed that Emily Prior was the player who got the final touch. 2-1. Something of a controversial goal with a number of complaints from the victors.
It seemed to rattle Caversham and they were very grateful to Thoreau in goal just a minute later as the stopper was quick off her line to make a great block and prevent the home side going further in front.
Just past the hour mark came another controversial moment when Price was put clean through before being taken down by Caversham's Charlotte Clarke. Absolutely no doubt that it was a free-kick but could it have been seen as preventing a clear goal-scoring opportunity? The home bench and support clearly thought so but the referee was more lenient, just giving the Caversham left-back a yellow card. As it happened West Oxfordshire were not complaining anyway a minute afterwards when Stacey Coles produced a beautiful free-kick, planting the ball high to Thoreau's left to make it 3-1.
It looked to be game over at that point but Caversham and, in particular, Stephanie Nelson, were having none of it. Just three minutes after going two goals behind, Nelson picked the ball up on the edge of the box, turned sharply, and fired over the home keeper to make it 3-2. Game back on. Caversham tried to push for the equaliser but, to be fair to them, West Oxfordshire steadied themselves, slowed the game down, and managed to prevent Caversham from getting up a head of steam. Nelson did come mightily close to an equaliser with another turn and shot that went narrowly over, but try as they might, Caversham could not find that illusive third goal.
FT West Oxfordshire 3 Caversham United 2. A very entertaining game of football on what must have quite an unpleasantly warm day for the players. Two evenly matched teams who both gave it everything they had, you can't ask for more than that. Next up for West Oxfordshire is a trip to Wargrave who drew with Penn & Tylers Green on the opening day. Caversham will be on cup duty as the welcome Warminster Town to Berkshire.
Best of luck to both teams for the remainder of the season.
West Oxfordshire: Bourton, Avery, Godin, Gunzkover, Preston(c), Coles, McNab, Prior, Downing, Hewson, Hirons. Subs: Jones, Pitman
Caversham United: Thoreau, Dearling, Wicks, Hobson, Clarke, Levy, Walsh, Butler, Ali, Hopkins(c), Nelson. Subs: Swan
Ground Number: 278