I wasn't really expecting to get to see a game on the opening day of the year but, as luck would have it, opportunity presented itself when my wife and daughter decided to head off for a bit of retail therapy. No point sitting in the house on my own, especially when there was a local derby kicking off just 20 minutes down the road. So, a quick check to ensure it was still on (a sign of the times) and off I went down the A34, destination Yarnton Road, Kidlington.
I don't think Yarnton Road has changed that much since my last visit in October 2017 (has it really been that long?), a 3-0 League Cup defeat of Swindon Supermarine. There is plenty of cover, both seating and standing, with three stands in total, two on the Yarnton Road side and one behind the goal at the car park end. I've said it before but, if you haven't been to Kidlington, you should. It's a great ground to watch football.
This season has been a bit of a struggle for both sides. At the start of play, Wantage sat in the relegation spots two points above bottom side Colney Heath and six points from safety. Kidlington, seven points better off than their opponents, sat fourth from bottom. Both sides really needed three points from the game and both were coming into the game on the back of derby day defeats over Christmas. Wantage went down 1-0 at home to Didcot Town whilst Kidlington crashed to a 7-0 defeat at North Leigh.
This would be the seventh time I had seen Kidlington play, either at Yarnton Road or on their travels. In that time I have never seen them lose, winning five and drawing one. At Yarnton Road they have won every game I have witnessed so far. Good omens for the Greens (apologies in advance to Wantage). The list of previous games (click on them for the match blog):
Kidlington 3 Abingdon United 0
Brackley Town Saints 2 Kidlington 2
Thatcham Town 0 Kidlington 1 (possibly the decisive game in the campaign that saw The Greens gain promotion to Step 4)
Kidlington 3 Marlow 0
Kidlington 2 Royston Town 1
Kidlington 3 Swindon Supermarine 0
The last game I went to in 2021 started with a bang, a penalty within the first minute. This one, whilst not quite as dramatic, wasn't too far off for incidents early on. Only two minutes into the game Kidlington came very close to scoring, stopped only by a superb one-handed tip over the bar from Joe Gorman in the Freds goal. A minute later they saw an effort come back off the post and within the first five minutes had a very big penalty shout when Luke Stokoe went over Gorman in the box. Nothing given but it could easily have been a spot kick. Then, for all Kidlington's opening dominance, it was only their keeper Harry Way who prevented them from going behind in the seventh minute. Breathless stuff to start the year.
The game settled a little after that opening mad 7 or 8 minutes, but was still an entertaining affair with the home side keeping their foot on the gas and looking the more likely to get a goal. This they duly did, but had to wait until the 23rd minute before they could celebrate. A left-wing corner caused some confusion in the Wantage box and Tom Griffiths was on hand to stab the ball over the line. 1-0. The Greens were well on top at this point and only another very good Gorman save on 36 minutes prevented them from extending their lead.
HT Kidlington 1 Wantage Town 0. Good half from The Greens. Wantage go into the break thankful to their keeper for three or four very good saves that kept them in the game.
I'll be honest, at this point I thought the game was done and dusted and, if they were true to themselves, I suggest Wantage fans may have felt them same. Although The Freds had never been completely out of the game, they had not done much to show that they could claw back a two goal deficit. Added to that, Kidlington looked comfortable on the ball and had everything under control at the back.
However, football is nothing if not unpredictable. Just past the hour mark Wantage got a goal back out of the blue. James Hammond latched onto a ball in the box and made no mistake. 2-1. Just like that the tables turned. Not only did Wantage gain strength from the goal but Kidlington looked like their confidence had been shot to pieces. Wantage were suddenly first to every ball. Every player wanted to get on the ball and panic seemed to set in at the back for Kidlington, hurried clearances just being picked off by Wantage players and more attacks being launched.
On 67 minutes there was a big let off for the home side. Way misjudged a long through ball, missing his kick, leaving a straight race between Tyriq Hunte and a Kidlington defender, who just did enough to make the big striker slightly off target with his effort. The ball came back off the foot of the post. Huge chance. However, it was only six more minutes before The Freds got themselves level and, to be fair, it had been coming as Shaquille Ishmael cut in from the left and slotted the ball past Way. 2-2
It was completely one way traffic now. Wantage looking for a winner, Kidlington hanging on for a point. Or so we thought but this game had plenty more in store for the 148 in attendance.
With seven minutes left on the clock Kidlington won a free-kick just inside the Wantage half and way out on the left flank. The ball was lofted into the box where Wantage stopper Joe Gorman came to collect amongst a throng of players from both sides. The ball seemed to slip through his fingers, bounced once and then rolled agonisingly (for Wantage) over the line. 3-2 (The goal was credited to Harry Whitehead although I thought it may well have been an own goal). Cue scenes from both sides. As the Kidlington players celebrated the Wantage players, especially keeper Gorman, were incensed, believing there was a foul on the keeper as he tried to catch the ball. Gorman's protest clearly went too far and the referee issued a second yellow to the Wantage stopper. After much confusion, involving an outfield player and the substitute goalkeeper stepping between the sticks, we were able to get on with the game.
To be fair to Wantage, even a player light, tried as best they could to take the game to Kidlington for the remaining few minutes but it was not to be for them.
FT Kidlington 3 Wantage Town 2. My 100% home record watching Kidlington continues. It's only a matter of time before they start to project a BotP logo into the night sky every time they are need of three points. On a serious note though, what a great game to watch as a neutral. Both sides gave it everything. Kidlington looked home and hosed after an hour but Wantage showed fantastic spirit to get themselves back into it. Next up for Kidlington is a tricky looking trip to high-flying AFC Dunstable. The Freds travel to another team in the top half, Thame United.
Best of luck to both teams for the remainder of the season.
Kidlington: Way, Griffith, Flanagan, Gilbert, Hercules, Creed, Mattimore, Markham(c), Knight, Whitehead, L. Stokoe. Subs: Creed, Rogan, Hoareau
Wantage Town: Gorman, Quarterman, Horwood, Crosbie, Alexander(c), Hammond, Lodge, Scholes, Hunte, Pemberton, Ishmael. Subs: Zebroski, Novakovic, Keller, Wells, Fragata
Ground Number: Re-Visit