Oundle is one of those places that I have passed as a signpost on my way to or from somewhere, but never actually visited. Time to put that right this midweek especially as the local team, Oundle Town, sitting third in the league and unbeaten, were scheduled to play league leaders Wittering Premiair, also unbeaten this season. Something had to give (unless it was a draw of course) and I wanted to be there to see it.
Oundle Town's ground, which has been their home for 70 years, is officially listed as Station Road. This is the A427, the main drag into town and a reference to the Grade II former station (most trains through Oundle were stopped after the Beeching Report in 1963). However, the ground entrance is actually wedged in the angle between North Street and East Street. The car park outside the clubhouse is quite small but there is plenty of extra parking on the gras alongside the main pitch. This is a one-way system, in through the clubhouse entrance and out via the service road that runs alongside the local brewery. As well as the 11-11 pitch, there are numerous small-sided pitches in the large amount of space between the club and the brewery. The clubhouse is in the corner of the ground and features a patio area with a good view down the ground. The pitch is mostly fenced off by a white single bar structure. There's no spectator cover at Station Road, although on a lovely summer evening such as this Tuesday, it certainly wasn't required. There are no floodlights, although there are a couple of small lights that presumably are used during training sessions. The dugouts are opposite the grass parking area on the Waitrose side of the ground. The pitch slopes slightly from the clubhouse towards the brewery but did appear to be in good condition.
As stated above, one of the attractions of this game was the fact that both sides had been in good early season form and were both unbeaten after three games. Oundle Town sat in third before kick-off having won two and drawn one. Wittering led the way. They had the same record as Oundle but topped the table on goal difference thanks in no small way to an opening day 5-1 victory at Tydd. Although the season is still in the early stages, Oundle had a 100% home record and Wittering a 100% away record at the start of the evening, so something had to give.
Oundle have been around the Peterborough and District League for many years. They last won the Premier League in the 1997-98 season (their only Premier title, although they have been runners-up twice), but 10 years ago found themselves down in Division Two. They climbed back into Division One for the 2014-15 season. Meanwhile, Wittering Premiar only came into being in 2020 as an amalgamation between Wittering and Premiar FC. In the aborted 2020-21 season Wittering and Oundle found themselves occupying first and second spot in the Division One table. Even though only a fraction of the league games were played, both sides earned promotion to the Premier League. In that first season in the top flight Wittering consolidated their position, finishing in tenth spot. Oundle, however, really pushed on and took third place. On the pitch Wittering won an early season home encounter 3-0 with an Andrew Moss hat-trick. The reverse fixture, in April, ended as a 5-2 victory for Oundle and Luke Smith seeing red for Premiair. Last season neither side managed to attain the same level in the table. Oundle fell to 11th, Wittering to 13th. The sides drew 0-0 at Wittering but, once again, it was Premiar who came out on top at Station Road, winning 2-1. Clearly Station Road is a happy hunting ground for Premiair.
Oundle started very positively and had the ball in the net as early as the second minute when Steve Mastin ran onto a flicked-on ball and lashed past Ward only to see the assistant’s flag go up much to the displeasure of the locals. It was a tight one that from my angle was inconclusive. The home side continued to look the more dangerous. Mastin's running and strength on the ball were causing problems for the Wittering defence and the visitors themselves were struggling to get any king of momentum going. Their best hope looked to be the combination of Liam Hatfield and Andrew Moss, who seemed to have a good understanding and it was these two who manufactured Wittering's first real opportunity on 17 minutes. Hatfield, on the right, slipped a ball down the side of the defender for Moss to run onto but the striker could only hit the side-netting from a tight angle. That was a warning for Oundle but the home team continued to have more of the ball than their opponents. What they appeared to be lacking was that final, killer pass.
On 26 minutes Wittering once again issued a warning to their hosts. A cross from the left this time found Moss unmarked in the centre and his header flew narrowly wide of Crick's left-hand post when he maybe should have hit the target. A few minutes later a low Wittering cross from the right was deflected out for a corner amidst big shouts from the visitors for handball. Nothing doing from the referee.
Oundle's response was to take the lead with 10 minutes to go until half-time. A cross from the right was met on the volley by Dan Bonser, arriving just at the right time in the penalty area. Ward with no chance. 1-0.
Oundle looked good value for their lead at this point. However, three minutes after taking the lead, they shot themselves in the foot, not once, but twice in the space of a minute. With seven minutes remaining in the half, Wittering full-back Tom Smith launched a hopeful long ball down the middle. There did not appear to be a danger as Josh Crick came off his line to collect. However, central defender Elliott Rowe had clearly not heard the call and tried to divert the ball back to his keeper, bypassing him completely and seeing the ball roll into an empty net. Calamitous for the home team. 1-1. Then, within seconds of the restart, and with yours truly still trying to Tweet the equaliser, Wittering turned the game around and took the lead when Spencer Haskins suddenly found the ball at his feet in the penalty area with no goalkeeper between him and the open goal (I'll be honest, I have no idea how the ball got to him because I was still typing up the first goal. That's how quickly it happened). 1-2.
Two goals in under a minute and suddenly the momentum of the game had swung in favour of the visitors.
A minute from the break Oundle did come close to getting back on level terms with what looked to be an innovative corner routine. Instead of the normal lofted cross, the ball was drilled, low across the area, inside the six-yard box. Unfortunately for the home team, no-one could quite get a touch on the ball and Wittering were eventually able to scramble the ball clear, preserving their lead for the break.
HT Oundle Town 1 Wittering Premiair 2. A minute of madness completely changed the complexion of this game. Until the 38th minute, Oundle were a goal up and deservedly so. Before the 40th minute clicked over they found themselves 2-1 down and suddenly on the back foot.
When the game restarted it was the visitors, clearly still buoyed from their late first-half turnaround, who were out of the traps the fastest. Haskins, who stuck their second goal, waltzed into the box before striking a low effort that beat Crick only for Elliott Rowe to get back well to clear. A bit of heart in the mouth time for the defender who could easily have deflected the ball into his own goal for a second OG of the game. Five minutes later, however, there was nothing the home defence could do as a Wittering attack up the right led to the ball falling into the path of Ben Roberts on the right-hand edge of the box. He took a touch before rifling low past Crick into the far corner. 1-3.
At this stage in the game Wittering were cutting holes into the home defence with pretty much every attack and they looked capable of scoring every time they crossed the halfway line. Captain Crick and his defence needed to get a grip on things as quickly as possible before the game completely slipped away from them. To be fair to Oundle, that is exactly what they did. Little by little they stemmed the flow of Wittering attacks and began to get a little more of the ball for themselves. Just past the hour, Jay Ward in the visitor's goal had to be at his best to keep out a close-range Toby Vincent effort. Maybe Wittering had taken their foot off the pedal a little but, whatever the case, the ball was spending more time in the Premiair half now, compared to earlier in the half.
With sixteen minutes remaining it was game on again. Jamie Wade, freshly introduced, cut in from the left, looking as if he was going to curl an effort towards the far post. Instead, he fired the ball low into the near post, wrong-footing Ward and pulling a goal back. 2-3.
Eight minutes later the same Oundle player took responsibility for a free-kick some 25 yards out. His dipping effort had Ward panicking as the ball flew just over his bar. So close to an equaliser, a few inches lower and Ward was not getting there. The ramifications of that were brought home there minutes later when Wittering went up the other end and effectively sealed the win. A cross from the left, toward the near post, was allowed to bounce over his head by Andrew Moss. It looked as if the chance was gone but the striker swivelled and drove a low shot past Crick to make it 2-4.
There was no way back from that for Oundle, even with a few extra minutes of added time.
FT Oundle Town 2 Wittering Premiair 4. Wittering's perfect run of results at Station Road continues as they stay top of the table. The first half minute of madness was the turning point of the game. Up to that point Oundle were a goal up and looking the better of the two sides. The quick changed in focus of the game gave the visitors a massive boost. Oundle seemed to recover midway through the second half and were pushing for an equaliser when Wittering grabbed their fourth, effectively killing the game off.
Both teams are at home this coming Saturday. Oundle look to bounce back as they take on newly promoted Whittlesey Athletic Reserves, who BotP saw win at Sawtry last season (One Team, Three Cups).
Wittering welcome Deeping Rangers Reserves. Last season both games ended in away wins. Wittering won 2-1 at Deeping after, earlier in the season, Rangers had won 3-2 at Easton on the Hill.
Oundle Town: 1.Crick(c), 2.McLoughlin, 3.Yarland, 4.Mastin, 5.Rowe, 6.Willimont, 7.Hipwell, 8.Bonser, 9.Vincent, 10.Szymanski, 11.Richardson. Subs: 12.Gordan, 14. Lockley, 16.Wade, 17.Dexter, 18.Thorpe
Wittering Premiair: 1.Ward, 4.Smith, 5.Benton, 14.De Lucis, 6.Hatfield, 11.Whittington, 9.Moss, 7.Tippett(c), 10.Haskins, 3.Roberts, 8.Bloodworth. Subs: 2.Senth, 16.Zimbango, 15.Cayley, 13.Young, 17.Alban
Ground Number: 374