For the first live action of the new season I finally made it to Brackley Town Saints. Newly promoted Saints play at St James Park, home of their National League North first team. Having visited the ground before, this trip was completely about the football rather than another tick in the ground-hop catalogue. What I will say about the stadium is that, the first thing I noticed upon entry, was how good the playing surface looked. The perfect pitch for keeping the ball on the ground and knocking it around.
Saints got themselves into the Hellenic Premier with, I am told, some particularly good football last season. Kidlington, I know from seeing them a couple of times last year, can play a bit themselves. So, I was filled with optimism of a good match. I was not to be disappointed.
From the kick-off, Saints in their red and black stripes, showed their intent. Their passing was crisp, players all seem to have exceptional balls skills and are very comfortable in possession. For the opening 3-4 minutes I think this took Kidlington by surprise and they struggled to get hold of the ball. However, The Greens are a well established side at this level, expected to be pushing for promotion and they soon began to get with the pace of the game. The match settled into a fine rhythm. Both sides more than capable of stringing passes together but neither really creating any clear-cut opportunities.
Nevertheless, a really pleasing game on the eye with plenty of neat footwork to admire.
When a chance finally appeared it was the greater experience of the away side that created it. However, the home keeper was more than equal to the effort. As the half wore on, despite Saints continued neat passing, it was Kidlington who were looking the more likely to score. Twice more Saints keeper made good saves to keep them at bay. Saints did manage a couple of half chances and one fairly decent opening, but couldn't really trouble the Greens keeper.
An entertaining half drew to a close with the scores level at 0-0.
Five minutes later, on 72 minutes, Kidlington doubled their lead. Brackley lost the ball in midfield, an incisive pass split the defence and, when the ball was rolled to Lewis Coyle, he made no mistake with a very composed finish.
I'll be honest, at this point I thought it was game over. Despite Brackley's excellent passing game, I could see no way back for them. However, they did not waiver from their brand of football and visibly started to up the pace.
With just over 5 minutes left Saints won a free-kick 25 yards out and slightly left of the Greens goal. Matt Hammond stepped up and curled a stunner into the keeper's top right corner. Game on?
It is testament to Brackley that, from this point onwards, Kidlington were on the ropes and were constantly looking for ways to slow the game down and run down the clock. Saints kept plugging away with their pass and move style. Then, in the very last minute, came the game's most stunning moment. As the Saints captain Charlie Wise advanced from the halfway line Kidlington backed off him a little, presumably expecting more short, incisive passing. However, instead of playing a short ball he struck it from 40-45 yards over an astonished Greens keeper and into the net for a last-gasp equaliser. Cue scenes of jubilation from players and fans alike. You had to feel sorry for the Kidlngton keeper. He had barely had a stop to make all game but was beaten twice, from distance, by pretty much unstoppable efforts.
There was hardly time for a restart before the referee blew for full-time and ended what had been a very enjoyable 2-2 draw.
Kidlington must have thought they had the game in the bag but Brackley, to their credit, never stopped playing their football and never lost belief in themselves.
I have seen quite a bit of Hellenic League football over the past 5 years and, in my opinion, both of these sides have the potential to be up there at the end of the season. It will be interesting to see how Brackley fare when the weather changes and the pitches get heavier. This will not suit their style of play and, if I had to say anything negative about them, they may be a little lightweight for this league. Kidlington appear to be a good, solid team with a mixture of experience and youth. On this showing I think they are rightly one of the favourites this season.
Brackley Town Saints - @btfc_pdc @btsaintsfc
Kidlington FC - @kidlington_fc