Excelsior play at The Shipton-on-Stour Sports Club on the South-Eastern side of the town. It's a multi-sport complex that also provides cricket, bowls and tennis. There's a reasonably large car park but beware, this is clearly a thriving community sports hub and the car park does fill quickly. I managed to find a spot behind the tennis courts, but there were precious few available. Still, it's great to see a popular and well-used sports hub.
The clubhouse is perched on top of a bank, looking out over the criket pitch and, to the left, the football pitch. There is also an extensive kid's play area and aduly outdoor exercise machines adjacent to the clubhouse. It's a two-storey affair with the changing rooms on the lower level and the bar upstairs. The football pitch, unusally for this level has both dugouts and a covered stand. What I really loved was that the home dugout is twice the size of the away one. A bit Wimbledon-esque in the approach. I wonder if the opposition showers are permanently set to cold too? The pitch is pretty much flat, although the ball did seem to get held up quite a bit on it. It's a good facility for this level of the pyramid.
This is only Shipston's third season in the Hellenic structure, only their second full one after the first one was abandoned. Last season they finished eighth of thirteen. A solid season for them. Oxford City's Dev. team were only created this year and have started life in the Hellenic League pretty well, winning three of their first five outings. The teams do not play in the same division, Oxford in the Central league and Shipston in the West. Therefore, there's no history between the clubs to give a pointer to the possible outcome. City were coming into the game on a bit of a high after thrashing Wantage Town's Dev. side 10-0 in their last game with Brayden Daniel and Kian Duggan both hitting hat-tricks. Daniel is the league's second highest scorer with 11 in 6 games. Shipston, however, sit second in their league, a point off the top with a game in hand. They too had a crushing league win in their last game, beating Cheltenham Saracens Dev. 8-0 with seven of the goals coming in the second half. George Redshaw bagged a hat-trick for Shipston, making him the league's top marksman with six from five.
First of all, apologies if I get any of the names wrong. I didn't manage to get hold of team sheets, so jotted down names I heard being called out along with the shirt numbers, then cross-referenced against Full-Time. It's by no means a fool proof way of working out who's who.
The home side, with the wind at their backs in the first half, were quickly into their stride and took the lead as early as the third minute. A superb break down the left from Stanley Dube caught the visitor's defence flat-footed. Dube drove to the by-line before delivering the perfect cross, putting it on a plate for Jordan Rooke to finish from close-range. 1-0.
The early goal combined with the wind and the exuberance of the home side, had Oxford on the back foot with the vast majority of chances falling to the home side. Jake Brown's delightful cross was almost converted by Redshaw before the same player was thwarted again, this time by the speed off the line from the City goalkeeper, just about reaching a through ball before the striker.
Just before the 20 minute mark, City finally came close themselves. Home goalkeeper Tom Cox came a long way off his line, well out of his area, but failed to clear, allowing Brayden Daniel to try an audacious lob which was headed off the line. The ball fell to Finlay Beckett but his effort went narrowly wide. Better from the visitors and a message to Shipston that it wasn't going to be all one way. However, the home side responded immediately with a chance of their own. A long ball through the middle was controlled well by Redshaw who made himself a little room and let fly only the visitor's keeper to make another good save.
In a short period of end-to-end play, Cox was then called back into action when Charlie Bacon let fly. City were starting to make a few chances now but the home defence looked strong and Cox looked assured between the sticks. Shipston were also dangerous going forward, with Redshaw and Rooke a constant threat.
With a few minutes to go before the break, Brayden Daniel did well up the right for City, cutting inside and unleashing an effort that beat Cox but also went wide of the post. Then, after absorbing all that Oxford threw at them, Shipston hit them with a sucker-punch a minute before half-time. Once more it was Dube who was the provider, sliding a perfect through ball between defenders for George Redshaw to run onto. His pace took him past his marker and he slipped the ball past the onrushing keeper to make it 2-0.
HT Shipston Excelsior 2 Oxford City Development 0. A deserved lead for the home team, although a two goal margin was probably a little hard on the visitors. Oxford were under the cosh a fair bit, especially early in the half, but had just started to look more threatening when Shipston hit them on the break. Oxford have the wind in their favour second half, so it's not yet all over.
The Hoops had big shouts for a penalty just before the hour mark when a home defender appeared to handle. From my vantage point it certainly looked like had to ball. However, the referee, who may well have been unsighted with players between him and the ball, waved the protests away. Oxford's sense of injustice, which increased later in the game, would come back to bite them late on, but more of that later.
Exactly on the hour mark, substitute Kenzie Taylor burst through from the halfway line for Oxford but, under pressure form a defender, couldn't get his shot on target. The visitors continued to push and probe away at the defence, which was being excellently marshalled by captain Joe Godson and goalkeeper Tom Cox. The keeper had to be at his best on 73 minutes when a Kian Duggan shot whistled through a group of players only for the stopper to make a great save. City substitute Ryan Sheppard then controlled and spun in the box before getting a shot off which was blocked well by a gaggle of home defenders. Then on 76 minutes Finbar Scott drilled in a free-kick which again Cox was equal to, turning it away for a corner. Oxford were piling on the pressure but just couldn't find a way through and they were almost caught on the break again with twelve to go. It was Dube again, this time breaking down the left before checking inside and getting a shot off which hit the side netting. A warning to City that they still and to be vigilant.
As time ticked away, City became more and more desperate for a goal and, deep into added time, frustrations finally came to the surface. Ryan Sheppard who a minute ago felt he had been the victim of another bad decision after being fouled, took matters into his own hands, flying in on a home player. Cue mayhem between the players. A lot of pushing and shoving but thankfully nothing worse. Handbags is the phrase often used. Once it calmed down the referee issued a straight red to Sheppard, closely followed by a yellow to one of the Oxford coaches who had taken his complaints too far. There was also clearly some friction between the home linesman and the visiting bench. Finally, the game got back under way only to be quite rapidly followed by the final whistle. I'm pleased to say that there were handshakes all round at this point, even between referee and visiting coach. Good to see.
FT Shipston Excelsior 2 Oxford City Development 0. Most definitely a game of two halves. Shipston bossed most of the first half but Oxford had started to get a foothold before the break only to be hit with a sucker punch just before the whistle. City completely dominated play n the second period but just couldn't find a way through a solid home defence combined with a very good goalkeeping display from Tom Cox. Shipston progress to Round 3 where they will face Swindon Supermarine Dev who beat Ardley United Dev. 3-2 today. However, Shipston are back in league action next weekend, making the trip West to take on Tuffley Rovers Dev. at Glevum Park. Meanwhile, Oxford go to Ardley to play their Dev. team in the Marsh Supplementary Cup.
Shipston Excelsior: Baxter, Brown, Cox, Dube, Gill, Godson(c), Moss, Redshaw, Rooke, Thorn, Walker. Subs: Bradley, Haines, Kroner, Murphy, Rogers
Oxford City Development: Bacon, Beckett, Daniel, England, Frellesvig, Jabari, Russell, Sott, Smart, Ulas, dos Santos. Subs: Croker, Duggan, Pearce, Sheppard, Taylor
Ground Number: 380