The first thing you should know about Easington Park, where Hardwick play, is that if you aren't a local it's not easy to find. Sat Nav takes you to Easington Road and the park, which is not visible from the road, is accessed down a narrow alleyway that is extremely easy to miss (as I did, twice). When you do finally see it, parking is another issue. Easington Road is quite narrow and has double-yellows around the park entrance. However, there are spots around the local roads, just allow a few extra minutes. Of course, someone will point out there is a massive car park somewhere on the other side of the park that I missed completely :-)
The park itself is just that, a park. There are two football pitches, only one was in use this Saturday. There's not much else to say about the ground, except that the pitch seemed to be pretty flat and in good nick for a municipal pitch. However, it is one of the narrowest pitches I've ever seen, as can be seen by the proximity of the penalty area to the touchline in some of my photos. There would be no need for Rory Delap at this ground.
Prior to kick off (and afterwards, as it happened) these two sides were one and two in the Banbury District & Lord Jersey Premier League. Hardwick sat proudly, top of the league, with a 100% record and only two goals conceded in their opening five games. Wroxton, who had played a games less, sat second with nine points from their opening four, a home defeat to Bodicote being their only blemish. This, of course, meant that they had a 100% away record. So, something had to give today. In Josh Northam, Hardwick possessed the league's leading marksman with nine goals. For Wroxton Liam Foster was leading the way with three. The sides did not meet at all last season, not because of Covid, but because Wroxton played in Division Two, two divisions below today's hosts. They only managed to fit in six games before the season was halted but they won five, drew one and manged to score 34 goals in the process.
First of all, apologies for not using Wroxton player names. I have no visibility of their team sheet. I'll be more than happy to update this at a later date if/hen I get them.
The combination of my flu jab and not being able to find the ground/somewhere to park, meant that the match had already kicked off when I arrived, although only around 5 minutes had been played. A quick check with the home lino confirmed that there was no score. That changed pretty quickly however, and it was the home side who got themselves in front. The Wroxton keeper made a good stop to keep the initial effort out but Michael Rinn was on hand to prod the ball home. 1-0. The lead lasted just about a minute because, with 12 on the clock, a long ball beat the entire home back line leaving the keeper in two minds to come out or not. Wroxton's number 11 was onto the ball in a flash, finishing neatly to level it up. 1-1.
The visitors did not rest on their laurels. Six minutes later they were in front. A measured through ball from Number 9 found 11 free again and, once more, he finished calmly to make it 1-2. The game had really sprung into life at this point and Hardwick were soon pressing for an equaliser. It came in the 24th minute when a superb flick-on carved open the Wroxton defence allowing Jonty Russell-Rayment to slide the ball home. 2-2
The home side almost immediately gave away the equilibrium, however. Some slack marking left Number 11 alone inside the box. He was duly found and demonstrated his calm finishing once again to make it 2-3, claiming his hat-trick into the bargain.
Only half an hour into the match and we had already seen 5 goals but it did seem as if the goal rush had relented somewhat as Wroxton looked to slow the game down a little and hold on to their advantage through to half-time.
Wroxton had a fourth goal chalked off for offside. No complaints from the visitors, their player was way off.
In the final minute before the break Hardwick had their keeper Jack Garner to thank as he pulled off a superb stop to prevent Number 16 from making it four.
HT Hardwick Sports 2 Wroxton Sports 3. A feisty game that feels like it is one bad challenge from a flare-up. Both sides look well capable of more goals but Wroxton's forwards caused the most damage in the first half. Number 11 showed great composure for all three goals, Number 16 is a real live wire too.
Just after the hour mark, the flare-up predicted at half time happened. There was a tangle in midfield between Wroxton's number 4 and Hardwick substitute Adam Daley. It should have just ended with a caution for both players, nothing more. However, the Wroxton player retaliated with a little kick out leaving the referee no choice but to show him a red card. A reflex action, no doubt, but a silly thing to do which left his team down to 10 for half an hour or so. The game then went into a short period when not that much happened. Wroxton, presumably working out how to rearrange their team, sat back a little and Hardwick, as many teams do when a player to the good, struggled to make the most of the numerical advantage. Of course, when I say it went quiet for a short period, it really was quite short. Seven minutes after going down to 10, Wroxton proved they were not phased when their number 10 received the ball on the edge of the box, turned sharply and fired a low shot past Garner. 3-5
On 74 minutes Hardwick almost got back into it again, Gareth Davies forcing a superb one-handed stop from the Wroxton keeper but it was the visitors who were looking the more dangerous, despite their lack of numbers. Number 16, who had had the beating of the defence all game, proceeded to blaze over two really good opportunities (one into a neighbouring garden) before, on 81 minutes, Wroxton sealed the game. A superb mazy run from their Number 6 carved open the home defence. His cross shot beat Garner and was followed in by Number 16. From where I was it wasn't clear of the ball had already crossed the line, but whatever the case it was now 3-6.
Less than five minutes later Wroxton, in the face of an increasingly demoralised home side, made it seven when number 16 made a great run again, setting up Number 10 who slid the ball home. 3-7.
Then, just as I was typing the full-time tweet, Wroxton made me delete it as their Number 2 drilled home a lovely strike from the angle of the box to make it 3-8.
FT Hardwick Sports 3 Wroxton Sports 8. A superb result for Wroxton who were only 4-3 ahead when they went down to 10. What a way for Hardwick to lose their 100% record though. It had to happen some time, but that was spectacular.
A great game for a neutral to watch but I'm not sure the Hardwick coach will share my opinion. They can console themselves with the fact that they remain top of the league, still 3 points ahead of Wroxton who do have a game in hand. It was a day for scoring eight away from home as Longford Park also notched 8 times just down the road from Hardwick, at Bodicote Sports. Interestingly, the two sides who shipped eight goals face each other next week as Hardwick make the short journey to Bodicote. That's got 0-0 written all over it.
Hardwick Sports: Garner, Coldea, Gray-Deacon, G.Davies, Trevitt, Kite, Evetts, Bedding, Zinn, Northam, Russell-Rayment. Subs: D.Cockle, Kingham, A.Daley, Mendham
Wroxton Sports (squad): Bennett, Boadu, Byfield, Chesser, Foster, Gaye, Gregory, Gueye, Ndome, Niang, Hartwell, Kimani, Lateef, Nash, Anneh
Ground Number: 284