There were a number of Southern Region games to choose from this Sunday. However, the need to stay fairly local combined with the postponement of Milton's game with Caversham, made my decision a little easier. Tempted as I was by the chance to check out a new location, Chesham Dev's Chiltern Academy, the lure of two of the division's current hot shots was too much. Abingdon United Development's Mimi Hodges and Kidlington's Courtney Sumner had already scored thirteen between this season and, with Kidlington's ground being less than 30 minutes drive, it was a bit of a no-brainer as my American colleagues would say.
It's been 18 months since my last visit to Exeter Park. To be honest, not a lot has changed. Although I did discover that you can park at Exeter Hall and walk through to the park from the car park there. The only other significant change was that the teams had chosen to use the pavilion side of the pitch for their benches. Last time I was there, they both used the opposite side.
Although the temperature had dropped significantly this weekend, there were glorious blue skies and sunshine over Kidlington on Sunday afternoon. So much so, that I had to switch to the shady side of the pitch to watch the game, avoiding the sun being directly in my eyes. Of course, this meant spending close to 2 hours standing around in very chilly conditions but, as it turned out, it was well worth it.
At the start of play Kidlington sat in second place in Division One North, only behind Wycombe Wanderers u23s on goal difference and, with The Chairgirls not playing, The Greens just needed to get something out of the game to take over at the top. Abingdon sat five points and three places below their hosts.
In recent weeks Kidlington's form had been up and down. A superb 2-1 at Milton United was followed by defeat at home to Penn & Tylers Green. last week, however, they returned to winning ways with a 4-2 win at Caversham United. Abingdon didn't play last Sunday after their game with Eversley & California was postponed.
As I said earlier, two of the division's top scorers were also facing up today and whilst Mimi Hodges and Courtney Sumner wree clearly the main goal threats, both sides had already shown they other tricks up their sleeves. For Abingdon both Freya Gilmore and Iva Georgievska had been on the scoresheet already, whilst Kidlington's Abi Haynes and Kiera Isaac had scored six between them in six outings.
It was clear from kick-off that both of these teams were up for this game. Inside two minutes Mimi Hodges demonstrated her strength when she used her pace to burst through from halfway before cutting in from the right and firing a shot towards the near post that Emily Murphy needed to stop. Six minutes after that, Courtney Sumner showed her skills, turning her marker out on the right before delivering a lovely cross that United keeper Alana Chester did well to deal with. Sadly, a minute after that, with both top strikers looking lively, Hodges was forced off with a bit of a knock. As it happened, it was precautionary and she did return later on, but the change in personnel did seem to take a little bit of the sting out of Abingdon for a while.
Kidlington took full advantage of Abingdon's re-shuffle. On 13 minutes Kiera Isaac's neat footwork drew a foul on the edge of the box. The free-kick, taken by Abi Haynes, was on target but not sufficiently wide of Chester to stretch her. Three minutes later, however, the home side did take the lead. Cloe Woodward got down the right flank and delivered a deep cross that may well have been dipping in under the bar before Chester managed to get something on it. Unfortunately for the United stopper, she only managed to palm the ball up into the air, and that was meat and drink to Courtney Sumner, lurking at the far post to head the ball over the line. 1-0.
Kidlington were now dominating play. Woodward, freed from defensive duties, was pushing up on the right and delivering some excellent crosses. Three minutes after the goal she put in an inch-perfect delivery onto the head of Sumner but this time the striker couldn't direct her effort under the bar. Just past the halfway mark in the first period, Sumner again tested Chester, this time with a low drive the the keeper had to go full length to her left to push away. the ball fell into the path of Abi Haynes but some good defensive cover got in a block on her shot. The United defence was being stretched at this point and it was no real surprise when Kidlington doubled their lead on 28 minutes. Once again it came from the right but this time it was Haynes delivering a corner into the mix where Sumner planted a strong header past the keeper and a player on the line. 2-0
The home side looked to be cruising at this point but Abingdon were having none of it. Within two minutes of going two down they forced a corner on the left and, when it was swung in, Iva Georgievska beat everyone to the ball, heading home powerfully at the near post. 2-1. The goal transformed the game. The pendulum had completely swung the other way and Abingdon took control, pushing Kidlington back in search of an equaliser. Hodges came back on and Kidlington were suddenly on the back foot. Abingdon saw a 39th minute header cleared off the line before Hodges saw her clever left-footed curler well fielded by Murphy, who had anticipated the shot well.
However, the first-half had one last twist. A minute into added time Kidlington lofted a long ball towards the Abingdon penalty area. Sumner won the flick on, delivering the ball behind the United defence and into the path of Abi Haynes, who had timed her run top perfection. The striker beat Chester to the ball, stabbing it past her into the net. 3-1
HT Kidlington 3 Abingdon United Development 1. A superb game of football which, over the 45 minutes, swung both ways. Kidlington looked to be in complete control with a two goal lead. However, Abingdon hit back swiftly and then took control of the game, only for Kidlington to hit them with a late sucker punch. Absolutely brilliant entertainment.
Just before the hour mark Sumner had a hat-trick attempt cleared off the line before Georgievska tested Murphy again with a good strike. Good positioning from the home stopper making the save look easier than it may have been. Just past the hour Georgievska was again in the thick of the action, delivering a perfect through ball for substitute Ruby Herring to run onto. The winger's shot went wide, but it was a warning that Kidlington needed to heed. Six minutes later a very similar ball found Herring again. This time, with Murphy rushing off her line, Herring got there first and struck the ball goalward, only to find a Greens defender blocking her path. Great defending from Kidlington.
Twenty minutes remained and Abingdon were still probing for a way back into the game. Hodges went on a great run, breaking several challenges before delivering a ball across the face of goal that eluded Murphy. Georgia Taylor, coming in from the opposite flank got to the ball but somehow put her effort over the bar from close range. Unfortunate for the United winger who, up to that point, had made a good contribution since coming on in the first half. If that one had gone in, it may well have been a very different final quarter of the game. As it was, Abingdon certainly didn't throw in the towel. They threw all they had at Kidlington. Amelie Sadler put an effort onto the roof of the Kidlington net with three minutes to, but that was as close as they got to getting a goal back.
FT Kidlington 3 Abingdon United Development 1. What a great advert for the Southern region Women's Football League. Two quite evenly matched teams who went for it throughout the entire game. There was some lovely football on display, plenty of crunching tackles and 100% determination across the pitch.
The result sees Kidlington take over at the top of the division, three points clear of Wycombe who now have a game in hand. They are also six points clear of Penn and Long Crendon, who have four and three games in hand respectively.
Coming up next week, Abingdon are on the road again looing to break their winless away run as they take on ninth placed Beaconsfield Town at Holloways Park. Kidlington are also travelling, as they head off the Chearsley Road and a clash with fourth-placed Long Crendon.
Kidlington: Murphy(c), Clayton, Pinna, Rodway, Woodward, Chewings, I.Thacker, O.Thacker, Isaac, Haynes, Sumner. Subs: O'Sullivan, Keal, Owen
Abingdon United Development: Chester, Pearce, Lewington, Ward, Dellar, Gilmore, Phillips, Sadler, Hodges, Georgievska, Maitlis. Subs: Herring, Taylor, Slaveykova, Harries, White
Ground Number: Re-visit