3rd November 2018

UHL Hellenic League Premier Division

Fairford Town (2) Brackley Town Saints (1) 

Saints: Worby, Stott, Brock, Godfrey (Bowden 75), Goddard, Ward, Ball (James 62), Watts, Jordan, Hammond, Kille

Subs not used: Middleton (L), March, Thompson

Any unbeaten run must come to an end at some time. It would be nice to feel that it came to an end after a closely fought free-flowing fantastic game of football, but this was not that. It was a bitty, untidy game, punctuated by stoppages and played on a hard bobbly pitch with a strong wind blowing straight down the ground. Saints did not surrender their run with a whimper. They tried to play their football, and fought hard until the final whistle but came up just a little short. 

The first half was attritional with lots of stoppages for injuries and fouls and with the ball spending far too much time in orbit. Fairford started strongly. Very direct closing down space quickly and restricting space for Saints to take advantage of. They allowed Saints to hold possession across the back line and squeezed the space in their own half.

 On 8 minutes Dan Bailey’s wind assisted shot from 40 yards was well tipped over the bar by Ali Worby, and from the resulting corner James Watts had to clear off of the line to prevent what would have been an own goal off of the shoulder of Joe Ward. Fairford were strong into the tackle and twice in the early stages there were lengthy stoppages after strong challenges on Watts, who was visibly shaken after a nasty looking boot to the head.

 Even so Saints were gradually easing into the game and good pressing by Ryan Knight and Charlie Kille nearly led to Harrison Ellis in the Fairford goal making a hash of an under hit back pass. A good passage of play after 25 minutes resulted in a James Hammond strike which was too high and minutes later Ellis needed to be sharp off of his line to thwart Knight.

 On 34 minutes a good Saints passing move broke down in the Saints right hand channel just outside the Fairford penalty area. The left back delivered an accurate long ball which speared through the heart of the Saints defence and Jon Thomas showed pace and strength to calmly slot into the corner despite the valiant attempt of Worby who managed to get a hand onto the shot. 

The remainder of the half was more of the same with Fairford continuing to press and squeeze space and with Saints struggling to find the way through, although a corner in the 45th minute from Harry Brock was well delivered to the far post where Olly Goddard just failed to time his run and was unable to direct his header on target. 

HALF TIME – Fairford (1) Saints (0) 

The second half started well for Saints with a great move seeing George Ball set free down the right. His cross to the back post was met first time by Kille who volleyed the ball back across goal towards Stott who stretched with a diving header but he could not quite get to the ball. On 49 minutes good movement again saw things open up for Ball who sprinted unopposed down the right wing but his cross was affected by an untimely bobble. 

Saints were pushing hard and there was a definite feeling that they were gaining the upper hand. However Fairford reminded us of how good they are at direct football when a Saints move broke down and Jack Beardsell collected the ball halfway inside his own half. His 40 yard ball was precise into the space behind Brock and Gudger sprinted to collect. Brock held him up but Gudger cut in and played the ball square to the onrushing Beardsell who’s first time shot was brilliantly saved by the strong hand of Worby. 

Saints were showing lots of energy and the vast majority of the play was in the Fairford half. Ellis was again called to be sharp off of his line, Hammond created space on the left but his shot was again too high and Ball cut in from the right but his left foot shot drifted high and wide. 

Saints changed shape with Owen James coming on to replace Jordan Godfrey. They continued to dominate possession and on 72 minutes Charlie Kille hit a good shot from 30 yards but Ellis was well positioned to save comfortably. Hammond burst free and his lob to the far post was inches away from Stott who again found himself in space. 

Despite being under the cosh for the large part of the half so far Fairford increased their lead on 74 minutes. A long ball from the left back area was flicked on to Jon Thomas who burst through to smash a shot from just outside the box against the bar. The rebound came back to Thomas on the edge of the box where he used his strength to win and retain the ball, move forward and fire past Worby with his left foot. A cracking centre forward finish. 

Saints claimed offside and to many it was clear that although Thomas was not offside when the initial pass was made he looked very much offside when his fellow attacker flicked the ball on. It appeared that the linesman thought that the flick was by a Saints defender.  Earlier in the season against Wellingborough exactly the same thing happened. On that occasion the ref consulted with his linesman and Saints got the decision. On this occasion the officials would not/did not consult and the goal was given. Some you win, some you lose. 

To their credit Saints were stung but they did not give up. On 78 minutes they won yet another free kick this time just outside the Fairford box. Watts kick caught the end of the wall looped up and over Ellis, but hit the bar and bounced down and under the keeper. Cue an enormous scramble during which Stott claimed that he had forced the ball over the line, and Fairford were appealing for a foul on Ellis. Eventually the linesman flagged. Saints celebrated in the belief that they had scored, but it was adjudged to be a foul. 

Saints were throwing caution to the wind and introduced Josh Bowden to have 3 centre forwards on the pitch and the action was now centred in and around the Fairford penalty area. On 83 minutes Hammond picked up a clearance from another free kick and his shot was deflected away for a corner from which Stott was clearly impeded and pushed by Fairford substitute Callum Preece and the ref correctly awarded a penalty. Knight stepped up to confidently roll the ball past Ellis. 

Could Saints find an equaliser in the last 5 minutes? Nearly. A long corner to the far post fell for James who lifted a cross from the left side of the area and which came back off of the cross bar. Stott was again on hand to fire the rebound goalwards but which was blocked on the line and cleared. A further corner was headed back across goal by Bowden and the ensuing melee saw the ball end up in the net although the referee had already blown for a foul. There was time for one more corner and a Bowden header unfortunately straight at Ellis. 

Not a great game by any standard, but plenty of talking points. Fairford were rightly delighted with their victory. They battled hard, frustrated the Saints and took their goals very well. It is too easy to say that Saints were not at their best. Probably more exact to say that they were not allowed to be at their best with a combination of a passionate display by Fairford and a tricky playing surface that meant that 2/3 touches were needed rather than the usual 1 or 2. Even so Saints battled right to the end and with a little more luck might even have snatched a draw from a difficult afternnon.