14th December 2019 

Brackley Town Saints (0) Bishops Cleeve (3)
Hellenic League Premier Division

Saints: Crowther, Gabbidon, Brock (Thompson H/T), Godfrey (Hammond 74), Middleton (D), Hartley, Ball (Davies 76), Harris, Kille, McConnell, Middleton L.

Subs not used: Dowse, Mickley 

Manager Chris Hurley was able to welcome Sam Hartley back into the squad after he passed a pre match fitness test, but lost James Hammond to injury and Ryan Knight due to suspension. As a result, the squad had a very youthful look to it with a number of the U18’s stepping into the fray. It was a brave and battling performance by the young Saints who held Cleeve at bay for large parts of the game, although ultimately the experience and strength of one of the top teams in this division won through. 

The first half was tight and although Cleeve posed the greater threat offensively Saints were well organised and defended well. Cleeve have had a start stop couple of months with several postponements and this was evident in the early stages with some of their play a little ponderous. The warning signs were there for Saints though with the Lively Iehan Crowe having 2 good chances in the first 10 minutes. The first was after 60 seconds when he latched onto a poor clearance but pulled his shot wide. On 9 minutes the ball fell to Crowe in the 6-yard box following a corner. His stabbed shot passed wide of goal. 

George Ball showed the damage that he can do offensively with a couple of lively runs, but the finishing shots did not trouble Mateusz Wjeczorek in the Cleeve goal. But it was Cleeve that came closest to opening the scoring when on 29 minutes a powerful shot from Luke Payne crashed back off the crossbar. The game settled into a pretty dour midfield battle punctuated by the odd piece of quality. On 38 minutes Saints had their first real threat on goal when some neat footwork by Lewis Middleton was followed by a curling right foot shot from the edge of the box which was only a few inches wide of the far post with Wjeczorek beaten. 

On 41 minutes the Cleeve manager was booked when his frustration boiled over following a positive run by Harrison Iddles which was finally thwarted by an excellent tackle by Lewis Gabbidon in the Saints penalty box. There was no doubt that during the run Iddles was probably fouled a couple of times although I think that the referee took the view that he had played an advantage. 

Half time came with Saints pleased with a good half’s work. The downside was that skipper Harry Brock had tweaked his groin and was unable to continue being replaced by James Thompson. 

Within 60 seconds of the restart Cleeve took the lead. The theory that refereeing decisions even themselves out seemed to come into play when a clearance from Lewis Gabbidon clipped Crowe before going out for a Saints throw in. The referee and linesman probably did not have the same view as the people sat in the main stand as controversially, they gave the throw to Cleeve. Saints lost their concentration as they remonstrated with the referee. Cleeve took the throw quickly and moved the ball out to Kai Mahon who had the power and pace to round Thompson and drive the ball past Matt Crowther into the far corner. 

To their credit Saints persevered and on 54 minutes fashioned a great chance to equalise. A long ball from Sam Hartley was well controlled by Hayden McConnell in the Cleeve box, and he cleverly squared to Charlie Kille who shot first time from just outside the 6-yard box but could not keep his shot down. 

It was evident that Cleeve had moved up a couple of gears and were looking very slick going forward. On 57 minutes they doubled their lead when the ball was again fed out to Mahon on the right hand side and with a carbon copy of his first goal he outpaced the Saints defence and hit a firm right foot shot past Crowther and into the far corner of the net. 

Game over? Not quite. Saints pushed again and on 64 minutes worked the ball into the Cleeve box where McConnell flicked on a cross with a deft header that found Hartley unmarked in the 6-yard box. Hartley was off balance and as a result did not connect with the volley as he would wish and Wjeczorek was able to save easily. 

Cleeve looked a little ruffled for the first time and on 67 minutes centre half Ryan New almost headed a back pass past his own keeper who had to scramble to desperately clear off the line.

 Saints were pushing numbers forward and on 75 minutes they were caught out when substitute Matt Hammond tried to find the overlapping Gabbidon. Crowe intercepted the pass and showing great pace he ran unchallenged from the halfway line into the Saints box. His shot was saved by Crowther, but the rebound seemed to deflect off Steven Davies and past Crowther for Cleeves third goal. 

The last 5 minutes saw Wjeczorek make good saves from shots from Gabbidon and Lewis Middleton. 

Next up for Saints is an away fixture at high flying Binfield FC on Saturday 21st.