Final Match Win and First Clean Sheet!
By Kim Miles
Solid performance by Birtles in goal brings 7th win and 7th place finish.
Formby made the short trip to Caldy to take on Oxton in the rearranged fixture originally lost to frost. Despite yet another midweek injury (more broken bones, this time Matty Williams’s cracked rib), a decent all-round performance on a tricky, slow pitch saw them turn the tables on a side who had won earlier at Cricket Path as Formby gave them a 4-goal head start before recovering to a 4-6 loss.
Formby settled to some patient passing moves, which saw them have the better of the opening exchanges without really threatening the goal, but after 8 minutes Giles Hampson
found a telling through ball to Harry Pike
, who controlled it well on his reverse-stick before advancing into the Oxton circle, where his progress was halted by the intervention of a defender’s foot. With Connel Capper
still on the bench, Birtles and Miles worked a shooting chance for the latter, who didn’t really get hold of his shot, but it was at least on target ands when the ‘keeper was unable to do more than block it, Hampson just about managed to squeeze the ball over the line after some frantic scrabbling in the goalmouth delivered the ball to him. The lead was probably deserved on the run of play.
A minute later Sam Birtles
made his first save, after Ryan Baker
, making one of his guest appearances, had done well to channel his opponent into an awkward spot from which to shoot. Formby moved onto the attack again and were possibly unfortunate that when Felipe Davis-Guzman
appeared to have found a defender’s foot in the circle, neither umpire detected any infringement.
Oxton had a couple of players who liked a run with the ball, and Formby were nearly caught by a mazy run with the ball into their circle from their right side, and progress was only interrupted by a foul in the circle and a penalty corner to the home side. Injecting the ball with any pace on the sluggish surface proved too difficult for the home side and the flick was easily blocked.
Some good defensive work by Pike managed to force Oxton into a poor pass which was picked up by Will Miles
, who got almost to the home circle before being fouled, though Formby failed to capitalise from the free hit. They continued to pass the ball well, though, and a neat bit of interplay between Pike and Ste Williams on the right side got the ball to Andy Wright at the top of the circle. He turned away from his marker, but shot wide of the left post.
Miles then brought an attempted aerial clearance under control before sending a lovely ball right to Davis-Guzman, who got past the first man with ease, but then ran out of space on the right base-line. Almost immediately he picked off another defensive clearance and shaped to shoot, but didn’t get hold of it, though it did reach Davis-Guzman whose deflection was on target but came back off the ‘keeper’s chest. Shortly after this, James Long
was rather crudely taken out as he tried to advance down the right touchline after some good work by Pike. This resulted in the game’s only card, a green.
Tom Gooding had been putting in some good work on the left side, having gradually adjusted to the slowness of the surface, and got forward into the Oxton 22, beat a few men but couldn’t quite retain the ball. Oxton had been playing on the break for the most part, and Pike had been tracking back well, but with 5 minutes of the half left his rather impatient intervention in his own 22 resulted in another penalty corner. This failed to produce a shot on goal, and the ball broke to Capper, whose excellent diagonal aerial to the right side of the Oxton circle was well-controlled by Davis-Guzman, who the mishit his shot, which inadvertently nearly put Jordan Owen
in on goal, but the ‘keeper just beat him to the ball.
The second half started with some Oxton possession, but the Formby forwards managed to put their defence under some pressure and some poor clearances were forced. Miles found Andy Wright on the left side of the circle with an accurate reverse-stick pass, but the defenders managed to limit him to a long corner.
The Formby defence had its first real scare when they were caught by another quick break after possession was needlessly turned over in their own half. Sam Birtles
was quick to spot the danger and engaged the Oxton speedster at the top of his circle, managing to get his stick on the ball, and apparently pushing it onto his foot. This wasn’t recognised by the officials as the ball deflected to the right side, where another opponent had a clear shot at goal. With Birtles struggling to get back he got his effort on target, only to be frustrated by Hampson’s cricketing skills, as he picked off the waist-high shot and guided it away from goal.
Oxton were encouraged by this to continue to press, and Andy Wright and Gooding showed good patience in the left defensive corner to bring the ball away up the pitch. Oxton were now getting some brief glimpses of the Formby goal, but Birtles wasn’t in any mood to convert his captaincy for the day into anything other than a clean s heet. His defence helped by forcing what shots Oxton managed to take to be generally low-percentage chances. Birtles backed them up with a series of competent saves.
An attempt by Miles to dribble into the Oxton supplied Owen with the chance to score his first League 1st XI goal, as he was duly found with a nice pass. He got round one opponent, but with the goal beckoning, he elected to carry the ball closer, and got too near the ‘keeper. From the resulting Oxton break,Josh Birtles needed all his defensive skills to channel his o opponent to a spot where Sam was easily able to deal with a weak shot. Baker was also there shortly afterwards to get his stick on the ball to block a strong effort when the ball was switched to the right side of his circle.
Most of Formby’s troubles were self-inflicted, and Hampson provide a soft penalty corner when he uncharacteristically miscontrolled the ball onto his foot when he wasn’t under any immediate pressure. Oxton tried to bypass the Formby runners with a slip to their left, but Britles had a clear view of the ball and saved comfortably. Miles had narrowly missed a couple of interception which could have proved profitable, but with under 15 minutes left, he managed to get in behind the Oxton midfield to pick up an attempted forward p[ass, and was clear of the defence with two men in support. He carried the ball to the circle before eliminating the last defender with a short pass to Andy Wright on his left, who managed to force the ball past the ‘keeper’s despairing dive to make it 2-0, and register his first league goal.
A long whack towards the Formby goal saw Capper control the ball and try to clear, but a team-mate’s foot got in the way and Oxton had a penalty corner, but the attempt at a drag-flick was woeful and the defence cleared easily. Pike had been having a particularly good game and when he was fouled just inside the Oxton half, he took the free hit quickly and found Gooding on the left. He produced a pinpoint diagonal pass that split the defence and put Ste Wright
in on the ‘keeper. He seemed to decide to go for power when a subtler approach was probably called for, and put the ball just wide of the right post.
Hampson produced a solid tackle to dispossess an opponent advancing on the Formby defence with pace, and Long showed fine late-game stamina to make a surging run from around his own 22, leaving Oxton midfielders floundering in his wake and getting all the way to the Oxton circle, where he was entitled to take a shot (though Birtles was in support, it wasn’t clear whether the pass to his left was on), but disappointingly he fired wide right of the goal.
In the last couple of minutes, it was not a case of whether Formby would win, but more of whether the clean sheet could be preserved. With a minute to go Oxton were awarded a penalty corner for an offence that remained unclear to those in the Formby dugout. Oxton completely foozled the injection, and Formby managed to get out to block any chance of a shot. Unfortunately, they were deemed to have done do unfairly, and Oxton has a second chance, which they squandered with a similarly botched injection attempt. Once again this was dealt with by the defenders, and all Oxton could manage was a weak shot from a very narrow angle on the left, which Birtles had great pleasure in booting away from his goal.
All that remained was for the final whistle to sound, bringing an end to a disappointing, inconsistent season that was notable mainly for the unprecedented number of injuries sustained by the playing squad (which certainly made consistency harder to achieve than it would have been in their absence, but wasn’t solely responsible).