Southgate walked away with 3 points by the skin of their teeth but can count themselves lucky after a temporary loss of their usual fluency against a feisty Oxford Hawks team.
Division One South of the National League is one where anything can and anything often does happen. No game is a given and despite on paper this being a top vs bottom encounter it was in reality one which could easily have tripped up coach Kwan Browne’s side and so it proved in a classic banana skin fixture which saw Southgate lucky to escape with the win.
The game pushed back late to an icy north win blowing hard and blue across the spectators boughs. Southgate’s away support counted 4 hardy souls who endured the weather and some opposition taunts but were privileged to count former SHC President Adrian Scott-Knight among their number. Yet alas such support seemed to offer no impact on the game in the opening parries as Southgate shipped an early goal from Kiran Patel from a rebounded PC and unexpectedly found themselves on the back foot and making some basic errors on the ball.
The first quarter finished 1-0 to Hawks and after some stern words from Coach Kwan Browne the team came out looking more organised and started asserting themselves in their usual manner resulting in the 20th minute, with a fine goal that saw Jack Middleton lace a ball from top D into the top left corner with real venom. The Southgate giants on the sidelines awoke from their slumber and roared approval to the surprised look of the more quiescent Hawks supporters. 1-1.
Hawks began to lose discipline and after some unwanted chat with the umpires ended up playing with 9 players and Gate took their advantage well. In the 25th minute Karan Sofat and Jose Hurtado worked a fine double act aping French and Saunders to elicit a ball that danced across the goal line in front of Hawks keeper Matthew Finn only for demon goal scorer Teague Marcano to push it over the line. Noses in front, Southgate looked back to their usual selves. Yet slowly Hawks regained the advantage, balls were mis-trapped, passes went awry and connections missed meaning the Oxford outfit began to dominate as the half time whistle blew.
Another strong team talk saw a better start to Q3 and after sustained pressure in the 42nd minute Charles Hamilton drove down the right channel onto the baseline winning a PC which Drew Burkin subsequently converted nailing a flick into the top right corner sending Gate 3-1 to the good- and looking to kick on…
Except Southgate soon began to let Hawks get under their skin resulting in some poor decision making, poor challenges and some cards- one of which saw a PC awarded and converted by Harry Markham who bamboozled the Gate-post man, closing the gap to 3-2 and at this point the Hawks supporters woke up.
Yet Gate rallied and with 11 back on the pitch found some needed composure and allowed Kwan to link with Jose who ran around a succession of players before planting a pin point ball to Charles Hamilton who on his first touch collared a ball against the back board once again restoring the 2 goal advantage and making it 4-2 going into the final quarter.
Hawks weren’t done and with some added muscle in the form Ham & West alumnus Toby Roche in the Hawks back line managed to break down the Southgate plays. In the 61st minute Harry Markham once again gave hope to the Hawks supporters when he drilled a flick into the right bins making it 4-3 and Hawks’ tails were up pushing Gate onto the defensive.
In the 69th minute a PC was awarded which soon saw the final whistle blow and the whole Hawks team plugged forward to the edge of the D. Robbie Gill ran down the first for a rearward and then Ollie Wickens pushed the second off the goal-line for a further rearward and the Banbury road crowd held the breath as Markham lined up for his hat-trick and a famous scalping. Yet Wickens in goal offset left- dived right and with the tip of his outstretched stick pushed it out of goal and out of the D felling the Hawks resistance and giving Southgate the victory.
There were however no cheers for this one, as Southgate rued a game that fell short of their usual high standards and flair. The boys will regroup and go again for the big derby on Saturday against Old Loughts- a win after all is a win and the team maintain their 8 point advantage at the zenith of Div 1 South.
It may have been ugly but it was nothing if not entertaining.
The team go again. In front of a record crowd. Against an old rival. The stage is well set for some fireworks.