Southern comfort for leaders Hall

St. Edmund Hall extended their lead at the top of the Premier Division on Wednesday with a highly impressive 3-1 defeat of Worcester College. Tim Hoffman put Teddy Hall one up in first half stoppage time, before Charlie Talbot-Smith doubled their lead on 65 minutes. Oli Gee pulled one back for Worcester with twelve minutes remaining but a late Charlie Southern strike sealed the points for the visitors.

Southern, arguably the best player on the pitch, commented after the match that Teddy Hall, now on a nine match unbeaten run, could use this result to push on for a league and cup double. The match – and the celebrations of the Teddy Hall players at the final whistle – had the feel of a defining moment. The day after the transfer of the Presidency of the United States, this was the transfer of another prestigious title, for Teddy Hall are now the team to beat in college football.

Hall started the day three points ahead of second placed New, with a game in hand. Defeat could have cost them first place, but this win, combined with surprise defeats for New and St. Anne’s at the hands of struggling Oriel and Magdalen respectively, gives Teddy Hall a five point lead over second placed St. Catherine’s with a game in hand.

It was Worcester, winners of the last three Premier Divisions and last year’s Cuppers (appropriately enough over Teddy Hall) who started the brighter. Their high tempo game was too much for visitors initially. Worcester’s wingers, Jamie Brown and Mauro Pereira came flying out of the blocks, hassling Hall from the opening whistle. Pereira, yellow booted, was athletic and fearless, with and without the ball.

Worcester’s strike force – Adam Healy dropping deep and wide, Oli Gee playing off the shoulder – combined frequently to good effect. The game’s first chance came after three minutes when Healy put Gee in, who shot wide. Gee twice returned the favour, but Healy could not beat Nicola Ielpo on either occasion.

Related  Right of passage: sporting initiations

Had Worcester taken one of those chances it would have been a very different game. But Hall defended resolutely and grew in confidence as the first half progressed. The physical presence of Jason Kasler and Charlie Southern started to cause problems as they each went close with headers near the half hour mark. An audacious overhead kick from Talbot-Smith whistled wide.

Crucially for the visitors, Tim Hoffman was starting to impose his will on midfield, but ‘keeper-captain Ielpo was as crucial as anyone to their success. Even as Teddy Hall started to dominate play, he was forced into vital saves. A Rob Munroe free-kick floated into the box was headed by Will Gilbert into the path of Healy, whose header forced Ielpo into a leaping save. Minutes later Brown’s snapshot from twenty yards out stung Ielpo’s palms as he put it out for a corner.

The first goal would be crucial. With forty five minutes played it seemed likely that such a moment would have to wait. But, from nowhere, Hoffman was put through. He danced past the challenge of Elliot Thomas and shot into the bottom corner. The referee blew soon after.

Worcester started the second half bravely, eager to keep the match and their season alive. As with the start of the first period, they were sufficiently physical and competitive to worry a strong Teddy Hall side. Healy broke down the right hand side and sliced a cross/shot over the bar.

Worcester’s golden chance to equalise fell soon later, on 62 minutes. Teddy Hall left back Matt Clark, bringing the ball out of defence, beat two men comfortably. On trying to beat a third he ran into Jamie Brown, who gave Healy the ball. Healy slid Brown into the right hand channel, with more time and space than he could have expected, but Brown blazed his shot over. Just three minutes after that it was 0-2.

A scramble in the Worcester area, and the ball fell to Kasler whose shot was blocked. It fell to Talbot-Smith from eight yards out: Simon Pound may have saved his shot, but a deflection from Dave Sinclair sent it spinning into the bottom corner. Two goals ahead and twenty five minutes left, Teddy Hall looked comfortable.
They had chances to extend their lead: the indomitable Charlie Southern, whose physical and technical skills surpassed any other outfield player, could have had two with his powerful left foot. Worcester captain Matt Sinnett expertly turned Talbot-Smith’s cross over the bar when an own goal looked on the cards.

Related  Nigel Owens: 'I don’t want to be a celebrity'

Deprived of Alex Toogood, Niko de Walden, Kunal Desai and Lucian Weston – all on OUAFC duty – Worcester lacked the quality they are used to. But they continued to battle hard and halved Hall’s lead with twelve minutes left. Oli Gee turned on the edge of the box and fired a left footed shot towards the top corner. Ielpo palmed the ball round the post, but Gee turned in substitute Tom Butts’ corner from the second attempt.

A hectic finale ensued, with the game stretched as Worcester pushed and pushed for a dramatic equaliser. But their tired legs cost them as Hall went 3-1 ahead. Matt Sinnett passed straight to Southern, who gratefully charged through on goal. His left foot shot into the bottom corner was beyond the sprawling Pound for his ninth of the season.

There were chances at both ends in the four minutes of stoppage time, but both ‘keepers were equal to them. Nicola Ielpo – goalkeeper and captain in the Dino Zoff mould – praised his team warmly after full time.
“I am really happy about the group, our football is getting better and better” he said. “Defensively it was a perfect game, and physically we had the edge.” The Teddy Hall players warmly embraced at full time, confident that the Premier Division was now theirs to lose. While dejected Worcester were, like the AFC Ajax whose shirts they imitate, haunted by their former glories.