Wadham nicked the points in an engaging encounter with Catz to record their second 1-0 win in a row and move to the top of the JCR Premier League. A 70th minute Tim Poole penalty, won under questionable circumstances, was enough to secure the three points despite intense late pressure from Catz.
The game was always likely to be a tight one, with both teams having held on to the vast majority of their creative talent from last season, both adding some extra pace and firepower up front and look destined to be among the contenders at the end of Hilary. Widespread fresher’s flu had depleted both sides and each were missing players in key positions.
With both sides playing effectively five man midfields, the game started extremely scrappily, as both sides struggled to find their usual passing rhythm. The ball bobbled around with neither side quite able to take hold of the game. Despite the lack of fluency, it was Wadham who began to create some goalbound pressure, hitting the woodwork twice. A curling long range drive smacked the outside of the post, and Tim Poole clipped the bar directly from a corner. Catz meanwhile were looking most dangerous with the use of their extra height at set pieces, with former captain O’Keeffe O’Donovan heading just over from a right wing corner.
As the half progressed, the football remained a pass short of both sides best football, but Wadham began to create some more genuine chances, with the best falling to Michael Edwards on the half hour. Played through on the left hand side of the penalty area, the ball got just stuck under his feet, and the resulting left foot shot was scuffed at the keeper.
Wadham continued to look most dangerous for the rest of the half, and will be especially pleased that their hard work isolated the threat of Karl Assmundson, who struggled to perform his usual link-up duties from the right wing.
Catz survived until half time, but Wadham still remained slightly in the ascendancy for the early period of the second half as they continued to deny space to Catz’ key attacking players.
The deadlock was nearly broken after an hour. Some neat interplay in the Wadham midfield freed new striker Chris Wright, who beat the last man to make space, but perhaps took his effort a little early from 18 yards out, and the ball sailed wide.
With the game so finely balanced, it was inevitable that Catz would create themselves a chance and did just a few minutes later. A right wing cross evaded everyone except forward Alan MacNaughton at the back post. As the ball dropped to the left hand side of the area MacNaughton spun and hammered a right foot shot onto the crossbar.
Wadham though were not to be deterred, and pressed on, looking especially dangerous from set pieces as a number of loose balls were hurriedly cleared under pressure by a resolute Catz back line.
It is perhaps unsurprising then that it was from a set-piece that the deadlock was broken. On 70 mintues, a corner was swung in from the right hand side and Michael Edwards, rising strongly, appeared to take a push in the back under pressure from O’Keeffe O’Donovan, though the Catz defender was adamant that the push came from a Wadham teammate. Nevertheless, Edwards was clipped as he fell, and after a moment’s hesitation, the referee pointed to the spot.
Tim Poole stepped up confidently and fired the penalty into the bottom corner, despite the despairing dive of the stand-in Catz keeper, in for the absent Tom Monteath.
This sparked Catz into life against tiring Wadham legs, though it was the home side who would next come close to scoring. Striker Chris Wright wriggled into the area, and despite throwing the keeper with a smart dummy was denied by an excellent save by the stand in keeper’s trailing leg as he looked to toe poke the ball into the bottom right hand corner. This respite energized Catz, who finally began to find some space in the crowded midfield area for creator-in-chief Karl Assmundson, who started to come in off the left hand side to start his usual link-up with forward MacNaughton.
A frantic final last quarter of an hour ensued, as Catz flooded forward in numbers pressing for the equaliser. Despite tiring legs, Wadham’s defending was largely heroic, with a number of tough last ditch tackles denying Catz genuine goalscoring opportunities. Catz were unlucky that most of the shots they did take toward the end were directed straight into the safe hands of keeper Marc Rimmer.
Their chance though did come just moments from the end as a right wing cross found Karl Assmundson unmarked from six yards out, but his header flew agonisingly high, just inches over the right hand corner.
Despite the intense late pressure from Catz, Wadham will feel that they created enough clear-cut chances to earn the three points, though both sides will feel that they deserved an extra goal.
Wadham have started the season with two victories for the first time in five years, importantly with two clean sheets, to move top of the table. Catz meanwhile will doubtless not feel too disheartened by such a narrow defeat and look likely to be one of the sides to challenge for the title.