In the Premier Division’s most important fixture of the season so far, dominant Christ Church breezed past Catz, 4-1, to move 6 points clear at the top of the table. The leaders began the game at a furiously ruthless pace, never allowing 2nd placed Catz a foothold in the contest. Before kick-off, only 3 points had separated the teams, and Catz, playing at home, hoped to get their claws back into the title race here.
But ChCh had other ideas from the first minutes of the clash; their defenders won every early ball, and the midfield took control of the game within the opening quarter of an hour. It was their devastating attack, though, led by league top-scorer Mark Michaelides (who now has 10 goals from 11 games) and his strike partner Alec Ward, that tormented Catz all afternoon. Michaelides scored after 10 minutes, arrowing a low volley into the corner of the net: Catz were stunned to fall behind so quickly, and it took them some time before they rediscovered their usual rhythm and measured passing approach.
‘Before the game, only 3 points separated the teams’
The away side’s celebrations underlined their intent; they knew that victory on the pitch of their closest rivals would be huge in the wider context of the Premier Division championship.
Christ Church settled into the game much more comfortably, spraying the ball around and threatening the Catz defence with almost every possession. The second goal was thoroughly deserved: a dangerous inswinging corner caused all sorts of confusion in the box- the ball eventually cannoned off the head of an unfortunate Catz defender, flying past his rooted goalkeeper and doubling ChCh’s lead.
‘Chch settled into the game much more comfortably’
The game was becoming increasingly one-sided, but Catz showed some signs of making it a real contest, particularly in the second half. The hard work of Carl Assmundson went largely unrewarded, though the centre-forward ran tirelessly and had some excellent moments of skill on the ball. Catz have scored plenty of goals this season, but few defences are as resilient and uncompromising as the Christ Church back four: Catz were rarely penetrating from open play, and never managed to engineer a genuine chance to score, instead being restricted to a few speculative shots from long-range.
3-0 came before the break: Alec Ward picked up the ball midway into the Catz half, striding forwards, unchallenged, before unleashing a crisp left-footed strike into the bottom corner.
The half-time whistle could not come soon enough for Catz: the first period of such a crucial match had been painful watching for the throngs of home fans lining the field. The team responded positively to their difficult deficit, however, dominating the opening exchanges of the second half.
Catz deserved their goal, though it arrived fortuitously: Alan MacNaughton’s long, looping free-kick from 40 yards out dropped awkwardly in the Christ Church box: the keeper failed to clear, and a waiting pair of Catz pounced upon the loose ball inside the 6-yard box.
At 3-1, Catz had given themselves a glimmer of hope: even a draw would have suited Christ Church much more favourably, but the home side were forced to press forwards in search of vital goals. As has been the case all season, Christ Church’s midfield protected their defence staunchly; Richard Bath and Ben White broke up attacks again and again, frustrating a rejuvenated Catz offense.
The hammer blow was delivered with 15 minutes remaining: a wonderful free-flowing move culminated in Ward’s pinpoint cross, which was met by the rocket-header of Michaelides. The final ten minutes were easily seen out by the league leaders. Catz, led by their captain Peter Kiln, cannot be counted out of the hunt just yet though.
Christ Church captain Kamran Adle was delighted with his team’s performance: ‘All 11 men were great, as we have been all season long. We deserve to be in this position, challenging for the title. It is ours to throw away now.’
With 5 games remaining and a 6 point lead, Christ Church still face some difficult games: they must play 3rd placed Teddy Hall away from home, and Magdalen are one of the league’s most erratic and enigmatic teams. Barring collapse, ChCh can claim the college’s first football championship in over two decades: with this impressive result, they are in touching distance of the trophy.