Magic Of The Cup
Oxford City 2-3 Scarborough Athletic (FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round Replay)
The wife was on the piss on Saturday and Sunday she went cocktail making so me and Bruce (the dog) had to sack off Matlock v Workington and all our other weekend plans to watch India v Pakistan in the cricket followed by England who woefully got beat by Afghanistan in the World Cup… At least the Rugby was good!
Today I’m in Oxford and watching an FA Cup replay thanks largely to a 97th minute equaliser as the Hoops rescued a desmond draw at the Flamingo Land Stadium in North Yorkshire on Saturday, Canice Carroll’s late goal ensured the Seadogs would have to head south and do it all again on a cold Tuesday night 217 miles away.
Oxford City (not to be confused with United) have been kicking around a good hundred plus years… Winning the FA Amateur Cup in 1906 they gave Bobby Moore his first managerial job in 1980, bringing with him a young Harry Redknapp as coach, the clubs long standing in the Isthmian League ending in 2004 and ever since it’s been upwards trajectory, they now reside in the National League, their first ever season in the fifth tier of English football.
Scarborough ‘Athletic’ are a phoenix formed in 2007… Their predecessors the first ever team ‘promoted’ to the football league after winning the GM Vauxhall Conference in 1987 under a fledgling manager in Neil Warnock… These days one off the fifth tier in the National League North where they sit sorrowfully in eighteenth under ex-Manchester United winger Jonathan Greening. Oxford themselves under former Watford midfielder Ross Jenkins dangerously hovering above the drop zone in the league above.
None of that matters tonight though, as Forest Green Rovers await the winners in Round One of the world’s oldest, biggest, most famous, and best knockout cup competition.
I’m off down the road little past 3pm to beat the traffic, Oxford is only 2 hours away from Nottingham but I’m stopping off for a bite and taking my time, the sun beaming onto the windscreen as I head down the A46 and onto the M1, crossing the A43 at Junction 15A and past the towns of Silverstone, Brackley and Bicester where I stop off at Cherwell Valley Services.
I must admit it’s one of the best I’ve been to, a shopping centre like feel spacious and with all the ‘big name’ amenities you need. I’m walking to the toilet as three men in Scarborough shirts talk to each other “wat ya think eel go wi tonight” one says.
I’ve had my KFC and hit the M40 past a funky looking incineration plant and the Trow Pool Water Tower before re-joining the A43 and into Oxford down the A40 before sat nav redirects me down the Banbury Road and a nice looking area of pretentious bars and cafes, taking my eye a sign for the Dew Drop Inn on the same side as a huge M&S Foodhall and an Olivia Bonas, it’s that sort of place.
Over the River Cherwell and into Old Marston I’m finally at Marsh Lane after a bit of traffic (there seems to be cycles everywhere) and turning right into Oxrad Sports Centre car park in a leafy part of town.
Luckily it’s free after 6pm so no ticket needed, I click the central locking button on my fob and walk up the driveway past the sign for Oxford City Football Club and towards the RAW Charging Stadium, dimly lit under the dark skies I’m tripping over speed humps as I walk past the Scarborough team bus on my left, a 3g pitch on my right has floodlights on and some small sided games going off, a modern looking pavilion in front of me, to its corner I find a turnstile where I’m zapped in thanks to a screenshot of the ticket bar code saved on my mobile phone.
The concourse is wide, as I walk through the gate to the left a man selling club kit and scarves out of a portacabin near the ladies & gents (WC), the right side a green and new looking clubhouse before a blue seated stand propped up by posts, immediately in front of me a huge lit up scoreboard in the corner next to a roofed terrace behind the far goal, beyond that a back drop to Oxford’s skyline with high rise buildings lit up, the ground is a mish-mash of small stands evenly spread out with a modern surface, flat, wide, synthetic, the wing to my left lined in trees to give it a real ‘back garden’ feel.
I’ve sat beside the press area on halfway in the small blue seated stand as the two teams come out. I’m only two rows up and I’m obstructed by a player’s backside so can’t even see who’s kicking off as the ball is played back to the Scarborough goalkeeper Cracknell who launches it forward with a single touch.
There’s a contrast in styles of sort, Oxford in their QPR/Reading lookalike shirts happy to pass it between their back-line at a slow pace whilst Scarborough in red don’t mess about, they get it up and out, quickly wide, look more dangerous, more direct, more like they want it, but Hoops winger Tafari Moore is a menace, he has pace and good feet on the right as the away fans naughtily sing ‘he’s got a pineapple on his head’ to off put his game, on the opposite flank Finlay Barnes is twice as quick and twice as threatening for Boro, he has no kidology from the much quieter and respectful Oxford fans to upset his rhythm.
Barnes is causing havoc when he gets it, full throttle on the far right and in fairness I’m more impressed with Scarborough’s attacking threat than I am anything from the home side, the away fans in numbers, a bus load full standing to my right and obscuring my view from that whole corner, they’re loud as they sing ‘I do like to be beside the seaside’ and ‘Seadogs, Seadogs’ at every opportunity.
Scarborough have had a couple of sniffs as Haigh in Oxford’s goal dives low to make one good stop, the away side have a corner on 24 which is headed on target by Weledji, Haigh diving right to claw away from danger, but the assistant referee waves his flag to adjudge the ball crossing the line, Scarborough taking a deserved lead, if a little contentious.
That was supposed to fire the home side into action but did little to improve them, a cross field ball aimed at the head of Tom Harrison which went out for a throw in had a Scarborough fan shouting ‘his heads made of Dairylea’ before continuing ‘he wouldn’t get in our reserves’.
The North Yorkshire fans are vocal and quite ruthless, giving the lino in front of them some jip, their constant barracking of anyone not wearing red only stopping when they sing to back their team.
That singing goes up a notch a minute before half time. Barnes marauding down the right before pulling back to Colville who slides home to make it two. ‘We can see you sneaking out’ sing the jovial Scarborough faithful.
It’s more than the league lower side deserve, and they look the better team, which continues in the second half as game management comes into play… Before I know it I’m looking down to see 80 minutes played, Oxford haven’t had a shot on target and Scarborough are managing things at a canter, then a mad few minutes that turn a routine victory into a full throttle cup clash – suddenly it’s all to play for.
As the away sides defence deepens with just seven minutes to play a cross pumped into the box is headed on target and saved well by Cracknell as gambling defender Harrison reacts quickest to blast home. No more than 90 seconds later the scores are somehow level, Oxford substitute Latrell Humphrey-Ewers shooting through a crowd to have the old boy in front of me jumping off his seat doing fist pumps.
As extra-time looms and a half expected late night finish in the back of my mind, suddenly Scarborough play some neat stuff as the board goes up for five added minutes. They're passing it one touch around the Oxford area and Lewis Maloney who came on with his side 2-0 up, has the ball twenty yards out, he’s already had a sighter which went inches wide to earlier put the game to bed, this time he’s curled one right footed magnificently into the top corner, a mutual nod of appreciation to the reporter sat next to me, a stunning winner finishing off the best move of the game.
Maloney is a cracking cultured, player and it’s clear the Scarborough fans enjoy him, they sing ‘ooh Lewis Maloney’ even before he puts home the winner and he impressed in a cameo and was no way at fault of his side getting dragged into a late scrap, defensively Scarborough’s issues have been long term but going forward they have ability with Finlay Barnes and Luca Colville real talents. Wearing number nine Euan Mulhern put in a decent shift up top, his back to goal play solid and he did everything asked of him bar score on the night.
For Oxford, I couldn’t help feeling disappointed and I expected much more from a National League outfit all be it one struggling with perhaps one of the smallest budgets in the division, but defensively the mask wearing skipper Canice Carroll looked comfortable on the ball, as too did Nya Kirby in midfield who could certainly pick a pass, he was dragged off at half time without much influence on the game. Tafari Moore in patches caused panic and Renny Smith put himself about, I felt they were a bit too nice about the way they set their stall out and hoped by them getting that late leveller at the weekend by taking this tie to a replay in their own back yard, they would at least try to test the opposition goalkeeper a little more.
I’ll be surprised with what I viewed on whether Oxford are strong enough for staying in the National League but there’s no harm in saying they’re punching above their own aspirational levels, regular crowds are under 1,000 and competing with the likes of Chesterfield and Oldham is an impossible road to even go down. Their focus now finishing no lower than they are after 46 league games, even with relegation they'll be better suited to level six.
As for Scarborough, well they might fancy another upset and beating Football League opponents in Forest Green. I’m sure they’ll be ok in the National League North but they’ll need to stop throwing away leads if they’re to improve on fortunes. This for 88 minutes was as routine a win as they come, for two minutes when they switched off, it could have cost them a lot more than it did.
Oxford City: Chris Haigh, Andre Burley, Nya Kirby (Latrell Humphrey-Ewers 46), Tom Harrison, Lewis Coyle (Pierre Fonkeu 62), Olly Sanderson, Zac McEachran, Mitchell Roberts, Renny Smith, Canice Carroll, Tafari Moore.
Scarborough Athletic: Joe Cracknell, Kieran Weledji, Will Thornton, Alex Purver, Euan Mulhern, Luca Colville (Bailey Gooda 88), Alex Wiles, Ryan Qualter, Darren Dom Tear (Lewis Maloney 69), Alexander Brown, Finlay Barnes (Michael Coulson 90).
7:45pm Kick Off. Tuesday 17th October 2023, Court Place Farm, Oxford (att 900).