Didcot Town 1-1 North Leigh - Report by Ian East
Didcot Town played out their last home game of an up and down season on Easter Monday with an Oxfordshire derby against high flying North Leigh which ended in an evenly contested 1-1 draw.
The first surprise of the day came at about 2:30pm when the team sheets were handed in to find North Leigh without a recognised goalkeeper, having done some post-match research this was for the 3rd game in the last 4 where the Millers had to look for a volunteer from within to don the gloves. Former Didcot winger Morgan Williams had been the initial choice but following a 1-0 home win against Paulton it was long serving defender Stuart Hole’ who went for back to back clean sheets! It seems incredible that this situation had been the case for a few weeks for our visitors especially when a play-off place was still up for grabs, to be fair it hadn’t halted them as they came to us as the form team in the league!
Didcot made one change from Saturday’s win at Larkhall with Taylor Janes coming in at wing back in place of Ross Tanner and it was Didcot who made the brighter start, in form Ben Whitehead shrugged off Millers’ skipper Matt Sysum and got away an early left foot shot which had Hole scrambling to his left to just about make the save. It was the early tester which the ‘keeper just about passed but should have given Didcot more belief. George Reid and Whitehead were causing the North Leigh backline all kinds of problems with their strength and direct running, long balls were being chased into 50/50s which the Diddy strikers were winning but the final ball or bounce of the ball just wasn’t going their way.
A recent theme of Didcot games has been head injuries and this time it was Stuart Cattell’s turn to require a bandage for a nasty looking head wound, the big defender returned with a Rambo style headband and thankfully managed to finish the game, Ollie Thomas wasn’t so lucky as he clashed heads in the middle of the park and was forced to come off and was replaced by debutant Tom Stone.
Didcot thought they’d won a penalty when Reid chased one of the aforementioned aimless balls, brought it down superbly, cut into the box and as he attempted to head the bouncing ball into his path Sysum caught him with a high boot and the referee pointed to the spot. The North Leigh players weren’t happy and following a consultation with the linesman it was deemed the ball had already gone out of play for a Didcot corner. It must have been very very tight.
North Leigh’s big chance of the half fell to Michael Hopkins when good play down the right hand side and a perfect ball across by Josh Thomas found its way to Hopkins no more than 10 yards out and with Leigh Bedwell scrambling he didn’t connect as well as he’d have liked and the ball bounced up onto the crossbar and away to safety.
Right on the stroke of half time Whitehead should have put Didcot ahead, Reid wriggled his way clear down the left hand side and squared the perfect cross which evaded North Leigh defenders but
Whitehead no more than 6 yards out seemed as though it took him by surprise and it hit him more than he struck the ball and it trickled agonisingly wide. A good even half of football in tricky conditions again with the rock hard surface, North Leigh defending very resolutely to protect their goalkeeper had limited it to one attempt on target.
Into the second half and after a slow start the game burst to life late on, firstly Sam Barder was unlucky not to put Didcot ahead when as North Leigh desperately threw bodies in front of their goal, the ball landed on the volley to Barder 18 yards out, the Diddy midfielder struck it perfectly only for a North Leigh defender already on the floor to bravely put his head in the way and block the goal bound effort.
Callum McNish then dragged a left foot shot wide when he should have done better following a good team move and then after more excellent work by Whitehead his left foot cross was diverted towards goal only for Hole to turn it over the bar as Didcot tried in vain to get that elusive opening goal.
Then the big chance for the visitors as they broke away with pace the ball found its way from right to left to the North Leigh winger who having evaded Didcot defenders had only Bedwell to beat, he rolled it passed him and towards goal but thankfully for Didcot the ball bounced off the post and away when it seemed destined for the net and the ultimate sucker punch.
On 84 minutes the deadlock was finally broken, the ball going out for a throw in on the right hand side for Didcot, it was quickly taken by George Jeacock into Whitehead’s path, he protected the ball superbly getting his body between the ball and defender, span onto his favoured left foot and unleashed a bullet of a shot that nicked the post on its way in to give Didcot the lead and Whitehead’s 3rd goal in the last 3 games.
It seemed that despite North Leigh’s outstanding defensive effort they were to be unrewarded that was until the last minute of stoppage time, when the otherwise faultless James Organ for Didcot tried to run the ball out for a goal kick when a 50 yard clearance was probably the better choice, North Leigh didn’t give it up and managed to force a last ditch corner out of it.
Even so Didcot defended the corner abysmally with the outstanding Matt Sysum being allowed a free header in Didcot’s 6 yard box, he expertly headed it back across goal to Millers’ top scorer George Seacole who literally couldn’t miss from a yard out and salvaged a draw for the hard working visitors.
On reflection it was probably a fair result, Didcot looked the more purposeful of the teams but failed to really test the stand in goalkeeper thanks to a superb defensive performance form North Leigh, the visitors also had the 2 best chances in the game so although disappointing with the equaliser being so late you’d have to be pretty harsh to say a draw wasn’t fair.
Didcot wrap up their league campaign on Saturday when they visit Mangotsfield United.