Aldershot & Farnham (A&F) head coach Ian Jennings was pleased with his side’s performance despite falling to a 1-0 defeat at home to Oxted’s second team in the South East Men’s Premier Division.
Despite the loss, Jennings saw plenty of positives from his side’s display on the day.
“Oxted are a quality team who have been surprisingly erratic in their previous games so far this season,” said Jennings.
“I’m really happy with how we played and how we stuck to the process but sadly weren’t able to get the ball over the line despite numerous opportunities.”
Jennings was frustrated, however, with the performance of the umpires.
“We have always talked about controlling the controllables and trying to avoid getting involved with things we have no control over,” said Jennings.
“However, that becomes extremely difficult when it’s the umpires that fall into that category. It was a very disappointing display by them.
“Things like missing a foot or an illegal tackle is just about acceptable as none of us are perfect, but when it’s the fundamentals – a basic understanding of when it’s a foul – and it gets blown against you, it can be somewhat bemusing and I congratulate my players on how they handled themselves.”
A&F were up against newly-promoted opposition for the second game running as they welcomed Oxted’s second team to Heath End.
Oxted have been up and down so far this season and had settled firmly in the middle of the pack before Saturday’s game. However, Oxted boast a first team in the National Premier Division so A&F expected a difficult game.
The Shots started relatively well in the game and put together some good-looking attacks.
Oxted were a well organised team who were able to prevent A&F from creating anything clear-cut, while playing some nice patterns of their own in contrast to some of the recent opponents the Shots have faced.
With two well-organised sides, it was always going to come down to who blinked first. Unfortunately for A&F, a mix-up in their usually stout defence left an Oxted forward unmarked on the right baseline.
With A&F scrambling, Oxted calmly picked out one of their own with the cross and the ball was slotted home on the reverse.
A&F tried to battle back into the contest.
It has been a common theme of the previous few years that when they go behind, A&F start to try doing too much to claw their way back – but this time they stuck to their gameplan well.
The Shots moved through the lines and made solid D entries in threatening areas.
Stu Morhall was the first to work the keeper, but couldn’t squeeze his cheeky effort through at the near post.
Jamie Weston was also getting opportunities from penalty corners as Scott Perry was still unavailable, but Weston was unable to replicate his penalty-corner success from the week before.
A&F then went agonisingly close to equalising after more good work along the baseline on the right from Morhall.
This time, Morhall cut the ball back and picked out Jonny Groves.
His first-time shot ballooned up into the air via a last ditch deflection from Oxted and pinged back off the post past Josh Frost, who was unable to turn it in on the rebound.
Oxted still posed a threat as A&F pushed forward, and nearly doubled their lead from a penalty corner as a combination of Hamish Hall’s boot and Kevin McCafferty’s stick caused the Oxted drag flick to trickle agonisingly close to A&F’s left post – but the score remained 1-0 to the visitors.
With the first half drawing to a close, A&F were then down a player as they lost Joe Whelan to a green card after a tangle with the opposition.
There was still time for a final penalty corner for A&F, but the umpire blew for half-time before the Shots were able to attempt a follow up to their first effort.
The story of the second half was very similar to the first.
A&F were dominating in possession and circle entries, but were unable to connect on the final ball when it mattered.
Oxted were threatening on the break and finding gaps as A&F started to take more risks to get back on level terms.
Several shots went just past Hall’s post with no Oxted player in position to deflect the ball in.
The away side’s penalty corners were less threatening, however, and were well dealt with by A&F’s defence.
Oxted were playing with something to hold on to and were not willing to let it go easily.
It became more and more difficult to break them down and A&F were restricted to a handful of penalty corners and open-play chances.
The best chance came from another pull back after A&F exploited space along Oxted’s baseline.
The pull back fell to Chris Boot, who was unable to turn the ball in.
A&F won a final penalty corner as time expired, but a poor injection and trap disrupted the routine and Oxted were able to clear off the baseline to end the game as 1-0 winners.
A&F now sit in fourth place in the South East Men’s Premier Division and face a tricky run of fixtures in the lead up to the Christmas break.
The Shots will play two of the top three teams in their next two fixtures, but will be buoyed by the return of Perry and Tom Herring.
Jennings hopes his side can bounce back from the defeat against Oxted and be in a strong position by the Christmas break.
“The next two weeks will be a firm indicator of where we sit, and it’ll be nice to have a full squad at my disposal,” said Jennings.
A&F will travel to local rivals Woking – who sit above them in third place – today (Saturday).
The Shots will want to start closing the gap to the top three to set themselves up well for the second half of the season.