Stortford closed their season with a share of the points with City at the Court Place Farm Stadium after a contest that won’t remain for long in the memory of those that witnessed it. However, one incident in the match that was memorable was Ricky Sappleton’s spectacular goal that gave the Blues the lead in the 57th minute. Collecting the ball on the left side of the pitch and fully 40 yards from goal the striker turned to hit a powerful dipping shot over keeper Nick Townsend that saw the ball end up in the far corner of the rigging.
Overall Stortford could be satisfied with their final match of the campaign. They edged the game territorially and certainly had the greater number of scoring opportunities. The match also completed an excellent run in their “away” form in the Blue Square Bet North since just after the turn of the Year. The Blues lost 1-3 at Stalybridge Celtic on 8th January but after that reversal had a record on their travels of played 12, won 4, drawn 7 and lost 1.
With Billy Lobjoit unavailable the starting eleven included Ricky Sappleton up front. Apart from his goal Sappleton was to put in his best performance since the start of the Year.
In blustery conditions on a firm pitch there were few highlights in the early stages. A Matt Johnson free-kick in the 12th minute was headed away by Oxford defence and when the ball came out to Harry Baker his rising 20 yard shot was a foot over the bar. There were one or two promising moves by Stortford and then in the 21st minute when Johnson was fouled just outside the box it was Ricky Sappleton, this time, who took the free-kick which went through the defensive wall to be saved by City stopper Townsend who dropped quickly to hold the low shot.
The Blues continued to look the more likely side to notch up the first goal and in the 34th minute a long ball into the box from the left by Johnny Herd fell to Sappleton but his shot was easily collected by Townsend. A snapshot from Steve Cawley from outside the box was over the target and then, three minutes from the break, Townsend dropped a Matt Johnson cross under pressure and City conceded a corner. Johnson’s flag-kick came out to Harry Baker whose shot was held on to low down by keeper Townsend.
The commencement of the second half mirrored that of the first in that there was little action of note. However that all changed twelve minutes after the restart. A clearance out of the Oxford half was headed by Sean Francis to Johnny Herd on the left who laid the ball up to RICKY SAPPLETON not far inside the City half. The big number nine then turned to strike a magnificent shot over Townsend that dipped under the bar and into the far corner (0-1). It was somewhat ironic that the Blues’ last goal of the season should be one of the best, if not the best, of the campaign.
A minute after the goal, at the other end, an awkward corner from Mark Bell was tipped away by a stretching Carl Pentney.
Stortford had the chance to have doubled their lead in the 63rd minute. Reece Prestedge intercepted a pass from City’s Liam Malone just inside the hosts’ half and the skipper’s reverse pass set substitute Aaron Greene, who had just replaced Harry Baker, to run clear on goal but the youngster, making his league debut, was unfortunate to see Townsend grab the ball off his toes as he tried to go round him.
Three minutes later a Matt Johnson throw on the right was back headed by Ricky Sappleton and Adam Bailey-Dennis missed his kick close to the goal.
Somewhat against the run of play and following a rare attack City equalised in the 69th minute. Mark Bell somehow managed to get to the corner flag after a run down the left wing and crossed low for JAMIE COOK to net close to the near post (1-1).
Carl Pentney was forced into action a few minutes later as he saved a shot on the turn at the edge of the box from Felipe Barcelos low down close to his left upright.
Stortford came back and Steve Cawley was over the target with a 25 yarder whilst substitute Harry Mattock’s header in the 82nd minute was held under the bar by Townsend following a Matt Johnson corner on the right. Then when Johnson slipped the ball out to the left Aaron Greene’s shot-cum-cross had to be turned over the top by Townsend.
There was almost a controversial end to the match when with the last action of the three minutes of stoppage time Referee Mike Blackledge bizarrely ruled that a ball that had deflected off the shin of Adam Bailey-Dennis and run back into the arms of Carl Pentney was a back-pass. The Official awarded a free-kick to the hosts a few yards inside the box but justice was done when Jamie Cook rolled the ball to Mark Bell whose shot was blocked out safety by the onrushing Stortford defenders.
There were no cards shown during the match.
For the fourth successive season the Blues “away” league record bettered their “home” league record.