|Venue: Marsh Lane Date: 25-11-23 Oxford City 2 Harriers 2 Att: 910 (away fans: 257)
Harriers score twice for the first time this season
Kidderminster Harriers will be regretting not turning their two-goal comeback into a victory against Oxford City, after they recovered from an early double by the home side to end all-square for the second time this week.
Sammy Robinson, who was taken off at half time against Hartlepool Utd on Tuesday was missing from the side. Reiss McNally more than adeptly covered for him at right-back, while Ashley Hemmings retained his place supporting Amari Morgan-Smith up front. Both strikers notched goals, Hemmings’ first in the league this season (he scored both goals in the FA Cup win against Ashton Utd), as the away side netted more than once for the first time in the league since their victory against Kettering Town on the last game of the season (but he did score a load in the play-offs though).
It has seemed a conundrum that not even Inspector Morse or his boss DI Fred Thursday could solve, how to turn Harriers form around from their parlous state at the bottom of the Conference. After a historically bad performance that even Liz Truss, who was spotted by this reporter in an Oxford pub pre-match, would struggle to top against Dagenham, Harriers had recovered to draw 1-1 at home against the Monkey Hangers.
The away side, in their red and white kit, were the first to have a clear cut chance. The ball broke through to Hemmings outside the area to the right, he advanced on the City goalkeeper Jack Bycroft, but his shot lacked direction and conviction – typical of a side lacking confidence. But they continued to have the lion’s share of possession, Ryan McLean working the ball up on the right, Jack Lambert a dynamo behind both frontmen and Bailey Hobson, playing deeper while Zak Brown and Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain remain on the bench, supporting well.
Despite the promising start, Harriers conceded the opener from the Hoops’ first clear chance, and once again it was Harriers’ own defending to blame. The home side put Harriers under pressure, with Alex Penny attempting to clear. Instead it bounced off Andre Burley and past Christian Dibble. When you’re struggling, it not only rains, it pours right through the crack in your roof. Yet the away side were undeterred.
Hemmings curled another effort wide on the turn from outside the area and a number of crosses from McLean, Caleb Richards and Lambert went unmet. However, much like other games this season, they rued those chances as Oxford scored a second. Irishman Canice Carroll who was influential all day for Oxford from the back played a ball over the top which was met by on-loan Fulham striker Oliver Sanderson who put the ball past Dibble.
It felt like another one of those days, but Harriers did manage to go in at half time having got a goal back. A corner from the right was handled by an Oxford defender as they beat Morgan-Smith to a header. The referee pointed to the spot, and Hemmings – who had missed his last penalty against King’s Lynn Town, trotted up to the ball in his usual manner but this time drove it past Bycroft.
HT: 2 – 1
The pressure continued in the second half, with Harriers the better side, which led to the equaliser.
Having boxed Oxford into a corner, high up the left hand side of the pitch, they won the ball back, Lambert eventually cutting the ball back to Morgan-Smith who hammered the ball in via the bar from about six yards out to level the game.
Harriers were in the ascendancy and set about dismantling Oxford, who were camped in their own half for twenty minutes. Chances by McNally, advancing from full back, and Hemmings were saved, while others from Hobson and Morgan-Smith were blocked as they fired across goal. The goal felt inevitable, but despite winning a succession of corners and free kicks, the goal just would not come.
The Harriers got leggier as the game wore on and Russ Penn, whose substitutions have never been his strength, delayed bringing on a sub. Ben Tollitt eventually replaced McLean, and his energy immediately nearly had an impact. He received the ball thirty yards out, drove forward and Lambert flanked him to the left. However the on-loan Oldham Athletic man was a second too late to pass, and by the time he played the ball it ran too far beyond Lambert to get a chance away.
Tollitt himself then had another chance, the ball breaking to the right of the box – and shrugging off the shot-shy approach of his teammates drove the ball towards goal but it flew just over the bar.
Although the Harriers looked most likely to get a deserved winner, Oxford nearly walked away the victors themselves – Sanderson forced a great reflex save from Dibble as he shot across the face of goal from the left deep into stoppage time. Yet nine minutes into added time, Harriers had one final break to seal the game for themselves. Brown, on as a sub, picked up the ball and played in Hemmings who ran in on goal towards backpeddling Oxford defenders but spurned his chance by blazing it over the bar as the whistle sounded.
In many ways it felt a typical Harriers performance. There was much promise, and on this occasion, two goals to show for it – but only walking away with one point from a game against relegation rivals tells its own story. A lack of options and willingness from the bench perhaps played its part in the away side being unable to take advantage of a poor Oxford – and they may live to regret not finding the winner.
Next up is Ebbsfleet Utd, as Harriers hope to get payback for that dreadful performance in Kent earlier this season.
FT: 2 – 2
Goals for Oxford City: Burley 16, Sanderson 37
The Harriers Online MotM is: Jack Lambert
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|Mr Aji Ajibola