Saturday 20th February 2010

Hook Norton 2 Abingdon Town 3
FTL FUTBOL Hellenic League Premier Division
At: The Bourne
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £5 including 36 page programme
Attendance: 48
Weather: dry, sunny
Duration: first-half: 46:21; second-half: 48:32

Relegation worries worsened even further for Hook Norton as they went down at home to mid-table Abingdon Town. The visitors dominated the first half and went in two goals up at the interval. Whatever was said in the home changing room did the trick and Hook Norton played a full part in an even second half. They pulled a goal back and remained in contention for a point until Abingdon netted a third goal. Pete Mounder’s second goal for ‘Hooky’ was merely a late consolation.

Snow, snow go away! Lots of white stuff in Stafford on Thursday and yesterday created a false picture of conditions elsewhere especially to the south of Birmingham. I’d got a couple of definite ‘game on’ venues down the M40 and was pleased to receive good news when I called Hook Norton from Warwick Services. So, I opted for a pleasant drive through the rolling North Oxfordshire countryside via Gaydon, Edgehill, Epwell and Sibford Gifford to the village some six miles south-west of Banbury.

The ground was located on the north edge of the village and The Bourne was off the road from Sibford Gifford. Even though I ended up arriving around 90 minutes before kick-off, the gate man was in situ though programmes shortly afterwards. I’d previously been aware of Hook Norton through its famous brewery. With time on my hands, I decided to explore the village – three pubs, parish church, Baptist church, the 488 bus heading towards Chipping Norton, village shop and library. I bet the locals would have been quizzing each other had my purchased lottery scooped the jackpot – alas not a single number came up in the draw!

Back to the ground and the gateman told me about a minute silence in memory of David Deller who passed away recently. The programme had a glowing tribute to the club’s and village’s ‘dear friend’.

Through the entrance and the pitch ran lengthways on the left-hand side of a larger cricket field. Directly opposite was a smart social club opened in 2008. Down the far left-hand touchline of the football pitch around the half-way line were the Ian Willoughby Stand with three rows of 100 green tip-up seats, dugouts and an area of covered standing.

Hook Norton FC was formed in 1898 and progressed into the Hellenic League in 2001 after a successful period in the Oxfordshire Senior League. Gaining promotion at the first attempt as Division 1 West Champions, they spent two seasons – 2002-03 and 2003-04 – in the Premier Division and regained their Hellenic top-flight status in 2007.

However, this season has been one of real struggle after being left in July without a manager and strong squad. They lost their first seven league games, all played away from home, and by Christmas had just seven points from one win and four draws. Since the winter break ended, Hook Norton have won two out of four league games and went into this game second-from-bottom with 13 points from 27 games with 101 goals conceded.

Visitors Abington Town (in 13th position with 35 points from 26 games) narrowly avoiding relegation last season but have fared much better this time round with former Hook Norton player Mark O’Hara in change.

Players exchanged fair-play handshakes and teams turned round after the toss, before the minute silence was held.

Hook Norton got the game underway defending the social club end into the bright winter sunshine. I opted for seat on the back row of the stand close to the Abingdon dugout, so ‘Hooky’ were attacking from left to right.

Abingdon took control of the game right from the start and Joe White, the young home keeper was called into action, turning Mark Simms’ 25-yard shot round the right-hand post.

The home side had just one decent chance during the entire first half which came in the 13th minute. James Robbins; 25-yard shot rebounded off the chest of Abingdon keeper Gareth Walker who quickly claimed the resulting loose ball.

Simms really should have put his side in front during the 20th minute. Fed by Alex Mott, he looked set to score with just White to beat, yet pulled his shot across the face of goal.

It appeared to be just a matter of time before the visitors took the lead. White again did well to beat away a well-struck shot from Simms. Eventually the deadlock was broken in the 33rd minute. Jon Steadman played the ball forward into the area where Lance Williams slotted home at close range.

Ashley Prentice, sent off last Saturday in a 6-1 defeat at Pegasus Juniors, did well to prevent a goal when he blocked Chris Hooper’s shot in front of goal.

Abingdon’s second goal came in the first minute of stoppage time. Steadman swung in a right-wing corner and Stuart Douglas volleyed into the roof of the net.

I popped into the social club at half-time, actually the ‘Club Kitchen’ hatch to be precise, for a tea and a quick look at the half-time scores. My old team, Stafford Rangers were drawing 1-1 at home to Hyde United.

Hook Norton brought on Ben Spiero at half-time and started to cause problems. They halved the deficit in the 52nd minute with a spectacular goal. Prentice played a free-kick forward from the right and Pete Moulder sent an unstoppable 25-yard volley thundering into the top-right corner past the statuesque Walker. “What a goal!!!”

Spiero soon got clear and tried to lift the ball over the advancing Walker who raised a hand to block the lob.

Hook Norton were very much in contention for a point but survived a scare just after the hour mark. Prentice sent a header towards his own goal and White did well tip the ball over the bar. White then produced a great reaction save to keep out Simms’ shot.

“Keep going Hooky, C’mon”.

Booked earlier in the half for a foul on Danny Thomas, Conor Devereux was lucky to stay on in the 78th minute for another foul on the same Abingdon player.

The game was playing in continuous sunshine and Abingdon made sure of the points with a third goal scored in the 81st minute. Thomas exchanged a give and go with Williams down the left before setting up Mott to fire low past White.

Hook Norton, to their credit kept on battling and scored again in the 90th minute goal. Spiero combined with Robbins and found Moulder who netted his second goal at close range.

“Two or three minutes to go,” said the assistant referee but an injury-time Hook Norton corner was claimed by Walker. A free-kick allowed Abingdon to wind down the clock and the ball never left the home half before the referee blew for full-time.

Hook Norton (blue/blue/white): 1. Joe White, 2. Ashley Prentice, 3. Oliver Barlow, 4. Lewis Edwards, 5. Mike Kenny, 6. Danny Poole, 12. Anton Sambrook, 8. Jason Smith, 9. Pete Moulder, 10. James Robbins (capt), 11. Conor Devereux. Subs: 14. Oliver Brotherston (for Devereux, 81), 15. Danny Greaves (not used), 16. Ben Spiero (for Edwards, ht). Manager: Mark Boyland.

Abingdon Town (yellow/green/green): 1. Gareth Walker, 2. Luke Brandon, 3. Jon Steadman, 4. Dean Moss, 5. Christian Perkins (capt), 6. Stuart Douglas, 7. Alex Mott, 8. Chris Hooper, 9. Mark Simms, 10. Lance Williams, 11. Danny Thomas. Subs: 12. Drew Fowler (for Simms, 67), 14. Marc Gass (for Douglas, 83), 15. Ross Butler (for Brandon, 85). Manager: Mark O’Hara.

Referee: S Smith (Oxford).
Assistants: K Fry (Bicester) and S Piret (Oxford).

0-1 Lance Williams (32)
0-2 Stuart Douglas (45+1)
1-2 Pete Moulder (52)
1-3 Alex Mott (81)
2-3 Pete Moulder (90)

Nook Norton: Conor Devereux (YC, 54), Mike Kenny (YC, 74)
Abingdon: Chris Hooper (YC, 34)