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Essex Schools made a winning start to the 2017/18 season as they booked their place in the Second Round of the English Schools FA Under 14s PlayStation Inter-County Trophy with a 4-0 victory over Oxfordshire.
Essex will now host Surrey as they seek to repeat the achievement of the 2014 vintage, who are the only previous squad to have won the national competition. Tobias Braney was Essex’s only first-half goalscorer, but Rhian Fowler, Damani Hunter and Oscar Thorn were all on-target after the break to hand Matt Double’s side a comfortable victory.
“I thought we were a bit disjointed in the first half, but that was to be expected with the squad only meeting-up for the first time this morning,” explained Double. “In the second half we were a lot better. We started putting some good moves together and, at times, it was almost too comfortable.”
Chingford Foundation School pupil Hunter had the first opportunity of the match inside the opening minute when his strong shot was well held by Timmy Mungall in the Oxfordshire goal, but the visitors responded well as home custodian Callum McEvoy grabbed a low strike by Latham Hawkins.
At the other end, Tobias Braney drew a smart stop from Mungall from a Fowler through ball, but he was soon celebrating as an 8th-minute finish put Essex in front. Hunter chased down a long ball and, when Mungall pushed his shot out, Braney brilliantly steered home from 15 yards out to make it 1-0.
Oxfordshire’s strike partners combined immediately to attempt to source an equaliser, but McEvoy sprung quickly off his line to grab the ball off Hawkins’ toecaps. Seconds later, Connor Duggan was put clear, only for the forward to volley straight into McEvoy’s grateful gloves.
The visitors had enjoyed the better of the opening quarter of an hour but, despite the scoreline, Essex improved as the first half progressed and Hunter looped inches over from a Callum Glanville pass before Joe Redfearn’s emphatic header following a Glanville corner was directed inches over.
On the half-hour, Fowler’s free kick bounced up invitingly for Alfie Smith to hook marginally wide from the edge of the penalty area, and the opening period ended with Fowler dinking a shot narrowly wide from Braney’s threaded pass.
Essex were perhaps a little fortunate to be leading at the break but, after the restart, they were a much more clinical outfit, even if it took 13 minutes for them to double their advantage. During that time substitute Oxfordshire shot-stopper James Callan superbly turned Rashaun Mathurin’s 20-yard attempt around the post and Hunter stabbed wide from Tyreece Cyrus’ knock down.
The second goal arrived after a sublime pass by skipper Joseph Ling, who set Fowler through down the inside-right channel. The Sanders Draper schoolboy entered the penalty area and steadied himself before gently lifting the ball beyond Callan.
The introduction of Mathurin shortly before half time had given Essex added impetus, and he could have scored himself in the 51st minute, although his attempts to try and reach an Andre Anderson centre were unsuccessful. Within seconds, Ling had drawn another fine save from Callan, who parried a fierce strike to safety.
With 15 minutes remaining, another Anderson cross was side-footed wide by Oscar Thorn at the far post, and Hunter then whipped a Thorn through ball off-target, but Hunter finally found the target on the hour mark to make it 3-0. It was a simple task for the fast forward to tap in from Anderson’s excellent right-wing cross.
The victory was already assured when Essex added a fourth goal with just three minutes remaining. Again the goal came following a move down the right-hand side, with Fowler this time supplying the pass and Braney, from Ormiston Rivers Academy, angling in a precise finish from twelve yards out.
Essex: Callum McEvoy (West Hatch), Rhian Fowler (Sanders Draper), Callum Granville (West Hatch), Joe Redfearn (William de Ferrers), Tyreece Cyrus (Heathcote), Alfie Smith (Harris Academy Chafford Hundred), Dennis Rusevicius (All Saints), Joseph Ling (Woodbridge), Damani Hunter (Chingford), Oscar Thorn (King John), Tobias Braney (Ormiston Rivers Academy). Substitutes (repeated): Kacy Parish (Shenfield), Andre Anderson (Lammas), Segun Famakin (Emerson Park), Tola Taiwo (All Saints), Charlie Tremayne (West Hatch), Rashaun Mathurin (Wanstead).
Oxfordshire (from): Timmy Mungall (Wheatley Park), Jack Pember (Lord Williams), Auzzie Pervaiz (Wheatley Park), Mac Spence (Cheney), Carrick Dunbar (Icknield), Clinton Nosakhare (Cheney), Oskar Lambert (Wallingford), AJ Fuller (Chipping Norton), Connor Duggan (Heyford Park), Kieran Day (Burford), Will Price (Bartholomew), William Morgan (Heyford Park), James Callan (Lord Williams), Ryan Jones (St Birinus), George Christian (St Gregory the Great), Latham Hawkins (St Birinus).
Referee: Ken Richbell (Chigwell).
Assistant Referees: Rob Ward (Waltham Abbey) and Harry Gilham (Hornchurch).