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© Chris Byrne 2010


After the dust had settled on Hayes & Yeading’s appeal against relegation (they were reprieved later anyway because of the late disappearance of both Hereford and Salisbury!) Justin Merritt and Enrique Guillen quickly got down to the business of building a squad capable of performing well at Step Two. There was an influx of several Spanish players, thanks to Guillen’s contacts, and the pre-season matches saw these, one or two other more local new-faces as well as some of the more longer-established faces perform moderately well in the six matches played. One new player who particularly caught the eye was Adi Yussuf who had played for Lincoln City during the previous season, and he would certainly prove to be a vital cog in the new machine.
The season’s first league fixture, at Hyde, showed five new ‘starters’ compared with the previous season’s final fixture, and City ground out a 1-0 win against the side that would eventually finish bottom of the league despite some nervous passing and the red-carding of Darren Mullings in the first half.
Another away win, at Solihull Moors bracketed two goalless home draws, and the Bank Holiday fixture against Gloucester City brought another home draw (2-2) to see the side unbeaten after five matches, a run that was ended the following Saturday with an unlucky single-goal defeat at Harrogate Town.
These close-run matches prepared no one for the horror-story the following Saturday when newly-promoted AFC Hyde visited Marsh Lane and trounced City EIGHT-ONE: the most goals the side had shipped in a match for forty-two years.
In the light of that defeat, many people were watching the score extremely nervously three days later when City visited one of the bookies’ favourites for promotion, Boston United, and it’s fairly certain that no one would have predicted that City would run out SEVEN-TWO winners! Within the next month they would also register a 5-0 win at Bradford and a 5-3 victory at Colwyn Bay. Indeed goal-scoring away from home proved to be one of the high points of the season, and the side eventually ended the campaign with the highest away-goals tally (52) in the top six levels of English football ahead of Championship champions Bournemouth (50) and League One champions Bristol City (48).
Hidden, and perhaps best forgotten, among those excellent away-day performances is the fact that City fell at the first attempt in the FA Cup losing 2-1 at Gloucestershire-based Southern League Division One side Shortwood United.


October saw a poor run of form as only one point was gleaned from five matches, but November brought an improvement with back-to-back wins against Brackley and Stalybridge.
City were drawn against old-Isthmian rivals Lewes in the FA Trophy, but what looked a difficult tie on paper proved to be easier in reality as City cruised to a 6-1 win and, after a weather-enforced blank weekend, they headed to Dorset to take on an in-form Wimborne Town from the Southern League in the next round. Their hosts had already recorded wins in the competition against Dorchester, Northwood and Hornchurch but two goals from Adi Yussuf and another from Tom Winters took City through to Round Two, the furthest they had been in the competition for a number of years.
In the next round, early in the New Year, Woking, another regular on City’s fixture list in Isthmian days, were to be the visitors to Marsh Lane. The Conference National side were hovering just outside the play-off positions and having an excellent season and Justin Merritt welcomed the match as a test of just how far the team had come over the season. The visitors took the lead early on and, when they doubled their tally just short of the hour mark, looked destined for a comfortable win, but Greg Pearson’s penalty conversion reinvigorated the home side and after Declan Benjamin netted a second just three minutes later the final fifteen minutes were anything but comfortable for the Step One side. City’s first-match hero, Greg Pearson, gave City a flying start with a goal after just three minutes in the replay, but a sending-off for City on the half-hour, and an almost instant equaliser for Woking, meant it was a step too far for the visitors, though they made the home side wait until 15 minutes from the end to score the match-winner.
Back in the league, the end of January brought three successive losses and the thoroughly remarkable red-carding of the City goalkeeper in four matches within four weeks! Salva de la Cruz was ordered off in the home matches against Barrow and Tamworth; Mark Scott saw red at Brackley and then Ali Aksoy – only brought into the side because of the suspension of the other keepers – incurred the referee’s displeasure early in the second half of the match at Tamworth. On the positive side, Declan Benjamin filled the space between the posts so well that City actually won two of the games: including a 5-0 trouncing of (almost) local rivals Brackley. Fortunately the red-deluge ceased after that second Tamworth fixture and disciplinary issues returned to normal.
The high number of red cards that the side would pick up in early- and mid-season, definitely not an historic issue for the Club, was a serious concern for the manager, and it was, for the supporters, interesting – though ultimately futile – to wonder just how many points/matches were lost because of them.
Amongst these matches the team’s involvement in the Senior Cup came and went in a single match as they lost to a late goal at Southern League strugglers Banbury United. Paulo Mendes on his debut (and only appearance) did score an early goal for City, but Banbury fought back strongly, equalised before the break and settled the result with just a minute remaining.
Mendes, along with several others, made brief appearances during the season as Justin Merritt looked to strengthen the squad further, but none really displaced any of the more seasoned incumbents for more than the odd game or two except Luke Coulson at the back and Mamadou Fofana in midfield.
After that 4-3 loss at Tamworth in mid-February there was to be only one more loss in the final dozen matches as City mounted a strong assault on the play-off places from what had seemed the unlikely position of twelfth at the end of January. There was a terrific 7-1 win in the away fixture against Gloucester City and other memorable victories on the road against Stockport County and Gainsborough Trinity, but the inconsistent home form, that brought two wins, three draws and a loss in the run-in, saw City finish tantalisingly a single point below the play-offs in sixth place after the final day’s 4-2 win against Guiseley, already assured of their own play-off place.
Mid-April had seen the announcement that City were seeking planning permission for the laying of a 3G artificial pitch in the main stadium, if that were forthcoming before early May then there would be time for the new surface to be in use at the start of the 2015-16 season. Bromley, Sutton United, Maidenhead United and Eastbourne Borough were other Conference clubs to announce during the season their intention to ‘go plastic’ in the near future. However, the Conference put a big question mark over these plans with a sudden volte-face when they announced at the start of May that they would now not be allowing non-grass pitches at Step One. Bromley, Conference South champions, promptly put their plans in reverse to avoid the probability of their not being able to take up their place in Conference National!
There was another change to the ground that needed to be completed before the end of March, and in something of a hurry at that: the addition of extra seating in order for the team to be allowed to enter the play-offs should they have finished in the top five.
The bulk of the Spanish contingent returned to their native country soon after the final match, but the Oxford Mail reported that it was very much hoped that some, if not all, would return for the next campaign.
There was more good news at the start of May as it was announced that Justin Merritt had won the Conference North Manager of the Month award for April.
Despite the missing out on the play-offs It was, however, still a fine finish to a season that had had at the outset many City fans, and indeed the bookmakers, seeing relegation as a very real prospect after the previous season’s disappointments.
Oxford City Nomads, after a first-day surprise loss at home to Shrivenham, put together four successive wins to take them top briefly, but, after that, league results became inconsistent and they fell away towards mid-table. In fact there were no league wins registered between the start of November and the end of January. The side rallied after that, though still struggled to find a rhythm, and finally finished in thirteenth position.
They entered the FA Vase earlier than in previous seasons, in the Second Round Qualifying, but never got going in their visit to ex-Hellenic side Slimbridge who were having a strong season in the Western League and went down to a 6-0 defeat.
They did, however, reach the Third Rounds of both the League and Floodlit Cups and, with wins against Bletchingdon, Woodcote/Stoke Row and Chinnor, battled through to the Quarter-Finals of the Oxfordshire Senior Cup. They avoided Oxford City in the draw, unlike five years previously, but lost a close game by the odd goal in three to fellow Hellenic side Ardley United.
The Oxford City Nomads Development side, which had started so promisingly the previous season, came on in leaps and bounds and finished as Hellenic Second Division (West) Champions taking the title in some style, winning every match from December 9th onwards, and scoring eighty-eight goals in their twenty-one league games – the abandoned match at Old Woodstock was declared void by the League.
Having lost in the Oxfordshire Intermediate Cup to Berinsfield in the Quarter-Finals in the 2013-14 season, they went all the way to the Final this year and beat the same side 3-1 on penalties after a tough goal-less match at Kidlington’s ground.
And the last Hellenic action of the season took the Dev’ side to Carterton to play Holyport Reserves in the Chairman’s Challenge Cup. 5-1 ahead they eventually ran out 6-2 winners to make it a hat-trick of trophies, with a massive 137 goals scored (and just 42 conceded) in the 30 matches played in all competitions.
Some old faces from Marsh Lane were in the news during the season. Ikechi Anya was a regular for Championship runners-up Watford and scored Scotland’s only goal in the Euro 2016 qualifier against Germany in Dortmund, while Garath McCleary and Michael Hector were both seen often on television in blue-and-white hoops…for Reading. Both played at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final, with McCleary scoring Reading’s equaliser that took the match to extra-time.
So, a season of near-misses, but nonetheless exciting, and another few weeks of close-season waiting to see if there would be a transfer to the South, or a fourth season in the North, before Justin Merritt could properly gather his squad for the next campaign.

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