There may be a few football fans in Birmingham, who aren't sure who to follow. You might be mildly interested in Villa or West Brom, or Blues if you're sensible, but don't want to go to the away games. Or, you might like those clubs, but not be able to afford tickets. First of all, I thought it'd be a good idea to compare prices.
Approximate adult ticket cost for Birmingham clubs' next home game:
Solihull Moors £9
The fixture calender seems to work out that most of the time, when Solihull Moors are playing at home, Birmingham and West Brom play away. At most a quarter of the people who go to home games go to their team's away matches due to travel costs, so Solihull Moors have spotted this and offered what is, in my opinion, a good deal. A 50% discount for fans on match days, if they have a season ticket at one of the Midlands clubs. My ticket for tonight was only £4.50, so I went in to see if I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a new, cheaper alternative for football in Birmingham.
For a 6th tier match, the atmosphere wasn't bad. I was expecting the away support to be spectator-like, if existent, but Oxford City brought 20 fans. They all grouped together and sang, which was quite respectable for a Tuesday night, given 3 hours' worth of driving. Fair play to them.
When the game kicked off, you could get a feel for each team. Oxford City were a very physical side, they operated a high pressing game from the start. It looked as though they had a team of rejected rugby players, who didn't quite make it into the Oxford rugby club! Moors, on the other hand, had much more of a technical team. Their play was built on audacious passing, it was pretty at times, yet at a high tempo.
The Oxford game plan was to close down and apply pressure, to allow them to control the game from the outset with brute force. Whereas, Moors manager Marcus Bignot's plan seemed to be to undo Oxford's high pressing, by exploiting the potential gaps further back with pacey counter attacks. This was effective in getting the ball out of danger quickly, yet the moves tended to break down in the final third, often because of the shear size of Oxford's defence, who bullied them off the ball. It sometimes left target man Omar Bogle too isolated as the main man up front, his strikepartner liked to drop into midfield.
The game might have been 0-0 at half time, but it was by no means your expected non-league goalless half of football. It had been an entertaining game. A fascinating clash on the Moors' right flank, with Michael Nottingham and Peter Till combining well, playing some neat one-two touches which set up a number of attacks. Till, in particular, was exceptional. The Birmingham City academy product shone on the pitch, and was the ultimate team player. He seemed adept with either foot, skillful and could beat the fullback one-on-one with ease, yet was never too selfish to pass the ball if a teammate was available. He looks like a real coup from Bignot, who snapped him up this summer.
That said, overall it was Oxford who probably had the better of the first half hour. Whilst Solihull's defence held firm against the vigour of their attacks, the ball was unquestionably more in their half than in Oxford's. There was a moment when Moors keeper Jas Singh's heart was in his mouth. A hopefully fancy, but on this occassion lackadaisical pass out from centre-back Jay Denny was intercepted in the middle. Coming out to Jamie Cook on the left wing, he looped in a cross deep into Solihull's defence, asking for a runner from midfield. Singh got two hands to the ball, only to briefly spill it as he fell over, and for a split second the ball looked to be dripping over the line. Thankfully, Singh manager to catch it at the second attempt amid pressure from Steve Basham.
In the final part of the first half, Moors came into the ascendancy. Oxford's game, which was beforehand brisk and direct, became more of a hit and hope, as Solihull began to get their foothold onto the game. They continued to defend as a unit, yet starting creating more, with the impressive Till at the heart of proceedings. A neatly worked corner found the number 7 on the byline, he slid in a cross to the near post, and Bogle ought to have done better, firing over from close range.
Soon afterwards, came a few unfortunate moments. Firstly, there was an injury to forward Ryan Beswick, who in truth hadn't had the best of games, struggling against the physicality of Oxford's defence. But secondly, things happened which challenged my view of fair play in non-league football. I had this idea of lower league football being a culture of moralty, ethics and innocence, but perhaps I've learnt that that's not necessarily true. On one occasion, as far as I could see Oxford's Darren Pond hauled down Jordan Gough, and then seemed to conveniently trip over himself to win a free-kick. On another, Oxford's Paul Stonehouse was under pressure and forced to kick the ball out over the sideline, then cheekily claimed for an Oxford throw-in because the referee's view was blocked. I hadn't noticed any of the Solihull Moors players do this kind of thing, but it did raise the question in my mind. Whether football is full of sin, or whether Oxford are the 70s Leeds United of non-league, I don't know.
The half-time whistle came just after one final scare for Solihull, as Oxford's Declan Benjamin hit a shot from a tight angle, but found only the side netting. In what was an evenly balanced game, the Moors could consider themselves a touch fortunate to be level, as Oxford hadn't quite had the guile in the final third to get ahead.
And when Solihull scored after the interval, it felt very much against the run of play. It was Till again providing the magic down the right, slipping through a ball for Omar Bogle, who struck a firm shot in at the near post. But, as often the main man in the box for the Moors, it was always going to be Bogle to get the goal.
There was a brief lull in play after the goal, with much of play congested in the middle of the park. Oxford had the strength to defend whatever attacks Solihull created, and the Moors defence remained fixed, keen not to concede an equalizer. With neither defence cracking at that point, the game was forced into the centre. Neither team took the initiative to get the ball down and play.
But Solihull's main problem was their lack of discipline. They conceded so many free-kicks throughout the night, perhaps panicking because of the intensity of Oxford's attacks, who were now batting down the hatches for an equalizer. It seemed foolish considering the height in Oxford's team, and keeper Singh had to remain on his toes, as growing cries of "come on City" came from the Oxford faithful.
Oxford had already found their confidence, and now, a deserved equalizer. A corner from Jamie Cook was swung into the near post, and substitute Mike Symonds thumped the ball home at the near post. After the equalizer, Oxford sustained their pressing game and it was difficult for Solihull to get the ball. The speed at which Oxford closed down, forced Solihull into panicky clearances rather than planned counter attacking moves.
An amusing moment came when Keiran Sanders went to take a throw-in, as Oxford's long throw speciallist. Their fans mimed a 'throw-in' and sang "let's all do a Sanders". But what happened next certainly wasn't amusing for the Solihull fans. A cross from the left from Stonehouse came undefended to the back post, and Liam Malone was on hand to ram the ball home.
But the Moors fans, to their credit, really got behind their team in the latter stages of the second half. Although, their only chant seemed to be "When the Moors go marching in", but it was effective and galvanized their team for one last push. A hopeful high ball from midfield came to Bogle, who nodded the ball down for substitute Aron Wint to take a touch, and curl an ambitious shot into the bottom corner. It was a goal Wint probably deserved, as the substitute performed much better than his counterpart Ryan Beswick, and showed some intelligent movement throughout his playing time.
But the goal was also more than a trifle harsh on Oxford, and their fans, who will have to travel back down the M40 with just a point. In fact, though inevitably the Moors will be pleased with a late equalizer, it's arguable that neither side will be particularly happy with the draw. For Solihull, it was a missed opportunity to move joint-top, whilst the late goal means Oxford will have to wait longer for their first win of the season.
But on the whole, it was a great atmosphere, an entertaining game, and very good value for money. Any Blues or Baggies fans who don't fancy your away days, I would definitely say go down to Damson Park. If enough supporters get on board and come through the turnstiles, exciting times may lie ahead for Solihull Moors.
Solihull Moors' next home match is against Histon on the 24th August.