Reigning champions Worcester overcame a half-time deficit to beat Premier League newcomers Balliol in a game that should be remembered for a laudable act of sportsmanship by the Balliol captain Alex Hawkins-Hooker, who allowed Worcester to use rolling subs to prevent them being reduced to 10 men.
It was also a match that, despite the final result, proved that Balliol will be no pushovers this season, as the Jowett Walk side pushed their opponents to the limit with an impressive passing game and tireless work ethic.
Displaying the sort of discipline that comes from having retained the bulk of last season’s Division One-winning side, Balliol started the game the brighter of the two sides, with Freshers Du’Aine Davis and Loz Warner contributing to a fluid possession game that Worcester seemed unable to cope with.
Despite all Balliol’s good work, however, it was a Worcester error that led to the first goal, as Jack Hostick stole the ball from the Worcester defence before rounding the ‘keeper and slotting home. It was a composed finish that showed every sign of Hostick being able to make the step up to the top division, having ended last season as college football’s leading scorer.
The goal made little difference to the flow of the game, with Tom Phelan unable to make much headway against Balliol’s five-man midfield, and although neither goalkeeper had much to do, Balliol’s extra pace on the wings meant that they would possibly have been disappointed to go into the break only one up.
Worcester came out the stronger in the second half, but they were helped by a sporting gesture from Alex Hawkins-Hooker. After a combination of injuries and unexpected player departures left Worcester facing playing the majority of the second half with ten men, the Balliol ‘skipper allowed them to bring on an already-substituted player so they could finish the match with their full contingent.
The current league and Cuppers champions took full advantage, and it was Tang-Wright who proved the inspiration. After a sustained spell of Worcester pressure, the winger powered past George Colenutt and, with two men in pink waiting in the middle for the cut-back, instead drove the ball low past Balliol ‘keeper Adam Laycock at the near post.
That was the break Worcester needed, and they made it two not long after when the Balliol defence failed to deal with a long punt forward, and the Worcester forward slotted.
Balliol were not to be fazed, however, and they drew themselves level when some composed play from Hawkins-Hooker at the back started a move that ended with Jack Hostick, who was clinical as ever in when put through one-on-one.
It was not to be for Balliol however, and the winning goal came with 10 minutes to go. A Worcester corner was headed home by Tang-Wright for his second of the game, and despite some sustained Balliol pressure late on, Worcester held on.
Balliol vice-captain Adam Laycock was proud of his team’s performance, despite the result: “The fact that we’re disappointed having lost to last season’s best side shows how well we performed.”
The record books will show the final score was 3-2, but Hawkins-Hooker’s gesture to Worcester, encapsulating the spirit of college football, should also be remembered.