It’s five-star Stoddart but Oxton survive another day
Conference North round-up
IT WAS very much a close shave for Oxton as they escaped direct relegation from Conference North by the skin of their teeth – and club captain Nik Heyes admits naivety almost cost them.
Heading into last weekend’s matches, Oxton had a three-point advantage over Leek, and only a win for the bottom-of-the-table side and a seven-goal swing would see them automatically relegated.
But after Alistair McKenzie and Mark Worrall had given them the perfect start, putting Oxton 2-0 up inside ten minutes, it was the Oliver Stoddart show as the Bowdon Hightown man plundered a remarkable five goals.
And as the hosts ran up the scoreline, McKenzie’s second on 51 minutes – which levelled Stoddart’s league-leading tally of 16 for the season – proved absolutely vital despite the 8-3 defeat.
Scrappy Leek did their absolute best to overhaul the deficit, beating thirdplaced Olton & West Warwicks 5-3 thanks to Richard Cordon’s hattrick.
But with the goal difference between them and Oxton exactly the same at the close of play, the Wirral outfit’s superior number of goals scored saw them progress into the relegation play-offs in a blockbuster final day.
“It was a pretty big turnaround in fortunes from about 2.10pm to the end of the games! We obviously didn’t know what was going on in the other game, but two goals up we figured we were six points clear at that point,” said Heyes.
“We had a nine or ten-goal advantage then as -well, so it just goes to show how important each goal is in the season – you just don’t know how big a difference it can make.
“Maybe we did a bit less running than we should have done; we could have narrowed off the pitch more and dropped off, but we got caught up in the emotions of the game. We expected Leek to get a result to be honest – they are incredible fighters as they showed throughout the whole season – so we knew we had to minimise the scoreline.”
It is Oxton’s first season in the National League after 14 years in Northern Premier, and after a nervous check of scores and a consultation of the abacuses after the result, Heyes insists they have already put the result behind them to focus on their survival bid.
He said: “We’re looking forward to playing Indian Gym whom we played a couple of years ago in the Cup and got a positive result.
“For 55 minutes against the second-best team in our league we were well involved last week.
“It’s our first time in the play-offs, but we’re used to having a longer season with there being more teams in the Northern Premier, so clearly the lads just wanted to play a little more before retiring for the summer!
“The first season is generally the most difficult, and we’ve had to learn very quickly, but we’ve enjoyed the challenge and our long-term vision of being a National League club remains unchanged.”
Elsewhere, champions Durham University completed the perfect season, beating Cannock 3-2 at home to record their 18th victory from 18 games.
They did not have it all their own way as Kyle Gladwin put the visitors ahead, but goals from Samad Suleman, Richard Jackson and Charlie Stubbings – his 12th of the season – meant Callum Stacey’s penalty corner was no more than a consolation.
Deeside Ramblers jumped up to fifth in the standings courtesy of a 4-1 win over Sheffield Hallam and Preston’s 6-2 thumping at Doncaster.
Ed Peel struck twice after half-time for the Ramblers, while Donny’s lightning start did the damage as goals from Andrew Appleton, Travis Cresswell, Daniel West, and Josh Pettinger put them 4-0 up at the break.