It’s five-star Stod­dart but Ox­ton sur­vive an­other day

Con­fer­ence North round-up

The Hockey Paper - - MEN'S PREMIER DIVISION - By Jack Miller

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.

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