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No joy for Oxford in hockey Varsity

Martin Pickup describes a painful loss to Cambridge in the men''s hockey Varsity
Martin Pickup on Monday 30th April 2012
Photograph: Graham Jordan

Oxford’s Men’s hockey Blues lost the Varsity Trophy to Cambridge in March in a close match that promised a great deal but ultimately ended in frustration. It caps a mixed season for the side after some excellent league performances but disappointing displays in one-off fixtures.

Oxford arrived on the day confident of building on a hat-trick of wins in previous years. The men’s and women’s second and third teams were unbeaten in their matches at a packed Fortress Iffley Road a few weeks earlier and all signs indicated that the Blues were peaking at the right time. In the first of the Varsity matches, a disappointing 0-0 draw for a very strong Oxford Blues Women’s team was an omen of things to come.

In the Men’s game Oxford started brightly and had the better of the opening exchanges. Captain Adam Jordan scored two fantastic flicks in the first half from two short corners. Scrappy defensive work allowed Cambridge to score from a penalty stroke, but at half time it was 2-1 and, with a 100% short corner record, Oxford went into the break full of confidence.

Their confidence was misplaced. Cambridge came out strongly and soon made the scores level. Their experienced midfield started to run the game, driven by desire to grab a win in their last Varsity match. Oxford, previously composed, started to look ragged. Despite a wealth of experience, Oxford weren’t able to dictate the game. Cambridge scored again, while out of nowhere Jordan capitalised on a defensive error with a precise reverse stick.

The scores were level at 3-3 and spectators treated to an open and attacking game. Cambridge put a fourth goal in midway through the second half to make it 4-3 and Oxford lost their structure. Coach John Shaw urged them to enjoy possession, but Oxford looked panicked. As they threw the proverbial kitchen sink at the game they left themselves open to a counterattack and Cambridge sealed the win with a neat goal to leave the final score at 5-3. The Man of the Match award went to Jordan for his three goals. Oxford hadn’t performed at their best, but Cambridge had played an extremely good game and, ultimately, the team that won was the team that wanted it more.

It was an extremely disheartening end to the season for Oxford, who have shown they are at least as good as previous Blues vintages when playing their best hockey. After finishing in the top four of the country league they had high hopes. However, the Achilles heel of the team has been their inability to bring their best to the pitch when it really matters. A poor run in the cup, a notable loss to Bath and the frustrating Varsity game tell their own story.

At the end of the season, the feeling was one familiar to many university sports people: keeping the side together for another year would undoubtedly bring an unprecedented level of success. With so many veteran players leaving, the next year’s season remains up in the air.

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