Oxford City Stars went into last night’s game without a win in Cardiff at senior level for 1800 days. As of this morning it is now 1801 days as they once again failed to take home the points from a game at the big blue tent. So why does Oxford have just a terrible record in Wales? It would be understandable if we were talking about Chelmsford or Invicta – teams that have more resources than Oxford, but this is Cardiff, a team that almost certainly has a smaller budget and which on paper, Oxford should have beaten comprehensively.
Cardiff to be fair to them, played their own game. They were consistent throughout the game and worked hard in pretty much every shift. It has beaten technically superior teams before and did so again last night. Oxford looked disinterested in the first period – there was one goal where our defence seemed to just watch Jonathan Nash skate past them on his way to goal, rather than going to him and at least putting some pressure on. They simply looked off-sync – there were missed passes and miscommunications all over the ice and nothing seemed to click. In the second, the Oxford team that I watched last week against Solent came out and it was a completely different game – Oxford looked good and had a multitude of scoring chances, dominating Cardiff and getting themselves back into contention. At the end of the second, I actually thought – this is it, this is the game we finally break the Welsh curse.
Unfortunately, I think Oxford got over-confident at that point, they realised they could be the better team on the ice but didn’t realise that they still had to work hard in order to stay the better team. They went back to their performance in the first period instead of continuing the game they had been playing in the second. All credit to Cardiff here – they took advantage of the opportunities provided to them by an Oxford team that just didn’t seem to be taking the game seriously and earned the points fair and square.
Oxford were missing some players, true – although with Shane Moore there are rumours going round supporters at the moment that he will “only be playing a certain number of games” which is usually a euphemism for “won’t travel” – if this is true it is going to be very concerning as he is clearly an influential player on the ice and if Oxford have to travel to every game without him then this is likely to be disruptive to the team to say the least. Mercurial Josh Oliver was also on the missing list – and he can make the difference in games as well. However, look at the team who were there – Green returned from his back injury for example and the fact is that this was a game that Stars should have had a comfortable win in. If nothing else, the second period proved this as they showed the quality they can produce when they want to.
There were some bright points – the return of the aforementioned Alan Green was obviously one. I don’t think he was quite back to his best but there were still enough sparks of the Steamy Green we know and the combination between him, Osman and Elliott looked like it could be very good. The new import Boris Ružička (or “BoRo” as I have now been told he will be known) looks like a decent pick up by Simon Anderson. He plays intelligent percentage hockey, has an eye for a good pass and one hell of a shot (as evidenced by his goal). He’s still settling in but for a first performance I think it was a pretty good one. Steve Osman also remembered where the back of the net was – something I suspect will come as quite a relief to him. I don’t actually think he has played badly so far this season, but the lack of goals has been surprising and I worried that the longer it went on the more it would potentially prey on his mind. His two last night were both well taken finishes and he was a well deserved MOTM at the end of the game.
For Cardiff, despite this win I still think they are going to really struggle in the league this year. They can’t rely on other teams under performing in order to get points. Having said that I haven’t seen Bracknell yet this season and from all reports they will be challenging Cardiff for the relegation place. I will say that both Miller in nets and Stuart-Dant in goal both looked very good though – but they seem to lack depth and in this league depth is crucial.
Oxford will have comfort themselves with the thought that they will never have to play in the big blue tent again. Their second away game against Cardiff will be in the new arena next year and maybe the new venue will help them put their demons to rest.