Oxford University seized the initiative in the South Hockey Premier Division 2 title race with a 4-1 win over Winchester, whose defeat at Kings’ was cushioned by promotion rivals Tulse Hill unexpectedly slipping up 2-1 against Bournemouth.
With six games left, the Dark Blues enjoy a five-point lead over Winchester, who have a match in hand against fourth-placed West Hampstead in two weeks time.
“It’s not over by any means,” stressed Winchester player/coach Ben Hibberd after the university students scored twice in the final five minutes to celebrate a 4-1 victory which didn’t reflect the balance of the game.
“The leading four sides have still got to play one another during what promises to be a fascinating run in.
“Tulse Hill face Oxford University and ourselves in consecutive days in mid-March, so the outcome of those games is going to be critical.”
The top-table Winchester-Oxford duel attracted a large touchline crowd, who gulped as the students capitalised on a mislaid pass in midfield and Dave Jones set up Andrew Fanthope to sweep the Dark Blues ahead.
Winchester regrouped and Ben Hibberd fired just wide after Rob Moore won the first of their six penalty corners.
Their second corner ten minutes later seemed certain to result in an equaliser, but the Oxford keeper made a great save at point blank range.
The scores were levelled on 20 minutes when Moore sent a 60-yard pass up-field, the ball cannoning back into play off the upright, allowing allowing Kent Langridge an initial chance which Peter Symonds’ College student Harry Talks, pictured, fired home off the keeper's pads.
This mid-half 15-minute spell was definitely Winchester's, but Oxford came again towards the end of the half with two penalty corners which were kept out in turn by Craig Simms and then Ed Player.
With half-time moments away, Winchester fell victim to a problem which haunted them throughout the game, as they were unable to safely clear danger from their own D.
The rapid Oxford midfield and forwards made the most of it, ultimately lining up two unopposed forwards in front of ‘keeper Caelen Dillon, who had little chance of denying former Portsmouth Grammar School student Will Dry restoring the visitors’ lead.
Winchester had their moments in the second half with the large crowd urging them on. Langridge had some success curling round the back of the Oxford left defence, but his pass missed the eager Winchester forwards.
Ben Hibberd, after breaking through the runner at a penalty corner, just failed to find the right touch to hit the target.
Ultimately though, most of Winchester's threat broke down before it reached real danger, let down by an unusually high level of poor first touches and general ball control as opposed to the well drilled Oxford unit, who demonstrated a much higher level of ball retention throughout.
With five minutes left and Winchester still pressing, Oxford broke on the counter and won a penalty corner which was despatched by Noah Francis into the bottom right hand corner to kill off the home team's hopes.
Any remaining optimism from the crowd was removed as Oxford broke again with seconds remaining and Ryan Kavanagh fired a reverse stick strike past Dillon to achieve a perhaps slightly flattering 4-1 final outcome.
Sinoxolo Mbekeni (2) and Ian Bassett scored, but Trojans went down 5-3 to Holcombe at Stoneham Lane.
* Stuart Swift scored twice but was unable to save Winchester II from a 6-3 defeat at Regional Division 2 rivals Surbiton.
Welcome to Vimps at the Hockey
Powered by Cricket-Hockey.com, the hockey equipment specialists in Downton, Salisbury