Following the 7-3 pre-season defeat to the Amateur Football Alliance the omens didn’t look too rosy for the OUAFC team pulling away from pre-season. However, there were positives to come out of the game including a notable hat-trick from pacy vice-captain Alex Toogood, and signs of promising attacking play which will give the new coaching setup of Mickey Lewis and Phill Heath encouragement.
Having topped their league for the last three seasons, but only managed one promotion due to playoff defeats, the dark blues will be looking to be in the race for the Midlands division 1 title. However, the opening league encounter should prove a real test against a Warwick side who narrowly defeated Oxford last November.
Looking further forward, captain Tom Wherry will be able to draw on the experience of no fewer than 11 of last year’s 16 man Varsity squad, which will surely prove to be a huge bonus and Toogood will once again be key to providing the goals up front. The departure of Nik Baker and the rise of David Robinson to coach of the Centaurs has left the door open for a new goalkeeper to establish himself within the first eleven.
The fierce competition to fill the role lies between Bahamas international Dwayne Whylly and the reserve goalkeeper for last season’s Varsity, Nic Ielpo. Although the latter was given the nod in last week’s friendly, he endured a torrid evening between the posts.
Of course, several other freshers and college veterans have joined up with the University squad, some with impressive footballing credentials, but only time will tell of their impact as the pack is shuffled and new faces thrown into the mix. The one area Wherry will certainly be looking to strengthen is in defence, with five of the six centre-backs from last season moving on. The ever-solid presence of Toby Hodgson will surely be pivotal to any success this season, although his three week spell on the sidelines through tendonitis could be very damaging for the beginning of the season.
As for the Centaurs, the sideways movement from Midlands division 3A to 3B to face new opposition this season makes it tricky know quite how the final standings will pan out. The change in the coaching setup should prove highly benefitial though and the target has been firmly set at pushing for promotion in order to better last year’s mid-table finish.
The Centaurs are in a tough retention situation relative to the Blues with only a handful of players returning. Naturally, there will be a lot of movement between the two sides within the first few weeks, and this is an exciting period as the squads settle their foundations and players strive to hold down places or make the step up.
The shining example of Wherry forcing himself into first team contention and onto club captain after a string of impressive Centaur performances, can only serve to motivate the current crop to emulate his rise.
All in all the injury table statistics will not be a significant worry for Lewis, with just four players currently unavailable, and with a fully-fit squad, the teams must look very strong on paper. There can be little doubt that the blues engine will be tough to halt en route to a fourth consecutive title.