Blues win after horror injury

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Oxford 1Royal Navy 0Blue was the colour as Oxford met the Navy at Iffley Road on Monday. Only the sky, a pale grey pall, failed to turn a matching shade, as swirling rain and a breezy wind joined force to inhibit Oxford’s passing game, though the home side eventually triumphed with a 1-0 win.Just five days earlier, the season opener against Loughborough III had fallen decidedly flat as the game was abandoned after five minutes. If expectation and hope were the predominant emotions for the Blues at the start of the Loughborough match then these were soon replaced with expectation and hope of a very different kind with players crossing their fingers for their injured team mate, James Perkins. As the ball broke outside the area, Perkins stretched for the first real tackle of the game. It seemed an innocuous tussle and play continued as a Loughborough attacker lashed a sumptuous drive which inched the wrong side of the post for a goal kick. But that goal kick was never taken as, immediately, both team benches jumped up and hollered for an ambulance. Perkins had broken his leg in what was a morose ending to a promising match. Rustiness turned to well-oiled, lamb to lion as the Oxford beast was woken from its slumber. Aided by the gale, Simon Jalie curled a well-worked free kick over the bar, and then bulleted a shot against the opposing keeper when put through one-on-one. Routine balls over the top were turned into lethal opportunities as the soddened turf favoured the mental and physical speed of the home attack. One might have thought that the Navy would be adept at watery situations. Yet they were more barnacle than good ship as they just about managed to hold out until the break. But on 47 minutes their defence was breached. A break down the left saw Luther Sullivan slide through a simple cross for the onrushing Vince Vitale, who evaded the all-at-sea defence and slotted into the empty net. A simple goal, almost matched seconds later when the omnipresent Vitale crossed for Joel Lazarus, who thrashed a fierce drive wide. Oxford were looking comfortable, the defence in particular excelling. The wiry James Doree ranged up and down the left flank, Owen Price was superb in the air, and the team was well marshalled at the back by the pairing of Captain Jack Hazzard and Paul Rainford. The five coaches of the mariners decided to make a change, bringing on the aptly named duo of Major and Salt. With the wind in their favour they pushed back the Oxford defensive line, and only a lack of polish on their final ball stopped them from getting back into the game. Referee Taylor turned down what seemed a legitimate penalty as the Navy’s Hirst was felled after a corner. A closer escape was to follow for Oxford as their opponents had a goal ruled out when Navy captain Thomas needlessly nodded in a goalbound shot from an offside position. Oxford clung on for a win that was, on balance, deserved. With their naval foe dispatched and Perkins’ injury partly exorcised, the Blues can look forward to the rest of the season with confidence and relish.After the match, Hazzard said he was “pleased with the result more than the performance.” But, he added, “conditions were tough and I know we can play better. We just needed to get our first win of the season. Hopefully the performances will come off that.” Of Perkins’ injury, Hazzard said it was too early to comment. Cherwell would like to wish him a speedy recovery.After an execrable opening period some observers might have wished that Referee Bruce Taylor would also swiftly end the match against the Royal Navy. The Oxford machine mirrored the rusty leaves falling from the trees. The only highlight, if one can call it that, was a facial injury to a Navy player who returned to the pitch with his face plastered with tape, looking like Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs. But it was Oxford who played like silent lambs until, on 25 minutes, from out of the grey, Matt Rigby bolted a 40-yard drive which cannoned back off the bar.ARCHIVE: 3rd week MT 2005

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