Pressure eases after crucial win
HOCKEY: Ipswich can go into the Christmas break a much-relieved side after victory over fellow-strugglers Oxford Hawks. Two first half goals had put the Henley Road side in command, but instead of keeping their first clean sheet they then let Oxford back into the game and for much of the second half were on the defensive.
IPSWICH can go into the Christmas break a much-relieved side after victory over fellow-strugglers Oxford Hawks.
Two first half goals had put the Henley Road side in command, but instead of keeping their first clean sheet they then let Oxford back into the game and for much of the second half were on the defensive.
The fact they held out was more due to luck than judgment, but the win means they leapfrog the perennial strugglers and can now focus on the second half of the season in their bid to stay in Division Two of the English Hockey League.
Although without skipper Asif Rais, held up by transport problems from France after attending a family wedding, Ipswich looked solid at the back with Chris Palmer and Paul Calver keeping a tight rein on the Oxford breakaways.
With James Hughes and Andy Swindin playing their part on the defensive flanks, Ipswich had a solid look, while the midfield took control.
John Cuff had his best game in an Ipswich shirt and with Andy Cook, talked into playing at first team for only the second time this season, Andy Beresford and stand-in skipper Simon Miller, they made sure Oxford had little space in which to work.
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Stuart Hendy brought off a spectacular save from Ed Baldock at Oxford's first short corner, but once Ipswich settled, they looked far better value than their opponents.
Their movement on and off the ball was sharp and it was no real surprise when they took the lead after 15 minutes.
Cuff thrust a quick free hit down the left hand touchline to Richard Fox who beat oncoming keeper Phil Hargreaves to find Richard Stainthorpe.
His fellow striker failed to accept the chance, but when the ball rebounded to Fox he made no mistake from close range.
Oxford at least strung some useful passes together, but were caught out again at the back after 27 minutes when Beresford ran on to a through ball.
The midfielder was fouled as he tried to shoot and Palmer stepped up to put the penalty flick low to the keeper's right.
Cook saw two short corner strikes thud into the pads of Hargreaves and at that stage Ipswich were well in command, but when Stainthorpe and Fox both failed to put away good chances midway through the second half, the doubts started to emerge.
Hendy was again called upon to show why he is so highly rated as he flung himself across goal to keep out a shot from Tim Newton, but 11 minutes from time Oxford hauled themselves back into the game.
Having spent much of the second period camped in the Ipswich half, as the home side continued to concede possession instead of letting the visitors chase shadows, they gained what proved to be just a consolation.
From their sixth short corner, the ball was blocked but broke free to Newton who poked it home from close range.
All the doubts started to emerge in the Ipswich side and with their tails up, Oxford set about trying to gain an equaliser and it required another superb save from Hendy to keep them out.