Goals from Adam Rehak, Ashley Jackson and Steve Osman were not enough to prevent a first home defeat of the season as the Invicta Dynamos stuttered against the Oxford City Stars losing out 6-3 in the NIHL South Division 1.
Welcoming back Steve Osman but still without Bailey and Taylor Wootton the Mos would have fancied themselves against an Oxford side with only one win in their last five and a dismal record at the SilverBlades. Amongst the Stars’ ranks was import defenceman Joonas Liimatainen – the Fin given a frosty reception as he made his first appearance in Gillingham having signed for the Dynamos two years before and then failed to appear.
When the action got underway the hosts had the better of the chances and looked certain to tally as Adam McNicoll robbed Joonas Liimatainen to go clear with Brad Gutridge for company but Gutridge misfired following the Scotsman’s pass to the back post. At 08.31 the home side had the lead – Elliot Dewey’s shot from the blue line followed up by Mason Webster close right and then Adam Rehak close left with the Slovak beating Tom Annetts for 1-0. The Stars answered strongly though and Dax Hedges tested Damien King from the slot before Alan Green put the play on a plate for Onrej Pekarik at the back post but the import’s touch actually took the puck away from the goal. His miss was soon forgotten – 13.15 the moment when King’s clearance fell straight to Hedges and he found Darren Elliott close left who roofed beyond the goalie to tie it up at 1-1. At 15.01 the visitors were then in front – Pekarik beating two to enter the final third and his bobbled shot found King unprepared with the puck hitting the pads and being swiftly tucked home from point blank range by Green before the netminder could freeze. The Mos attempted to reply ahead of the buzzer but Tom Annetts stopped Ondrej Zosiak’s drive from distance and the follow up from Steve Osman whilst Mason Webster had a strike ruled out as it came a second after the whistle despite the play not actually being frozen.
After an end-to-end and even opening period the second began in a similar manner but the visitors had run away with the tie come the closing buzzer. Ashley Jackson was unable to find a way beyond Tom Annetts on the powerplay whilst Damien King had to be alert to deny Joe Edwards as he skipped inside from the wing for a clear sight of the target. The next goal came at 27.15 – King so often the formidable brick wall looked disappointed as he was beaten by an Alan Green slap shot that found twine off the top of the netminder’s glove for 3-1. At 28.46 that margin then became concerning for the hosts as Benjamin Nethersell fired low to the far corner from the right on the blue line and the puck arrowed off the far post and over the line to put the visitors 4-1 up. A flash point followed at 30.44 – Haydn Wootton and Ondrej Pekarik battling for possession and the Oxford man gloving his opponent to the face resulting in Harrison Lillis charging him from the side. Pekarik and Lillis sat roughing minors and further penalties would follow later in the frame for Nethersell, Callum Fowler and Pekarik once again but neither side could claim a breakthrough on the powerplay.
Three behind the Dynamos needed a supercharged final frame but as hard as they pushed they were unable to beat a defiant Tom Annetts between the sticks. Ashley Jackson’s reverse pass found Mason Webster close left but he fired onto the post before Arran Strawson escaped in behind but sent the puck into the netminder’s chest. Oxford’s in form shot stopper also thwarted Nick Lewis from the left circle and turned away Callum Fowler at point blank range. At 47.28 the Mos finally had a lifeline – Webster winning a faceoff left of the target and Jackson lashing the puck straight over the shoulder of Annetts with a perfect one-timer that cut the deficit to 4-2. However before the word ‘comeback’ could even be muttered the Stars instantly replied at 47.47 – from an offensive faceoff Ondrej Pekarik found Alan Green and he skated across the crease, committed the goalie and then roofed home to complete his hat-trick and restore the three goal cushion. The Dynamos continued to flounder in front of goal whilst Oxford added icing to their cake at 55.46 – an interference minor to Callum Fowler allowing Dominic Hopkins the room to dispatch a wrist shot from the blue line that may have brushed the shorts of Green en route to the top corner. To their credit the Mos battled on and tallied the last of the evening at 58.54 – having been in sensational form all night Tom Annetts conceded a comical third as he palmed Steve Osman’s pass to the crease into his own net whilst trying to find his feet.
So it was a 6-3 defeat for the Dynamos and they can have no qualms with Oxford good value for the first Gillingham win in over 12 years. The Stars were more incisive, more clinical and more resilient and the Mos were left with a disappointing league performance to dissect ahead of a run of NIHL Southern Cup games. Man of the match awards went to Alan Green of Oxford – though goalie Tom Annetts deserves an honourable mention despite a late blunder – whilst Ashle Jackson took the spoils for the hosts.
Written by Paul Bennett.