MAY 12TH 2008, 12:26 BY NIK BAKER
An admirable performance from the OUAFC Blues limited Slavia Prague to just 5 goals and earned the acclaim of the 14618 fans on a glorious night in the Czech capital.
The gulf in class was obvious from the outset as, before Oxford had even touched the ball, Patrick Berger was released down the left channel to clip an exquisite cross that Vladimir Smicer guided into the bottom corner of the net. Worse was to follow just 3 minutes later when an intricate passing move was swept home via ‘keeper Nik Baker’s fingertips.
With the score at 2-0 inside 5 minutes, it appeared that the Blues may be about to be engulfed by a clearly superior side. However, the side were visibly lifted as the Slavia fans began to chant ‘OXFORD, OXFORD!’ and a combination of some heroic defending and goalkeeping managed to maintain the deficit until the half-time interval. In truth, the Blues could be considered unlucky not to have reduced their arrears, as James Kelly sent a shot whistling past the top corner, and then stung the palms of the Czech side’s returning keeper, while Alex Toogood continued to be a nuisance, turning and running at the heart of the Slavia defence to the obvious delight of the crowd, although the centre backs always managed to keep him at arm’s length.
After the half-time wedding, the Blues and Slavia returned with sides almost unrecognisable from the first-half as the mass substitutions began. Self-proclaimed OUAFC all-time top goalscorer, Deji Davies, taking his turn up front in place of Toogood, displayed the kind of talent that used to terrorise St Ebbe’s Parish XI as he bustled his way into a promising shooting position before unleashing a scuffed strike that trickled through to the keeper.
Almost immediately Slavia showed him how to do it, with a goal of the highest quality. Lightning one-touch passing picked a way through the congested central area around the ‘d’, before a one-two tied Toby Hodgson in knots and in a flash the ball was dispatched into the bottom corner of the net. It was a goal that was quite simply a pleasure to concede!
As the substitutions continued to break up the play, Oxford managed to force some further chances – the best falling to Kunal Desai, who found the side-netting. The elderly Slavia substitutes slowed the tempo of the match, but still managed to pick off the Oxford defence twice more. The fifth and final goal was fittingly scored by Ivo Knoflicek, a former team-mate of OUAFC coach Mickey Lewis.
One of the biggest cheers of the night greeted the appearance of Blues coach Phill Heath for the final 5 minutes. Although lacking some of the pace that made him such a force for Stoke and Oxford United in his pomp, Heath nevertheless impressed with ability to dominate the area just beyond dugout, and to blame others when they attempted to pass to him.
At the final whistle OUAFC joined Slavia and their fans in celebrating an unbelievable opening night at Stadion Eden, and one that will live long in the memory of everyone in the touring party.