By Neil Goulding

LAST year's finalists Cheshire slipped to a surprise defeat at the hands of Oxfordshire in the MCCA Knockout Trophy at the weekend.
But despite a loss in their third 50-over group match on Sunday at Great and Little Tew Cricket Club - the first time a Minor Counties match has been plated at the ground - the county remain top of the table and are still favourites to qualify for the quarter-final stages of the this season's competition.
Having won the toss and elected to bat, Andy Hall's side stuttered to 178 all out in 48.5 overs, before the hosts won with six wickets and 11.4 overs to spare.
Unfortunately for Cheshire their top-order again failed to fire as regular wickets fell. The visitors struggled at 21-1, 23-2, 58-3, 71-4 and 71-5, before a spirited sixth-wicket partnership of 54 between skipper Hall (52) and all-rounder Jason Whittaker (15) took the score to 125, before the latter was dismissed.
Hall batted for nearly two and a half hours for his patient 68-ball innings, which included six fours. But with only Warren Goodwin (25) the only other batsman to make a useful contribution, Cheshire always struggled to take any control of the match.
When Hall was dismissed in the 41st over with the score on 150, it saw Cheshire lose their last five wickets for just 28 runs. Adam Syddall and Guy Emmett put on 21 of those in a determined last-wicket partnership.
Oxfordshire found the going tough in their reply and were 9-1, 25-2, 60-3 and 82-4. Syddall (2-34), Nathan Dumelow (1-46) and Whittaker (1-34) in the wickets for Cheshire.
But a gutsy unbeaten 75 from Robert Williams and runs from left-hander Adam Cook (40) guided the home county to victory.
Williams, whose 81-ball innings included eight fours and three sixes, shared an unbroken fifth-wicket partnership of 97 with Cook as Oxfordshire won in 38.2 overs.
James Hewitt, who took three Cheshire wickets, also chipped in with a useful 35 as Oxfordshire kept themselves in the hunt to qualify for the knockout stages.
"We just didn't score enough runs, we're losing too many early wickets at the moment," reflected Cheshire team manager Sandy Scrimgeour.
"It's disappointing to lose, but we're still in the driving seat. We need to win our last group match against Cumberland, if we do that we'll qualify.
"It's not going to be easy, but hopefully the players can bounce back from this defeat. They all know we need to play better."
Cheshire were forced to make one change for the match with Hyde spinner Danny Woods dropping out to play for his university side Leeds Bradford UCCE, which gave fellow Hyde teammate Danny Berry the chance to start. Oxton's Chris Davies filled in as twelfth man.

Cheshire 178 all out, 48.5 overs (Hall 52, Hewitt 3-34)
Oxfordshire: 179-4, 38.2 overs (Williams 75 not out, Cook 40 not out)

Result: Cheshire (0pts), who lost the toss and elected to bat, lost to Oxfordshire (2pts) by six wickets
Cheshire team: Andy Hall (capt, Bramhall), Danny Leech (Oulton Park), Warren Goodwin (Chester Boughton Hall), Ben Spendlove (Oulton Park), James Duffy (Hyde), Nathan Dumelow (Oulton Park), Jason Whittaker (Alderley Edge), Matt Dawson (wkt, Bramhall), Adam Syddall (Bowdon), Daniel Berry (Hyde), Guy Emmett (Oulton Park). 12th man: Chris Davies (Oxton). Scorer: Janet Herbert.