Oxford City Stars' hopes of reaching the English National League play-off final suffered a setback with Sunday's 4-1 defeat at home to Billingham Eagles.

This was the second disappointing home performance in a row from Oxford in the semi-finals.

They started badly by letting in two short-handed goals in the first four minutes. The rest of the first period was a scrappy affair with both sides missing several chances.

Chris West was assessed 16 minute

Oxford were only icing two regular defensemen and the team often seemed disorganised and disjointed, while in attack they were not helped by the absence of first line forward James Cameron.

The second period started quietly but in the 25th minute, Billingham extended their lead with a goal from their top scorer Paul Windridge after sloppy defensive work from Oxford.

Stars pulled back a goal at the halfway mark through Bill Morra, but Billingham restored the visitors' lead five minutes later when Andre Malo strolled through the Oxford defence to score unassisted.

The end of the second period and much of the third contained much of Billingham's best play but they were unable to score again and Oxford also missed a few chances to reduce the deficit.

The first two periods had been fairly calm with each team only taking six minutes in penalties, but some ill-feeling started when Billingham's Andy Fletcher caught Derek Flint with a high stick, provoking a slash in response.

The referee settled for minor penalties for this incident but a minute later, Oxford's Richard Hardy took a penalty for checking from behind.

While the Oxford player was serving his time, Eagles' Andy Thornton was assessed a similar penalty, then Stars' Chris West was assessed 16 minutes in penalties after retaliating to another high-sticking offence by Fletcher.

At this point, Hardy made some comments from the penalty box to the referee about his performance and he was ejected from the game.

Defensemen Andy Cox was later thrown out of the game for a knee-high check on Malo, who could miss the second leg at Billingham on Sunday April 29 after picking up more penalties.

* Oxford's Under 19s lost a tight game 5-3 at Romford on Saturday 5-3 after taking only eight players to the game due to unavailability and injury.