OXFORD City Stars’ title hopes suffered a blow when they lost to closest rivals Bracknell Hornets for the second time this season.

Stars’s narrow 5-4 home reverse was only their second defeat in a highly successful South Division 2 campaign in the English National League.

But once again it was against Hornets, who with 12 wins out of 13 games this season, stand just four points behind leaders Oxford with three games in hands.

Matt Lawday put the hosts into an early lead, but they were unable to take advantage of two power plays in the first period, which ended without further scores.

After such a good start to the game the Stars were caught napping in the second period.

Hornets equalised in the 28th minute through Benjamin Ealey Newman in their first powerplay, with Josh Oliver serving a penalty.

And they took the lead three minutes later, thanks to Tom Fisher’s long shot.

Stars redoubled their efforts, resulting in an equalising goal from Mike Whillock, with assists from Connor Redmond and Jake Florey.

A couple of minutes later the Stars were caught out by a penalty for too many men on the ice, which was sat out by Lawday.

This time they successfully killed the penalty, but six seconds later Sean Scarbrough put Hornets 3-2 in front.

Two goals from George Barker and Adam Bicknell in the first two minutes of the final period put Hornets in charge at 5-2 ahead.

Josh Oliver pulled one back almost immediately.

Stars then had four shots in as many minutes from Whillock, Jake Florey, Kamil Kinkor and Hopkins, but could not find the net.

With two and a half minutes left, Stars took Milan Ronai out of the net in favour of a sixth skater.

The move paid off as Kinkor finally scored.

But there was not enough time for Stars to equalise, as the Hornets hold on for a deserved victory.