12 September 2006.
Oxford United (a)
ON THE ROAD AT OXFORD:- THE VIEWS OF JIM TUCKER.
Tuesday 12th September 2006
Oxford United 1 Exeter City O
Oxford is always one of my favourite trips, well under an hour from Maidenhead where live, and a lovely cross country route, which not only takes you through Henley and rolling Oxfordshire countryside but also misses all the traffic on the M40 and Oxford ring road. Yes, I was looking forward to this one as soon as they were relegated.
And we have a good record at the Kassam, too. I never got to the Manor Ground - the teams spent years in different divisions but we have won 1 one and drawn two at the new stadium, one of which was an LDV tie and we won the penalty shoot-out! So it was a full car, family and friends, setting out on a damp but quite warm autumn evening.
The ground is similar to Bournemouth after rebuilding, stands on 3 sides, all- seater. It eclipses even our beloved St James' Park as the best ground in the Conference, and around 400 of us were alongside the goal at the open end. A crowd of over 6,000 saw the teams kick off.
City made the early running, winning a corner straightaway, Jones place kick being headed wide by Lee Phillips. Dean Moxey shrugged off an early knock, before a threatening burst through the middle by Phillips was blocked by a defender, for a harmless throw-in. Then it was Adam Stansfield's turn to try a run on the right, but the cross let him down. For 5 or 6 minutes all the play was in the Oxford half, but then. What looked like a completely unthreatening situation was transformed, as the through ball threaded 3 City defenders, for centre-forward Steve Basham to run clear, round Martin Rice, and slot home with ease. To go one down that early was somewhat unlucky, but the naïve defending would come back to haunt us.
City, in their royal blue away kit, continued to get plenty of the ball, and they certainly weren't giving it away either. Putting the ball to good use was a tougher proposition, though, as when Woodards and Challinor combined in a sweet one-two, only for Jon's shot to be comfortably saved. Marshalled by the impressive Edwards, the back line had regained its composure, and stamped out most of the home threat. But gradually, throughout the first half, our attacking efforts degenerated into over optimistic runs by a front two totally without support, usually getting the ball with their backs to goal and trying to beat the entire defence before shooting. And that led to being dragged into the dreaded long ball game, yet again!
Ricey was in top form in goal, saving well from Basham after a flick from the tall Robinson, for once capitalising on his hit- man status. Then after 20 minutes the keeper showed why his massively increased confidence has been a major highlight so far this season. Oxford were up in numbers, Brevett fed Basham, and when Robinson chased the loose ball to the bye- line, Chris Todd sent him tumbling. Martin stood up fearlessly to Quinn's penalty, dived left and palmed the firmly-hit ball away, to earn rapturous applause from the travelling fans.
If that had gone in, the match was over, and Oxford applied their most sustained pressure of the night to cement the lead. Toddy had picked up an injury, and on came Jon Richardson. Didn't you just know that Rico would get on the pitch here, of all places? And pretty good he did too, quickly setting up a partnership with Edwards to ride out the storm.
And so, as half-time approached, we again got plenty of the ball, but failed to use it because men were not getting forward enough. Plenty of spirit and effort, but more action up front needed.
Your correspondent was not optimistic at the start of the second half, and for a while it was much the same as before - Tamworth part 2. But it did change for the better eventually, and this time the improvement stuck. First, the Challinor/Woodards link started to reap rewards, exploiting the Oxford left rearguard, in which Rufus Brevett is a man who appears to have enjoyed better times. JC seemed to drop a bit deeper, then bring the ball through, at last developing attacks properly.
That's a good habit. And it was catching, as the midfielders and strikers linked up sweetly for a whole series of dangerous raids on the home goal. Moxey lifted a good chance over from a rebound, then we had Andy Taylor on for Moxey and Jamie Mackie for Stansfield. Matty Gill hit a powerful free kick just over, but then Oxford had a pile-driver go wide, and a header saved by Rice.
This was a pulsating finale, and some heading practice might have helped Challinor, who could have had a couple on another night. Even Rico joined in, with a good cross from the right, and Billy Jones's screamer of a free kick was tipped over. Right to the end we pushed them, with loud but unsuccessful shouts for a penalty, but all to avail. Yes, my second game, the team's second defeat.
So, a standing ovation for the lads at the end, and deservedly so in many ways. But this was, after all, Oxford United not Manchester United. We demonstrated that anyone can be beaten, Oxford should have been but they weren't. Is it Murphy's Law, or a touch of "Football is a cruel game"? They don't make chances first half, second they make loads but don't take them.
Oh yes, results will come if keep playing like we did second half.
Oxford United 1 Exeter City 0.
Tuesday 12 September 2006.
Oxford Utd: Turley, Willmott, Quinn, Day, Anaclet, Pettefer, Hutchinson (Dempster 45), Burgess, Brevett, Basham (Odubade 68), Robinson.
Subs Not Used: Tardif, Kennet, Gunn.
Goals: Basham 7.
Exeter: Rice, Woodards, Edwards, Todd (Richardson 27), Billy Jones, Challinor, Cozic, Gill, Moxey (Taylor 68), Phillips, Stansfield (Mackie 72).
Subs Not Used: Paul Jones, Buckle.
Referee S Beck (Essex).