12:32 15 February 2012
Smalley strike gets United off to a flier
The U's started pre-season in the best possible way with a 1-0 win over Premier League new boys West Ham United tonight. A superb rising drive from Deane Smalley in the first half was enough to give United a confidence-boosting win against Sam Allardyce's newly promoted Irons as the Yellows began their matches in impressive style.
United fielded different teams in both halves to give as many players some match minutes as possible. They also took a look at a number of trialists. Alex Evans, a tall centre-half from Cardiff began the game alongside Jake Wright, Damian Batt and new boy Sean McGinty in defence. In midfield Simon Heslop and Adam Chapman were joined by Sean McAllister from Shrewsbury, while JP Pittman, Deane Smalley and Alfie Potter began up front.
The fit-again Potter looked as he had never been away with some impish runs and clever passes in the early stages, while Pittman had the best of the early chances, lifting the ball over the bar from the edge of the area after outmuscling Jordan Spence in the Hammers defence.
West Ham included Carlton Cole, Kevin Nolan, Mark Noble and Ricardo Vaz Te among their starting eleven and it took some determined tackles from Wright and Evans to keep the Hammers at bay before tempers flared on 25 minutes when a stern Potter challenge so incensed Noble that he lunged in on Pittman almost immediately and caused a melee and yellow cards for himself and Chapman in the kerfuffle.
Evans made another good block to deny Vaz Te on 31, but the Portuguese striker really should have done better with a 33rd minute effort which he stabbed over the bar with the goal at his mercy.
United had matched their Premier League opponents to that point and were then in the lead with a superb 36th minute goal as Smalley lashed home a stunner. McGinty's cross was not cleared convincingly as a defender challenged with McAllister, and Smalley strode on to a difficult bouncing ball to smash an unstoppable effort into the top corner from twelve yards with keeper Stephen Henderson helpless.
The second half saw Ryan Clarke stay in goal but then a new back four of Michael Boateng, formerly of Bristol Rovers, new boy Michael Raynes and Ryan Tafazoli from Southampton with Tony Capaldi. Midfield saw Jake Forster-Caskey joined by Courtney Harris from Fulham and Tom Smith from Man City while James Constable, Sean Rigg and Tom Craddock came on up front.
Former Oxford youngster Matt Taylor, a half-time sub for the visitors, whistled a trademark free-kick just wide in the first five minutes of the half, but the moment of the second half came from young Forster-Caskey with a pass so disguised that half the crowd were looking in the wrong direction as Craddock latched on to the ball and bustled into the box.
Former Oxford loanee Rob Hall, given a warm reception, showed his class for the Hammers with a sublime first touch and a low shot across goal which grazed the outside of the far post on 68 minutes, but the new look U's looked strong in defence and were only worried when sub Blair Turgott escaped his marker with ten minutes to go and planted a header over the bar (even if it looked suspiciously like another great save from Clarke).
Ultimately the result will have as much impact as one of those famous bubbles that over 1,000 visiting fans sang about, but a win in the first game of pre-season will do no harm at all and 21 players in the all-yellow new kit will have benefitted from 45 minutes of football. A good night all round.
Fifty/50: 232890 wins £478
First Half: Clarke, Batt, Evans, Wright, McGinty, Heslop, Chapman, McAllister, Pittman, Smalley, Potter
Second Half: Clarke, Boateng, Raynes, Tafazoli, Capaldi, Smith, Forster-Caskey, Harris, Constable, Rigg, Craddock
Subs not used: Crocombe, Lynn, Long