Oxford United romped to a fine 4-0 win at Rochdale this afternoon. First-half goals from Marvin Johnson and Rob Hall plus an overhead kick from Ryan Taylor and a first goal from Ryan Ledson after the break gave United all three points and wrecked Rochdale's wonderful home record.
Two good sides showed each other plenty of respect in the opening ten minutes; a speculative effort from Chris Maguire was comfortably held by home keeper Conrad Logan with the first chance but most of the action took place in a packed midfield. It was good honest stuff: Joe Skarz, in at left back, made a typically well-timed challenge on Calvin Andrew to announce his return while a tough challenge from Taylor on 12 minutes led to the first yellow card of the afternoon.
From then on it was the Yellows who took the game by the scruff of the neck.
Rochdale have been on an astonishing run, winning ten home games in a row, and hadn’t been behind at home since August, but on 18 minutes found themselves in unfamiliar territory as the first shot on target gave United the lead. Hall, playing centrally alongside Taylor, won a corner that he then drilled in. It flicked off a defender’s head to Johnson on the edge of the area. Killing the ball with his first touch he moved it out of his feet and then opted to shoot when others might have crossed. Logan could do little as the ball fizzed across him and into the net to make it 1-0 to the U’s.
Subtle changes had given the U’s the edge: Hall’s move inside, Maguire’s craft coming from out wide and Johnson’s lightning pace forcing the game down the left. Hall’s direct style was clearly testing the Dale back line and Logan needed to save another effort from him on 24 as he burst between two defenders and got his shot away after Taylor's flick. He wasn’t to be denied for too long though and on 29 he was lashing home his second goal in two games.
Again, it was down to Johnson’s pace and persistence as he closed down Joseph Rafferty and then ran clear on to the loose ball. He seemed to be running out of options as he reached the dead ball line but cleverly back-heeled the ball for Hall who turned it home from close range to make it 2-0.
Rochdale responded and Jamie Allen and Scott Tanser had half chances before the break but United had been far more incisive and might have been three up when Taylor ran clear on 41 after Chey Dunkley had powered past most of the Dale side before sending Taylor through to force Logan into an excellent save.
Dale threw on two subs at half time and for five minutes were on the front foot, with Chey Dunkley and Curtis Nelson having to defend stoutly, but the U's were still dangerous and on 53 just about sealed the game with another goal from a corner. It came in comic style with a back-pass sliding past Logan to gift the U's a corner. Worked short, again Hall turned provider with a cross to the near post where Taylor acrobatically steered it home to make it 3-0.
There were chances, with Logan making good saves from Nelson and Taylor. There was comedy as ground staff carried away a dead rat on a shovel from United's goalmouth, arguably the most troubled that Simon Eastwood was all afternoon against an uncharacteristically misfiring Dale front line. And then there was farce as Dale took a free kick on 73 and gifted United their fourth goal. Losing their bearings completely, an intended clearance came to Ledson 40 yards out and with Logan helplessly out of position. It took nerve as well as skill for the United midfielder to launch the ball forward and curl it into the empty net for a memorable first goal for the club.
Every run has to end sometime and Dale will see this as a particularly bad day at the office. But United were irresistible, with every department of the team contributing and dominant.
In a week where they have league, Checkatrade and FA Cup matches, this was an outstanding performance and their best result of the season.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA
See extended highlights and video reaction in Yellow Player HD