United ended their run of six straight defeats with a thrilling 3-2 win over AFC Wimbledon tonight. Goals from Jake Forster-Caskey, Deane Smalley and Alfie Potter did the trick, but it was an all-round effort from everyone in a yellow shirt that earned United their deserved victory.
When you have been on the run that United have, the one thing you don’t want to do is concede an early goal, but the U’s were indebted to Wayne Brown for two saves in the first 90 seconds from first Sammy and then Luke Moore as the game opened at breakneck speed, with Michael Raynes missing his kick in front of the other goal and Alfie Potter seeing a dangerous cross cleared before we had reached the fifth minute.
It was great to watch (through your fingers at times) and the United fans were playing a superb part in backing their team, singing their hearts out and pushing their boys forward. On nine minutes that loyalty and belief earned its reward with that all-important first goal. Sean Rigg, fast and direct as ever, burst forward and was pulled back a couple of yards short of the left corner of the penalty area. Up stepped Forster-Caskey to curl a superb free-kick up and over the wall and into the net to make it 1-0. It was the on-loan Brighton midfielder’s third goal of the season and he continues to show a maturity way beyond his 18 years.
Having taken the lead United were looking good but the Dons were unfazed by going behind and on 20 minutes were level. A right-sided corner was met by debutant Yado Mambo (sadly not number 5). His effort was well saved by Brown who tipped it on to the bar, but Byron Harrison was first to react to return the ball into the net for Wimbledon’s first ever goal against the U’s to make it 1-1.
Back came the Yellows, Smalley glancing a 24th-minute header wide when unmarked in front of goal, then back came the Dons as Harrison rounded the keeper then fired wide (ref East gave a corner but we’re not convinced it hit anyone really).
It was such an open game that another goal was inevitable, and on 36 it came from the visitors as Jim Fenlon, in acres of space 25 yards out, took deadly aim and powered the ball from the left into the far corner of the net to make it 2-1.
It could easily have been 2-2 before the break as first Seb Brown saved well from a Forster-Caskey piledriver on 40, then the keeper got down well again to smother a Tom Craddock effort. Worley saw a header deflected over the top right on the whistle and there had been plenty of chances so hope was certainly there at half-time despite the scoreline.
United started the second half in determined fashion, and three minutes into it Damian Batt latched onto a short pass and hammered the ball just inches over the bar. They were committing men forward and passing it well and were rewarded in the 55th minute when Alfie Potter flicked a Sean Rigg cross towards goal. Seb Brown could only parry the ball and Deane Smalley was alive to poke the ball into the net from all of two yards.
Three minutes later Oxford had a big let-off when Christian Jolley’s speculative 30-yard lofted drive went over Wayne Brown’s head and cannoned off the inside of the far post. Could this be the piece of luck that could turn United’s game, and maybe even the season? It proved to be Brown’s last involvement as he limped off to be replaced by Ryan Clarke.
Attacking the East Stand, United were now on the front foot and looking like scoring almost every time they crossed the halfway line. Wimbledon, whose form had been as bad as United's coming into the game looked a threat from set pieces or swift breaks forward, but were coming increasingly under pressure as the home fans found their voices once more. Potter danced on to a Smalley through ball on 80 but hit the keeper's legs from ten yards. Wimbledon pulled all ten men back to defend their box. It didn't work.
81st minute. Batt to Craddock. Craddock's low ball across. Potter thumps it home to make it 3-2. Relief all round. You could almost see the weight lift off 5,000 pairs of shoulders.
Just to emphasise the team all playing their part, the return of Clarke proved crucial as he somehow got down to get a hand to keep out Will Antwi's 85th-minute shot after the same player had thundered a header against the bar. A great save and another step to rebuilding confidence. Of course things got nervous, Jack Midson kneeing the ball over in the third minute of injury time, but then Craddock might have made it 4-2 in the 94th minute with a breakaway that forced Brown into one final save
Curiously, Oxford have played better than this in the run of six games but frankly who cares. A win is a win and this was a victory achieved through sheer hard work and belief from all concerned. And yes, we include the fans in that because they stayed positive and backed their team magnificently.
See you on Saturday when United welcome Gillingham.
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Report by Chris Williams. Pictures by Darrell Fisher. Stats by PA Sports