United left it late but secured all three points with a last gasp Michael Raynes header against a hard working Barnet tonight. Raynes headed home in the fifth minute of stoppage time to keep United's season moving forward and reward their fans for their faith on a freezing cold night at the Kassam Stadium.
United kept faith with the same eleven who had played the bulk of Saturday’s win at Torquay with Josh Parker on the right of a four man midfield which had Scott Davies in the centre alongside Andy Whing. Barnet, wearing a fetching purple kit not seen since the heyday of Harchester United, settled into a 4-1-4-1 shape which allowed player-manager Edgar Davids to patrol just in front of the back four and try and limit the supply to Alfie Potter, playing just behind James Constable in United’s 4-4-1-1 formation.
It took fifteen minutes for the first clear chance to come along. Damian Batt, excellent once again, stormed forward and danced through three weak challenges before teeing up Sean Rigg, but his stabbed effort was blocked at source and Batt’s acrobatic scissor-kick follow up flashed just the wrong side of the post.
Barnet were content to contain but even so they should have been in front after 18 minutes when Luke Gambin’s low cross was completely missed by Dani Lopez in front of an open goal. A bad miss but cheered loudly by the vociferous home fans who answered Chairman Ian Lenagan’s call in the matchday programme to get behind their team from start to finish.
United then missed a number of good chances to take the lead before the break. The usually deadly Constable smashed a chance over on 25 when Barnet keeper Graham Stack spilled a corner at his feet, Constable perhaps snatching at it when he had more time than he thought. The same player then saw a better effort strike Dave Stephens and creep over the bar on 35 as United continued to dominate the game, then Constable missed his shot at the near post as another opportunity went begging.
A minute into the second half and Potter fired high after a delightful pass from Constable but United should have been made to pay for their inaccuracy on 51 when Barnet’s Mark Byrne had the freedom of the penalty box but saw his low shot superbly saved by the excellent McCormick.
Barnet, fighting for the lives, stayed disciplined and strong and had pace to try and hit United on the counter, and to try and break down their resistance United sacrificed the energetic Parker for Deane Smalley on 66 to try and get that all important breakthrough. There was a lengthy delay when Barnet shot into the side netting and the post supporting the net collapsed, the wrong sort of netbuster unfortunately, but United stuck to their guns and kept working hard with the promise of that one big chance always just a cutting pass away.
It came in the very last minute. Barnet did get the ball in the net, albeit after the whistle had gone for handball, and managed to break the net again in the last minute of the 90 , but that meant five minutes of added time and with ten seconds left of the fifth minutes United won the game. Davies swung in a free kick, it was headed back at the far post by Craddock and Raynes was there to nod the ball home from five yards to win the game.
An unbelievably dramatic win and Oxford United march on. They simply don't know when they are beaten do they?
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels Stats by PA Sports
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