United were well beaten by promotion-chasing Rotherham United at the Kassam Stadium this evening. Four goals in the last 15 minutes of the first half saw the Millers grind United down and secure a double over the U's this season.
If you didn't see the game then it will be hard to credit this, but the opening half hour was pretty even. United had opted for a three man back line where cult hero Michael Duberry made a welcome return to the side in defence with Andy Whing and Simon Heslop forming a new-look midfield partnership at the heart of a 3-4-3 shape that saw Alfie Potter and Sean Rigg joining Deane Smalley up front and Damian Batt and Liam Davis operating as wing-backs. Initially it looked to be working. Rigg pinged the first effort of the night wide and then Luke McCormick made a routine save from a Ben Pringle effort as the Millers came forward for the first time.
Unseen by most of the home fans at the other end of the ground Rotherham survived a blatant handball on 13 minutes as Damian Batt’s cross was batted away with an arm, but United should have taken the lead on 23 minutes as a glorious chance went begging. Potter, inventive and full of running, fed Batt once more and his pass slipped Rigg into a great position inside the box. Unfortunately the ball got stuck under Rigg’s feet and he could only poke the chance wide of the right hand post from 12 yards. It proved the pivotal moment of the night.
United had more than matched their promotion chasing visitors in the first half hour of the game but sometimes a team just needs a little bit of luck to find a way to goal and on 30 minutes a large slice of luck helped Rotherham into the lead and opened the floodgates. Perhaps David Noble was given too much space 25 yards out, but his shot was heading for the arms of McCormick until it took a huge deflection off of Whing as he tried to block. With the keeper going to his right the ball span slowly the other way and crawled into the net to make it 1-0.
It took just three minutes for a second goal. A Pringle corner from the right was right into the danger zone and Kari Arnison rose the highest on the six yard line to deftly flick his header past the helpless McCormick’s right hand.
United were then left facing a mountain rather than just a very steep hill as Rotherham made it 3-0. Johnny Mullins spent a long and very profitable spell on loan at United earlier in the season but on 41 minutes showed no mercy as he ghosted forward to the right edge of the area and unleashed another unstoppable effort which arrowed into the far corner of the net.
The mountain became almost insurmountable on 44 as it became 4-0. Revell, excellent all half, touched the ball on for Nardiello on the left of the area. He drew defenders towards him then rolled the ball across the box for Pringle to apply a simple finish and make it 4-0 from six yards out.
It had been a devastating 15 minutes and United had been ripped apart to leave them with only pride to play for in the second half.
Scott Davies came into midfield and looked neat and tidy, Josh Parker added energy up front, but it took an alert piece of defending from Raynes to nick the ball off the line after an hour as Lee Frecklington threatened to make it five with a clipped effort beyond McCormick.
Rotherham had done their job in the opening period and safely secured their place in the top three, with the United fans left to sing, chant and make the most of their evening out with 45 minutes of non-stop noise. 'Oxford till I die they sang'. Nobody doubts it.
Sadly for them the game was all but over as a spectacle long before the final whistle, leaving only wounded pride and the memory of fifteen minutes where they had been second best by quite some way.
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Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by PA Sports