Oxford United took full advantage of their rearranged game against Dagenham to steal a march on the chasing pack in Sky Bet League 2. A hat trick from Kemar Roofe
and a header from Alex MacDonald
gave the U's a 4-0 win over the struggling Daggers at the Kassam Stadium to move United three points clear of third-placed Plymouth and six ahead of the play-offs.
There was a full debut for Stoke loanee George Waring
up front and a 100th appearance for Callum O'Dowda
on the wing, balanced by Alex MacDonald
's return on the other flank. Whether it was the changes of personnel or a determination to make amends for losing the previous home game, the U's were on the front foot from the start and should really have been home and hosed by half time.
Roofe twisted to send a header wide after nine minutes and MacDonald weaved through three weak challenges to create a shooting position from which visiting keeper Liam O'Brien did well to reach his curling effort. O'Brien then did even better to catch a well-struck Roofe effort on 13 but the pressure was building on the Daggers defence and after 15 minutes United were ahead. Another mazy run from MacDonald did the damage before Liam Sercombe
fed Roofe, who this time made no mistake with a low shot that gave O'Brien no chance at all.
The Daggers were the ones being cut open every time United went forward and the hard-running Sercombe flashed a 17th-minute effort narrowly wide. The visitors' plight at the foot of the table now gave them an extra problem: another defeat would leave them digging out the maps for Altrincham and Woking that they had consigned to a cupboard a decade ago, but committing extra men forward would leave them wide open to United's counter attacks.
Roofe and Sercombe dragged efforts wide either side of the half-hour mark, Mullins had a header saved, O'Dowda blazed wide after 37, shots were blocked at source and it had been one way traffic BUT still only one goal divided the teams at the break.
What was needed was a nice early goal in the second period to settle things down and on 50 it was Roofe who provided it. Waring once again did well to hold the ball up and roll his strike partner clear, and from the moment he sprinted away from the last defender the ball was only ever destined for the back of the net. A neat side-foot later and it was 2-0 and barring a miracle the result was only going to go one way.
Dagenham did force Benji Buchel
into action with a good save from a Matthew Cash shot, and the evergreen Jamie Cureton sent an effort just over after 65 but it could have been far more convincing if United had taken their chances at the other end.
Roofe clipped an effort against the bar from a free kick and an O'Dowda effort dipped jut over the top on 58 as United pressed for a third. Roofe missed his easiest chance of the night by leaning back and firing over from ten yards, then saw O'Brien block his shot as he raced clear once more on 73, and with sub Danny Hylton
smashing his first touch against the bar it could really have been an even more convincing scoreline.
MacDonald, outstanding on the night, deserved his goal and on 78 timed his run into the box to head home a Hylton cross to make it 3-0 and cap a good night's work. Then the almost inevitable hat-trick came with five minutes left as Hylton headed Roofe clear and he tucked away his 25th goal of a hugely impressive campaign. Magic Hat-trick indeed.
United march on while Dagenham have problems. On this evidence there could well be two divisions between them next season, but take nothing for granted yet. There is plenty of drama still to come at both ends of the table. Tougher tests lie ahead for the U's, but tonight they did everything asked of them.
See you at Barnet on Saturday.
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Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Steve Daniels and Darrell Fisher
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