Oxford United sealed a fully deserved first away win of the season as Wes Thomas
and Chris Maguire
gave them a 2-0 win at Bolton Wanderers. Thomas's thumping finish to a fine move with ten minutes to go and Maguire's goal as the game approached stoppage time gave United their first win in Bolton for 40 years but also their first three points on the road since returning to this level.
It was tough, no-holds-barred League 1 football from the start as both keepers would testify. Home goalie Mark Howard was left on his backside in the second minute after coming off second best in an aerial challenge against Chey Dunkley
, while Simon Eastwood
was spark out as a result of a collision with teammate Joe Skarz
a minute later.
had the first real effort at goal after nine minutes, lifting an effort on to the roof of the net after ghosting past a defender, before Maguire tested Howard with a flicked effort from eight yards out that the keeper plunged to his left to stop on the line. Maguire was the architect as United made most of the early running, dragging a 19th-minute shot wide and dropping deep to start a number of promising attacks.
Bolton had a James Henry shot bravely blocked by the superb Skarz on 22 and grew into the game after the U’s had made a bright start. Henry side-footed over the bar when in space at the end of a fine move after 36 minutes but the best chance of the first half came to Hemmings in injury time, when Howard spilled a free kick but somehow recovered to parry the striker’s effort from close range.
The second half was just as abrasive, with both sides defending doggedly and the midfields working hard to stifle their opponents. Charlie Raglan typified the spirit with a crucial block just after the hour to keep the clean sheet intact, while Bolton boss Phil Parkinson made a triple substitution to try to find a new way of getting at the unflappable Eastwood, whose afternoon had largely consisted of catching crosses rather than having to make spectacular saves.
Roared on by a magnificent 1,383 away fans, United might have made more of a flowing move on 75 that ended with Hemmings not making enough of a cross from the flying Sercombe. Seconds later they created just as good a chance when the excellent Alex MacDonald
, on for Johnson at half time, bustled through and blasted a shot that was heading for the far corner until Howard somehow got a hand to the ball to push it round the post.
In such a tight encounter those chances are crucial but the U's kept going and the home crowds anxiety grew as a side that was two divisions below then at this time last season continued to create the better opportunities. On 80 minutes it was the two subs who combined to win the game. Maguire, as ever, was at the heart of the move, pushing a perfectly weighted ball to the right that invited a cross from MacDonald. His cross was just as perfect and Thomas, arriving at the far post, thumped it past Howard to make it 1-0 and spark huge scenes of delight as he celebrated with the fans at that end of the ground.
United were full value for a win they have been threatening to achieve in recent weeks, although there were a few anxious moments to see out before the end as Bolton threw everything they had at them. Eastwood and his defence have conceded just two goals in the last six games and were in no mood to be breached again, and in the 90th minute that stubborn streak paid off as the hard-working Hemmings ran from half way and smashed an effort at goal that Howard could only push away. Maguire had made a magnificent run to catch up with play and his reward was a loose ball eight yards out to pass into the net and seal a superb afternoon's work.
Great performance, memorable result and terrific celebrations at the end of a game that saw every single player give everything they had.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA