Oxford United came out on top in an entertaining first game in the Checkatrade Trophy. Two-nil up through Tyler Roberts and a Chris Maguire
penalty, the U's were pressed hard by Exeter, who hit back to make it 2-2. However, fine finishes from Ryan Taylor
and Alex MacDonald
eased the U's through for a 4-2 win in the opening game of the new group format Trophy.
United used the game to look at one or two different options, fielding Dan Crowley
, Roberts and Joe Rothwell
while giving Sam Long
a first start in a long time in his natural position of centre-back. They started well, pinning Exeter into their own half for the first ten minutes and playing some neat approach play. Crowley and Roberts both had early shots saved before Roberts found the first goal with a beauty on 13 minutes; skipper John Lundstram
won the ball 25 yards out and quick as a flash Roberts whipped the ball beyond keeper Bobby Olejnik with a swerving effort into the top left corner.
Liam McAlinden drove Exeter’s first chance over the bar after 15 minutes but otherwise the hard-working United back line looked comfortable. Josh Ruffels
, on his 100th appearance, made two important challenges either side of the half-hour mark before Maguire doubled the lead from the spot. More neat approach play ended with Maguire zipping the ball in for Taylor, on the half turn. Matt Oakley was too tight and clipped his ankle and Maguire drilled the penalty home with a minimum of fuss. Not since Andy Crosby have the U’s had such an assured penalty taker.
Exeter, stretched by injuries before the game and with Paul Tisdale naming himself on the bench to emphasise that fact, were guilty of trying to play the ball out too much from the back, caught time and again by some tigerish tackling and having to backtrack furiously to block Lundstram, Crowley and Rothwell. However, they were still in the game and still looking sharp up front and just before the break they gave themselves hope when more nice passing allowed Matt Jay to sneak in at the near post and finish well from six yards out to make it 2-1 at the break.
The dangerous Taylor went close with two firm strikes soon after the break before a delicious chip from the inventive Roberts caused more problems for Bobby Olejnik in the Grecians goal. Exeter, with 15-year-old Ethan Ampadu on at the break and clearly a star in the making, were still just the one goal behind and on the hour were level again when McAlinden ran clear and clipped a neat finish over the grounded Eastwood to make it 2-2.
Entertaining for the fans, frustrating for the boss as United threw away a two-goal cushion but to their credit the Yellows had always looked as though they had goals in them. Taylor, outstanding up front, flicked an overhead effort just wide of the mark but then on 69 minutes found the net with a fine finish, curling the ball expertly past the exposed goalkeeper to give his side a 3-2 lead.
Exeter looked out on their feet and on 71 it was game over as sub MacDonald drifted in from the left and curled a superb finish beyond Olejnik to make it 4-2 as the ball flew into the top corner again.
Some good goals, plenty of attractive football and a confidence-boosting win.
United now go on to play Swindon at the start of October and Chelsea away the following month, with the top two in the group going through.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Darrell Fisher and Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA