James Constable grabbed his 100th goal in United colours to help his side continue their unbeaten away start to the season and go top of the League. Constable, on as a sub, touched home from close range to restore the lead after Mansfield's Lee Stevenson had equalised Sean Rigg's early goal. A deserved goal from the excellent Ryan Williams topped off a fine performance against a Stags side reduced to ten men for over an hour following a red card to Jamie McGuire.
With the magnificent travelling Yellow Army making themselves heard from the very first whistle the purple-shirted U’s began with a high tempo, closing the home side down and looking to get wingers Williams and Rigg into the game outside midfield duo Danny Rose and fit-again Andy Whing.
However Mansfield then created the first true chance as Ryan Clarke needed to make a superb save to deny The Stags an early lead as Lee Stevenson’s flicked header from a right-wing corner arrowed towards the top corner. Having withstood the resulting corner and a free kick from the edge of the area United had defended bravely and were rewarded on 12 minutes as Rigg put them ahead with a well worked goal.
The goal owed a lot to Rose, who burst forward in the right channel and touched the ball round the left-back to scamper into the box. With defenders snapping at his heels the midfielder might have gone down but stayed on his feet to try to curl a left-footed shot across home keeper Alan Marriott. The keeper got down to save but could only push the ball across goal for Rigg to adjust his feet and tap gleefully into the empty net.
Whing, only just back from injury, lasted less than 20 minutes before hobbling off to be replaced by Asa Hall
, as challenges flew in and tempers flared, and on 22 minutes it was no surprise to see a red card as Jamie McGuire lunged in with a late challenge which smashed into his former Fleetwood teammate Rose’s shin. Ref Charles Breakspear could not have been better placed and had no hesitation in showing McGuire a straight red card.
The Stags went on the offensive rather than wait and readjust but United pretty much held them at arm’s length as the game became stop/start with a spate of stoppages and interruptions which led to an impressive eight minutes of stoppage time in the first half alone. When a game did break out Hall and Williams shot wide of the mark and Mullins should have done better with a 36th-minute header from eight yards out which he powered wide when in behind the home defence.
United had frustrated the Stags but the game had not flowed at all and four minutes into stoppage time it was level pegging as the ten men drew level. A free kick into the box was headed skywards by skipper John Dempster. United tried to close it down but as it bounced in the box Clarke was left helpless as Stevenson’s rocket steamed past him and into the bottom left corner of the net.
Many sides would have been too stunned to respond but instead United had the very man for the task. On moments earlier for Smalley, Constable was in familiar territory, on the edge of the six-yard box as the excellent Williams burst into the box once more. The Australian winger’s cut back was perfect and Constable’s 100th goal for United was in the net via the inside of the left-hand post.
That century is richly deserved by a great Oxford United club man who will now chase down the club record 107 goals in the same way that he chases everything, in every match: with total commitment.
It should have been 101 as his flashing shot on the turn missed by inches early in the second half and with Williams nodding on to the roof of the net from Tom Newey’s cross United were in the ascendancy as the second half began. The clever link-up play of the irrepressible Dave Kitson, the bustle of Constable and the pace of Williams stretched the ten men all over the pitch but a single goal advantage is always dangerous.
Mansfield went close on 64 as Clarke came out and punched a through ball away but was relieved to see Sam Clucas’s subsequent cutback roll harmlessly across the six yard box with no home player within ten yards. That was crucial as on 66 United were home and clear.
Kitson, relishing the freedom of Field Mill, played a pass inside the right back which drew groans of appreciation even from the home fans. Rigg was clear and crossed low for Williams to nip in front of his man and smartly clip the ball over Marriott to make it 3-1 and all but ensure that the purple Isinglass shirts continued their unbeaten run.
Mansfield are a decent side and they covered miles for the cause. Had they had eleven men then it might have been a different game entirely but by the final ten minutes even the Mansfield fans were (perhaps sarcastically) cheering every United pass as they kept the ball for 20 or 30 passes at a time.
An excellent, professional win with every player knowing their job and performing it expertly. The fans, enjoying their designated 'Yellow Army on Tour' Ultimate away day, loved every minute and the final whistle saw the now familiar scenes of players and fans united.
On we go. Gateshead await in the FA Cup in midweek but more importantly United then have two home games in a row. A chance to show the authority and passion which has become their trademark on the road and which has lifted them to Top of the League.
Att: 3,831 Away: 769
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, Stats by OPTA
See highlights, On The Road, and Video Reaction in Yellow Player