Oxford United were beaten by Bradford City this afternoon as they ended 2017 with a 3-2 defeat at Valley Parade. Having conceded in just the second minute, United fought back and drew level through Canice Carroll's first goal for the club but two goals in quick succession from Shay McCartan and Timothee Dieng condemned the U's to their first away defeat in the league since October, despite a goal from Jon Obika setting up a pulsating finish.
United could not have got off to a worse start even if there had already been loud appeals for a penalty in the first 30 seconds before ref Eddie Ilderton pointed for a corner instead. Same difference as it turned out because the ball in from the right wasn’t cleared and Charlie Wyke thumped home from eight yards to make it 1-0.
United, all in black, responded well to such an early setback and almost replied immediately when Obika prodded a Ricardinho cross wide in the fifth minute and the same player then went even closer two minutes later as he struck a Gino van Kessel through ball beyond the diving Rouven Sattelmaier but also just past the far post. However, even that silver lining had a cloud with Joe Rothwell injured in the build up and having to limp off with what appeared to be a groin problem.
Bradford dominated the chances and had a Luke Hendrie effort deflected wide on 16 minutes before Wyke nodded a Tyrell Robinson cross just over the top a minute later but United were fighting for every ball as they tried to get back into the game; sub James Henry rescued them when Dieng forced an effort past Eastwood on 28 and the keeper then made three excellent saves, first from a Kilgallon effort from the corner and then to deny Wyke and Law.
United had undeniably been under the cosh but were still dangerous on the break and a Josh Ruffels effort from 25 yards tested Sattelmaier before the overworked Eastwood was forced into action once again to keep a McCartan shot out and preserve the 1-0 lead.
That looked fragile when Wes Thomas stole in behind the home defence but couldn’t beat the keeper in the last minutes of the first half and even more so when a Henry effort looped off a leg, beat the keeper and dropped agonisingly wide in the very last minute of a first half that had seen United stay in the game but glad to see the heroic Eastwood enjoy his return to his former club with another excellent save to touch the ball over the bar with the very last touch of the half.
United had refused to be bewitched or intimidated and five minutes into the second half their perseverance paid off to give them hope when they drew level. Ricardinho flighted a corner into the box and Carroll escaped his markers to flick a header across the face of goal and inside the far post for his first goal for the club.
Sadly, the lead was short-lived as within five minutes Bradford had their noses in front again. McCartan was given too much space 25 yards out and let fly with a low effort that finally beat Eastwood and made it 2-1. On 59 minutes it was 3-1 and seemingly the end for the U’s when Dieng was suspiciously left all alone six yards out and had the simplest of tasks to head down and past the stranded Eastwood to make it 3-1 and give the Bantams a two-goal cushion for the first time.
Obika and van Kessel both had chances to reduce the deficit, the latter again testing the keeper's handling with two low efforts just after the hour mark, and Bradford seemed nervous after back-to-back defeats over Christmas. United kept going at them and with 15 minutes to go were back in the game when Henry nutmegged his way to the line and cut the ball back for Obika to slam home a goal he deserved for his selfless leading of the line, setting up a late charge for the U's as they tried to force a draw.
Subs Agon Mehmeti and Jack Payne added fresh legs and clever flicks to try and salvage a point as the game went end to end but Bradford are a good side and were able to manage the game cleverly to give them an important home win in front of almost 20,000 people, despite a stoppage-time red card for Wyke for a lunging challenge on Carroll that only heightened the drama.
Not too much wrong with the spirit or effort from United, but a sloppy start and a couple of soft goals had cost them dear and they will now look to start 2018 with a win over the MK Dons at Grenoble Road on New Year's Day.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA
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