Gavin Whyte scored a memorable hat-trick this afternoon as Oxford United yet again found a way to win with just ten men. Playing a man light after Ahmed Kashi's first-half red card, United dug deep and Whyte's three goals sealed yet another unbelievable win on the road.
When you make changes it can sometimes take a little time for things to settle, but today things clicked straight away as three recalled players combined for the opener. Whyte hadn’t scored since the turn of the year but was on the scoresheet within six minutes of his recall. Jordan Graham started it, drifting past a defender and flicking for Samir Carruthers who fed the Northern Irish winger a tricky ball which he expertly tucked beyond the stranded Jon Mitchell to make it 1-0.
Sensing danger, Shrewsbury responded and after 18 minutes were level. Shaun Whalley was going nowhere when Curtis Nelson ran into the back of him but ref Chris Sarginson had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and captain Ollie Norburn tucked the penalty beyond the reach of Jack Stevens for the leveller.
Stevens, on his full debut, will have been annoyed to concede in such a manner but was generally very assured and could do little about either goal conceded.
The second came after United had been reduced to ten men when Kashi saw red. A loose ball on half way saw Kashi fly in to a challenge that caught Tyrese Campbell high and left him in a heap. Cue Kashi’s exit and another hour to play with ten men.
United don’t have a discipline problem this season but red cards for Marcus Browne (and Kashi) at Walsall, Eastwood against Charlton, and now one for their holding midfielder have made life unnecesarily difficult at times. But who cares when they keep overcoming such odds?
Docherty initially punished the ten men, who didn’t close him down and left with a free shot from the edge of the box into the bottom-right corner, giving Stevens no chance and the score 2-1 at the break.
Most teams 2-1 down and a man light would crumble, let alone a team with little to play for. Not United.
More steel was introuduced with Jamie Hanson and Cameron Brannagan teaming up in midfield for the second half and then there was a great moment for Nico Jones when he came on just before the hour for the limping Dickie. The young centre half, still not able to have Singha on his shirt at just 17, will play many, many more games for the U's and gave a very assured performance on the left side of defence.
At that stage it looked as though he might be the only one to look back fondly at the game, but then United suddenly, bravely, somehow, took control; they don't know when they are beaten, do they?
Sykes fired a warning shot into the side netting on 62 but the pace of Whyte was always the main threat. On 72 minutes the ten men were level again. Once he gets clear any defence is going to struggle to catch Whyte and this time a low blast past Mitchell made it 2-2. Surely they weren't about to create mayhem again?
With 78 minutes gone, Brannagan wins the ball inside his own box before blasting it long. Whyte is in another uneven foot race and clear on goal down the left channel. Out comes Mitchell, Whyte rifles the ball past him and the ten men are, yet again, winning.
Shrewsbury had been clear of danger when winning but were now right back in trouble and they threw everything at United; remember that with three youngsters in the back five, two on debut, United were up against it anyway, let alone a man down!
In any other season this would have been one of the best performances of all, but right now it is just part of a hugely enjoyable, massively entertaining, string of games which hint at so much more to come.
Please can we have one more month of this season?
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA