Oxford United were beaten on penalties in the Leasing.com Trophy tonight. With the sides locked at 0-0 after 90 minutes, it was left to a nailbiting penalty shoot-out which saw United unable to beat the keeper with their first three efforts to exit the competition.
Having qualified for the knock out stages from a group that included Portsmouth, Crawley and Norwich, the U’s once again named a strong side and wingers Rob Hall and Dan Agyei both had early shots at goal before Jamie Mackie rattled the bar with a fierce 12th-minute effort that keeper Dino Visser hardly even saw but managed to palm it away. It was the closest we were to come to a goal in ordinary time.
The home side closed down the U’s and played some bright football without really testing Jack Stevens in the United goal, despite one or two dangerous crosses which Elliott Moore did well to clear before Stevens showed what a good keeper he is with a smart save from Matt Jay after 24 minutes after Jay had weaved his way into the box. Joel Randall should have done better with the rebound but couldn’t get the ball past a sea of covering bodies as United held firm.
The inventive Anthony Forde drilled a 27th-minute effort just wide, Hall failed to win Goal of the Season by shooting tamely wide after lobbing the ball delicately over two defenders to engineer some space and then Agyei forced Visser into a good save after a smart turn on the edge of the box. It was fairly even though, with Stevens making a good save from Jay to ensure that the scores were level at the break.
Temperatures started to plunge and the teams kept going at each other with decent tempo after the interval, without either keeper being unduly troubled. Indeed, Stevens didn't have a true save to make in the entire second half, a tame injury-time effort aside, as United became the side more likely to find a goal.
They never quite made it. Agyei was just unable to free Hall with one early effort and then headed a Ruffels cross over the bar on 56, but there wasn't that vital spark or moment of invention inside either box. Forde almost provided it with a dipping volley after 71 minutes and the return of Jamie Hanson after injury coincided with a renewed energy as United tried to force the pace late on - Alex Gorrin moving further forward and looking full of running in a free role.
Exeter stood strong though to take the game to a penalty shoot-out. United are not great in penalty shoot outs against Exeter. Forde saw the first one saved by Visser, Jay made it 1-0. Hall was also denied by Visser and Sweeney toddled forward to make it 2-0. Sykes became the third player unable to beat the keeper and Ben Seymour fired home to earn the Grecians a win.
Not a classic and United move on to league action at home to Shrewsbury on Saturday.
See you there
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels