Oxford United are hitting form at just the right stage of the season as a 3-0 win over Accrington Stanley made it nine points out of nine and lifted them to the brink of the play-off places this evening. Goals from the deadly duo of James Henry and Matty Taylor, with a brace, gave United a third win in a row but it was the manner of the win that got United fans buzzing once again.
Despite the final score, and some terrific football later on, United actually started sluggishly and were grateful to the recalled Sam Long for three good blocks inside the first 10 minutes.
They then knocked the stuffing out of Stanley with an opening goal from their first venture into opposition territory. Long’s block inside his own area was flicked on by Brannagan for Marcus Browne who sent Henry away in space on the right of the box and his finish was deadly accurate to make it 1-0.
Still Accrington attacked and George Thorne on his full debut made another important challenge and the excellent Elliott Moore a timely tackle but it was United making the clearer chances, Taylor nodding a superb cross over the bar after 22 minutes as Alex Gorrin took advantage of his new role slightly further forward, with Thorne sitting behind him and Cameron Brannagan.
With Browne all but unplayable on the left wing, United looked comfortable, but then the importance of Simon Eastwood was underlined as he kept the clean sheet intact with an astonishing double save. It seemed that Jordan Clark must score but Eastwood somehow clawed that header away and then as Sam Finley started to consider his celebration routine Eastwood appeared from nowhere, Thorne at his side, to block his effort from three yards out, a third chance flying over the bar as Accrington admired the commitment of United’s back line.
For the boys with the Thorne in their side, behind the hatred there lied, a murderous desire for goals* and Henry almost picked out Taylor for one of their trademark team-ups before Browne drilled a further effort into the side netting via a defender’s heel and Taylor forced keeper Josef Bursik into a great save on 41 minutes as the game went end to end.
The only thing lacking was a Taylor goal and there wasn’t too long to wait after the break. This time it was Brannagan the provider, clipping a Browne cross to the unmarked striker at the back post who was never ever ever going to miss.
two-nil and United now hit top form, with Henry forcing Bursik into a good save and Browne drawing an even better one out of him with a ferocious free kick from 25 yards that would have ended the Goal of the Season contest there and then.
Thorne's class was evident in the hour he played, anchoring the side and spraying passes all around the pitch for a fleet of willing runners who clearly enjoy playing together. Accrington were never out of it, Joey Pritchard going close at the end of a couple of very good moves forward, but as soon as Henry got into space on the right on 72 minutes, from a magnificent overhead flick from Long, it was game over as his cross picked out Taylor yet again and it was 3-0 with Accrington helpless. Six goals in five games for Taylor, with Henry the undisputed Assist King.
Nine goals for, none against in three key games. Defensively sound, a keeper ready to rescue them if needed, midfielders working hard and creating chances and forwards hitting form just when required. The Chase is on...
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels and Tom Melvin, stats by OPTA
* it doesn’t HAVE to make sense, OK?