Oxford United came from behind to beat Blackpool 2-1 at the Kassam Stadium this afternoon. Trailing to an early goal from Gary Madine, United bounced back and goals from Mark Sykes and Marcus Browne got them back to winning ways as they returned to league action.
Karl Robinson's side got off to the worst start possible when Madine tricked his way through for an opener after just nine minutes. Always a threat, Madine shaped to shoot and then shifted inside, repeated the trick to create a yard of space, and then side-footed it casually inside the left-hand post, giving Simon Eastwood no chance at all and scoring his first goal since his return to the club during the transfer window.
United didn’t panic and got exactly what they needed: a quick response. The return of Cameron Brannagan and James Henry to midfield after injury added a very solid feel to the middle three, while the pace of Browne, Sykes and Nathan Holland was always going to cause problems and on 18 minutes they were level, although who scored it may take an inquest!
Sam Long crossed, the ball was pushed back by Josh Ruffels for Browne who smashed it low and hard at goal. Sykes got a vital touch, although how much he knew about it is open to question because it seemed to hit his backside, but the ball was past keeper Chris Maxwell and the U’s were level. Sykes’ goal or Browne’s? Let them argue about it but you’d imagine Browne was more inclined to give the goal to his team mate a few minutes later…
The equaliser lifted things and United then started to dominate the game, just as they had done at Bloomfield Road earlier in the season without getting much reward.
Blackpool dropped deeper and looked to hit them on the counter, but with Sykes in impish form and Browne and Holland always looking to take defenders on, it was only a surprise that more chances didn’t come along. The superb Rob Dickie, on his 100th start for the club, prodded a cross over and then on 40 minutes Browne DEFINITELY scored the second with a terrific effort.
Henry’s free kick eluded the back line and Browne seized on it at the back post. He made the rest look easy but actually to lift the ball so sharply into the roof of the net with defenders covering took great skill: a quality goal from a quality player.
The second half saw United play some neat football and a Brannagan blast flew into the gloves of Maxwell before Browne burst away and saw Maxwell deny him a second goal/hat trick with a smart save down to his left.
Blackpool, without a win in ten games, saw a Ben Heneghan header cleared off the line by the hugely influential Henry and a shot fly off Madine's thigh and drift wide but were otherwise mainly employed trying to stop United ending the contest with a third. Sykes and Browne went close but there was still time for a huge let off after four minutes of injury time, when a terrible back pass from Ruffels picked out Madine who beat Eastwood but saw his shot clip the outside of the post.
Such fine margins sometimes define a season.
In the end, a moment of class from Browne was enough to give the U's all three points, with the added bonus of cameos for Liam Kelly and George Thorne.
An important win, sandwiched in between two FA Cup games against Newcastle United.
Tuesday night. BBC 1. See you there.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Daniels and Tom Melvin, stats by OPTA