Oxford United hit back to claim a dramatic win at Shrewsbury after going 2-0 down. Trailing to goals from Daniel Udoh and Callum Lang, the game hinged on a red card for Josh Vela that left the ten men of Shrewsbury to hold on as United hit back. Goals from Marcus Browne and sub Dan Agyei got the U's back on level terms before Josh Ruffels smacked home an 88th minute header to make it five wins in a row and keep United moving up the table.
All in white, United brought Sam Long and Nathan Holland back into the team, but after an even opening in which they had looked extremely comfortable they then found themselves 2-0 down and with a mountain to climb.
The first goal came after 12 minutes. It wasn’t as though they were carved wide open or beaten by a stunner. One straight ball through the middle left Udoh to challenge skipper Rob Dickie for a bouncing ball. Udoh didn’t make the sweetest contact but did enough to nudge the ball past Dickie and into the left corner beyond the stranded Simon Eastwood to give the home side the lead.
That was a little harsh on United who had seen plenty of the ball but at the same time they were grateful to Eastwood for good saves from Josh Laurent and Udoh without United truly creating a chance at the other end. In fairness, both saves were routine rather than amazing, but even so, other than a deflected Long cross and a Moore header, O’Leary hadn’t had anything to do at the other end.
The pressure finally told on 34 when Lang drifted in from the left and drilled a low shot between Eastwood and his right-hand post to make it 2-0, but within a minute it was game on again when Vela rashly piled into Browne and picked up his second yellow of the afternoon. Two-nil up but a man down; the complexion of the game had changed and calm heads were needed as the game threatened to boil over.
What United needed was a goal before the break and deep into the five minutes added time they got it when Browne chased a lost cause which Ro-Shaun Williams really should have dealt with. Instead he dithered and allowed Browne in on goal and he poked it through O’Leary’s legs to make it game on at the break.
United were rampant after the break but it took a great goal from sub Agyei to get them level. Out on the right on the edge of the box, Agyei fired an unstoppable effort into the top-left corner to level and reinforce his status as a cult hero to the superb travelling fans.
Mountain all but conquered, but could United put their flag on the summit?
Of course they could and there was an inevitability that the king of the late winner would get it.
Throwing men forward and going for the win rather than settling for a point, there was one good save from Eastwood to block an Udoh effort but otherwise it was all Oxford as they drove forward looking for the win. Crosses flew in, set pieces were lofted into the box, and when Edwards scythed down Sykes for one more free kick on the edge of the box, Ruffels rose at the back post, met it perfectly and the comeback was complete.
Chaos in the away end, United up to third and five wins on the bounce at just the right time. The dream is alive. Come and share it when we welcome MK Dons next Saturday.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels and Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA