Oxford United U18s finished fourth in the Youth Alliance South West Division with a 3-0 win away at Cheltenham Town in their final game this afternoon.
Gatlin O’Donkor opened the scoring for the U’s within two minutes before Fraser Barnsley saved a penalty to send Oxford into the break ahead. O'Donkor then scored two quick goals in the 57th and 60th to complete his hat-trick and ensure all three points came home with the U's
United started well with a superb opening goal. Erion Zabeli sliced the red defence open, switching the ball to Aidan Elliott-Wheeler, who collected it well and set it back to Ibby Sankoh. The full back delivered as good a cross as you're ever likely to see first time and O'Donkor obliged, heading home from close range. Every pass in the move was pinpoint perfect, and O'Donkor simply had to put his forehead on it to score his sixth in ten days to give United the lead in the second minute.
The Robins reacted well and stopped the U’s from settling, Cam Walters having the next two best chances of the game, a header from a corner into the side netting and a free kick in a very dangerous position, side footed tamely into Barnsley’s hands in the 12th minute.
With 25 gone, Enrique Tiamuna cut inside and forced a fingertip save from Ben Hoy and O’Donkor almost scored from exactly the same position as his first from the resulting corner. Elliott-Wheeler floated it in, it looked as if O'Donkor had his brace, but Cheltenham scrambled it off the line as the ball bounced off the wrong part of the number 9’s head.
Five minutes later and United had a scare when Zabeli was adjudged to have tripped a Cheltenham player inside the box.. Alfie Taylor stood up to take it but Barnsley stood tall and saved the timid effort low to his left. The home skipper then blazed his rebound over the bar.
The Yellows went down the other end and had a penalty shout of their own, O’Donkor flicking the ball over two Robins defenders and going down in the box as he was about to shoot, but the referee waved away the United appeals.
U’s skipper George Franklin was forced off just before half time after two late challenges, and Max Smith came on to replace him with the armband given to Josh Johnson.
O'Donkor was so unlucky to only strike the inside of the post in added time to round off an eventful first 45, and the U’s went into the break a goal to the good.
Johnson was the calming presence that United need in the centre of the park, slowing the game down and demanding the ball in important areas.
That calmness was helped when Elliott-Wheeler was brought down in the box in the 56th minute. This time, the ref blew, and O'Donkor stepped up to roll the ball into the bottom left corner and double the U's advantage.
He wasn't done there. Three minutes later and he completed his Gat-trick*, receiving the ball to feet in the box, spinning his man and scooping his effort in at the near post to put the game to bed.
Johnson and O'Donkor (the latter having scored eight in four) made way for Jacob Fowler and Kasway Burton in the 65th minute, before Richard McIntyre and Calum Barrett-Doyle replaced Sankoh and Tiamuna.
The U's saw out the victory comfortably, and leapfrog Swindon to finish fourth in the Youth Alliance League, which means a place in the Merit League
Four games in ten days for the U18s, scoring 15 and only conceding once, earning themselves a break this weekend before the Merit League begins with the Quarter Finals of the FA Youth Cup against Manchester City on the horizon.
Barnsley, Sankoh (McIntyre 74), Franklin (Smith 45), Zabeli, Maxwell, Johnson (Fowler 65), Took-Oxley, Brenan, Elliott-Wheeler, O’Donkor (Burton 65), Tiamuna (Barrett-Doyle 82)
Report by Billy Lawrence
*'Gat-Trick' (c) B Lawrence 2023. Copyright laws apply