Oxford United went down 2-1 at home to Cardiff City this afternoon in their final home pre-season game. After an even opening period the visitors took the lead with a moment of quality as Peter Whittingham blasted home a free-kick from 25 yards. Filip Kiss made it 2-0 midway through the second half before Alfie Potter shot home on the turn to give United a deserved consolation.
On a calm but overcast day at the Kassam Stadium, Oxford started the game with what could well be the starting line-up for the first game of the season in just 10 days time. In front of Ryan Clarke was the defensive four of Damian Batt, Michael Raynes, captain Jake Wright and Tony Capaldi. The midfield trio comprised Lee Cox, flanked by Adam Chapman and Jake Forster-Caskey, with a front three of James Constable, Alfie Potter and Sean Rigg.
The first chance of the game came in just the third minute when a misplaced clearance from Cardiff keeper David Marshall fell to Sean Rigg, whose first-time shot arrowed just wide of the custodian's left-hand post. It was Rigg's shot again four minutes later that this time went just past Marshall's other post as United made the early running.
In the 16th minute Chapman picked up his second yellow in pre-season for a diving tackle on Filip Kiss. From the resulting free-kick Peter Whittingham thundered the ball against Clarke's left-hand post and into the net to give the visitors the lead. It was a fine strike that gave Clarke no chance.
Potter did exceptionally well to work space for a shot from 20 yards in the 23rd minute, with Marshall having to dive full-length to his left to palm the ball away. This followed a period of good passing from Oxford that saw them keep possession and work the ball well and was indicative of the kind of play we can look forward to next season. United's formation was fluid, with players swapping positions, and when in possession Oxford's play was attractive and easy on the eye.
The second half was six minutes old before United forged the first chance. Constable picked up the ball from Rigg and powered in a drive from the edge of the penalty area that had Marshall at full stretch to turn it away for a corner. United had another opportunity four minutes later after Constable had used his strength to win possession and was tripped by Mark Hudson, but the U's were too eager and the quick free-kick came to nothing. Chapman was trying his luck from distance but was unable to find his range, with a couple of efforts missing the target in the second period.
Cardiff's second goal was arguably a bit harsh on United, who had defended well and eliminated the threat posed by substitute Robert Earnshaw and the Bluebirds new two million pound signing Etien Velikonja. Cardiff broke clear and worked the ball into the area where Clarke did well to get a hand to Velikonja's snap shot. Unfortunately the ball broke kindly for Filip Kiss, who smashed it into the top of the net to double the visitors' advantage.
With 15 minutes remaining United got the goal they deserved thanks to good work by substitute Deane Smalley, who gave the Cardiff defenders a torrid time with an aerial ball, allowing Potter to pick it up with his back to goal, swivel and shoot home. It was just reward for the United winger, who had been strong and agile in possession and excellent on the ball.
The goal was the signal for United to make five substitutions, but that failed to interrupt the home side's rhythm and Oxford continued to pile forward looking for an equaliser. It should have come shortly afterwards when Smalley played the ball behind a defender for JP Pittman to have a clear sight of goal, but he shot against substitute keeper Elliott Parish's outstretched leg when he could have placed it either side of the keeper.
United continued to press and came agonisingly close to an equaliser with the very last kick of the game. Oxford were awarded a free-kick two yards outside the Cardiff penalty area and Tom Craddock stepped up to blast the ball through the wall and against the inside of the right-hand goalpost. Somehow the ball defied the laws of physics and span across the line and away, but before anyone in yellow could capitalise the referee blew his full-time whistle.
This was United's first defeat of the pre-season, but the side will not be too disappointed as all the players put in a decent shift and the side was comfortable in possession, passing the ball well and looking confident both going forward and in defence. There are just ten days before AFC Bournemouth visit in the first round of the Capital One Cup, but there is little cause for concern in the Oxford camp.
United: Clarke, Batt (Evans 75), Raynes, Wright (Tafazoli 75), Capaldi (McGinty 75), Chapman (Craddock 65), Cox, Forster-Caskey (Harris 75), Potter, Constable (Smalley 65), Rigg (Pittman 75)
Prize: 342 pounds
Report by Martin Brodetsky