Leven on the spot as United win again. Full time report
United started 2013 in the same way that they had ended 2012, winning another game to make it ten unbeaten as they overcame the high-flying Robins this afternoon. Peter Leven's first half penalty was enough to decide an enthralling encounter at the Kassam Stadium as the U's continued to gather momentum.
After some cautious early sparring it was wing twins Sean Rigg and Alfie Potter who engineered the first shot of the game with Potter testing Scott Brown in the Cheltenham goal from the edge of the box after 12 minutes.
The wide boys have been in fine form this season and on 16 minutes it was Rigg who engineered the opening goal. His run inside drew defenders and allowed him to flick the ball through for Tom Craddock on the edge of the box. Craddock looked to come inside Sido Jombati who tripped the striker to concede a penalty. A straightforward decision for referee Fred Graham.
The penalty was precise from Leven to make it 1-0. Remarkably it was Leven’s third goal of the season against Cheltenham, all of them penalties.
Rigg might perhaps have done better with a header from a 22nd minute corner from Leven which he glided across the face of goal but United were doing well and more than matching a Robins side that has been in the top three all season.
At the back the reassuring presence of Michael Duberry, returning due to an illness to Michael Raynes, raised the volume on the pitch and in the stands where the Oxford fans welcomed him back for his first start of the season. He might even have marked his return with a goal, lifting a left-footed effort over the bar after 24 minutes from the edge of the box.
Behind Duberry the ever reliable Ryan Clarke made a first save after 26 to stop a low shot from Jermaine McGlashan but otherwise United looked comfortable in defence where Luke O’Brien caught the eye with some well-timed challenges alongside Duberry and the always excellent Damian Batt and Jake Wright. One tackle by Wright on half time exemplified the spirit as he chased Jeff Goulding back to deny him a shot at Clarke’s goal and ensure that the U’s led at the break.
Cheltenham came at United in the first fifteen minutes of the second half although Clarke only had a Russ Penn shot from 25 yards to deal with, catching comfortably at chest height. The Yellows meanwhile looked dangerous whenever Potter ran at the back line, one cross on 55 minutes almost creating a second goal.
Josh Parker was given the last half hour for his home debut in place of the industrious Craddock, and again looked comfortable and retained possession well at a crucial stage of the game. Potter curled a 66th minute left footer just wide of the left hand post, Parker blazed a 70th minute shot over the bar after more good build up play and United could easily have doubled their advantage despite off target efforts at the other end from Penn, sub Shaun Harrad and Billy Jones as the game entered the final fifteen minutes.
With Duberry and the magnificent Wright soaking up everything Cheltenham could throw at them the U's were excellent in defence and full value for a well earned win as another set of Robins had their wings clipped.
A great start to 2013 and United now welcome Sheffield United in the FA Cup on Saturday. Be here...
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Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by PA Sports