Smalley's strike secures a draw
United took to the newly laid Kassam pitch for the first time this summer as they welcomed Birmingham City for a pre-season fixture. Wearing their new kit with new sponsor Animalates proudly emblazoned across the chest, there were a few new faces in the starting line-up. Birmingham proved competitive opposition but the U's matched the Blues stride for stride and the 1-1 scoreline was a fair reflection, although Oxford required a brilliant tip over from Ryan Clarke in stoppage time to retain parity.
Ryan Clarke was back in goal following his double shoulder operation in the summer while in front of him two new full-backs played at home for the first time, with Matt Bevans on the right and Tom Newey on the left. New right-back David Hunt was rested as a precaution following a knee infection. The midfield comprised Scott Davies and Sean Rigg on the flanks, with Andy Whing and the returning Danny Rose providing the engine. Up front, James Constable and Deane Smalley renewed their partnership.
The game started at a decent pace, with Scott Davies giving visiting keeper Colin Doyle an early shot to field. At the other end, Ryan Clarke was back to his impeccable best with a fingertip save from a Scott Allan drive in the 6th minute, the keeper also punching clear from the following corner.
After the initial probing, United grew into the game with Rose spreading the ball around nicely and Newey looking very solid. A flowing move down the right midway through the first half ended with Smalley playing Constable through but from a tight angle he pulled his shot wide of the far post.
In the 25th minute a long ball forward by Newey was latched onto by Smalley, who battled his way past two tackles and continued his run into the area before prodding the ball past the onrushing Doyle to give United the lead, his third goal of pre-season. United had the confidence to knock the ball around neatly and were providing more of a goal threat than the visitors, especially when Rigg ran at the defence. They also looked very fit, the consequence of all the hard work put in over the last few weeks.
However, you can never underestimate a Championship side and two minutes before the break they drew level when Adam McGurk was on hand to turn in a cross following good work by Mitch Hancox. Disappointing as it was to go in level at the break, this didn't put the U's off their stride, and with Dave Kitson coming on for James Constable, Alfie Potter for Deane Smalley, and Matt Heath for Michael Raynes Oxford started the second period at a decent tempo.
The talismanic Kitson had his first sight of Doyle's goal midway through the second half when he was on the end of a floated Newey cross, but his header drifted wide. A double substitution for United followed shortly afterwards as Asa Hall and Jon Meades came on for the busy Davies and Rigg. With Birmingham also making several changes throughout the half, the rhythm of the game suffered and at times it became somewhat scrappy, although United coped better with the alterations.
Kitson was leading the line well and a spell of United pressure culminated in his delicate lay-off for Hall, who was unable to keep his shot down. Two minutes later Kitson repeated the feat and this time Hall took a touch before blasting wide of Doyle's goal. That was the signal for the young guns to come on as Tyrone Marsh and Callum O'Dowda replaced the irrepressable Andy Whing and Danny Rose.
Both teams kept going for the win, which Birmingham almost secured in the final seconds when a header from a corner brought a flying save from the now fully recovered Clarke. Newey deservedly won the Man of the Match award and United's unbeaten pre-season continues.
United: Clarke, Bevans, Raynes (Heath - HT), Wright, Newey, Davies (Hall 68), Whing (Marsh 74), Rose (O'Dowda), Rigg (Meades 68), Constable (Kitson - HT), Smalley (Potter - HT)
Unused sub: Crocombe
Attendance: 2,394 (away: 844)
Fifty-50: Ticket 291509 wins GBP 269.50