United got their play-off push underway again this afternoon with a deserved 2-0 win at Plymouth Argyle. Goals from strike duo Dave Kitson and James Constable gave Gary Waddock his first win in charge of the U's as United revived their season with 90 minutes of bright attacking play and resolute defence.
After three straight defeats United made changes to bring the superb Nicky Wroe and Callum O'Dowda into the side but it was the returning front two of Kitson and Constable that did the damage.
United started extremely well and should have been ahead on six minutes as Constable beat his man and crossed for O'Dowda, only for the young left winger to guide his free header wide of the far post with the goal at his mercy.
With Kitson pulling the strings and popping up in unorthodox places to drive the side forward it was a very open start, although it took a sharp piece of covering from the alert Michael Raynes - a serious candidate for Man of the Match - to cut out a shot from Reuben Reid in Plymouth's first true attack after 12 minutes.
Raynes nearly set up Constable for the opener after 25 with a deft downwards header that a defender smuggled away in the nick of time and when the impressive Wroe forced former U's keeper Jake Cole to get down well and save from the following corner United were still very much on top.
They needed a goal to underline how well they had played in the first half and on 33 deservedly went into the lead. O'Dowda, ever-willing to run at his man, was tripped on the left to give Ruffels a chance to float a free kick into the box. Williams ghosted in at the far post and volleyed back across goal for Kitson to apply a simple finish to a well-worked goal.
United were full value for their half-time lead but the spirit on show was exemplified right on the break when Clarke saved well from a Lewis Alessandra header and then Raynes bravely threw himself in the way of Reid's follow up as the goal opened up in front of the one-time United triallist.
Plymouth's play-off hopes were taking a bashing and on 49 minutes their task became that much harder as Max Blanchard pulled Kitson back as the striker headed for the penalty box once more. It wasn't the most malicious challenge of the season but given that he was already on a yellow card it was a rash move and left Argyle with plenty of problems to overcome.
Wroe nearly sealed the points with a 52nd-minute shot that smashed against the bar but at this stage of the season and with so much at stake the game became increasingly end-to-end despite the inequality in numbers. On 54 Clarke once again showed his value with another miraculous save as he clawed away a header from almost under his bar. Watch the highlights – you won't see a better save all season, even in the Ryan Clarke Showreel of Worldies.
It proved crucial.
With the home crowd willing them on, Argyle started to leave gaps and throw men forward but United used that to their advantage with some intelligent play. On 63 they were 2-0 up and their season was fully alive once more as Constable crashed home the second. In the short term the fact it was his 106th, just one behind the club record, will catch the eye, but in the longer term the role that O'Dowda played will also be significant as the Kidlington youngster surged through midfield then fed Constable to his right for his first assist in the first team. Given the invitation, Constable hammered the ball past Cole with a ferocious effort from the edge of the box to double the lead.
The win was all important but the manner of victory was highly encouraging with movement and passion aplenty. It opened up a four-point gap over Argyle with four games left, and with York City next up at home on Good Friday, United's destiny remains firmly in their own hands.
What a finale we could be in for. See you on Friday...
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Darrell Fisher Stats by OPTA
See Highlights and Reaction in Yellow Player (subject to emergency laptop repairs!!)