Oxford United will have to do it the hard way if they are to make the play-offs this season after rivals York City took all three points away from the Kassam Stadium this afternoon. A contentious penalty two minutes into the second half gave the Minstermen an important win and lifted them above the U's with three games left to play.
With the luxury of an unchanged side for the first time in 24 games, United picked up where they left off at Plymouth and pushed York back at the start. A flowing move on five minutes saw Dave Kitson fire in a shot from the edge of the area which visiting keeper Nick Pope pushed over, before a typical surging run from Callum O'Dowda on the left caused problems, with Ryan Williams just delaying his shot a fraction too long inside the area.
York's surge up the league has been based on playing decent football and that made for a good game. They had a good chance to open the scoring on 29 as Will Hayhurst suddenly found Jake Wright throwing himself in front of what he must have assumed was an open goal, one of several excellent challenges by the U's skipper.
At the other end Constable steered an O'Dowda cross wide of the near post after 37 minutes but two well-drilled defences had come out on top in the first half.
It took 70 seconds for the breakthrough after the interval and in controversial circumstances. A corner from the York right was flicked on at the near post. Kitson a yard behind could hardly evade the ball as it rose and appeared to hit his hand. Ref Oliver Langford agreed and initially gave a corner but assistant Jake Hillier slowly moved his flag across his chest to indicate a penalty and the referee appeared to change his mind. Michael Coulson did the rest from the spot despite a valiant dive from Clarke.
It was game on now and corners from both flanks whizzed dangerously across the York area as United began to turn up the heat. Williams dragged a 56th-minute shot wide after confusion in the visiting defence, Wroe went over the keeper's hands on 71 but saw his penalty appeal waved away and United threw Alfie Potter on to try and unlock the York back line.
The visitors were still dangerous though. Clarke made a good save on 73 as Calvin Andrew let fly from long range and then Hunt had to head the following corner off the line as it dipped over the stranded Clarke.
On came David Connolly whose first touch was an overhead kick that looped over the bar on 77 minutes and the closing minutes saw Raynes thrown in to an emergency role up front. With Potter, Constable, Kitson and Connolly for company at that end it left gaps in defence but United were more than aware of the need to get at least a point out of the game. The gamble almost paid off on 86 as Raynes found space but lifted his shot well over the bar from 10 yards out and there was still time for the centre-half to meet a cross with a powerful downwards header which flashed agonisingly the wrong side of the post with the keeper beaten.
There was plenty of effort but York stayed strong to the end and United's mission now remains clear. they travel to Scunthorpe on Monday, take on Accrington at home next Saturday and then finish with a trip to Northampton. They are still in the chase but the finishing line is fast approaching.
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Steve Daniels Stats by OPTA
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