United were beaten by Burton in the Sky Bet League 2 season opener this afternoon at the Kassam Stadium. A single goal just before half time from Lucas Akins gave the Brewers their first win on the opening day since they joined the Football League.
With five debutants in the side – George Long, Junior Brown, Carlton Morris, Michael Collins and Joe Riley – it understandably took the new-look U’s a little time to settle against a Brewers side whose last outing was at Wembley in the League 2 play-off final. However, Josh Ruffles produced the first shot of the afternoon in the sixth minute with a powerful shot from 25 yards that Jon McLaughlin pushed away.
That move had begun with a meticulous Riley pass down the flank to Alfie Potter and the pair looked to have formed an excellent understanding even in their first game together. They combined on 20 for Riley to cross and Potter to power a header at goal, forcing McLaughlin into another good save.
Burton forced Long into a good save after eight minutes with a clever corner routine that ended with Beavon testing the Sheffield United loanee for the first time. However, United looked strong defensively and pressed the visitors quickly further up the field whenever possible. That meant that they dominated possession for much of the first half and forced McLaughlin into another good save on 32 as he got down to push another Ruffels shot round his left-hand post.
Having had the better of the half, United then fell behind in unfortunate circumstances. The brave Raynes flew through the air to challenge for a ball in the Burton area and landed in a twisted heap. The defender received lengthy treatment but was typically determined to try and get through to half time, despite clearly struggling. With the break approaching he was then beaten by Stuart Beavon inside the area and the former Didcot Town man’s low cross was guided home by fellow debutant Akins from six-yards out to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
Mullins replaced Raynes alongside Jake Wright in defence and the second half saw the U’s continue to play neat football without really getting beyond a well-drilled Burton defence. Morris rose to send a header wide of the mark on 57 and United saw plenty of the ball as they pushed forward. Sub Danny Hylton came on to add more presence up front, Callum O'Dowda replaced the industrious Rose to change the shape to 4-4-2 but Burton have been in the top six for pretty much the last two seasons and will go close again this season based on the way they held their shape and waited to counter.
United had been restricted to only those long-range efforts in the second half, Hylton turning down an 84th-minute invite to shoot after powering into the box past two defenders, but in a tight game they had been beaten by Burton taking the one clear chance of the whole afternoon, despite Ruffels' rasping one last shot into the side netting in injury time.
There's a long way to go. United now turn their attention to the Capital One Cup and a trip to Bristol City on Tuesday night.
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Report by Chris Williams. Stats by OPTA, Pictures by Steve Daniels