Oxford United went out of the Capital One Cup but pushed Premier League side West Brom all the way at the Hawthorns tonight. Trailing to an unfortunate own goal from Johnny Mullins in the first half, United refused to be beaten and forced the game into extra time after Danny Hylton scored a late equaliser. Penalties produced pain as skipper Jake Wright's kick was saved, but United left with heads held high.
Playing in all yellow, United had to defend strongly from the start, as expected against their Premier League hosts. Jake Wright and Joe Riley made vital tackles inside the first five minutes and Max Crocombe got a nice early save in as Baggies skipper Chris Brunt chested an effort at goal.
The U’s, with the Yellow Army in full force at their backs, were far from overawed and stuck to their passing game manfully. Josh Ruffels saw a 14th-minute effort deflected wide for a corner and the first 25 minutes were evenly contested. Crocombe was the busier of the two keepers but dealt confidently with a number of crosses and a shot from Sessegnon on 26 that thudded into his chest and all was looking good until the cruellest of twists.
Andre Wisdom, who had just fired in a shot that Crocombe again held easily enough, got the ball back on the right wing as United for once conceded possession cheaply. The right back’s low cross flew across the six-yard box and the unsighted Mullins could only watch in horror as it struck him on the shin and rolled into the corner of the net with Crocombe wrong-footed and helpless.
West Brom now started to go through the gears and Brown Ideye hammered in a rising shot that flew over Crocombe’s bar a couple of minutes later as they looked for the second goal that would surely secure their passage into the third round. The yellow back line of Riley, Wright, Mullins and Newey stood firm and tackled hard and at half time it was all to play for at 1-0.
West Brom dominated possession at the start of the second half without fully testing Crocombe and the longer United hung in there the greater the chance they would get a reward for their hard work. Gradually they came on strong. Ruffels almost timed his run to perfection on the hour but was blocked by a well-timed tackle and then on 65 another good move freed the hard-working Morris for a run at goal. The young striker took his time and beat Boaz Myhill with a low shot but saw it go a foot the wrong side of the right-hand post.
The magnificent United fans were now roaring their team on and saw Hylton have a shot deflect wide of the mark for a corner. It was now end to end and the U’s were giving it everything they had to pull off yet another upset in the cup they won in 1986. It meant riding their luck at times against a West Brom side who broke swiftly and with purpose, but Michael Collins and Josh Ruffels were tireless in the midfield while David Hunt slotted in perfectly at right back for the second half as United played with a composure that made a mockery of the three divisions between the sides.
Alex Jakubiak almost bustled through on 78 and then on 85 the hard work and patience paid off. Brown hung up an inviting cross to the far post, sub Hoskins rose brilliantly to head back across goal and Hylton bravely threw himself forward to bundle the ball into the net and force extra time. Hylton's third goal of the season amid scenes of great celebration at the Smethwick End.
The home side threw everything at them in the last few minutes of normal time but Crocombe made two late saves and ensured that the game went into the extra 30 minutes that United deserved. "We're proud of you," the Yellow Army sang as Appleton tried to rally his troops for one last effort.
The first half of extra time saw two good moves end with Jakubiak and Hoskins having shots, the non-stop running of Junior Brown almost earning a reward with two great chances six yards out, Myhill equal to both of them. One, or really both, should have gone in, but the Baggies had lost their boing and were rattled.
The second half of extra time brought West Brom pressure and yellow-shirted defiance. Hylton had practically run himself into the ground for the cause, but everywhere you looked there were heroes. Brown had given his all but on 112 minutes his legs would carry him no further and he slipped into a challenge on Craig Dawson that led to a second yellow card. Harsh but probably to the letter of the law and now the U's had seven minutes of tension and torture to endure if they were to reach penalties. A free kick bravely blocked, a close shave with the shot a foot too high and a yellow card for Crocombe for a spot of timely time-wasting got them to the end game.
Their heroics won't draw too many headlines in the national press on a night when Man United were humbled elsewhere, but the 2,000 fans who had roared this United side on knew just how well their side had played and the Yellows were given a rapturous ovation from their fans.
And so to penalties. Taken at the home end, Hylton went first and scored. Morrison saw his kick saved by Crocombe. Advantage Oxford. Collins saw his kick saved by Myhill, Ideye went to Crocombe's right but the keeper got down to stop it. Still 1-0. Newey drilled wide, Mulumbu finally found a way past Crocombe (just) to make it 1-1 after three kicks each. Hoskins thumped home to find the net for the first time for the U's, Berahino matched him for 2-2 and one kick left each. Hunt netted for 3-2; Yacob, under immense pressure, sent it to sudden death. Yakubiak sidefooted home: 4-3; Craig Dawson squeezed his shot under Crocombe. Aaagh! The tension. Ruffels made it 5-4, Wisdom calmly made it 5-5. Mullins made amends for the OG to make it 6-5, Gamboa drew the Baggies level. Wright hit his kick hard and true to the keeper's left but Myhill reached it, leaving Jason Davidson to keep his nerve and fire high and handsome past the flying Crocombe and send West Brom through.
A brave night full of good football. United now need to use this performance as a springboard as they welcome Dagenham and Redbridge to the Kassam Stadium on Saturday in Sky Bet League 2.
Report by Chris Williams. Stats by OPTA, Pictures by Darrell Fisher