A magnificent goal from James Roberts and John Campbell's first goal for Oxford United earned them an excellent win at ten-man Plymouth this afternoon. Campbell's close-range finish cancelled out a Lewis Alessandra opener before Roberts scored his fourth goal in four starts to make sure United ended 2014 in winning style.
Having been well beaten by Shrewsbury on Boxing Day, United rang the changes. Sam Long came in for the injured Joe Riley, with Jon Meades unavailable after a head injury, while Roberts returned up front, Chey Dunkley made a first start at centre half and Josh Ruffels came in alongside Andy Whing in midfield.
With both sides passing the ball neatly on a fine playing surface the game was good to watch and free-flowing in the early stages but after an even opening it was Argyle who found the opener with a well-worked and well-taken goal. Midfield movement opened the space for a simple slipped ball from Ollie Norburn down the right-hand channel for Alessandra to run on to. The striker touched it forward, danced round the sprawling Ryan Clarke and then slotted home from a tight angle despite two United defenders desperately trying to get back.
That was slightly harsh on the U’s but they could easily have been 2-0 down two minutes later as the same player raced into the same space and this time fired wide under a decent challenge from the excellent Dunkley. Home Park is a difficult place at the best of times but with one of the biggest crowds of the season now roaring their team on United were having to dig deep.
Wes Burns wriggled through two challenges to ping a shot wide on 25 and United were clawing their way back into the game when they were given a helping hand on 33 by youngster Aaron Bentley, who saw red in every way. Long had won one challenge and raced into a second 50/50 but had no chance as Bentley lunged in two-footed over the ball with a poor tackle that left Long crumpled on the touchline and ref Andy Davies reaching for a red card that changed the game United's way. Now up against ten men, the white-shirted U’s made good use of the space and moved the ball around to stretch the game, although the home side continued to look dangerous on the break, with skipper Reuben Reid always available to try and hold the ball and let others join him.
Long was injured in the red card incident and replaced at half time by Johnny Mullins, who was involved in United’s best early effort of the second half as he overlapped with intent and chipped to the far post where fellow sub Callum O’Dowda’s downwards header was well saved by former United keeper Luke McCormick.
The home side were not content just to sit deep and absorb pressure despite their numerical disadvantage and another former United man, midfielder Lee Cox, tested Clarke with a 20-yard shot that the keeper just reached as it arrowed towards the bottom right corner.
It was an open game but United needed a spark from somewhere. Michael Appleton threw caution to the wind and sent on Campbell for his second appearance and the former Jarrow man rewarded him with a goal with his first touch. A deep free kick from the left was headed back across goal by the towering Dunkley at the far post. Plymouth defenders stood and watched but Campbell is a natural poacher of goals and got his body in front to make sure there was enough on the ball to steer it into the net from three yards out. Campbell's delight in front of the superb travelling Yellow Army was evident.
Both sides went for the win and it took a saving challenge from the combined powers of Clarke and Mullins to deny O'Connor at the near post before loud shouts for a penalty were waved away at the other end when McHugh slid in to block a cross, almost diverting the ball past the stranded McCormick in the process.
No matter when you have a goalscorer in the side like Roberts. On 84 minutes United burst forward with menace and Roberts stormed away on the left wing. He powered through a weak challenge, took on another and then whipped in a wonderful dipping effort from the left edge of the box that flashed past McCormick and into the top corner to win the match and Goal of the Season in the same moment. Brilliant.
Plymouth will look back at the red card and see an opportunity missed, but take nothing away from the U's. Front to back they gave their all once again and were worthy winners. Much to admire and this was a big win to make sure they go in to the new year looking up.
Att: 11,020 Away:392
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures Darrell Fisher, Stats by OPTA
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