Tranmere 2 United 1
Oxford United's FA Cup campaign ended for another season as Tranmere hit back to claim a place in the third round at Prenton Park this evening. Deservedly ahead through an Alfie Potter header the U's were beaten by goals from Kayode Odejayi and Max Power as Rovers booked their place against Swansea in the next round.
Having started with a spell of possession that saw them keep the ball beautifully and the recalled Josh Ruffels have the first shot of the night, the U’s looked very comfortable and dominated the opening half hour, perhaps even the first half.
Tyrone Barnett’s return to Peterborough meant a more central role for top scorer Danny Hylton, Potter and Callum O’Dowda supporting from the flanks and Michael Collins just behind the front men. All that was missing was the final ball as crosses flashed across the box and Collins went close with two half chances – the first getting away from him and running into the arms of the grateful keeper, the second flying two yards clear of the crossbar. Hylton smashed a 22nd-minute shot into the side-netting after a corner went past every drenched figure in the pouring rain and then on 23 Johnny Mullins ghosted in at the far post and thumped a volley which keeper Owain Fon Williams needed to be well placed to push away.
United had made all the running and created all the chances, with the home side penned back in their own half for long periods. The only scare came on 26 when Mullins blocked a Ridehalgh volley from the edge of the box but that was the only danger as United practically ran the show. The only surprise was that it took 29 minutes for the goal. More good link play, a clipped cross from the non-stop Hylton and a flick of Potter’s neck muscles for a header that was as perfectly placed as it was timed, Fon Williams could only watch as it flew, at pace, into the far corner to make it 1-0.
It looked plain sailing but the goal provoked Rovers into a reaction and they started to commit more men forward. On 36 it was 1-1 when for once United lost the ball and Cole Stockton was on to it and running powerfully down the Tranmere right. His cross was low to the near post where Clarke slithered out to gather but could only push it out to the outstretched boot of Odejayi who stuck it into the net from six yards out.
That was harsh on the men all in yellow but they rallied at half time and started to take the game to the home side once more. Riley and Hylton both fired wide as they tried to regain the lead but there was more of an edge to Tranmere and we had a proper FA Cup game on our hands as the pitch cut up, the rain hammered down and tackles started to fly in.
There were some tired limbs on the heavy pitch but on 76 it was Power that told as the midfielder cleverly found space on the left as United tried to play a high offside line. There was still plenty to do as he sprinted towards goal from 40 yards out. United tried to push him wide but he was not to be denied and as Clarke went to ground Power thumped the ball across him and into the net to make it 2-1 and give his team a home tie against Premier League Swansea in January.
United had led in both games and now had no option other than to go for broke once more. Riley and Rose thundered shots either side of the goal and the last few minutes saw wide open space at both ends as the sides traded attacks. Ruffels drove a shot into Fon Williams's arms, Collins headed tamely at the keeper from six yards then saw an 89th-minute shot well saved but ultimately United could find no way through a stubborn Tranmere defence that Micky Adams has successfully remodelled since taking over.
In the cold light of day United will reflect on a game where they dominated the first half hour but then let their opponents back into the game after taking the lead. Cancel Swansea and put those cup dreams away for another season.
United will now play their home game against Cheltenham Town in Sky Bet League 2 on January 3rd as scheduled.
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures Darrell Fisher, Stats by OPTA
See highlights and reaction in Yellow Player