Youngsters get United off to a winning start in pre-season
Michael Appleton's first week in charge at Oxford United ended with a victory as United began their pre-season with a 2-1 win at Farnborough. Second half goals from highly-promising youngsters James Roberts and Josh Ashby sealed a confidence-boosting win as the entire first team squad enjoyed a good run-out.
In the first half United shaped up 4-2-3-1, with triallist Gozie Ugwu the front man. The Oxford-born striker, most recently at Reading, is powerfully built and held the ball well to allow Ty Marsh, Josh Shama and Danny Rose to come and join him. Behind that front four there was the youthful duo of Aidan Hawtin and Josh Ashby to protect Max Crocombe and his back four of Matt Bevans, Michael Raynes, skipper Jake Wright and left-back Freddie Grant.
Grant, stepping up from the youth team, settled quickly with a fine challenge in the opening stages that set the tone for a mature performance, while Wright almost broke his United duck with an effort at a corner in the first 15 minutes as the sides sparred in the blazing summer sun.
A Marsh cross on 33 minutes just missed the lunging Ugwu who then inadvertently blocked Rose’s follow up volley but in truth neither side was overly tested as the players eased themselves back into playing matches again.
It was all change for United at the start of the second half, with triallist keeper Liam Roberts behind a defence comprising Miles Welch-Hayes, Sam Long, Johnny Mullins and Tom Newey. Ashby retained his place in midfield, alongside first-year scholar Lewis Hayden, with Alfie Potter and Sam Humphreys providing the width. Dave Kitson had a free role, while James Roberts provided the firepower.
New pro Roberts almost broke the deadlock on 58 as Humphreys cut the ball back but it got stuck under the striker’s foot as he slid in at the far post. The excellent Ashby then saw a brilliantly struck free kick from 22 yards tipped on to the post by home keeper Conner O’Hara before a flowing move ended with Ashby forcing the keeper into another excellent save.
United were well on top now and on 71 Roberts was clinical with his finish as first-year scholar Miles Welch-Hayes roared forward on the right and cut the ball back for the striker to slam into the roof of the net.
Five minutes later and Ashby doubled the lead. Having set his sights with the first free kick he carefully set up the next one from similar range and curled it slightly higher. The keeper got fingertips to it but couldn’t deal with the pace, giving Ashby his first senior goal and United a 2-0 lead.
Farnborough had been fine hosts and forced Liam Roberts into a couple of smart saves, but nobody truly expected what happened next. Straight from the restart the kick-off was rolled back to Lucas Enrique who fired a shot at goal from his own half. Roberts backpedalled but was stranded as the shot dipped over him, struck the bar, bounced back to hit the keeper and go into the net to make it 2-1.
A wonderful goal and it could have been 2-2 as Mat Ball fired a 79th-minute free kick at goal and saw it smash against the bar once more. Long and Mullins bravely blocked the rebound as it span into the six yard box.
Results don't matter at this stage but United have enjoyed an encouraging first week and will take heart from an excellent first test.
Crocombe, Bevans, Raynes, Wright, Grant, Hawtin, Ashby, Marsh, Rose, Ugwu
L Roberts, Welch-Hayes, Long, Mullins, Newey, Kitson, Ashby, Potter, Hayden, Humphreys, J Roberts
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Darrell Fisher