Second-half comeback in vain
United went down to a home defeat by Watford after a poor first half in which they conceded twice. Laura Low pulled a goal back in a much-improved second half, but Watford held on to deny Oxford what would have been a deserved point.
Oxford and Watford both started with a 4-2-3-1 formation that is becoming increasingly popular but it was the visitors who looked more comfortable and who dominated the early stages of the game.
Watford pressed the Oxford defence and looked to the wings to exploit United’s lack of pace at the back, while up front Laura Low struggled in her lone-striker role.
United did look quite sharp on the break and Katie Stanley’s pace had the Watford back line retreating but they were unable to trouble Lauren Davey in the visitor’s goal and in the 18th minute Oxford fell behind to a scrappy goal. A mix-up between Jemma Connor-Iommi and Amy Chivers allowed Stacey Donnelly in to lob Demi Lambourne to give Watford the lead.
United improved after going behind and enjoyed some sustained possession, although again they failed to take advantage. This was to haunt Oxford as on the stroke of half-time Watford doubled their lead and again it was a defensive nightmare for the U’s.
Watford broke from an Oxford attack and with three visiting players bearing down on goal it looked certain that United would concede. However, Lambourne produced the first of a string of excellent saves, getting down well to block the shot. Unfortunately Jo Wilson was following up and she finished emphatically to give Oxford an uphill task in the second half.
With Louise Fellows replacing Holly Pickett at the interval United looked much brighter after the interval and in the 53rd minute the change paid dividends as Fellows was involved in the move that led to Low dancing round a Watford defending and finishing low past Davey.
Lambourne came to Oxford’s rescue in the 68th minute with a great tip over from a Kim Farrow drive, and she again responded instinctively to pull off a copycat save from the corner. This was matched by Davey in the Watford goal three minutes later when she tipped over Fellows’ shot after being set up by fellow substitute Lauren Allison.
Katie Stanley then brought out another good save from Davey with a shot on the turn from just two yards out. With Allison heading onto the roof of the net United were regretting their inability to convert their chances and Watford almost put the game beyond the Yellows with a well-struck free-kick that again brought the best out of Lambourne.
Megan Alexander headed the corner off the line as United held out and with the game entering stoppage time there was panic in the Watford area from a late United corner. However, the visitors were able to scramble the ball clear and the referee called time on an action-packed second half that was a great advert for the women’s game.
United: Lambourne, Connor-Iommi, Osbourne-Ricketts, Chivers, Alexander, Hines (Simmonds), King, Nutman, Pickett (Fellows), Stanley, Low (Allison)