It started in sunshine in front of a full house at Portsmouth and it ended in spring sun before a capacity Sixfields Crowd. Oxford United’s season ended with defeat at Northampton this afternoon as Chris Wilder’s side guaranteed their Football League survival. Having taken the lead through Ryan Williams, United were reduced to ten men when Williams was dismissed and goals from John Marquis, Ivan Toney and Matthias Kouo-Doumbe then ensured that the two sides will meet again next time around.
With Michael Raynes ruled out with injury, Northampton old boy David Hunt shuffled to centre half and Matt Bevans returned at right back. Scott Davies and Danny Rose were also recalled and the changes almost brought a first-minute goal to silence the nervous home fans; the first attack of the afternoon ended with Constable shooting from ten yards and only denied by a brave block from Gregor Robertson.
You could sense the tension and on seven minutes United were ahead as Constable chased down a lost cause and forced a corner. Rose whipped it in, Kitson let it run, Newey flicked it and Williams buried the ball beyond Matt Duke. Almost simultaneously Wycombe took the lead at Torquay and suddenly the Cobblers were under massive pressure.
There was drama everywhere you looked. Ivan Toney raced clear on 9 and rounded Clarke but saw his shot come back off the post, Marquis’s 13th-minute shot was blocked by Josh Ruffels and then Williams clipped a shot just over the bar on 15 as the game went end to end from the very start.
It was all going right/wrong depending on your viewpoint and then on 18 the game tilted on its axis as Williams retaliated after Ricky Ravenhill fouled him. Williams waited until the ball was gone but then seemed to lash out at his opponent. Ref Scott Duncan saw it and dished out a straight red card, leaving United with over an hour with ten men. It was a challenge too far at the end of a long season.
They played it intelligently at first – Kitson looking to link things behind lone striker Constable, and some of their passing was a pleasure to watch but in the pressure-cooker atmosphere it was a tall order for ten men and in a five-minute period the result was pretty much decided. Oxford old boy Chris Hackett fired two decent efforts just wide and then on 28 minutes Town were level as Marquis lifted the roof off the Sixfields, running clear to the edge of the area and curling a fine effort just inside the beaten Clarke’s left-hand post.
On 33 minutes it was 2-1 and the two sides were destined to meet again. Decent possession, a chipped ball into the box and Toney was isolated and able to easily lift a simple header over the advancing Clarke.
United worked hard but the only time they had come back to win after trailing this season was in that opening Portsmouth game and with Northampton using the extra man well on a warm afternoon it was a thankless task. A succession of corners flashed close and then in injury time one went over the line but was waved away as having been cleared. No matter. Five minutes into the second half and a Hackett free kick picked out sub. Mattias Kouo-Doumbe, who bulleted his header beyond the helpless Clarke to leave the final relegation place to be filled by Bristol Rovers.
And so, after 46 games, United finish in eighth place. If there is a crumb of comfort then the fact that the team finishing eighth in the division has gone up the next season in four of the last five years. If United are to do that they need to regroup over the summer, lick their wounds and learn huge lessons from a season that for so long promised so much.
Report by Chris Williams, Photos by Darrell Fisher, Stats by Opta
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