Oxford United came from behind to put all sort of wrongs right this evening with a 3-1 win at Northampton Town. A brace from top scorer Danny Hylton in the first half and a second goal in a week from the revived Alfie Potter gave United all three points in a game that earned them their first away win of the season, their first back-to-back wins of the season, a win at Sixfields after eight successive defeats on this ground and the first away win in eight meetings between the clubs; every other meeting having ended in a home win.
They did it the hard way...
United's quest for an away win has been handicapped by a tendency to concede early goals and on a sodden Sixfields pitch, with swirling rain making it hard for both sides, it took just four minutes for the opening goal. Ryan Clarke had already made a good save to push away a low shot from John-Joe O'Toole but United didn't really clear their lines and Enda Stevens was there to exchange passes and place his low shot beyond Clarke and inside the left-hand post.
There was just the one change to the line-up, with Alfie Potter replacing Callum O'Dowda from the side that beat Tranmere on Saturday, and after that early goal the U's responded positively, with Potter to the fore, and set about wiping out the opener. They did so through hard work, belief and togetherness and by half time were in front.
Tyrone Barnett went close with a 14th-minute shot that squirted wide, and as the game began to open up there was much to admire from both sides. Potter almost made it 1-1 on 17 as he drifted in from the left and fired a right-footed effort that home keeper Jordan Archer was relieved to tip over the bar. At the other end only a heroic sliding block from Andy Whing denied Kaid Mohamed as he checked past Clarke but delayed his shot just too long.
Sixfields is under reconstruction and for now is a three-sided ground but with the Yellow Army giving United tremendous support there was a terrific atmosphere as the two sides sparred for supremacy. United had fought hard and on 25 minutes were deservedly level. Danny Rose, tireless on the right, took the ball from yet more good hold-up play by Barnett and crossed for the unmarked Hylton. He rose well but mistimed his header which looped beyond the wrong-footed Archer and dropped into the bottom-left corner for a slightly strange-looking goal.
The delirious fans roared them on and inside 90 seconds United were in front. Potter once again came inside and burst between the challenges of his anagramatic namesake Alfei and O'Toole. Both thrust out legs and Potter was down. Ref Phil Gibbs correctly pointed to the spot from where Hylton was nerveless with a dinked penalty for his tenth goal of a fantastic first season with the club.
It could have been even better had Archer not arched his back to deny Joe Riley as the right back blasted in a wonderful effort from 25 yards out, but only another brave block by the fiercely determined Mullins kept a D'Ath shot from troubling Clarke on 37 and left the white-shirted U's in front at half time. Based on previous experience, Northampton will have needed to redecorate the dressing room as well as build their new stand, because Manager Chris Wilder's team talk will have stripped the paint away.
Whatever he said worked on D'Ath who forced his way through challenges from Whing, Mullins and Wright before shooting over with the first effort of the second half but the expected storm never happened as Potter made it 3-1 almost on his own. A shimmy sent him away down the left, a dummy sent the full back towards the building site and then when he tried to cross with the outside of his boot he got the bit of luck he deserved, with the ball looping off a defender and over the once-again stranded Archer to nestle in the far corner and give Potter his second goal in two games. (If we have done Potter a disservice by suggesting there was a deflection then we apologise and accept that he truly is magic.)
The Cobbers saw the highly rated Ivan Toney head powerfully against the post when he should have done better but United looked full of confidence and everyone played their part. Clarke made saves, including a fine one from an O'Toole flick on 77; Riley, Mullins and Wright were immense, while left back Tareiq Holmes-Dennis was near faultless. Look out for his name. Further forward the tigerish Whing gave Michael Collins and Danny Rose a platform to send any number of passes through, while Barnett, Hylton and Potter were everything you would want your front three to be.
Nobody get carried away. Two wins do not make a season. But keep doing this and who knows where this particular season is going to take us...
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Darrell Fisher, Stats by OPTA
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