Full report on Oxford United 1 Newport County 0Ten-man United picked up a hard-earned win this afternoon as a first-half goal from Michael Collins gave them all three points. Forced to play most of the second half with ten men after a red card for Tyrone Barnett, the U's dug deep to keep a clean sheet and ensure that Collins's free kick won another very entertaining match.
There was one enforced change, with Michael Raynes coming in for Jake Wright after the United skipper picked up a knee injury in training. Raynes had the first opportunity of the game with a looping header that dipped just over the bar from a Brian Howard free kick and then went about his defensive duties with typical gusto and determination.
There were also two tactical changes which had big impacts on the match.
The first was the inclusion of former Newport midfielder Danny Rose, who denied his old club what seemed a certain goal on seven minutes as he nipped in to steal the ball from the boot of the unmarked Aaron O'Connor. Rose gave absolutely everything for the cause in a very impressive performance in midfield.
The second change saw the reassuring return of Ryan Clarke in goal for the first time this season and he was quick to remind everyone what they had been missing with a smart save down to his right in the 11th minute. When the U's needed their experienced keeper in the later stages he was there to punch crosses away and settle any nerves as United held on to that priceless lead.
United's best chance of the opening exchanges came on 12 minutes when Rose burst forward on a searing 40-yard sprint. His clever ball fed Howard who slipped the ball to his right for the unmarked Barnett. The on-loan Peterborough striker had time and space but his low shot flashed a foot the wrong side of the left post with keeper Joe Day beaten.
As with each home game this season it was easy on the eye. Top scorer Danny Hylton drilled an 18th-minute shot just over the top as the U's attacked the fence end; Howard dropped a 21st-minute free kick into the hands of Day; a driving run from O'Dowda ended with another Howard shot touched round the post by the flying keeper, and the momentum was with the Yellows.
Raynes headed a Howard free kick straight at Day after towering above a defender, Hylton stabbed a Barnett cross over from six yards after stretching to reach the ball, and the only surprise was that it took until the 41st minute for the opening goal.
When it did come, it was a set-piece. O'Dowda was bundled over once again 25 yards out on the left. Collins sent in a curling free kick at pace, aiming at the right-hand post. It was one of those awkward efforts for a keeper, unable to commit to the ball in case anyone gets in front and changes the flight of the ball. On this occasion everyone missed it and the ball flew beyond the whole packed penalty area and into the corner of the net to give the U's a 1-0 lead at half time.
All looked set for United to steam towards their own fans and put in a convincing second half. Those plans needed to be readjusted within 10 minutes as Barnett picked up two yellow cards to leave his side with ten men. The first was for a typically robust challenge on half way, mistimed but not malicious, the second for a sliding tackle that looked on the innocuous side of harmless.
It had been competitive but never malicious but the red card raised the hackles of both teams and every challenge now risked a further card. There was still plenty of possession for Michael Appleton's side but Newport went close when Joe Pigott lifted a shot just off target after a rare moment of uncertainty by Clarke as the keeper came out to try and play the sweeper role.
Newport threw everything they had at the thin Yellow line but their best efforts flashed wide or were blocked by brave defenders. Stand-in captain Johnny Mullins was an inspiration, throwing himself in front of danger and at one stage charging almost the length of the pitch from centre half to left winger to try and push his team up the pitch.
It had been a game of two halves - the first with 11 players passing the ball and expressing themselves, the second with ten men absolutely determined to get a positive result. Good players, playing for each other and the shirt. One defeat in six games now and United are starting to gather that all-important momentum...
Fifty/50 number 353613 wins £831
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Steve Daniels
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