Goals from Danny Hylton, Michael Collins and Tyrone Barnett sealed Oxford United's first win of the season with a convincing 3-1 win over Accrington Stanley at the Kassam this evening. Stanley, who had got themselves level through Marcus Carver after Hylton's opener, were reduced to ten men when James Gray was sent off, but United showed little mercy as they took three points for the first time under head coach Michael Appleton
There was a full debut for Brian Howard and a home one for Barnett and the two showed some neat early touches as United dominated the first 20 minutes. Howard sent an 8th-minute shot over the bar and the U's were on top well before they opened the scoring with a peach of a goal. Howard did well to check back on the left and ping a great ball across the box. Barnett did well to occupy the only defender and drag him under the ball, allowing it to float beyond them to Hylton, who took it down and buried it past the helpless Joseph Lumley in the Accrington goal. Seven goals for Hylton already and the promise of plenty more.
Having done all the right things and got that priceless early lead all was set fair, but Appleton will have been fuming to see his side hold the lead for only two minutes. Practically Accrington's first attack ended with an equaliser. A cross/shot over the top was parried by Long, fired back in and Carver's effort sneaked in at the left-hand post to level things up. It lifted the away side, who suddenly started to push men forward in their best spell of the match. There were no clear chances, just a couple of speculative efforts which flew well wide, but they were a yard quicker now and United's early impetus had ebbed away.
It was going to take something special to lift things. Howard started to buzz around, O'Dowda started to run at the defence and gradually that hard work started to get United back in the driving seat. On 36 minutes the work rate got its reward as they forced United back and Lumley sliced his clearance to Collins, 35 yards out. In the centre of the park he showed great control and vision to lift the ball over the defence and into the unguarded net to make it 2-1 with his first goal for the club.
A special finish from a player who has made a big impression in the middle of the park since arriving in the summer. Accrington had engineered their own demise and barely a minute later gave themselves a mountain to climb. Gray had scored three in three games coming into the game and had looked lively, but the striker lunged into Joe Riley as he shepherded the ball out of play. A poor challenge when there was absolutely no need and ref Charles Breakspear had no hesitation in showing him a straight red card.
United almost made them pay before the break when Barnett wound up and unleashed a tremendous effort at goal which was bravely blocked, and Lumley then made a good save to keep an O'Dowda effort out in injury time, but a man up and attacking their own fans in the second half, surely that first win was on the cards?
They opened up the second half at a ferocious pace with Accrington penned back and soaking up pressure as crosses flew across their six-yard box. Riley became almost an auxiliary right winger while O'Dowda had the experienced Nicky Hunt chasing shadows on the left-hand side, with Tom Newey a willing accomplice, always willing to get beyond O'Dowda and support the attack.
The once-again excellent Hylton limped off to be replaced by Junior Brown on 64, with Howard also going off soon after having shown plenty of nice touches and a good range of passing on his first appearance.
Barnett headed home a Newey cross on 67 only for it to be ruled out for a push, but the striker was then gifted his first goal for the club as Accrington imploded again. Barnett closed down the keeper but was on the goalline as the ball was cleared as far as skipper Luke Joyce. Not realising that Barnett was trotting back into play, Joyce rolled a dreadfully short pass back for Lumley who could only watch in horror as Barnett loomed up from behind him, tapped the ball round him and stroked it into the empty net. 3-1 and at last United's patience and belief in playing football the right way was going to pay off.
They have worked hard for this win and it could have been even more convincing with shots from O'Dowda, Alex Jakubiak, Josh Ruffels and Brown all going close but it was academic. That little bit of luck that you need had been on United's side with a clearance and a back pass, but don't let that overshadow a more than convincing display. The trick is now to repeat that as they welcome Stevenage to the Kassam Stadium on Saturday.
See you here.
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Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Steve Daniels
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