Women lose in Continental Cup
Oxford United Women's FA WSL Continental Tyres Cup campaign came to a close with a disappointing 3-1 home defeat at the hands of Aston Villa in group 3. A double from Bethan Merrick put the away side two goals in front, despite a relatively even opening hour. Amy Chivers pulled on back late in the game with an excellent headed effort, but Amy West struck a third time to give the away side the points.
A threadbare United made four changes to the side which were narrowly beaten 3-2 at Bristol Academy on Thursday evening, with goalkeeper Demi Lambourne dropping to the bench in place of Hannah Cox, Amy Chivers coming in at right back for Sahara Osborne-Ricketts and Holly Pickett and Ella Franklin-Fraiture returning to the U's midfield, replacing Lindsay Pinker and Katie Stanley.
Neither side were able to create many openings of note in a scrappy opening period, as both teams struggled to come to terms with the slippery pitch at Northcourt Road. Lauren Allison had a good chance to put United ahead in the fourth minute, heading narrowly wide from close range, but that was close as the U's would come in the opening stages.
Bethan Merrick did well to evade makeshift left-back Kat Nutman and latch onto a lofted ball over the top, but after cutting inside she was unable to direct her effort on target and sliced it well wide of the upright.
Helen King was unlucky not edge Oxford into the lead shortly after when she found herself in space at the back post from a United corner. However, she was unable to react in time as the ball rebounded off her knee to be scrambled off the line by the Villa defence, with Nutman's follow-up being deflected wide. Allison went close again for the U's, after she and Destiney Toussaint both got the wrong side of the Villa defence, the former trapping a dangerous ball over into the path of the latter, who shot narrowly wide.
But United were unable to keep up the pressure and found themselves behind at the break in freak circumstances. The away side were awarded a free-kick 20 yards from goal and Bethan Merrick's tame shot should have caused goalkeeper Hannah Cox few problems. But the slippery ball squirmed out of Cox's grasp and trickled over the line to put Aston Villa in front right on the stroke of half-time.
The U's came out for the second half positively and immediately set about finding a route back into the match. Toussaint could have brought Oxford back onto level terms, seizing on a defensive error from Hannah George to race away, but saw her shot deflected wide.
But just after the hour mark they were undone for a second time, again from a corner. Merrick's hopeful effort from the right wing again slipped through Cox's fingers to double the visitors' lead.
The visitors were then very much on top, with Mollie Rouse spurning three golden opportunities to kill the game off. First she fired well over after racing away, then rounding the keeper a few minutes later before somehow sending her effort wide with the goal gaping. Finally, Rouse blazed an effort over the bar from the six-yard line after finding herself in acres of space at the back post.
They were made to pay just moments later, as United pulled one back. Amy Chivers leapt athletically under pressure from two Villa defenders to powerfully head home Katie Stanley's corner and give the hosts a lifeline.
But no sooner had hopes of a comeback been kindled, they were cruelly extinguished when Amy West slotted home from the edge of the area after spotting Cox off her line, putting the final seal on United's involvement in the Continental Cup for another year.
United: Cox, Chivers, Barrett, Lane, Nutman, Allison, Pickett (Stanley), Toussaint, Franklin-Fraiture, King, Dandridge (Meade HT). Subs not used: Lambourne.
Report by Matt Bruce