Oxford United's Capital One Cup adventure ended tonight with a 1-0 defeat at Championship side Sheffield Wednesday. There was to be no repeat of the superb 4-0 win over Brentford in the previous round as the U's were beaten by a single goal from Atdhe Nuhiu to send the Owls through.
There were plenty of changes to the line-up and a new captain for the night. Sam Long and Chey Dunkley came in to a new-look defence, John Lundstram made a debut in midfield alongside the recalled Josh Ruffels, while Patrick Hoban and Ryan Taylor started up front to make it six changes.
Johnny Mullins took over the armband in the absence of Jake Wright and saw plenty of the ball in the opening stages as both sides moved the ball around with swift accurate passes. Wednesday looked dangerous at set pieces all evening and Sam Slocombe got a boot to a downwards header by home captain Tom Lees from a corner after five minutes before Vincent Sasso volleyed wide from another dead ball two minutes later.
Taylor dragged United’s first effort of the night well wide after eight minutes but the U’s were content to soak up pressure in the first half hour and restrict Wednesday to long-range efforts such as Ross Wallace’s 17th-minute strike that flew five yards wide of the right-hand post. The Yellows had half chances during that period, notably when Alex MacDonald twice came forward from the left and had shots blocked on the edge of the area and even after half an hour it was obvious that this was going to be a tight match.
Long typified the spirit being shown by the men all in yellow with a fantastic double challenge on 33, sliding in the torrential rain across the sodden Hillsborough turf to block two shots at source. Sadly the young defender’s match lasted only until the 42nd minute, when he went in for a typically brave challenge and his boot seemed to catch in the turf. He immediately signalled that he was in trouble and was stretchered away to receive treatment on what appeared to be ankle ligament damage. Credit to the Wednesday fans who matched the ovation for Long from the away fans.
United had defended resolutely and the second half was just as closely contested but ten minutes into the second period and Wednesday were ahead. A cross from the left travelled to the far post. The U’s blocked the first and second efforts but the ball rose perfectly for Nuhiu to head past Slocombe and make it 1-0.
No strangers to going behind, the Yellows opened up and came back at their hosts. O'Dowda almost found the equaliser when he cut in from the right and bent his shot just outside the far post with home keeper Lewis Price helpless but the final pass was always that yard beyond the intended target inside the box, or the stubborn Wednesday defence were just too strong.
As the U's went forward they started to leave gaps at the back which the Owls exploited with clever movement. Slocombe saved brilliantly to keep a Marco Matias effort out, one or two shots whistled ominously close and the danger was ever-present but it didn't deter United from going all out for the equaliser. The added energy of Danny Hylton triggered a late rally, the sub almost reaching one through ball before the keeper saved bravely at his feet and playing a part in setting up O'Dowda for an ambitious scissors kick that went straight to Price.
There was one last free kick from the excellent MacDonald that flew perhaps two yards too high but there is no shame at all in defeat against a side two divisions higher. The Yellows had pushed them all the way, defended expertly and shown once again that they are a force to be reckoned with this season.
Join us on Saturday as we return to Sky Bet League Two action at the Kassam Stadium against Yeovil Town.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, Stats by Opta.
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