Oxford United came from behind to earn their first win of the league season tonight as they beat Notts County 3-1 at the Kassam Stadium. Trailing to a Thierry Audel goal, United once again showed tenacity and spirit to bounce back, dominating the game and full value for the three points thanks to goals from Callum O'Dowda, Kemar Roofe and Danny Hylton.
After three games unchanged, Michael Appleton gave Patrick Hoban a place up front as reward for his dramatic goal at Luton on Saturday, the Irish striker replacing Ryan Taylor alongside Hylton. However, it was the visitors who came closest to a goal in the first ten minutes when only a nudge from the alert Joe Skarz put the experienced Jon Stead off his stride with the goal at his mercy.
Both sides were intent on playing decent football in an open game that was thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. The Yellows enjoyed more of the possession in the first 20 minutes and Hoban nodded a MacDonald corner over the top on 15 before a low shot from the excellent Liam Sercombe tested visiting keeper Roy Carroll for the first time. Yes that one.
The U’s had been untroubled at the back but, as in the first game of the season, they fell behind to the opposition’s first effort on target. Skarz conceded a free kick for tripping Julian Jenner by the touchline. Graham Burke sent in a well struck cross and Thierry Audel drifted between a static back line to apply a simple headed finish from six yards out.
Three league games in and United have conceded the first goal in each of them. It takes a bit of character to keep coming back but the Yellows once again rallied, with O’Dowda adding pace on the left after replacing Hoban on the half hour; Kemar Roofe moving to play alongside Hylton. The change brought instant results and on 36 they were level with a cleverly constructed equaliser. Hylton flicked the ball into the path of Roofe in the middle of the park and he slipped the ball forward for a typical Sercombe run from midfield. His ball skimmed Hylton’s head and reached O’Dowda who took a touch then planted the ball beyond Carroll’s despairing dive.
It might have been an even better recovery had skipper Jake Wright not missed when Mullins nodded a deep cross back at the far post on 40 but the key stat was that the U’s had restored parity at the break and given themselves the base for a second half onslaught. Again it was O’Dowda, all but unplayable, who provided the inspiration with an electrifying burst down the left that took him past the right back at full speed. His low ball in to Roofe was controlled instantly and Roofe then turned 180 degrees and smashed his shot past the stranded Carroll and into the roof of the net to make it 2-1.
With the crowd baying for more, the U’s poured forward. Hylton, non-stop all night, rocketed into the box and was tripped. MacDonald assumed responsibility for the penalty but Carroll was down to his right to get a palm to the ball and keep his side in the contest. It should have counted for nothing because the Yellows then had three great chances to pull further ahead. O’Dowda headed a cross back across goal and saw it flash inches wide. He then got in on the keeper and bent his shot even closer to the other post. Roofe raced clear but couldn’t beat Carroll, and then the same player somehow skewed a header over the bar from five yards out with the keeper nowhere.
Somehow only 2-1 up despite those opportunities, the U’s were grateful that Sam Slocombe had made a wonderful save from Jenner at the other end and on 79 Hylton secured those all important three points with a wonderful third goal. Spinning away from three defenders in the centre circle he sprinted clear on the right (quite an achievement after the miles he had already run) and thumped in a shot that Carroll somehow beat back at him. Hylton recovered and this time blasted the ball home for his third goal of the season. Hard work, perseverance and sheer determination can do wonderful things.
Now in total control, the U's had given themselves a little breathing space and saw the game out comfortably as County wilted under the onslaught. A terrific game of football and a terrific performance. Four games gone, United unbeaten and the season still wide open in front of them. Bring it on.
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Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Steve Daniels, Stats by Opta
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