Oxford United overcame stubborn resistance from Forest Green Rovers to reach the third round of the Emirates FA Cup this afternoon. A well-struck effort from top scorer Kemar Roofe sent the U's through to Monday night's draw after a hard-fought encounter against a stubborn opponent.
As Braintree had demonstrated in the previous round, a one division gap can be made to look a whole lot closer and the second-placed club in the National League showed their promotion credentials from the start, with Darren Carter forcing Benji Buchel into a good save in the first minute and Aarran Racine heading a corner into the arms of the keeper before we had reached the five-minute mark.
At the other end Danny Rose, restored in midfield, lobbed United’s first effort narrowly wide as United began to settle into their usual passing style. Callum O’Dowda and Roofe began to make inroads down the flanks but Forest Green were quick to press and restrict the space for the home side, who didn’t really test visiting keeper Steve Arnold in the first half hour. There were a number of stern challenges, although it was an innocuous one which led to Dale Bennett leaving on a stretcher just before half time after landing awkwardly.
Liam Sercombe almost found the breakthrough in the second minute of injury time with a rising effort from the edge of the box that Arnold tipped over at full stretch, but 0-0 at the break was probably fair.
United knew they needed to raise their game and did just that from half time onwards. The non-stop Hylton had the first effort, a low shot that Arnold smothered, and there was a new urgency to United's play as they began to dominate possession and territory. Roofe planted a 55th-minute shot into the stand from the edge of the box before Hylton rose to meet an O'Dowda cross but couldn't beat Arnold with his header just after the hour mark.
Rovers were defending deeper and deeper and inviting United to break them down if they could. Roofe dragged a free kick wide after 70 but it was the experienced Darren Carter who should have made the breakthrough on 73 when he had the whole goal to aim at 15 yards out but could only sidefoot tamely at Buchel when he might have grabbed the headlines.
That proved costly as inside two minutes United were ahead. As so often this season, Roofe was the decisive factor in a close game. Drifting in from the left after rolling past his man, Roofe found a yard of space just outside the box and drilled in a low shot. Arnold got down well and got a hand to it but could only help it into the roof of the net as Roofe registered his 12th goal of the season.
It was almost two when an O'Dowda corner was sliced against the post by a covering defender, and Sercombe might have made the game safe when he tried to go round the overworked Arnold after 86 minutes after United had taken advantage of the extra space as Forest Green committed more men forward in the last ten minutes.
No matter. Credit to Forest Green, a well-organised side who have clearly got the components to make their Football League dreams become reality. However, a moment of quality from Roofe was enough to ensure that it was the name of Oxford United that went safely into the (magic) hat.
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Report by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Daniels. Stats by OPTA
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