United end first half of season in stye with a Boxing Day win
Second half goals from John Lundstram, George Baldock and Liam Sercombe gave Oxford United a 3-0 win over Exeter City at the Kassam Stadium this afternoon to lift the U's up to second place in the table. A bumper Boxing Day crowd were thoroughly entertained as the U's ended the first half of the season with a convincing display, capped by an outstanding second-half performance.
The biggest crowd of the season saw a good even game of football, with both sides looking to zip the ball around on the excellent Kassam Stadium pitch.
Chris Maguire curled the first effort of the afternoon just wide in the third minute but it took a couple of well-timed challenges by the recalled Jake Wright to snuff out half chances from Exeter in the first 15 minutes. An Alex MacDonald effort from a clever free-kick routine produced the first save from Exeter keeper Bobby Olejnik on 18 but there was plenty of pretty football from the U's who saw several 'eye of the needle' passes intercepted only at the very last moment by a fluorescent orange Exeter leg.
Kemar Roofe guided a Lundstram shot just wide on 22 but Exeter were willing to take the U's on and Ollie Watkins should have scored on 25 when he found himself unmarked inside the area but couldn't beat Sam Slocombe from 15 yards with the best chance his side were to have all game.
Slocombe, also returning to the side, looked calm and composed and distributed the ball well to set the U's on their way a lot of the time, and will be pleased with a clean sheet on his return, but the Yellows could find no way through a well-organised Grecian back line in the first half.
There was a spot of handbags right on the break, when Chey Dunkley's raised boot provoked a flurry of Boxing Day pushing and shoving which resulted in four yellow cards, two apiece, but no second yellow for the already cautioned Dunkley. However, Dunkley was replaced by Johnny Mullins at the break as a precaution against a second yellow, and with Mullins and Wright their usual stubborn selves United never looked back as they hit their stride going towards their own fans.
It took just three minutes for the U's to take the lead after the break. A Maguire cross was destined for the head of Taylor, six yards out, until a vital touch from a defender took it off his head. However Exeter seemed to switch off, while Liam Sercombe was alert to the possibilities and retrieved the ball for Alex MacDonald, who passed it across the edge of the box. Lundstram, central to most of the action all afternoon, strode forward and went for placement, curling a very deliberate effort inside the right-hand post with Olejnik stranded.
United were rampant at this stage. Roofe stabbed an effort wide on 54 after a cute Sercombe flick to cap a passing move that had taken them the length of the pitch, and just after the hour they were 2-0 up and cruising. Baldock has been a revelation at right back in the first half of the season and when a left-sided attack stalled, the ball was worked out for him on the opposite flank to start again. He carried the ball forward and played in towards the always available Taylor. A challenge saw the ball come back to Baldock who shimmied one way, swayed another and when the space opened up slammed his shot past Olejnik for his second goal of the season.
Exeter committed more men forward to try and get at least a goal back, but United have a calmness under pressure these days and with Sercombe and Lundstram inspired in midfield they kept a tight grip on most of the game. Subs Patrick Hoban and Callum O'Dowda combined to send O'Dowda racing clear in the 78th minute but the chance was wasted when O'Dowda's low shot was hacked of the line by a desperate backtracking defender. Roofe had a chance, Exeter retreated and all that was missing was a goal for Sercombe against his former club.
It came in the last minute and ended yet another flowing move that pulled Exeter wide open. It ended with Sercombe steaming into the area and lifting the ball over the exposed Olejnik for a perfect finish to the move and game 23/46.
Plenty of football to come and lots of twists and turns, but this second half performance was in front of a big crowd on Boxing Day; how often have the U's come away from those empty handed over the years?
Rousing stuff and the U's move on to Yeovil in 48 hours time. Can't wait.
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Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Steve Daniels
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