United win at Stevenage
Oxford United's long unbeaten away run, stretching back to October, was extended by a 2-0 win at Stevenage this afternoon. The U's stood strong and then struck through two swift second half goals from Johnny Mullins and Callum O'Dowda to win at The Lamex Stadium for the very first time.
It was a team picked for the conditions. On a heavy pitch, and with snow all around, the U’s went for experience. There were debuts for Joe Skarz and Richard Brindley as the full backs while Andy Whing, Michael Collins and Danny Rose formed a midfield trio behind Danny Hylton, Patrick Hoban and O’Dowda.
The game was a real battle right from the star, as tight and fierce as every encounter since the teams were rivals for promotion from the Conference. Hoban had the first effort of the game, rifling a 20 yard effort into the side-netting in the 20th minute to cause home keeper Chris Day concern, although it was Ryan Clarke who needed to make the first save, parrying a Dean Parrett free kick round the post on 22 minutes.
There were challenges, tackles and drink breaks, but with the ball bobbling and the pitch cutting up neither side could be sure of their touch and the game became a midfield war of attrition with few chances before the break.
Stevenage started the second half on the front foot and put the U’s under real pressure. It took brave blocks from Skarz, Whing and Wright to keep the ball away from goal and when Ben Kennedy did get a 20-yard effort on goal after 49 minutes Clarke was equal to it with a fine diving save high to his right. Mullins made a couple of vital interceptions and every yellow short became caked in mud as the U’s doggedly kept their clean sheet intact.
There were opportunities on the break and then on 59 the U’s made the breakthrough. O’Dowda won a free kick on the left. Collins swirled in a wicked ball and Mullins adjusted himself superbly to head the ball back across Day and into the left corner of the net to make it 1-0 with his first goal in a year.
There might have been a second soon after as Collins burst into the box but tried to bring a difficult ball down rather than risk a shot, and having weathered the storm United were now reaping the benefits as they started to get more joy up front where O'Dowda was a constant threat. The winger got his reward on 67 as he slammed home United's second. Collins was again the provider with a cross from the right this time. Hoban, excellent throughout, threw himself forward and made perfect contact with his header. Somehow Day managed to push it on to the bar with a magnificent save, but having played his part Day wasn't helped by those around him who stood and watched as O'Dowda waited for the ball to drop and bounce before planting the ball home to make it 2-0.
Stevenage rallied and tried to drive their tired legs forward but there was a fierce determination about the whole United team who richly deserved a win based on character and every single player giving every last drop of effort.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Darrell Fisher, Stats by OPTA
Highlights and Video Reaction in Yellow Player