United go down fighting at home to promotion-chasing Doncaster
Oxford went down to a heavy 5-2 defeat at home to table-toppers Doncaster Rovers Belles, despite a determined display. Falling behind to an early Beth England goal, United struck back through Kat Nutman. Courtney Sweetman-Kirk fired Doncaster back in front just before half-time and the Belles ran away with it in the latter stages as Sweetman-Kirk completed her hat-trick and Sophie Stamp also scored. United's consolation came late on via an own goal.
Manager Les Taylor named an unchanged side from that which won 2-1 at London Bees last weekend, with striker Lauren Allison making her return from the bench.
But they were unable to carry the momentum through to the early stages of this match and soon found themselves under pressure from a strong Doncaster side. Courtney Sweetman-Kirk was inches away from giving the visitors the lead in just the fourth minute, but she was just unable to reach Lauren Cresswell's cross.
Doncaster did break the deadlock after ten minutes, Beth England tapping into an empty net after a sweet passing move from the Belles carved the United defence open. She could have doubled the lead just moments later when she volleyed Sue Smith's lofted ball into the net for a second time, but this one was ruled out for offside.
But United fought back and began to apply some pressure themselves, equalising in the 25th minute from a corner. Katie Stanley's ball in was cleared as far as Kayleigh Hines on the edge of the area and she hooked it back in for Kat Nutman to sidefoot home.
After that it was all Oxford, with Holly Pickett just the width of the post from putting the hosts into the lead. Hines' free-kick was spilled by Belles keeper Nicola Hobbs, with Pickett clipping the post on the rebound. Nutman also could have had a second, seeing her fierce shot deflected narrowly wide after Ella Franklin-Fraiture had caused chaos with a dangerous cross.
But there was another sting in the tail just before the break when Sweetman-Kirk latched onto a long ball forward and tipped it over the head of United keeper Demi Lambourne and just beyond the reach of the backtracking Rosie Lane.
There was little to choose between the two sides for much of the second half, with few chances at either end. But when Sweetman-Kirk added a third midway through the half with an astounding long-range shot, United's chance was effectively over.
Sweetman-Kirk could have scored again moments later when she broke free, but scuffed her shot well away from goal. However, just a minute later she completed her hat-trick after rounding the keeper and slotting home from a tight angle.
United did pull one back ten minutes from time in comical fashion. Belles goalkeeper Nicola Hobbs made a mess of an Oxford corner at her front post, fumbling it into her own net to give the majority of the 400-plus crowd something to cheer about.
But it was the visitors who would have the final say, as Sophie Stamp added a fifth. Lambourne got down well to smother at the feet of the onrushing Sweetman-Kirk, but the loose ball travelled only as far as Stamp who chipped over her and into the net to complete a difficult afternoon for the home side.
United: Lambourne, Meade, Bruce, Osborne-Ricketts, Lane, Hines, Nutman, Franklin-Fraiture, Pickett (Low 66), Stanley, King (Allison 66). Subs not used: Cox, Chivers, Timms.