Oxford United took a huge step in the right direction as they came from behind to beat Carlisle United at the Kassam Stadium this afternoon. Having gone behind to a fluke opener from Paul Corry, the U's stormed back to win it thanks to first goals for the club from Patrick Hoban and Kyle Vassell.
There was little sign of danger as United started strongly. They should have been ahead inside two minutes as a goalmouth scramble and a miskicked effort from Kemar Roofe teed up Hoban. His left-footed shot was on target but the unsighted Dan Hanford in Carlisle's goal was relieved to see the shot fly past the post off his boot; how much he knew about it we'll never know. Johnny Mullins had a shot saved, Hylton raced clear on to a Rose through ball after six minutes but was denied by a desperate defender and all looked set. Then Carlisle scored.
It was a curious goal but far from amusing. Corry was 35 yards from goal and central when he hoisted a free kick into the United area. Players attacked it at the far post but nobody got a touch and the ball evaded everyone and bounced into the corner of the goal to give the Cumbrians a 1-0 lead.
A fluke goal and United came storming back to try and right the wrong, dominating the rest of the half. They were enormously unlucky on 14 when the pace of Roofe on the right opened space and enabled the winger to cut the ball back. Rose, restored on the left flank, took the ball in his stride and struck the ball well but Matthew Young just got enough on the shot to take it up and on to the bar rather than crashing into the net.
There were further near things: Hylton just missing a header at the near post, Hoban an inch away from touching home a magnificent through ball from the excellent Rose on 32 and then on 38 came an equaliser that had been 13 games in the making. Hoban has worked like a Trojan for 12 games, seen shots hit unaware defenders, had efforts wrongly ruled out, and seen goal-bound efforts brilliantly saved. When Roofe skipped away from his man on the left the Irish striker was already making a run across his man towards the near post. A flick of the neck muscles and the ball was past Hanford and the Hobanator was up and running. Rarely has a Kassam Stadium goal been met with such relief, on and off the pitch.
United had dominated the first 45 minutes and were not letting up in the second half either. The ever-willing George Baldock had a left-footed effort saved on 50 and the non-stop Hylton beat three men but not Hanford with a 52nd-minute shot as the Yellows hit their stride.
Carlisle were not content with their point and Derek Asamoah joined a three-man front line as they tried to get back in front. The former Northampton man tested Clarke with a low shot, comfortably saved, on the hour but the visitors' attacking intentions were spiked on 67 when central defender Troy Archibald-Henville was first booked for deliberate handball and then swiftly shown a second yellow two minutes later when he scythed down the elusive Roofe in full flight, leaving the visitors to face a barrage with ten men for the last quarter of the game.
They couldn't hold on, though, as Vassell smashed home the winner on 79 minutes. In a huge contrast to the opener, the on-loan Peterborough striker was just four minutes into his debut when the ball came invitingly to him on the edge of the box. Without hesitating the forward rifled the ball low and hard and into the corner of the net for a superb goal, worthy of winning any match. Great composure and a natural finish.
Carlisle had shown enough fight to suggest they will get out of trouble but they could have few arguments about the scoreline. It might have been 3-1 when Mullins crashed a header against the bar, and Hanford made an unbelievable save to deny Roofe in injury time, but the U's had done enough and performed well in what was a high-pressure game.
Hard work and character aplenty. There are still some big games ahead but the U's gave everything for the cause and were given a standing ovation as they left the field to prepare for the challenges ahead.
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Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Steve Daniels, Stats by OPTA
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