Oxford United signed off the season with a 1-0 win at Newport County this afternoon as Kemar Roofe's sixth goal in seven games ensured that they go into next season on the back of a great run which should fill them with hope for next time around.
Without Jonny Mullins and Jake Wright there was the unfamiliar partnership of Andy Whing and Chey Dunkley at centre-half for the U’s, with Dunkley almost heading home a Danny Rose free kick in the third minute to emphasise his power in the air. On-fire Roofe then emphasised just how dangerous United have become in the last two months of the season with a swift break behind the home defence and a cross that was perhaps a yard behind the on-rushing Danny Hylton.
County have had an excellent season but have fallen at the final hurdle to just miss out on the play-offs, with new boss Terry Butcher waiting in the wings. His new charges, looking to impress, found Whing and Dunkley hard to break down; Mike Flynn’s 21st-minute shot was bravely blocked by Dunkley with their most dangerous effort and when Miles Storey did find space to let loose a 28th-minute effort he found Jamie Ashdown equal to it, reaching at full stretch to tip it over.
United by contrast had had two excellent chances before Roofe’s opener. On 22 Josh Ruffels slipped Hylton in behind the defence but the top scorer delayed his shot just long enough for Lee Minshull to slide in and get a vital touch to take the ball wide of the mark. Alex MacDonald then drove in a shot from a similar spot wide of the far post but when Roofe was given a third invitation to shoot from that position he showed precisely how to do it.
Rose was the provider as United broke at speed after defending a corner. Rose's perfectly weighted through ball sent Roofe away with Hylton square of him, which perhaps caused home keeper Jamie Stephens to adjust his starting position. By the time Stephens realised the danger the ball was ripping past him and into the net as Roofe made it 1-0 with a superb strike. Six goals in seven games, four in his last three; an inspired loan and a very talented young player.
Newport’s day became a lot harder right on half time when the experienced Mike Flynn saw red in every possible way. Angered by a free kick being awarded against them and then taken while three of their players argued over that decision, Flynn reacted furiously after tripping Michael Collins and stuck his head into Collins’s face to earn an instant red card from ref Mark Heywood and end his season 45 minutes earlier than everyone else. He’ll start next season three games later than the rest as well.
Credit to County: the spirited ten men went for it rather than sit back and accept their fate. Roofe will rightly get all the attention for his goal run but at the other end Jamie Ashdown has quietly come into the side and conceded just one goal in his five games (and that a cruel bounce) while Dunkley has shown huge promise in the final few games of the season and Whing had that oh-so-familiar 'thou shall not pass' mentality that Oxford fans have grown to love.
Hylton almost capped a great season with a 17th goal, just unable to stab the ball home after being set free by Roofe on 67 minutes but after withstanding that early second-half surge from County, the U's ended the game in control despite one final push from County that even saw the keeper up in United's box for the last minute! There was a debut for yet another of the promising home-grown youngsters, as winger Sam Humphreys came on with six minutes to go and the key part of that sentence is 'promise'. Backed by 732 fans in retro kit there was much to remind you of great days of the past. We move on to what promises to be a new chapter full of many more such moments.
See you next season.
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures Darrell Fisher, Stats by OPTA
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