Taylor at the double as United put Stevenage to the sword
Oxford United romped past Stevenage today with a fantastic 5-1 win on the road. In a game that had everything, United put Stevenage to the sword thanks to two goals from Ryan Taylor, a penalty from Liam Sercombe and goals from Alex MacDonald and Kemar Roofe. There was even the luxury of missing a penalty against a Stevenage side who ended the game with just nine men.
United never let up after starting superbly, with MacDonald and Roofe going close inside the first three minutes and the recalled Chey Dunkley inches away from a Roofe cross. MacDonald had a shot deflected into the side netting on five minutes and every time the U’s got the ball into the wide positions they looked like scoring.
Stevenage had former United loanee Armand Gnanduillet as their target man and one flick after ten minutes almost got Tom Conlon into a goalscoring position, but the home side were under constant pressure and it was no surprise when Taylor gave Oxford the lead on 13. Roofe flicked on for the superb Sercombe who hammered his shot at goal. Keeper Jesse Joronen did well to keep it out but parried only as far as Sercombe, who cut the ball back. Taylor has played well without getting his reward in recent weeks and celebrated gleefully with the fans when his shot from six yards found the back of the net.
The Yellows were rampant and in total control, but after 17 minutes the home side were somehow back in a game they had no right to be. A ball down the right-hand channel caused hesitation at the back and Sam Slocombe came out of his area to try and mop up. Sadly his clearance down the line didn’t find touch or a United player but went to Whelpdale, who lofted it straight back over the retreating keeper from the right wing. The crowd held their breath but Whelpdale’s aim was true and the game was level at 1-1. Never mind.
Back came United immediately and barely two minutes after the equaliser they had the perfect opportunity to go in front once more. Yet another surging run from Sercombe drew a sliding tackle from Dean Parrett. Ref Lee Swaby looked across to assistant William Bull who signalled a foul and a penalty. Sercombe struck it well enough but Joronen had read his mind and flew to his right to save. Four different players have missed penalties in the first 16 games of the season
It takes a special sort of character to then demand that you take another barely nine minutes later, but Sercombe has been immense all year and when Hylton raced on to a Roofe through ball and was hauled down by Jamie McCombe there was only one man going to take this penalty. Joronen went the same way but Sercombe called his bluff and planted the ball home down the middle to make it 2-1 and give United the lead they fully deserved.
McCombe was in the dressing room by then as the home side went down to ten men, and based on the preceding action they now had an absolute mountain to climb. MacDonald slammed another effort just over on 39 and Roofe smacked a 44th minute effort off the left-hand post after yet more good work from Taylor. Breathless stuff .
Today was ‘Family Away Day’ and the club provided free transport to under 16s, meaning that many were watching their first ever away game. What an introduction.
The second half started in the same way with Roofe going close twice and a Taylor shot saved but the longer it stayed at 2-1 the more the ten-man home side started to gamble to try and get something out of the game. Gnanduillet had a header saved by Slocombe who then atoned for the earlier mistake with a superb save to tip a rising effort over the bar and deny Tom Pett a heartbreaker. It was Stevenage's best spell, but they were held at arm's length by the superb Oxford back four. What was needed was a third…
65 minutes and United break at speed as Stevenage overcommit. Lundstram, in oceans of space for the hundredth time, sprays the ball to MacDonald who frees Baldock on yet another lung-bursting run. He gets to the dead ball line and cuts it back, and MacDonald cracks it home for his first of the season.
A great goal and by now Stevenage were losing their discipline. Tonge lunged in with a terrible challenge on tormentor-in-chief Lundstram and now United were 3-1 up against nine men. They took full advantage.
First Taylor thumped a header in off the bar from another Baldock cross to make it 4-1. Then the dispirited home side granted Roofe the freedom of Stevenage and he crashed the ball home from 20 yards for the pick of the goals and a 5-1 lead.
They made it look simple and are playing with such a swagger that the closing stages were hugely enjoyable but more training game than meaningful contest. However, make no mistake, this was a big win that has been coming for a while. Losing at home to Barnet last week kept United grounded and fired them up for this win, one which keeps them up there in the top three and looking in great shape.
Away: Fantastic (number TBC)
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures Darrell Fisher, Stats by Opta
See at the reaction and extended Highlights in Yellow Player HD