Oxford United closed the gap on league leaders Plymouth to just two points thanks to a 1-0 win at the Kassam Stadium this evening. A first-half goal from man of the moment Liam Sercombe was enough to stretch United's unbeaten league run to seven games in a match that underlined both sides' promotion potential.
Jordan Graham’s suspension opened the way for Alex MacDonald to return on one wing and United opted for a double switch in the wide positions, with Kemar Roofe moving to the flank and Danny Hylton coming back into the side to partner Ryan Taylor in central attack. Both moves certainly paid off as United used the flanks brilliantly throughout.
Roofe had the first effort when his fifth-minute effort ballooned for a corner from the first of several good blocks by a well-disciplined Plymouth defence that had conceded just three goals on the road all season. Their resolve was tested though; Hylton spooned a header wide from a George Baldock cross after nine minutes, Baldock had vociferous appeals for a penalty waved away on 14 and both sides spread the play wide whenever possible on the superb Kassam Stadium pitch.
Plymouth, in purple, had just one chance in the first half, when Josh Simpson dragged a shot across the face of Sam Slocombe’s goal on 16 minutes, and were lucky to still be on level terms when MacDonald strode on to a Taylor flick after 25 minutes only to see his curling effort come back off the far post with Luke McCormick for once beaten.
Taylor then struck the other post on the half hour after yet another intricate move that had flicks from Roofe and Hylton to set Taylor in on goal at a tight angle. Add in a disallowed ‘goal’ from Roofe after Hylton was ruled to have crossed after the ball had gone out and the U’s were definitely on top.
They finally made the breakthrough after 32 minutes with yet another tremendous move that finally carved Plymouth open. Baldock, the centre of everything, joined the attack once more to gallop on to a Hylton pass and cut the ball back towards the penalty spot. Sercombe had timed his run to perfection and made the finish look easy as he planted the ball past the helpless McCormick to make it 1-0.
Deservedly ahead at the break, United knew that the league leaders were going to come at them after half time, and sure enough Argyle started to see more of the ball and gain ground without forcing Slocombe into a save. There was an almighty scramble from a free kick that Jake Wright cleared from just in front of the line, a free kick from the impressive Graham Carey that whistled wide, and some brave blocks by the outstanding Wright and Mullins at the heart of the rearguard.
United were still creating the better chances and MacDonald, terrier like on the wing all night, popped up in the box to smash a low shot at goal that McCormick did well to save. Plymouth became more and more urgent, going direct and leaving gaps at the back, but were missing talismanic striker Reuben Reid through injury and were hounded all over the park by a United side who closed them down quickly whenever possible. Sub Patrick Hoban thumped a header against the bar on 87 minutes; United hitting both posts and the bar during the game tells a story but Plymouth had already had their best spell and the U's were not to be denied.
Win the games against the teams around you and you have every chance of success. Beat the league leaders and people really do start taking notice. Oxford United are on the march. See you Saturday against Barnet...
Report by Chris Williams, photos by Steve Daniels, Stats by OPTA
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