Oxford United 2 Luton Town 3Oxford United were beaten 3-2 by Luton Town in a dramatic encounter at the Kassam Stadium this afternoon. Leading from the second minute through Danny Hylton, United somehow found themselves 2-1 down at the break. Another early goal, this time from Chey Dunkley, got them back on level terms before Joe Piggott sealed the win for the Hatters.
There was little sign of the drama to come as United took just two minutes to make the breakthrough. John Lundstram’s backside started the move as he blocked a punt forward from Olly Lee. The ball ran to the recalled Roofe who threaded a perfectly weighted ball through the ponderous Hatters defence for Hylton to run clear. Rather than snatch at the chance he took a touch then finished clinically past keeper Elliot Justham. Five goals in ten games for Hylton and 14 for the season.
With Callum O’Dowda and Alex MacDonald both ruled out through illness you might have thought United’s rhythm would be affected, but far from it in the first half hour. Hylton was running the visitors ragged and was soon off on a dribble that took him past three defenders, and then almost back past the same three from the other direction.
Knowing that only a win would keep their thin play-off chances alive, Luton were forced to chase the game from that second minute and certainly posed a threat, with some good blocks needed to stop shots at source and Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu dragging a clear sight at goal wide, but that left space for Lundstram in midfield and Roofe and Chris Maguire out wide to exploit.
United were on top but also guilty of letting their early momentum fade, although they were a foot away from a second when Maguire’s 38th-minute free kick flashed just past the post.
However, the last five minutes of the first half turned the game on its head. First Jonjoe Kenny's back pass forced Benji Buchel wide and he stumbled, presenting the ball to Josh McQuoid who squared for Piggott to tap home and stun the home fans as he made it 1-1. Unbelievably, three minutes into injury time it was 1-2 as a floated ball into the box picked out Lee in acres of space and he swivelled to volley past the stranded Buchel.
This wasn’t in the script but thankfully United don’t let moments like that rock their core belief. Six minutes into the second half and parity was restored. Maguire’s dead ball delivery is usually spot on and this time his free kick from the right was met by the towering Dunkley who headed down and saw the ball bounce beyond Justham to make it 2-2.
Surely they would now go on and win? Luton had other ideas. On 58 back they came; a clipped ball over the top and Piggott trapped it and drilled past Buchel for 3-2 and the winner, despite United's best efforts to salvage something as they began to throw men forward, knowing that teams around them were winning. It became a catalogue of chances. Kenny fired over on the hour, a last-ditch tackle stopped sub Jordan Bowery, Mullins scooped over the top from five yards out, Sercombe's low shot on 71 was well saved by Justham...
Sub James Roberts almost found that elusive third goal with a powerful shot from the edge of the box that struck the right hand post, Hylton headed over on 84 and Luton dropped deeper and deeper to try and frustrate the U's. Sercombe sent a dipping effort just over in the last minute but there was to be no way through despite fantastic support from their fans
Five massive games now become four. United remain in the automatic places and their destiny remains in their own hands, but it is incredibly close. Even during this 90 minutes the table changed a dozen times. It will be whoever holds their nerve over the next 360 minutes.
See you at Newport.
Fifty/50 winning number wins
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Daniels and Darrell Fisher