Last minute drama in the EFL Cup
Oxford United went through in the EFL Cup in the most dramatic of fashions against Birmingham City tonight at St Andrews. It took until the very last minute of injury time for the U's to find a winner as Liam Sercombe arrived at the far post to head home and send them through after yet another win over higher-league opposition.
The only change to the team that drew with Chesterfield was a debut for Aaron Martin in place of the injured Chey Dunkley, and the former Birmingham centre-half had the first chance of the game with a second-minute header comfortably held by Adam Legzdins in the Birmingham goal.
The home side had a Paul Robinson volley sail over the bar after 8 minutes and a Robert Tesche shot go straight into the hands of Simon Eastwood a minute later but it was honours even in the opening quarter of the game, with Liam Sercombe drifting a 14th minute shot tamely wide as the sides sparred.
The excellent Chris Maguire pinged a free kick just off target on 25 but the U’s were forced into a change just before the half hour when Wes Thomas limped off and was replaced by Kane Hemmings. It was a night of attrition for the strikers, with Thomas’s starting partner Ryan Taylor having to have stitches in a nasty-looking head wound just before half time.
Even after two games of the season Eastwood looks a very astute signing and when the home side had a menacing spell before the break he made three excellent saves to keep it at 0-0 at the interval. First he saved from James Vaughan, then there was an even better one to deny Viv Solomon-Otabor moments later and then just before half-time he dived full length to push a Tesche effort away from danger.
The Yellows weathered that little storm and then started the second half very much on the front foot. Hemmings snapped a shot wide a minute in, a MacDonald ball across the box on 48 caused all sorts of problems but somehow evaded Hemmings and Taylor at the back post and the U’s were roared on by the superb 1,155 away fans behind that goal.
Eastwood had a far quieter time during the second 45 minutes, helped by the impressive Long, Nelson, Martin and Skarz plus the covering Lundstram just in front of the back four. The only question was whether either side could find the breakthrough before extra time. Maguire did his best with a 25-yard effort on 80 that Legzdins got down to well to save, Hemmings touched another Maguire ball in on to the post (although offside at the time) and the irrepressible MacDonald was bundled over by two defenders on 86 as he surged into the area, only for ref Darren Handley to wave the penalty appeals away.
The impish Dan Crowley, on as a sub, showed some neat touches in trying to create an opening but these were two well-drilled defences, and so to extra time where Vaughan went close with a volley on the turn after 93 but MacDonald came even closer when controlling a Maguire cross and blasting goalwards only for the keeper to make his best save of the match on 101. Damnations.
The second period was hectic but tiredness was certainly taking its toll and the game became incredibly stretched as both sides understandably struggled to track back. Tyler Roberts, another late sub, sliced a decent chance just wide after 116 minutes of an enthralling encounter, Hemmings 'scored', again from offside, after 118 but just as we set ourselves for a penalty shoot-out Maguire slipped Skarz free, his cross arrived at the far post and Sercombe somehow forced the ball home from the very tightest of angles.
Cue those familiar celebrations and United's progress to the second round. The draw is at 10pm on Wednesday. Change the sponsors, change the name, but the heroics continue for the U's in the League Cup.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA