Bury 2 Oxford United 3
Oxford United twice came from behind to beat Bury 3-2 at Gigg Lane this afternoon. Trailing to a James Vaughan goal early on, Chris Maguire struck two magnificent free kicks either side of a Tom Pope goal before a Marvin Johnson cross was turned into his own net by Greg Leigh to make it eight games unbeaten in all competitions for the U's and 12 straight defeats for the home side.
It was a question of showing their character after Bury took an early lead in a fantastic first half. The first goal was simple and direct, very route one, but when you are on the sort of run that Bury are on who cares? A long punt forward in the right channel was allowed to bounce by an unusually hesitant United defence. Vaughan was on it in a flash and as Simon Eastwood came out Vaughan lifted the ball over the keeper for a neat finish to lift the mood and settle any early nerves that the home side might have had. Five goals in seven games for Vaughan.
Eastwood saved well when George Miller tried his luck from a similar position two minutes later and the same player forced Curtis Nelson into a strong block on 12 minutes as the Shakers made the early running. However, United looked very comfortable on the ball and didn’t take long to get back on level terms.
Maguire had set his sights with an early free kick and on 13 minutes was presented with another opportunity to show off his deadball technique when Rob Hall was brought down on the edge of the box. Up stepped Maguire to float, rather than power, the free kick round the wall and in to the right side of the goal to leave debutant keeper Paul Rachubka picking the ball out of his net with just about his first touch.
It took a magnificent header from Chey Dunkley to take the ball off Tom Pope’s head but the U’s had their tails up now and started to dominate possession. Kane Hemmings sent another effort wide after powering himself into a good position, Hall was booked for being fouled in the area, and the impish Maguire forced Rachubka to tip another try over the bar before we had reached the 20 minute mark.
The overworked Shakers keeper made a good save from a powerful Maguire blast on 25 and was then grateful when his defence hacked the ball away after a Maguire corner had caused consternation. Phil Edwards, who has a great habit of getting into the penalty box from right back, was inches away from a wicked Hall cross, Maguire was out of character with a 38th-minute blast and a goal was definitely coming.
Somehow it was at the wrong end.
Scott Burgess crossed to the back post where Pope powered in a header that Dunkley did well to clear off the line. However, the defender and the prone Eastwood were powerless to prevent the papal despatch from two yards out as the former Port Vale striker knocked the rebound calmly past the two sprawling men on the line.
They may have had the Pope, Oxford have Maguire. Two minutes from the break and Hall was once again tripped on the edge of the box. Step forward Maguire to open his box of tricks and come out with a better struck effort that Rachubka got a glove to but couldn’t keep out. Eleven for the season for the Scottish international, who looked just about unplayable this afternoon – not for the first time this season.
It was breathless stuff and the entertainment continued after the break when Johnson's pace was to prove decisive at both ends.
First, he somehow made up five yards to slide in and nick the ball away as Miller prepared to shoot in the opening minutes of the period. Kane Hemmings then rattled the frame of the goal and United kept pushing for a third goal but it wasn't until the 70th minute that they got themselves in front for the very first time. Johnson, nominally at left-back but also a major threat on the wing,once again ate up the ground and rattled a low cross that bisected the baffled Bury backline and was on to Leigh before he knew it. The left back could do little about it as the ball smashed into his shins and rolled slowly over the line to give Oxford the lead for the first time.
Credit to the Shakers who refused to let their wretched run get the better of them. New boss Chris Brass will be pleased with the fighting spirit if not the finishing: they might have made more of a chance on 79 minutes when the immense Dunkley slid in to mop up another dangerous ball into the six yard box for example. They took the fighting spirit too far when Pope scythed down Maguire with eight minutes to go, a Cardinal sin, but that was more frustration at his side having thrown away the lead twice than anything too malicious.
The last few minutes saw the Yellows try and take the sting out of the game to a backdrop if unhappy home fans heading for an early exit. The contrast with the bellowing Yellow Army was huge.
United are on a roll and this was another important win, based on confidence, character and belief. They now go in to a massive game on Boxing Day at home to Northampton. Tickets are selling out and Oxford United are on the march.
See you Boxing Day...
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA
See extended highlights and video reaction in Yellow Player HD