Oxford United 0 Northampton Town 1
Oxford United were beaten in injury time in front of a full house this afternoon. Close to 12,000 people saw a back heel from Marc Richards decide the closest of games and give Northampton a 1-0 victory.
In front of a capacity crowd United started like a house on fire and closed down Northampton at every opportunity. Chris Maguire had an early free kick batted away as he set his sights and skipper John Lundstram was pulling the strings in the centre of the park with some clever little touches that created space for his teammates, turning the Northampton back line to face their own goal as often as possible.
The Cobblers, with former United favourite Alfie Potter on one wing, had the best chances in the first half though. Oxford boy Matt Taylor tested Simon Eastwood with a low shot after 15 minutes, an Alex Revell flick was well defended by Curtis Nelson, Lundstram blocked a Paul Anderson blast and then Lewin Nyatanga headed the best of the lot over the bar when unmarked six yards out after 25 minutes.
United continued to look dangerous as well and Marvin Johnson’s crosses from the left were a constant threat, while Maguire got his second free kick on target after 37 but was denied by a decent save from keeper Adam Smith, low to his right. The Scot then smashed a terrific volley against the heels of Chey Dunkley after a clever corner, leaving it perfectly poised at 0-0 at the break.
The visitors continued to ask questions and really should have been in front early in the second half. First Potter couldn’t find a finish after ghosting in the area and then Anderson inexplicably failed to tap the ball home from a yard out after Richards had presented him with an open goal.
Alex MacDonald had dragged an effort wide at the other end and Nelson, always willing to join the attack, sent another shot past the other post soon after but Northampton, on a terrible run of form, dropped deeper as the half wore on, perhaps wondering if today was not their day after those earlier chances went begging.
MacDonald, flying in to the box at full speed, couldn't beat the advancing Smith, Gabriel Zakuani made an outstanding block when Maguire let fly from ten yards out, and crosses either flashed past outstretched boots or floated too high for arriving runs. John-Joe O'Toole turned himself into a seasonal pantomime villain with the home fans booing his every challenge and baying for him to be shown a second yellow, but it was tenacious stuff from the Cobblers who had fought hard for their point and won all three when a corner in injury time was guided back across goal for Richards to cleverly redirect the ball in at the left-hand post to win the game.
Tough on the U's but 11,790 people were there to see it on a chilly Boxing Day. That's the sixth time in 2016 that over 10,000 people have packed the stadium - a remarkable figure given that it had only happened 11 times in the previous 14 years. Our thanks to everyone who has made 2016 such a memorable year.
Join us as we look to bounce back and end it in style against Walsall on New Year's Eve.
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Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA