REPORT Exeter City v Oxford United
Oxford United bounced back in the best possible way with a comprehensive 4-1 win at Exeter this evening. Having lost successive games for the first time this season, the U's sent a message to any doubters with an emphatic win at St James Park thanks to headers from Chey Dunkley and Alex MacDonald plus two goals from Jordan Bowery. Alex Nicholls pulled a late goal back, but it was little consolation to Grecians boss Paul Tisdale on his 500th game in charge.
Benji Buchel needed to get down well in the first minute to catch a 30-yard free kick from Ryan Harley but that was to be Exeter's best chance until they were 4-0 down. The men in all yellow came far closer to the opener in the seventh minute as an aggressive run from his own half by Callum O’Dowda and an astute pass slipped Chris Maguire into a shooting position. Keeper Bobby Olejnik did exceptionally well to turn it away, but his celebrations were short-lived.
Form the corner MacDonald was able to work space out on the right and bend in a wicked cross towards the far post and Dunkley towered above his man to head the ball back across Olejnik for his first of the season and give the U’s a precious early lead.
That was the perfect start for the U’s and with the recalled O’Dowda, playing in place of the injured Kemar Roofe, prominent on the left wing they continued to threaten. Maguire, cleverly exploiting the gaps from his number ten role, was the architect of many moves with MacDonald an always willing runner outside him.
It needed a typically brave block from Joe Skarz on 22 to beat away a David Wheeler effort at the other end but United should have doubled their lead on 28 when O’Dowda was picked out by a magnificent cross-field pass from John Lundstram. O'Dowda took a touch but was thwarted by the sprawling Olejnik who timed his slide perfectly to take the ball off the winger’s toe as he looked to dance round him.
Once again, the keeper’s joy was premature as on 41 minutes United were 2-0 up. As so often it was Lundstram who paved the way by winning a 50/50 and surging from deep inside his own half and then sliding the ball through for Bowery, who powered clear and then slipped the ball past Olejnik for an excellent team goal. Bowery’s third goal for the U’s and a scoreline to reflect his side’s first-half dominance; it would have been three if a trademark Maguire free kick from the edge of the area had been a foot further left in injury time.
Exeter made a double change at the break but to no avail. Captain Johnny Mullins and his defensive colleagues continued to hold the upper hand and two goals from corners either side of the hour mark sealed the win for the U's. The first came after a swift break and a deflection had saved the Grecians. However, Maguire's delivery was deadly once again and Bowery rose well to nod home a straightforward second of the night to make it 3-0.
Three minutes later and Maguire was provider once more, this time with a slightly lower trajectory from a corner that allowed the excellent MacDonald to score with a rare header to make it 4-0 and end the contest with half an hour to go. Three goals from set pieces, but United had cut Exeter wide open at times with some slick movement on a heavy pitch.
Exeter's consolation came on 77 when Alex Nicholls was granted too much space on the right edge of the penalty box and curled a powerful effort into the far corner of the net and beyond the outstretched hand of Buchel, But it was too little too late and the U's saw the game through to complete their second double of the season.
There was time for a cameo from new arrival George Waring, signed on loan from Stoke City this morning, and the six-foot five forward saw a header on 82 strike the bar with Olejnik beaten once again. Waring's time will come.
An excellent win based on togetherness and a fierce determination to get back to winning ways. Make no mistake; there were players in yellow tonight who played through the pain barrier and were far from fully fit. It is that character that continues to drive this group of players forward.
See you at Wimbledon.
Report by Chris Williams, stats by Opta (Photos to follow)
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