Notts County v Oxford United
Oxford United started the new year in the best possible fashion with a dramatic 4-2 win at Notts County this afternoon. Two goals in the last two minutes from Callum O'Dowda and Kemar Roofe sealed a 4-2 victory after County had come back from a goal behind to lead at one stage. Liam Sercombe's penalty just before the break was cancelled out by goals from John Stead and Curtis Thompson for a County side under the caretaker management of Mick Halsall and Richard Dryden. However MacDonald was on hand to turn in a Patrick Hoban header and then great finishes from O'Dowda and Roofe made it a very happy New Year for a United side who had dominated most of the game.
On a heavy pitch that began to cut up even from the first few minutes, United stuck to their guns and continued to play their usual brand of sleek passing football. Early crosses flew across the County goal and the U’s took the game to their hosts from the off, with John Lundstram enjoying the freedom of Nottingham to spray the ball to either wing.
The excellent Chris Maguire, restored to the line-up on the left wing in place of Callum O’Dowda, almost volleyed home an opener from a sharp cross by Roofe on five minutes and Ryan Taylor and Lundstram had shots in the 11th that were in turn blocked and then flew over the bar of veteran keeper Roy Carroll’s goal.
County’s problems this season have been in defence rather than attack and strikers Izale McLeod and Stead both had tame efforts towards Sam Slocombe’s goal in the first 20 minutes. But the more they went forward the more vulnerable they left themselves to the counter and United almost capitalised on 25 when a swift exchange of passes allowed Roofe to wriggle into space in the area and force Carroll into a decent save down to his left.
It was a fantastically open game to watch and United played some terrific football in the first half, capped by a goal right on the break to give them a deserved lead. It all stemmed from a moment of comedy gold when a free kick just outside Oxford’s penalty area was passed perfectly against the heels of the unwitting referee and allowed United to break forward. Eventually the ball ran kindly for the alert Sercombe, who raced away and tapped it past Carroll who brought him crashing down. The keeper was shown a yellow card but was further punished when Sercombe lashed the penalty past him to make it 1-0 at the break with his 12th goal of the season.
Having had 62 per cent possession in the first 45 minutes, United roared forward even from kick off in the second, only a desperate tackle stopping Roofe from running clear on goal straight from the restart and the superb Alex MacDonald forcing the overworked Carroll into a good save after 50 minutes. Baldock had a shot tipped over by the former Man United keeper, Mullins dived for a header that was blocked on the line and Lundstram fired in a 30 yard volley on 53 as the Yellows played some inspired stuff.
The rampaging Sercombe, not content with a mere 12 goals for the season, thumped in a shot that Carroll clawed round the post on 54 and then raced on the yet another deft flick from the dominant Taylor on 58 but couldn't beat the last defender this time. Baldock then drifted in from the right and pinged a shot against the post but for all their possession and great approach play United hadn't killed the game off and just after the hour were pegged back when a simple free kick from just inside their half went all the way to the back post and Stead got above his man to plant his header back across Slocombe and inside the right-hand post to make it 1-1.
Suddenly the oldest Football League club woke up and McLeod should really have given them an unlikely lead when he wrong-footed the United back line but stabbed his effort wide without forcing Slocombe into a save. Grateful for the let off, United regained their composure and began to regain the initiative as the game became wide open. MacDonald sent in two efforts from the edge of the box and the tempo was ferocious, but the game was wide open by now and the Magpies began to see a chance of stealing all three points.
Having defended ferociously, they were 2-1 up with quarter of an hour to go as Thompson played the ball into the front man and then lashed the return pass beyond Slocombe from the edge of the area to lift the roof from this famous old ground.
Lesser sides would have crumbled but instead the U's responded in the only way they know how. Subs O'Dowda and Patrick Hoban had been given their chances just before the second goal and when O'Dowda won a corner it was Hoban who headed on for the alert MacDonald to swivel and beat Carroll from six yards out and make it 2-2 in a breathless second half.
Sercombe had a chance then Mullins saw an 88th minute effort somehow go wide from the heel of the desperately sliding Stead. Either side could have won it at that stage though, Skarz making an excellent challenge to keep the ball away from danger on 87 as County pressed.
A terrific game to watch and decided by two moments of sheer class. Late pressure, ball across the box, O'Dowda left foot, top corner, 3-2. 91, quick break and Roofe is away. He cuts past two men and drills it home. Three points and when the chips are down United respond magnificently.
A superb way to start the new year and United fully deserved the win. Belief and togetherness plus great players doing great things means plenty to look forward to in 2016.
See you for the FA Cup against Swansea...
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Darrell Fisher. Stats by OPTA
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