Oxford United v Bristol Rovers
Oxford United were robbed by the Pirates this afternoon at the Kassam Stadium. After beating higher-league Swansea and Millwall in the FA Cup and JPT earlier in the week, the U's were beaten at home for just the second time this season as Ellis Harrison drove home an 88th-minute penalty for Bristol Rovers at a freezing Kassam Stadium. Kemar Roofe's 18th of the season had given his side the lead in the second half but that was cancelled out by a header from the U's former striker Matty Taylor before Harrison's late spot kick decided a close match.
United reverted to the same line-up that began the week against Swansea: Sam Slocombe, Joe Skarz and Ryan Taylor all returning to the side after missing the JPT win at Millwall. Taylor's tenth-minute header drifted wide of the mark with the first chance at either end while a John Lundstram blast on 25 flew a yard the wrong side of the post.
Rovers, fifth at the start of the day, opened up with an interesting three centre-halves formation and it was one of those, Tom Lockyer, who had their first opportunity with a header that went straight into the arms of Slocombe after 13 minutes. Otherwise the first half hour was tight and competitive rather than expansive.
It was a case of the U's gradually turning the screw and pushing the Pirates back, although Ryan Taylor hobbling off after 31 minutes after twisting awkwardly meant a change and the introduction of Callum O'Dowda as a direct replacement up front. A typical run from O'Dowda on 41 allowed Maguire to shoot just wide from the edge of the box but the chances hadn't quite opened up for the U's in the first half.
It didn't take long for them to amend that after the break, with a certain inevitability over the scorer, and the source. Lundstram the architect with a low shot from the edge of the box, Roofe running in and touching the ball home from five yards. One-nil to the U's and surely they were going to cap their golden week with a win?
Rovers had other ideas. Roofe has become such a key player for the U's and moved to 18 for the season, but a former Oxford youngster is just as integral to the Gas and on 52 he showed his own predatory skills. Let go as a teenager at the Kassam Stadium, Taylor timed his run expertly to ghost into the box and glide Daniel Leadbitter's superb cross past the helpless Slocombe to make it 1-1.
Taylor should really have scored a second on 72 when a storming run from Rory Gaffney cut the United defence wide open. Gaffney's pass across left Taylor with the whole goal to aim at but his shot flew high, wide, and into the car park. The game was now going end to end and a brilliant tackle from Tom Parkes took the ball away from the excellent Alex MacDonald as he looked to apply the finishing touch to a swift United attack, driven by O'Dowda.
Veteran keeper Steve Mildenhall then produced a magnificent save to deny Lundstram from distance before saving with his legs as O'Dowda cruised into the box but couldn't provide a finish. Those saves were crucial when the Gas relieved the pressure and broke to the other end. Jermaine Easter is a very experienced striker and knocked a through ball past the advancing Slocombe before gong to ground as the keeper came out. Ref Nicholas Kinseley had no hesitation and Harrison blasted his penalty home to make it 2-1 and allows his side to edge closer to the U's at the top of the table.
There was still time for Roofe to clip an effort just over and O'Dowda to drag a shoot wide, but after their earlier exertions United for once just couldn't find a way back into the game. Tired legs? Possibly, but there will be no excuses and United just regroup and head for Portsmouth in their next match.
See you there.
Att: 9, 492
Fifty 50 winning number 434328 wins £1,205
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Steve Daniels and Darrell Fisher
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