Full time report from the Kassam Stadium
Goals from Anthony Knockaert, Tom Cadman and two from Tomer Hemed gave Championship side Brighton a 4-0 win at the Kassam Stadium tonight as Oxford United's final home pre-season game ended in defeat. Chris Hughton's Seagulls showed why they are among the favourites for promotion to the Premier League with an eye-catching performance although the U's also played some decent football in a game full of clever movement and quick passing.
No doubt about the star though: Simon Eastwood. When your keeper is man of the match it possibly tells its own story. Eastwood has looked very assured all pre-season and underlined the fact with two smart saves in the first five minutes, beating away efforts from Beram Kayal and Sam Baldock from inside the area as the tone was set for what was to follow.
The U’s were penned back throughout the first 20 minutes and on 18 were behind when another slick passing move from the visitors created space on the left for a low cross. Knockaert controlled the ball, swivelled and gave Eastwood no chance with as he planted the ball inside the left hand post.
United found themselves compressed into an unfamiliar defensive role at home with the midfield four of Joe Rothwell, John Lundstram, fit-again Liam Sercombe and Chris Maguire often treading on the toes of Christian Ribeiro, Aaron Martin, Chey Dunkley and Josh Ruffels behind them. That meant that the hard-working Wes Thomas was often left alone, while the impish Dan Crowley looked for space between midfield and attack.
It might have got worse for the U’s on 25 minutes when Glen Murray pinged a poor penalty against the pole behind the post rather than into the net after Dunkley had upended Baldock. Eastwood then made another excellent save from Baldock as the Seagulls swooped forward again and again.
However United had hung in there and were paying some neat football themselves, refusing to hoof the ball forward hopefully and determined to stick to their passing principles. One terrific move after 35 minutes saw them string together 20 first-time passes and eventually pave the way for a free kick from Maguire that flew to safety off the wall. Dunkley’s effort from the resulting corner was well saved by David Stockdale and Lundstram’s overhead effort moments later also kept Stockdale interested as it flashed over the bar.
The second half saw Curtis Nelson and Ryan Taylor given a chance to impress, although it was Eastwood who remained centre stage with one further magnificent save from Knockaert early in the second period as the Championship side continued to create chances.
United had a chance just after the hour when Taylor fed Thomas who was barged over inside the box. Ref John Busby waved play on and offered United the advantage but Maguire could only fire over the top from a tight angle. Almost immediately Brighton took advantage of that to double their lead. Having just changed eight players it was two of the subs who gave them a 2-0 lead when Hemed headed a corner over the stranded Eastwood but against the bar, only for the ball to bounce ideally on to the boot of Cadman who volleyed home from six yards.
On 76 it was 3-0 as Hemed hammered a cut back into the roof of the net from six yards, and on 85 the same player slid in to score his second from close range and make it 4-0. Game over.
Wise fans know better than to read too much into pre-season results. United may have lost twice at home but it has been to champions Leicester and this excellent Brighton side who on this evidence will do well over the coming months. United have had two good work outs and now have ten days to tune up and be ready for the next home game, their first league one game in 16 years when they welcome Chesterfield.
See you there.
Eastwood, Ribeiro, Martin, Dunkley (Nelson 46), Ruffels (Long 83), Rothwell (Ashby 66), Sercombe, Lundstram, Maguire (Skarz 66), Crowley (Taylor 46), Thomas (Roberts 83)
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels and Darrell Fisher
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