Oxford United's pre-season in Spain ended with a 1-0 defeat against Spanish side Marbella tonight. Hundreds of United fans enjoyed a very competitive game as they basked on a grass bank at the end of a great week for fans and players alike.
United switched things around after Tuesday’s first tour game. Simon Eastwood again started in goal but the starting defence was Christian Ribeiro, Chey Dunkley, Aaron Martin and Joe Skarz with Dan Crowley, John Lundstram, Liam Sercombe and Alex MacDonald across midfield. Up top Ryan Taylor and Wes Thomas formed a new partnership.
The temperature was slightly lower than on Tuesday but still hard work on a hard pitch for both sets of players. Despite that heat there was decent tempo to the game and some stern challenges right from the opening few minutes as the two teams tested each other out. Eastwood made one excellent save after 17 minutes to touch a dipping effort over the bar and a more comfortable one to smother a low effort a minute later, but the first half was very even and the outstanding Chris Maguire crashed a free kick against the post with the closest effort for United in the first half.
Maguire, on as a sub for Alex MacDonald at the drinks break in the opening period, looked very sharp on his return as did Thomas who dragged another half chance wide on 42 and sent a header close before Marbella made it 1-0 three minutes before the break when their left winger cut in from the left channel and finished neatly beyond Eastwood.
The second half started with two strong penalty appeals for the U’s against a robust Marbella side who were worried by a Maguire effort on 50 minutes that flew just over the bar. Thomas and Maguire had further efforts before Taylor threw himself at a rebound but couldn’t guide his header back on target.
‘Friendly’ may not translate all that well with Marbella’s number 4 lucky to stay on the pitch after throwing an arm in John Lundstram’s face on 65 minutes and several cynical Spanish challenges to test the patience of the United players nut not necessarily the ultra-lenient ref.
Marbella are clearly a talented side and United's year long unbeaten run in Europe which began in Austria, was under threat. Joe Rothwell had a low shot saved on 85 but despite dominating much of the second half the equaliser just wouldn't come.
Did it matter? Maybe not to the magnificent Yellow Army who have been a credit to the club all week. It will matter to the management though who will analyse, learn about the players in defeat and move on to a mouth-watering home game against Leicester City at the Kassam Stadium on Tuesday.
Eastwood (Stevens 69), Ribeiro (Long 62), Martin (Cundy 69(, Dunkley (Nelson 46), Skarz (Welch-Hayes 62), Crowley (Giles 67), Lundstram (Ashby 67), Sercombe (Rothwell 62), MacDonald (Maguire 22), Taylor (Roberts 62), Thomas (Jeacock 67).
Report by Chris Williams, with thanks to Simon Hathaway and Terry Winter for photographs