Oxford United 1 Gillingham 0
Oxford United made it back-to-back wins for just the second time this season as Marvin Johnson capped a week he will never forget with the only goal of the game to beat Gillingham this evening. Johnson's first goal for the U's decided a close game played in odd conditions, with fog descending in the second half to hide much of the game from fans.
There wasn’t quite the express start of Saturday’s 4-1 win over Coventry but Chris Maguire and Rob Hall both tried their luck from around the edge of the area in the first ten minutes as the Yellows started strongly. Hall, who as you might expect grows stronger with each game, drifted past two defenders on 19 minutes after Phil Edwards had joined the attack on the right and allowed Kane Hemmings to hold the ball and let Hall join in and get his shot away.
That was blocked by a resolute Gillingham defence who seemed content to soak up early pressure, inviting the U’s to break them down. Cody McDonald is always a threat and found room to get a shot away half way through the first half, but it was a rare moment of danger and confidently dealt with by Simon Eastwood.
United, sung forward by their unstoppable fans, had deserved their lead and on 32 it was Johnson who found it to cap a memorable week. On Friday night Johnson’s partner went into labour, meaning that Johnson missed the win over Coventry to be at the birth of daughter Ava. Back in the side at left back, he celebrated by playing a one-two with Hemmings, racing past his man and dragging the ball back across the stranded Stuart Nelson and into the far corner to make it 1-0 and spark joyous baby-cradling celebrations by the corner flag. Marvellous.
Gillingham now came out of their shells and tried to get back into the game quickly but United’s defence have a mean mentality at the moment and threw themselves in front of a couple of half chances to hold onto the clean sheet at half time. Maguire and Hall both got under efforts at the other end before the break, Ledson had another effort deflected wide on 41 and the only danger came in the very last action of the half when Jay Emmanuel-Thomas headed a good effort against the bar and Phil Edwards had to head McDonald’s follow up off the line.
It became a game of two halves, only one of which you could see. It had been entertaining stuff and clearly a good game but the second half was harder to call, mainly because a thick fog rolled in from the open end of the ground and by the hour mark was masking most of the pitch and making it very hard for spectators.
Maguire had two efforts go close, one ending up on the roof of the net, but Gillingham caused problems in United's area as well and with a little more determination might have forced the ball home once or twice as it bobbled around. Instead the forceful Dunkley and Nelson got the ball away, helped by the excellent Edwards and the ever-willing Johnson.
Emmanuel-Thomas forced Eastwood into a good save on 68 with a shot from 25 yards, Maguire matching him with another effort that skidded across goal after he had worked his way past three defenders with some twinkle-toed magic. There was more concern when Dunkley hobbled off with 15 minutes to go; United seem to pick up an injury a week at the moment, but Aaron Martin came on and settled quickly alongside Nelson and Gillingham got little change out of the U's. Credit to Ryan Ledson for this as well. The midfielder shields the back line extremely well alongside John Lundstram and with Alex MacDonald working like a demon down the right-hand side there was a really solid look to the centre of the park and no shortage of hard work.
The dangerous Emmanuel-Thomas drilled in another effort on 84 that Eastwood got down smartly to save and Gillingham had created chances and looked dangerous all night (reportedly: it was hard to tell in one half of the pitch). The U's though have regrouped and refocused and are now starting to find the consistency and results to match their early-season performances.
They get a chance to test themselves against the leaders on Saturday when they travel to Scunthorpe, but for now can reflect on two games, two wins and an important six points on the board. No hiding that the U's are on the up.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA
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