Oxford United 4 Coventry City 1
Oxford United got back to winning ways with an emphatic 4-1 win over Coventry City this afternoon. First-half goals from Kane Hemmings, an own goal and a Chris Maguire penalty followed by a fine strike from Alex MacDonald in the second half gave United their best home win of the season despite an injury-time penalty from Marcus Tudgay to give the visitors a little consolation.
When the Head Coach asks for a quick start and to be on the front foot you can’t really ask for a better reaction from the players than to be 3-0 up at the break.
There was a late change in selection due to Marvin Johnson attending the birth of his second child, which meant Rob Hall and MacDonald in the wide roles and Chris Maguire playing just behind Hemmings. Whether it was the changes, a spell at Bisham for team bonding or a few choice words, United started like an express train and dominated the whole first half.
They might have been ahead even before Hemmings made it 1-0 on seven minutes. First Hemmings flicked a decent effort goalwards in the first minute, Chey Dunkley then smashed a left-footed shot goalwards on five minutes that was hacked off the line, and then United made the pressure count. Curtis Nelson launched a good ball forward that Maguire hooked across goal as he tried to bring it down. Hemmings has a great knack of being in the right place at the right time, usually on the shoulder of the last defender. This time he was on the edge of the box to stroke the ball past Lee Burge and give the U’s precisely the start that Michael Appleton had asked for.
Dunkley was a major threat whenever United got the ball into the box, winning most of the aerial duels and pulling defenders all over the place. Hall, on his first home game, scorched past a defender early on to show that his absence has done little damage to the afterburners, while Ledson and Lundstram in midfield crunched into every challenge and dominated the centre of the pitch, looking like a veteran partnership rather than a pairing playing as a duo together for the first time.
MacDonald too was having a big influence, beating his man and dragging a shot inches wide on 26, while Maguire underlined the confidence in the side with a shot from the centre spot that went well wide but did have everyone wondering for a second or two.
Coventry had no answer at that stage and on the half hour it was 2-0. Again it was Hemmings in the centre of things, winning a header, twisting into the box and firing in a shot that was blocked. Unfortunately for the visitors it flew straight on to the shins of Sterry and back into the empty net for an unfortunate own goal.
The rampant Yellows saw Hall sting the palms of Burge before Maguire made it 3-0 from the spot to cap a superb first half. The Scot was the man fouled, brought to ground by Lewis Page and from there the rest was a formality, Maguire sending Burge the wrong way and rolling a simple spot kick home to make it 3-0 at the break.
The away fans were unimpressed, mocking their side’s one effort of the half and grateful to Burge for an outstanding save to deny Hemmings a fourth from close range just before the break. Page had a decent effort saved by Eastwood on 44 but otherwise it had been pretty much one-way traffic.
Coventry improved after the break and for the first ten minutes were the side on top, but on the hour any doubts were erased by a fourth goal, this time from MacDonald. Enjoying his return, MacDonald seized on a loose ball after Hemmings saw a shot blocked and drilled it perfectly inside the right-hand post from the edge of the box with Burge nowhere near.
It might have been even more. Burge made a good save at the base of his post from a Maguire drive, Dunkley got the wrong sort of connection as he got onto a corner at the back post and United were on top, but the game then lost all shape and momentum as first Wes Thomas limped off after a cameo return as a sub and then Joe Skarz was carried off on a stretcher after a clash of heads. It led to a lengthy delay and 11 minutes added time, but hopefully the stretcher was purely as a precaution and Skarz will be back quickly.
The game meandered to a quiet conclusion after that. Coventry had shown greater appetite in the second 45 minutes but United had been the better side in all areas and the result was well-deserved. Coventry got the goal their second-half improvement had deserved when Jamie Sterry was bundled over and Tudgay tucked away the spot kick, but by then the game was all but over.
'We draw a line in the sand and start again' Michael Appleton had said in the build up. Great response, perfect start, we go again against Gillingham on Tuesday night.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA
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