United make progress in the Emirates FA Cup
Oxford United made safe progress to the second round of the Emirates FA Cup this afternoon as they ended the hopes of non-league Merstham with a professional 5-0 win on the road. Goals from Alex MacDonald, Josh Ruffels, two from Kane Hemmings and another from Tyler Roberts sent the U's through in an excellent cup tie where their hosts did themselves proud despite the scoreline.
In a much-changed line up there was also a change of shape to a midfield diamond, with Ryan Ledson at the base and Roberts at the point behind Hemmings and Ryan Taylor. It mean a slightly different role for MacDonald, who took over the captain’s armband and assumed responsibility to go with it to score a stunning opener after 12 minutes.
Having been fouled on the edge of the box, MacDonald picked himself up and curled a delightful right-footed effort over the wall and into the top left corner, giving former United keeper Phil Wilson no chance in the Merstham goal.
It was far from plain sailing against a fired up Merstham side who had a great chance to level after 20 minutes as left back Kristian Campbell sent them forward and Dan Bennett forced Aaron Martin into an excellent block. However, they were indebted to Wilson on 26 when he made a terrific save at full stretch to push a Chey Dunkley header round the post and on 34 when he made another decent save from a Kane Hemmings effort.
Merstham were excellent in the first half and enjoyed a very good spell just before the break but United always had the edge and right on half time were 2-0 up when left-back Marvin Johnson flew past his man and crossed low for Ruffels to find the finish and beat Wilson once more, scoring at just the right time and deflating the home fans in a capacity crowd of around 2,000.
The non-league side battled hard after the break and sub Dan Hector made Eastwood make a good save at 2-0, but the U's were in ruthless mood and two goals just after the hour ensured that they will be alone as ball 4 in Monday's draw. First it was Hemmings racing away after a good pass from the excellent Ruffels, finishing well under Wilson. Barely two minutes later and it was 4-0 and game over when Roberts found space on the right-hand side of the box and calmly finished the chance to make it 4-0
There were further chances for Hemmings and Sercombe, denied by the flying Wilson with nine minutes to go after racing through from right back, where he had a massively influential game. Merstham did get the ball in the net, only for an offside flag to deny them even a consolation, but United had defended well and saw the game out, Eastwood earning another clean sheet with a good save on 85.
The final nail came when Hemmings tapped home his second after Wilson pushed away a Johnson shot in the last minute - reward for a non-stop performance from the striker and the end of a near perfect Emirates FA Cup performance.
Last year saw a tremendous FA Cup run, including a famous win over Swansea. This year' adventure is under way...
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels and Darrell Fisher,