Oxford United 1 Millwall 2
Oxford United were tamed by the Lions this afternoon as Millwall came from behind to win 2-1 at Grenoble Road. Leading through a good goal from Liam Sercombe United were pegged back by a wonderful strike from Steve Morison before Aiden O'Brien decided a tight game with a clinical finish early in the second half.
After Morison had headed Millwall’s first effort wide of the mark Chris Maguire took centre stage when he orchestrated two good chances for the Yellows. First he fooled the Millwall back line and half the crowd by shooting from a 25-yard free kick wide on the left when everyone was expecting a cross. The ball found the side netting but it was typical of the invention from the front two of Maguire and Dan Crowley in an unchanged line-up for the U’s.
Maguire twisted and turned to provide a cross after good work from John Lundstram and Joe Skarz after ten minutes, Crowley’s left-footed shot spinning wide off a covering defender with keeper Jordan Archer wrong-footed but as much as the more intricate approach play was coming from the U’s, you don’t always have to please the eye to open up a defence; Archer’s arrow like pass on 16 pierced the United defence in one go but striker Lee Gregory poked the ball into the side netting as Simon Eastwood raced towards him.
It was an even first half hour but United had the edge and on 31 were ahead with a very well-crafted goal. Skarz started it with a pass down the left wing for Marvin Johnson who raced past his man into wide-open space. Millwall’s back line retreated to try and protect the six-yard box, allowing Johnson the room to look up and pick a ball across the goal for Sercombe at the back post to side-foot home his third of the season from a yard out. Sercombe deserves enormous credit because wherever he plays he remains a real goal threat with his runs from deep.
Again, you can pass your way through a team or you can do things with one strike. Five minutes later and Millwall demonstrated the second variation perfectly with a superb strike from Morison. The experienced front man has scored close to 200 goals in his career but will not have scored many better than his thunderbolt from 25-yards out that flashed past Eastwood to make it 1-1 at the break. (Look out for the Goal of the Season awards: strikes against United are going to feature heavily).
It had been a good game and fairly even for 45 minutes but Millwall were ahead quickly in the second half when Mahlon Romeo reached the box on the right and crossed behind the backtracking defence. Aiden O’Brien was lurking with the freedom of the penalty area and took careful aim before firing past the exposed Eastwood to make it 2-1 to the Lions.
United roared back and dominated possession as they tried to get back on level terms. It left space at the back and the non-stop Joe Rothwell did exceptionally well to catch and then rob Fred Onyedinma as the Millwall forward raced clear from half way. But United kept pressing and Crowley had a low shot pushed round the post by Archer on 64 as they continued to search for a way to pick the lock of a rugged Millwall defence. Johnson's persistence allowed sub Tyler Roberts to crash in another shot that looped off a defender and on to the bar, Roberts also appealed loudly for handball when his 84th-minute cross went for a corner off an unspecified part of a defender's torso. There was one last-gasp chance for Nelson but his header went straight at the keeper from six yards to ensure there was to be no late drama this time.
United's attacking intent was clear - both full backs had been sacrificed for forwards by the end - but not for the first time they had come up against a side more experienced at this level who defended for their lives and saw the game out professionally to take all three points back to the Den.
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Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA