Oxford United 1 Rochdale 0
Oxford United took all three points right at the death this afternoon as Liam Sercombe steered them to a dramatic 1-0 win over Rochdale. Sercombe's 88th-minute tap-in decided a tough game with little to choose between two fiercely committed sides.
The first half was scrappy. Rochdale should have taken the lead in the third minute when Andy Cannon slid in at the back post but steered a half volley over the top and the visitors started the game strongly as they tried to find their first win of the season.
Steady rain made the pitch slick but not as slick as United’s passing in the 13th minute as John Lundstram and Chris Maguire played superb passes in a move that ended with Kane Hemmings unable to beat keeper Conrad Logan with a flick of the boot as Joe Rothwell’s ball came in.
That proved the best move of the first 45 minutes as both sides gave the ball away too often. There was no shortage of attacking intent; Rothwell, playing out on the left to start with, showed a real appetite for joining the attack and with Maguire coming in from the other flank and Sercombe always prepared to join in from the middle, the U’s had plenty of support for Hemmings and his strike partner Wes Thomas. At the other end, Simon Eastwood made a good save from a Nathaniel Mendez-Laing effort on 26 minutes but Logan made the best save of the half when he spread his body and closed down the angle as Thomas roared forward and tried to find the finish that Rothwell’s magnificent through ball deserved.
Chey Dunkley and Phil Edwards headed corners just off target but there weren’t many clear chances in the opening period and that prompted a change and the introduction of Marvin Johnson at half time.
Whether it was that change or a few choice words from the manager, United started with far more tempo and endeavour; Sercombe fired wide, Thomas hit the deck amid loud penalty appeals, the same player looped one over the top. Much of that increased intensity was down to the non-stop Maguire, who was popping up all over the pitch to try and find space to work his magic.
Johnson almost made an instant impression when he charged down the dawdling Logan's clearance but couldn't reach the loose ball, but the former Motherwell winger's pace is going to come in very useful in tight games like this. Fellow debutant Charlie Raglan also looked a solid addition, defending bravely when needed and showing plenty of aggression even after a yellow card when his enthusiasm got the better of him.
Could either side find a breakthrough? Maguire skidded in a free kick that Logan pushed round the post but centre-half Niall Canavan came as close as anyone when he thumped a header against the bar from a corner on 72 with Eastwood for once struggling.
Dale had fought hard and that elusive first win won't be too long in coming but with the last three minutes proved decisive. First, sub Peter Vincenti stabbed Dale's clearest chance wide from three yards out. Immediately United were on the attack and Johnson was flying down the left. The ball came across, Taylor dummied superbly/missed the ball depending on your viewpoint and Sercombe was left with the gaping goal in front of him to apply a simple finish and win the game for the U's.
Not a classic game perhaps, but a very important win and the home form rolls on. Next up is a derby against Swindon: can't wait...
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Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels/Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA