Oxford United 1 Fleetwood Town 3
Oxford United's play-off dreams were left hanging by a thread as promotion-chasing Fleetwood Town won 3-1 at Grenoble Road this evening. An early exchange of goals from Bobby Grant and Curtis Nelson made it 1-1 at the break before Ashley Eastham's header and David Ball's 86th-minute shot kept Uwe Rosler's side in the hunt for at least a play-off place.
Canice Carroll’s debut started with a couple of decent touches but on four minutes it was the Ireland youth international who brought Amari’i Bell to the ground when he bundled into the back of the Fleetwood winger. More enthusiasm than malice, but a penalty all the same. Simon Eastwood went the wrong way as Bobby Grant rolled the ball home. Credit to Carroll who picked himself up and went on to enjoy a very solid debut at right back.
He will have been the most relieved man on the pitch though when Nelson piled home the equaliser soon after. Liam Sercombe made it with a low shot that pinballed off of a block and broke to the defender who swivelled to thump it beyond visiting keeper Alex Cairns.
It was a close game with both teams needing a win. Marvin Johnson was upended on 16 minutes without either ceremony or a penalty, Ashley Hunter miscued a volley at the other end and Maguire plonked one in the car park after great approach play from the recalled Conor McAleny on 34 minutes.
However, the chances had dried up after that first ten minutes as two very well-drilled defences and disciplined midfields took a grip. Needing the three points rather than just one, United sacrificed the excellent Ruffels for striker Toni Martinez just after the hour and the tempo and urgency began to rise. There were some fierce challenges and no shortage of commitment but on 75 minutes it was the Cod Army who netted the winner when Eastham got in front of his man to nod home a Grant cross at the near post to make it 2-1 with his first goal for Fleetwood. Ball then killed the game off with a rising effort from 12 yards after Fleetwood had counter attacked at speed against a United side who had over-committed men forward in one last desperate attempt to claim at least a point
That was harsh on the U's who had made much of the running and thrown themselves into challenges but a long season seems to have sucked a little bit of energy out of them at the vital time. They ran themselves into the ground here, as ever, but that vital spark was missing.
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Report by Chris Williams, Pictures Steve Daniels, Stats by OPTA
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