Golden Graham sends United through. Report from Court Place Farm
Holders Oxford United went through to the final of the Oxfordshire Senior Cup tonight in a thrilling cup tie against Banbury. United came from behind to win at Court Place Farm in a wonderfully entertaining semi-final. Leading through a Jordan Graham goal, United went behind to two late strikes from Conor McDonagh and Mani Duku before a last-gasp header from Graham was touched home by Charlie Hawtin in a crowd of players to force extra time. The striker then made sure his side went through with another last-minute finish in a thrilling extra time.
With a League 1 game against Fleetwood in 24 hours time, to follow a Wembley final on Sunday, there was an extremely youthful look to the United side: opponents Banbury had way more appearances for the U’s under their belts in captain Eddie Odhiambo and winger Sam Humphreys.
Striker Duku looked dangerous throughout and had two early efforts for the Puritans before a Graham effort skidded off a sandy Court Place Farm pitch to test Banbury keeper Jasko Keranovic for the first time. Strike partner Albie Hopkins forced a good save from the West Brom loanee soon after and Aaron Heap struck a left-footed effort to test the keeper’s handling on 33 but the first half was a tight affair with both sides closing the other down and working extremely hard.
Duku almost broke the deadlock five minutes into the second half with a header that struck the bar but United had chances at the other end through Hopkins and Heap before Graham set his sights with two free kicks that got progressively closer.
On 68 minutes it was Graham who made the breakthrough with a goal that will haunt defender Jack Westbrook, who simply didn't see Graham when he tried to pass back to Keranovic across the area. Graham was on it in a flash and showed good composure to move the ball forward and slot home from close range.
It might have been two on 71 when a four-man break ended with Aaron Heap free on the left but his careful side-foot struck the left-hand post with Banbury cross at themselves for being caught in possession once again. That would have killed the game but instead four minutes later a cross from Humphreys was never cleared with any conviction, allowing former United scholar McDonagh to turn while shielding the ball and plant it neatly past the helpless Clayton to make it 1-1.
Worse was to come soon after as Odhiambo rolled back the years to burst into the box from his midfield role and square for Duku to make it count by forcing the ball home to make it 2-1.
Fortunately United's youngsters are just as determined as their senior counterparts and in the very last minute Keranovic made a terrific save to tip an effort spectacularly over. However from the corner Graham headed goalwards and the ball sneaked home via a vital touch from Hawtin to force extra time.
The first half of extra time saw Duku sith through the defence but head against the bar with Odhiambo's follow up somehow cleared off the line and the energy levels from two tired teams was fantastic. McDonagh's fierce volley whistled wide via a vital deflection and the striker then sent an easier chance into the car park as he burst clear once more.
Matt Berry-Hargreaves then performed heroics to somehow keep a late McDonagh effort out from under the bar before a corner was headed back into the area by Ben Chilcott and fell to Graham who finished with style to spark the celebrations.
Credit to both sides, a very good game, but United's young guns go through.
Clayton, C Hawtin ©, Tuttle, Baker, Berry-Hargreaves, Heap, Cowan, Graham, Bryan, Hopkins, Chilcott
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Daniels and Terry Winter