Oxford United's unbeaten start to the season came to an end with a 1-0 defeat at Scunthorpe United this afternoon.
In a close game, the home side built up a head of steam in the second half that culminated in Josh Morris drifting in from the right before drilling a fierce effort past Simon Eastwood to inflict a first defeat on Pep Clotet's men.
It was tough on the U's, especially after an impressive first half where at times their movement was like mercury, sliding the seemingly magnetised ball around the Iron midfield and finding space and options all over the park. One move after eight minutes saw left-back Ricardinho dummy two men inside his own box, charge through the middle and then come back into the move from the right wing, where he set James Henry up for a cross that Jack Payne headed goalwards and keeper Matt Gilks just about reached at full stretch under the bar. Rob Hall, playing in place of Marvin Johnson, dragged a 13th-minute shot wide and James Henry had a left-footed shot saved from the edge of the area during a tight first half.
If Ricardinho was sharing the left back/right wing roles then Jack Payne was striker/central midfield/sweeper because he was everywhere, buzzing around, harrying hesitant defenders and always looking to slip the killer pass through for his appreciative fellow forwards.
The problem was that the slick approach play didn't result in enough efforts at goal and the men of Iron simply refused to bend the knee.
Hakeeb Adelakun caught the eye with some elusive running and a couple of half-hit shots that Eastwood dealt with comfortably once the game settled down. U’s captain Curtis Nelson twice had to apply the afterburners to stop forwards getting a sight of goal, out-muscling them and then prepared to carry the ball forward, while his defensive partner Mike Williamson remains a steady calming influence, pulling his team into shape and winning everything in the air.
A bobbling deflected effort from Adelakun almost deceived Eastwood after 35 minutes but it had been an even first half with little to choose between two well-drilled sides.
The second half was much more adventurous from both sides. Wes Thomas had an early effort cancelled out for a foul at the back post before Jon Obika replaced him, but the home side's number 9, Paddy Madden, had two decent chances in the first ten minutes of the second half, firing the first over the bar and dragging the second wide as the Iron enjoyed a much improved second half.
Sub Tom Hopper really should have given them the lead on 58 minutes as he somehow headed a Madden cross wide from six yards with the goal at his mercy but having ridden their luck United began to regain ground and birthday boy Ryan Ledson sent a shot over the bar on 61 minutes. Ruffels - four goals in four games beforehand - beat his midfield partner's effort by ten yard when clearing the stand on 63, but if your two midfielders are in those positions in the first place then you are trying to win a game rather than hold on for a point.
United threw on Gino van Kessel for the last half hour to emphasise that, his second touch a shot as usual even if this one didn't go in, but the game was much more open and the influential Neal Bishop looped a shot against the top of the bar after 74 minutes as pressure began to build. Nelson got an important touch to take another Madden effort wide on 76 and the same player hooked another chance over a minute later.
In between, van Kessel had forced Gilks into a save as the Yellows broke at speed, but with seven minutes left Morris decided the result at a ground where United haven't won since 1965.
The scorer would have doubled his tally but for a great save from Eastwood on 85, but his moment of class was enough to leave United tasting defeat for the first time this season, despite a dramatic last minute in which Obika headed against the bar from an Eastwood bicycle kick (no, really).
A first defeat but United will bounce back. See you next week for Shrewsbury at home.
Report by Chris Williams, pics by Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA
See the whole game in iFollow along with interviews with the key men.