Oxford United won in the 96th minute today when Josh Ruffels fired home a dramatic winner against Doncaster Rovers. Three minutes beyond the supposed third minute added on, Ruffels rasped home from 25 yards to give United all three points.
The first half was a quiet affair, although United started in encouraging fashion with Thomas, Ruffels and Fernandez all having early efforts blocked from the edge of the area and full backs Dwight Tiendalli and Ricardinho spraying passes across the pitch for fun.
James Henry almost broke the deadlock in spectacular fashion with a curling 17th-minute effort from 20 yards that keeper Ian Lawlor tipped over, but the game was compressed into a tight battle for possession in midfield where space was at a premium for the whole 90 minutes. Set pieces therefore became important and Tommy Rowe headed a 33rd-minute effort straight at Simon Eastwood shortly before the dangerous John Marquis steered Doncaster’s best effort from open play straight at the keeper on 35.
Wes Thomas had penalty appeals waved away when he was blatantly pushed in the back just as he prepared to shoot after 37 minutes. Ref Sebastian Stockbridge decided to step into Christmas a little early by distributing his cards to Tiendalli and Mousinho, much to the displeasure of the frozen home fans, but the first half had been more about attrition than inspiration.
The sides exchanged tempting crosses in the first few minutes of the second half - Ricardinho's just a little too fierce for Thomas to deal with the the near post and Marquis's a yard ahead of two advancing teammates - before United had a huge let off. Rowe wriggled past two challenges and then retrieved a loose ball to create the space to curl a shot goalwards. The ball beat Eastwood, hit the right hand post and rolled along the goal line before sneaking away. Definitely not over the line but mighty close.
Eastwood then made another good save to push another Rowe effort away but United were just as likely to nick the first goal and were unlucky when a 70th-minute cross from Ricardinho struck Thomas but flew wide.
On 77 they had the ideal chance to break the stalemate. Mike Williamson started it with a great interception and then carried the ball to half way before handing responsibility to the forwards. Fernandez had joined in and when it was played to him flicked the ball back for Payne who skipped past Andy Butler and was tripped right on the edge of the box. Mr Stockbridge ruled it was inside the box but the decision became immaterial when Lawlor fell to his left to comfortably save Payne's penalty kick.
To their credit, neither side settled for a point and the game went end to end for the last ten minutes. United built up a head of steam, Payne seeing an 85th-minute effort deflected away and sub Jon Obika leading the charge as the U's tried to find a dramatic late winner.
It just wouldn't quite happen but then Ruffels strode on to a loose ball and let fly for a magnificent winner. The irony of winning in Fergie time will not have been lost on the opposition manager...
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels Stats by OPTA
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