Oxford United 0 Bristol Rovers 2
Oxford United's brilliant recent form was rudely interrupted by a resilient Bristol Rovers this afternoon as the Pirates completed a double with a 2-0 win at Grenoble Road. Goals from Ollie Clarke and Stuart Sinclair decided a tough afternoon for the U's.
The damage was done in the first half after United came of the blocks slowly and were two goals down at the break. Clarke found out the hard way that Simon Eastwood is a difficult man to beat when the keeper made a smart save to keep his second-minute shot out, and with tackles flying in and an early yellow card for Chey Dunkley it was a lively start.
However, Rovers had started at a decent tempo and there had been warning signs with a number of crosses flying across United’s penalty area before Clarke gave them the lead on 16 minutes. It was a good goal as well, picking up the ball to the right of the area, checking inside and giving Eastwood no chance with a classy left-footed finish from just inside the area.
Without the injured Chris Maguire, Rob Hall and Kane Hemmings, United lacked a little bit of experience up front but youthful exuberance started to bring them back into the game after a quiet first quarter. Conor McAleny almost levelled when he smashed a Marvin Johnson cross against the right-hand post on 32 minutes, but on 36 minutes it was 2-0 when United failed to clear their lines and Sinclair turned away from the covering defence and fired past Eastwood from similar range to the first.
United could still have made it 2-1 before half time when a McAleny free kick from the edge of the box drew an absolutely fabulous save from Joe Lumley but Rovers had done a terrific job of hounding them down and preventing them from building up a head of steam in the first 45 minutes.
Off went Joe Skarz at the break to allow Joe Rothwell 45 minutes to try and find a way through a stubborn Rovers defence, who were also dangerous when they came up for set pieces - Ryan Sweeney heading over on 52 when all on his tod eight yards out.
There was no shortage of effort or willingness but recent heroics seemed to have taken their toll on the energy levels and the final pass too often went astray. McAleny had a 71st-minute shot comfortably saved by Lumley but after having 25 efforts at goal at Luton on Wednesday, United didn't truly test the keeper from open play this time until the dangerous McAleny forced a good save out of him on 76 minutes after a rapid counter attack had taken United the length of the pitch.
No shame in defeat against a disciplined Rovers side who are in good form. United have been in sensational form and performed heroics over the last few weeks; correction, over the entire season. One bad result should neither mask their achievements nor send anyone reaching for the panic button. United will bounce back. What better game to have than a home one against the league leaders on Tuesday...
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Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA
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