Oxford United were beaten 4-2 at home by promotion hopefuls Blackburn Rovers tonight, never recovering from a slow start which saw them 3-0 down after a quarter of the game. Two goals from Charlie Mulgrew, one from Marcus Antonsson and a second half effort from Jon Nuttall gave Tony Mowbray's side victory despite goals from Jack Payne and Jon Obikafor the U's.
The night couldn’t have started much worse. Unchanged after the 4-0 win at Plymouth on Saturday, where they had been so impressive, they were behind this time after just five minutes when Bradley Dack’s corner was flicked on at the near post by Paul Downing and skipper Mulgrew steered it home at the back post.
After 17 minutes Rovers doubled their advantage. Aaron Martin got into an awkward position to head clear and when the ball dropped he was beaten to it by Dack. He took it on and got a sight of Eastwood’s goal but even when the keeper saved, the ball squirmed clear to Antonsson who had the simplest of tasks to put the ball into the empty net for his fourth goal in three games.
On 21 it was 3-0 and centre-half Mulgrew was on a hat-trick. Dack was again the cause of the problems, nipping in and touching the ball beyond Dwight Tiendalli who brought him down in the box. Ref John Brooks had no hesitation and Mulgrew did the rest from the spot. If United were to engineer a famous comeback then Blackburn were going to have to concede more in an hour than they had away from home thus far in the entire season...
Payne never gives up and had a shot saved from 20 yards as United tried to claw their way back into things and after a torrid opening period they at last started to pass the ball around and cause problems. Blackburn switched system, dropping an extra man back, but then when you are 3-0 up away from home you are entitled to do that.
They perhaps paid the price right on the break though when Ricardinho joined the attack and fed Payne who worked the space then rifled a fantastic effort across keeper Raya and just inside the far post to give his side hope at half time.
That hope almost turned to hysteria when Ricardinho’s dipping 49th-minute effort from near the touchline looked as though it was going to drop under the bar until Raya tipped it over the top; had that gone in then who knows?
United were now throwing caution to the wind and gambling on finding another goal to make their task implausible rather than impossible. On came Alex Mowatt, who fired an effort just wide, Xemi Fernandez and Jon Obika and with the excellent Payne busting a gut to create chances the game was still alive despite the 3-1 scoreline.
The problem was that Blackburn are a good team and highly adept at the counter attack. Having invited United on to them, the visitors sprung forward with 20 minutes to go and killed the game off with a classic sucker punch. Elliott Bennett made it with a run down the right and a low cross which Nuttall forced home at the near post to make it 4-1.
Still the game wasn't finished and on 84 minutes it was 2-4 when Obika rolled his man and fired across the keeper to score off the base of the right-hand post, his second goal in two games and United's problem doesn't seem to be scoring goals: they were the division's top scorers going into the game. Unfortunately, four goals scored one game, four goals conceded the next mean that United just can't find the consistency that Rovers, with just two defeats in 15 games, are managing right now.
There was plenty of effort, one or two near things, including another Obika shot saved and a Xemi free kick that went close, but the damage had been done far earlier and United will need to lick their wounds and bounce back quickly when they travel to Southend on Saturday.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA
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