Oxford United were beaten 2-1 at home by Northampton this afternoon. A goal from top scorer Wes Thomas was not enough to earn United any reward as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's Northampton revival continued.
Kicking, unusually, towards their own fans in the first half, there were recalls for Ricardinho at left-back and Joe Rothwell in a more central role in midfield but it was a nervy start as United tried to settle.
Eastwood got down to his right in the fifth minute to push a Chris Long flick round the post, then plunged at the same player’s boots two minutes later to reclaim the ball after he had initially taken it round another striker, just because.
Northampton had been knocking and on 12 minutes were in front from a set piece. McGugan’s corner was flicked on and allowed to travel all the way to the back post where Taylor and Aaron Pierre challenged in the air. The ball dropped but was not cleared and Taylor thrashed it home with the ball almost trickling over the line after striking bodies on the way.
Northampton almost doubled the lead when John Joe O’Toole met another McGugan set piece but steered it well wide from eight yards out, and Eastwood needed to make another great save on 22 minutes when the dangerous McGugan fired in a shot that the keeper needed to tip over the bar at full stretch.
Edgy at first, United then started to grow into the game and move the ball better, wingers James Henry and Hall getting more involved and Jack Payne starting to buzz behind front man Wes Thomas. A couple of speculative efforts flew well wide, crosses started to come in and there were encouraging signs, although tempered by an injury to captain Curtis Nelson, who landed awkwardly in the 40th minute and left the field on a stretcher. Nelson’s commitment can never be questioned; even after the injury he made a fantastic block and at one point was crawling forward in the penalty area to try to catch Northampton offside!
Down but not out, United brought on Aaron Martin and before he had touched the ball were level, and then almost instantly behind again! First they were back on level terms when Tiendalli joined the attack and Rothwell slipped the ball through for Thomas to score a typical Thomas goal, finishing inside the left-hand post as the keeper came out to meet him. A clinical finish from United’s top scorer, and parity at half time, surely?
You would have thought so but straight from the restart it was 2-1 to the Cobblers. Ledson lost possession, Martin couldn’t get across and Long ran clear before powering the ball home, almost through the despairing dive of Eastwood. Entertainment and goals aplenty but United behind at the break.
It could have been worse four minutes into the second half when Billy Waters inexplicably sidefooted wide of an empty net, perhaps thanks to a slght touch on the ball from Ricardinho as the cross zipped invitingly across the goal line. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's side were both compact in midfield and dangerous up front.
United had a Thomas header comfortably held by Cobblers' keeper Matt Ingram and there was plenty of energy in the approach play, Rothwell constantly driving forward with the ball, and some near things in the last quarter of the game. Hall looked dangerous and ended a 78th-minute run with a well-struck shot that Ingram was right behind, and then did even better with a long-range effort on 85 that Ingram this time touched over the bar. Thomas had a low strike go just the wrong side of the left-hand post, Ledson had an injury-time shot caught by the keeper, but it was one of those days where nothing quite went United's way.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA
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