Three second half goals buried Oxford United at Gigg Lane this evening. An improved performance faded away as the U's were beaten by a battling Bury side who picked up their best result of the season so far.
It was end-to-end stuff in the first half, with United fully playing their part and creating chances. As expected, Chris Maguire’s set pieces were a constant source of danger for the home side and the United defence had to clear their lines from a couple of very early corners whipped in by the former United hero. Giant striker Michael Smith missed his kick when presented with the first chance of the evening after seven minutes and Simon Eastwood had to save well from the experienced Jermaine Beckford after 11.
It was far from one-way traffic though. Alex Mowatt, making his full debut, had a free role immediately behind Gino van Kessel, with Josh Ruffels recalled alongside Ryan Ledson at the base of midfield. James Henry had United’s first effort with a well-struck effort after 12 minutes that flashed over the bar. The best early chance came to Rob Hall as a superb Henry pass sent him clear only for Shakers keeper Leonardo Fasan to save well.
The game flowed nicely and Smith broke through three challenges before curling a 25-yard effort against the bar with Eastwood well beaten, before van Kessel tested Fasan again with a low shot from the left after another Henry through ball.
Mowatt almost found the breakthrough when Josh Laurent dawdled and lost the ball to allow the on-loan Barnsley man to home in on goal and force Fasan into another outstanding save, the rebound missing the lunging van Kessel by a hair’s breadth. Back in Granadaland once again, United had done well in an entertaining first half and the outstanding captain Curtis Nerlson made sure they were level at the break with a perfectly timed tackle on 38 to somehow catch Smith, who had started five yards ahead of him in the race for goal.
If United had taken any of those chances before the break it would have been a different story and they might have taken the lead with the first effort of the second period as well: van Kessel whistling an effort across the face of goal and wide after 48 minutes.
However, Williamson made a goal-saving tackle at the other end and there was a certain inevitability about the scorer. After 64 minutes a cross from the Bury right is heading towards the head of Beckford until Mousinho and Williamson converge to sandwich him. Ref Ben Toner had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Maguire rolled it calmly home to make it 1-0. Credit to Maguire, who refused to celebrate against his former side. And trust us, when he celebrates you remember it.
A triple subsitution came immediately as Pep Clotet tried to find a quick response but before they could take effect it was 2-0 and then three and game over. Beckford turned provider down the right with a low cross to the near post for the second, Michael Smith and Mousinho arriving at the near post at the same time and the ball beating the helpless Eastwood.
A minute later and the dangerous Chris Humphrey sent in a perfect cross which Beckford rose to meet and head past Eastwood to make it three and cap a good night for the home side and ensure that United made the long trip home empty handed.
Sub. Agon Mehmeti made a good impression on his debut and was only denied by a superb tackle from Tom Aldred; fellow sub Joe Rothwell skipped through to test Fasan one more time but by then it was too little, too late and United were heading for a third straight defeat.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, Stats by OPTA
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