An injury time rocket from old boy Conor McAleney sank Oxford United tonight against Fleetwood Town. United fought for everything, had the fans at the backs, but just couldn't find a goal to win the tightest of matches and were then beaten when McAleny let fly from 25 yards to win the game for the Cod Army
Coming off the back of a 0-0 draw with Oldham, the U’s made changes to add Agon Mehmeti to the front line and bring Alex Mowatt back into a midfield diamond after suspension. There was also a welcome return for Curtis Nelson on the bench after an achilles injury. Mowatt had the first shot of the night, drifting an 8th minute effort wide, and Mehmeti had a 10th minute drive comfortably saved by Alex Cairns but it was a tight opening with the two sides sparring and testing each other for weaknesses.
Oxford’s achilles has often been set pieces this season but they looked organised whenever the visitors got into those positions and were heard to break down in open play where Cameron Brannagan sat deep and protected his back four admirably
Ricardinho, restored at left back, provided width down that flank and with Todd Kane bombing forward on the right there was a real balance to the shape of the side. Mowatt fired a left-footed effort just wide on the half hour and there were plenty of encouraging signs for the superb home fans who got behind their team all night and were rewarded by a high paced first half full of attacking intent. Wes Thomas looped a header just under the bar but tipped over by Cairns on 38 and United had done well in the first half.
Defensively sound and with a midfield packed full with invention, United started the second half at a terrific pace and the excellent Rothwell scooped wide from a difficult angle in the very first minute of the second half as they continued to force the pace, although there was let off on 55 when Bobby Grant broke clear and forced Simon Eastwood into his first true save of the night. with the keeper swiftly forced into a second to tip away a Kyle Demspey strike from 25 yards out.
Urged on by their terrific fans (with an honourable mention to the 57 Fleetwood fans who had made the journey south), United kept probing away, noticeably getting more crosses into the box that in previous games and flooding the area with men running from deep. Kane was able to station himself half way inside the Fleetwood half and fling ball after ball into the box but nobody was quite able to get on the end of them until the 69th minute when Thomas had the chance of the night, wriggling past two men but then seeing his low show brilliantly saved by Cairns.
Rothwell's corner was nodded towards the top corner by the excellent Rob Dickie, Cairns again touching it over even if the official awarded a goal kick, and United had dominated once again without earning too much reward for their efforts
On top all game, United had done everything but score although the hugely influential Rothwell limped off with a quarter of an hour to go. It didnt slow down the momentum too much and there could well have been a penalty when Dickie was blatantly held back as he raced towards an 80th minute corner.
You know that Eastwood has your back when neded and he made an important save to reach a dipping Ash Hunter free kick on 83 to surely ensure that his team picked up another clean sheet at the very least? Not quite. Thomas fired wide inside the box on 84 after yet more clever approach play from Brannagan, sub Jon Obika over ran a late opportunity, but then two minutes into added time McAleny reminded everyone of what he can do, letting loose with a thunderous effort that gave Eastwood no chance and left United with nothing to show for all their hard work.
As deserate as they were for a win, the U's never have too much luck against Fleetwood and are still searching for their first win over them after eight meetings now. However the energy and fighting spirit grow game by game and slowly but surely, step by step and game by game they are improving. Surely a win can't be too far away . Have you ever known them do things the easy way?
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA
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