Oxford United got back to winning ways with a fully deserved 2-0 win over Southend United this afternoon. An early strike from James Henry and a storming second from left-back Ricardinho on the stroke of half time earned Karl Robinson his first win in charge of the U's and surely ensured that these teams will meet again in League 1 next season.
United picked up where they left off against Fleetwood on Tuesday, chasing every ball and committed to playing bright attacking football. With their superb fans welcoming them with a huge display of flags there was a real sense of positivity about the whole ground, something that stayed for the full 90 minutes. Team wise there were returns for Jon Obika and Henry but no change to the midfield diamond shape that the U’s have adopted in recent weeks and which allows them to play neat, passing football with everyone able to switch roles.
An early goal was what was needed and United did just that. First, Man of the Match Ryan Ledson headed a Henry cross against the frame of the goal and, to my eyes over the line. It wasn’t given but play carried on and Henry was alert to the possibilities. Picking it up on the right of the box he cut inside then drilled it past visiting keeper Mark Oxley to make it 1-0 and produce the biggest cheer at the Kassam Stadium all season (to that point...).
United were rampant, with Todd Kane rattling a 25 yarder wide after ten minutes but were also given a warning on 19 when Dru Yearwood, one of the finds of the season in League 1, flashed a right-footed shot inches wide of Simon Eastwood’s left post. The visitors were then forced into two substitutions inside two minutes with both left-back Ben Coker and centre-half Michael Turner limping off and forcing Chris Powell into a reshuffle of his Shrimpers.
That nearly caught them cold when the unmarked Rob Dickie met a corner on 29 and forced Oxley into a good save and then fellow centre-half John Mousinho stabbed a second deep corner into the side netting on 30. United were indebted to Simon Eastwood for one smart save when Anthony Wordsworth wandered lonely into the box but couldn’t beat the keeper from 12 yards out, but were otherwise very sound at the back. They should have doubled their lead on 36 when Obika unselfishly headed back and Henry, perhaps the one player you want in that situation, was uncharacteristically off target with a volley from 15 yards.
However, the moment of the match came right on half time. Picking up the ball inside his own box, Ricardinho accelerated away, roared past half way and just kept going. He rolled it on to Obika who took his time then flicked it through for the Brazilian left back, now inside the opposition box. Whether it was a cross, whether it was a shot or whether it went in off the heel of John White I DO NOT CARE. Ricardinho’s goal and the happiest goal ever scored at the Kassam Stadium.
There was still time for Yearwood to smack an effort against the post, but it had been United’s half and a two-goal advantage was fully deserved.
Southend haven’t scored away from home in the second half of a game since September but the trouble with mentioning a record like that is that you are constantly worried that they are about to break that run. United could have calmed any nerves when Henry missed the target from inside the box and Thomas nodded a wicked corner from Mowatt over the bar, both inside the first few minutes of the second half, but there were a few bitten nails when Simon Cox forced Eastwood into another good save on 58 with Southend's best chance of a second 45 minutes that United managed cleverly.
The hard-working Obika showed some nifty footwork to create an opening on 64 but found the side netting from a difficult angle, Dickie again worked the keeper with a header from a corner on 67 and there was a welcome return for Curtis Nelson after an Achilles injury, as United ended a terrific afternoon with plenty of positives.
Nobody get carried away; this was a big win but no more. The season is not over after just one result and there is plenty more work still to do. But each performance in recent weeks has been better, perhaps without the results they deserved. The signs are certainly encouraging though and Oxford United are starting to move forward once again.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels and Baptiste Chauvelie stats by OPTA
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