Oxford United's wretched record against Fleetwood continued with a 2-0 defeat at the Kassam Stadium this afternoon. United's ninth game against the Cod Army ended in their eighth defeat (the other match was a draw) when Ched Evans scored a simple goal and Paddy Madden slotted home a penalty to give the visitors a 2-0 win.
There was an enforced change in the warm up when Simon Eastwood dislocated a finger and had to be replaced by Scott Shearer: the first league game that Eastwood has missed in his third season back at the club. Perhaps that was an omen for what was to follow.
It was another new face, Ricky Holmes who caught the eye and was the outstanding player on the day, twice being hauled down en route to goal early on, with Tony McMahon seeing a free kick deflected wide from the second. Holmes then hurt his arm when closing down a defender to set up Sam Smith for the first chance of his home debut, but United were bright and inventive enough with the front four of Smith, Holmes, Rob Hall and Jamie Mackie probing for weaknesses in the Cod Army defence without truly creating further chances in the first half
United hadn't looked troubled too much at the other end where Fleetwood had defended stoutly but Joey Barton's side also looked dangerous on the break and on 34 minutes were a goal ahead. There was a little bit of luck in the build up where Rob Dickie won a 50/50 challenge but saw the ball cannon back towards the United goal. With Dickie stranded Kyle Dempsey had that empty space to move forwards and a simple pass across the goal cut out Shearer and the defence and allowed Evans to apply the easiest finish into an empty net to make it 1-0.
It might have been two when Dempsey lost his footing as he tried to finish a break that saw four Fleetwood men charging at the vastly outnumbered Luke Garbutt but to concede a second would have been harsh on the U's who had enjoyed more of the possession before the break and continued to do so in the second half without truly testing Alex Cairns in the Cod Army net.
The closest effort came from Jamie Mackie who cleverly headed a Holmes cross back across the keeper but just the wrong side of the post after 58 minutes, with United 4-4-2 by then as they chased the game, Marcus Browne coming on for his debut for the final 25 minutes or so.
The on-loan West Ham forward's first action earned a booking before he had touched the ball - United's first yellow card of the season - but that at least signalled a bit of passion as the U's tried to raise the tempo and the visitors tried to slow things down.
United did their best and were certainly much improved from their opening day performance at Barnsley but with two minutes to go the game was over when former United winger Wes Burns charged forward and the sliding Shearer tripped him to allow Madden to thump the penalty past him and give Fleetwood all three points.
Two defeats in the opening two games. Still a long long way to go, but plenty of work clearly to do as United's new squad look to gel.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA