Oxford United U23s kicked off the competitive phase of their fixture programme today with a hard fought 3-2 away victory against a strong Gillingham side this afternoon.
A much changed Yellows line up was looking to bounce back from a disappointing showing last time out and produced a performance full of passion, drive and determination as they came out on top against their League One rivals.
Gillingham started the better of the two sides with first team centre forward Tom Eaves causing problems for the young Oxford centre-back pairing. The home side took the lead midway through the first half when Oxford failed to deal with a long ball through the middle, and the Kent side soon found themselves two up as they continued to get down the sides of United's back four.
Despite having much of the possession, Oxford failed to create enough in the final third and went into the break two down.
The second half saw Chris Allen's young side start the brighter of the two teams and, under the watchful eye of first team coach Shaun Derry and Gillingham manager Steve Lovell, soon halved the deficit when some aggressive pressing from 16 year old Fabio Lopes saw the ball fall for Dejon Noel-Williams who bent the ball round the Gillingham keeper with his right foot from 12 yards out.
Oxford continued to press and the introduction on 60 minutes of recent signing Rev James at right back allowed Aaron Heap to move into his more accustomed central midfield role where he was soon disrupting the home side's rhythm with his customary aggression and workrate.
Oxford scored a deserved equaliser on 84 minutes when winger Gavin Whyte jinked past two static Gills defenders before rolling the ball into the net to open his account for the u23s. The young Yellows weren't done and with momentum now firmly in their favour pushed hard for a winner.
On 89 minutes a pinpoint ball from goalkeeper Jack Stevens picked out the overlapping trialist who squared the ball for the impressive Lopes who underlined his quality by dropping the shoulder on the Gillingham defender before rifling an unstoppable shot across the keeper from 19 yards into the top left hand corner of the net. Oxford saw the game out well to secure an impressive victory that will set them up well for a series of competitive fixtures over the coming weeks that includes a home game against Premier League outfit Huddersfield Town.
Stevens, Trialist, Berry-Hargreaves (c), Johnson (60 R. James), Heap, Trialist, Carroll, Hopkins, Lopes, Whyte, Noel-Williams (Taverner 60).