Oxford United threw away the perfect start this afternoon as Bristol Rovers came from behind to win 2-1 at Grenoble Road. Joe Rothwell's goal in just the second minute gave United a dream start but second-half goals from Kyle Bennett and Ellis Harrison sealed all three points for the Pirates
After two dramatic goals in the last five minutes at the Valley in their previous game United's Dreamworld continued with a goal after just 110 seconds this time. Rovers played a part when keeper Adam Smith was a touch too economic with his clearance, slipping and presenting the ball to Isaac Buckley-Ricketts. His through ball was cleverly left by Wes Thomas, knowing he was offside, and Rothwell raced clear before slamming the ball into the roof of the net to make it 1-0.
Mobile, flexible and totally committed, United were unrecognisable in the first half hour from the side beaten by bottom club Bury in their last home game but to use the obvious pun, they started to run out of gas. Rovers are always fiercely competitive and it took a block from Josh Ruffels and a tip over by Simon Eastwood to keep two efforts in quick succession from Chris Lines out after 15 minutes.
Some of the football at the other end was very easy on the eye: one sublime touch from the excellent Alex Mowatt gave Rothwell a chance to bend an effort just wide on 17 and the ability of so many players to switch roles was causing no end of problems for the Rovers back line. Buckley-Ricketts has improved with each game so far and was a constant threat down the right while Thomas, fit again after a hamstring problem, led the line expertly to create space for those around him.
Rovers had more shots in the first half though and had recovered from the early setback to start pressing United back. That was underlined when Liam Sercombe mistimed a header five minutes into the second half when he usually would have at least hit the target, and the longer it went the more fragile the one goal advantage started to look against a Rovers side known for coming on strong in games. Harrison planted another header wide after 62 minutes and then on 68 they were level when a free kick wasn't fully cleared, was returned into the box and Bennett worked it into space before drilling it through the helpless Eastwood at the near post.
It would have been 1-2 a minute later as well when Bennett bent a terrific effort towards the right-hand corner but Eastwood was down brilliantly to get a glove on it and push it past the post.
Thomas had run himself into the ground for the cause and Rothwell limped off with 15 minutes to go after stretching for a loose ball and doing himself a mischief but it was Rovers with the impetus and the goal threat and on 80 minutes they won the game when a couple of missed tackles in midfield and a delicately floated ball to the back post left Harrison with the simple task of poking the ball past the exposed Eastwood to make it 2-1 to the visitors.
Sub. Agon Mehmeti thumped a late effort wide but there was to be no repeat of the late drama of either the Valley or indeed a late win at the Memorial Stadium earlier in the season.
A missed opportunity for United after such a great opening.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA
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