Oxford United were beaten by a single first-half goal by Sonny Bradley this afternoon as Plymouth made it five wins in a row with a 1-0 victory at Grenoble Road.
Having fallen behind right on half time, the U's gave it everything after the break but couldn't find a way past the visiting defence despite plenty of possession and no little commitment.
United started well, with Alex Mowatt probing from a deeper midfield role and Jon Obika linking things together on his return to the front line. With wide men Isaac Buckley-Ricketts and Joe Rothwell given license to drift infield, United looked mobile and bright; James Henry almost found the opener with a deflected effort after 22 minutes that visiting keeper Remi Matthews did well to push away.
Much of Argyle’s threat came through the ever-dangerous Graham Carey who almost broke the deadlock after 23 minutes with a poked effort that a combination of Simon Eastwood and skipper John Mousinho helped past the left-hand post.
United then had the clearest chance of the lot after 24 minutes when Todd Kane, always looking to join the attack, cut the ball back but Mowatt could only chip over the bar on the half volley from 12 yards out. There were plenty of other chances though: Ashley Smith-Brown didn’t connect with another effort on the half hour after an exceptional slaloming run from Rothwell, Buckley-Ricketts nodded a cross wide on 32 and Rothwell curled a 25-yard effort just too close to the keeper as United built up pressure. Unfortunately, in getting the shot away the influential Rothwell also pulled up lame with a hamstring problem and was forced off, Brazilian Ricardinho the replacement on the left of midfield.
United had done well in their approach play but you need to convert chances and having failed to do so they were caught by a sucker punch right on half time. It was the simplest of goals as well. Corner on the right, allowed to travel to the back post and Sonny Bradley in space to head powerfully past the stranded Simon Eastwood to give Argyle a valuable lead at the break.
Ricardinho and Buckley-Ricketts dragged early efforts wide in the second half before an extraordinary passage of play saw Ricardinho's initial cross fly an inch too high for the desperately climbing Henry, the return cross similarly too high for Obika and the final effort from Ricardinho flashing just wide of the post.
The more that United pressed at one end, the more vulnerable they became when a clever and disciplined Plymouth side broke. Former Oxford man Ryan Taylor clipped an effort against the bar after an hour and Kane needed to clear a Carey effort off the line after 65 minutes after Taylor had once again stretched United's backline.
Gino van Kessel and Malachi Napa were given half an hour to try and find a way back into the game - the former making an instant impression with a bit of pace and some direct running at goal and the latter adding width and energy on the left as United went for broke. There were half chances: Obika not connecting cleanly with a header after 68 minutes, Napa's volley on 75 deflected wide and the home fans roaring their team towards them in a spirited second-half effort.
Napa and Obika had strikes blocked by defenders within seconds of each other, crosses and corners flew across the box and van Kessel drilled a 30 yarder wide on 88 as the visitors gave up any pretence of trying to extend their lead, dropping deeper and successfully withstanding the late pressure.
A much-improved performance from the Yellows but ultimately another home defeat.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA
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