Two goals from sub Ryan Crooks and an injury time cracker from Owen James sent United through to the semi-final of the Oxfordshire Senior Cup with a 3-1 win at Ardley this evening.
Playing up the steep slope in the first half, United had the bulk of the possession and a couple of well-struck efforts from Dejon Noel-Williams and Dan Carr flew wide as they pressed their hosts back but it wasn’t until the latter stages of the half that they started to test Ardley keeper Tom Molloy.
James had a drive tipped over and then centre-half and skipper Matt Berry- Hargreaves had two headers - the first blocked by a defender and the second blocked by his own man - that almost found the breakthrough.
Ardley were always a threat though and United keeper Niall Clayton had to make two very good saves from former United youngster Greg Hackett - cousin of United coach Chris - either side of the break. Berry-Hargreaves made a magnificent goal-saving challenge from Billy Gillett who then sliced wide when off balance after 59 minutes after weaving past three lunges by sliding defenders and Clayton; ref Harry Moore playing the advantage. A penalty at that stage would have given Ardley something to hold on to but having ridden their luck United then took the game away from them with two quick goals.
Crooks almost made an instant impact with Molloy having to make three good saves in quick succession from him as the U's started to take advantage of playing down the hill against their tiring hosts.
On 72 Crooks finally found the goal he had been threatening when Albie Hopkins drove at the defence and slipped a perfectly weighted ball beyond the home defence for the winger, who sidefooted the ball beyond the helpless Molloy to make it 1-0.
Six minutes later and it was two for Crooks and 2-0 to the U's when the youngster stayed calm to control a bobbling ball inside the box and plant it into the bottom right corner to double the lead and ease United into the semi final.
Credit to Ardley for a fiercely competitive performance and they deserved their goal on 85 when Hackett stole away to find space and finish confidently past the exposed Clayton and set up a terrific last five minutes, complete with a sending off for the Ardley boss for arguing with ref Moore.
On 95 James ended it with a third goal when he cut inside and rifled the ball home to make it 3-1 in a proper cup tie, complete with driving rain and storming challenges.
United's youngsters had battled for everything and once again shown character as well as no little skill to make progress.
Clayton, Carr, Berry-Hargreaves, Baker, Bryan, Hopkins, Heap, Cowan (McCreadie 82), Lofthouse, Noel-Williams (Crooks 58), James