Oxford United are through to the quarter-final of the Checkatrade Tafter a penalty shoot-out finale at the Valley this evening. Trailing to an early Karlan Ahearne-Grant goal, United came on strong in the second half and drew level through Wes Thomas's clinical finish before the game was decided from the spot.
With Scott Shearer in goal and Mike Williamson taking over as both centre half and skipper, there was an experienced core to the starting XI, with Aaron Martin among the contenders for Man of the Match for an oustanding effort, but it was the returning Ricardinho who unwittingly had a big hand in the opener. The Brazilian, back in the side after suspension, mistimed a crossfield pass after eight minutes that was picked up by Ahearne-Grant. He drifted past the stranded Canice Carroll before unleashing an unstoppable drive from 20 yards that flashed past the helpless Shearer to make it 1-0.
Shearer kept it at 1-0 by pushing away an Ahmed Kashi drive after 18 minutes and Ezri Konsa dragged a further effort just wide a couple of minutes later as United had to dig deep in the first half hour. They rallied after that though and the second half of the first half was much more even. A driving run from Ryan Ledson raised hopes on a 31st-minute counter, Gino van Kessel saw a low shot saved a minute later, a Wes Thomas cross flew inches too far ahead of strike partner Jon Obika after 34, and United were far from out of the game at the break.
That was confirmed on 54 when they drew level through Thomas. United's top scorer is a very tough man to stop once he gets a sight of goal and he showed terrific strength to outmuscle Ezri Konsa and get in on goal after a hopeful ball forward from Ryan Ledson. Konsa did his best to knock Thomas off his stride but the forward was not to be denied and stayed on his feet to force the ball beyond keeper Dillon Phillips to make it 1-1.
Now first to the second balls and stronger in the tackle, United threw on Malachi Napa, whose first effort was a low drive saved by Phillips on the hour and whose second was a pass for Jack Payne to poke a yard wide of the left post. His third was the closest yet: Obika's run forced a save and the loose ball span to Napa whose snapshot was hacked off the line by the covering Johnnie Jackson as Charlton now became the side hanging on. Whisper it because Napa has big boots to fill and a long way to go but a young winger called O'Dowda once made his debut at the Valley...
Agon Mehmeti was given the last 20 minutes to try and force a winner in what had turned into a proper full-blooded cup tie and the superb Payne had two shots deflected narrowly wide as he drove his side forward. Sub Stephy Mevididi dragged a last-minute effort wide but then it was all down to who held their nerve from the spot.
Using the ABBA system, Jackson took first for the Addicks but couldn't beat Shearer, Mowatt made it 1-0, Obika rolled home to make it 2-0. Mavididi was equally unable to beat the superb Shearer, who by now was celebrating with the Chansie Walk! Reece Hackett-Fairchild then blasted over and that left Ryan Ledson to miss before Agon Mehmeti sent United through.
Happy Valley indeed.
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Steve Daniels, Stats by OPTA