Oxford United's dreams of a third Wembley appearance in a row were ended by the young guns of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge tonight. Derek Fazackerley's first game in charge ended in a 3-0 defeat despite plenty of effort and passion from his hard-working United team.
Fazackerley stamped his mark on the side by switching to a three-man back line, where Charlie Raglan made his first appearance of the season, and asking Dwight Tiendalli and Ricardinho to patrol the flanks as wing backs. Ryan Ledson, restored to the centre of the park, set the tone with some trademark challenges early on, evoking the spirit of Ron Harris, but the Blues took a tenth-minute lead with their first attack of the night. Daishwan Redan made it with a powerful run into the area and although Simon Eastwood denied him, the loose ball ran kindly for Harvey St. Clair for a simple sidefooted finish to give the young Blues the lead.
There are two Bridges - the full Stamford Bridge of the Premier League and the cavernous echoing ground of this evening where the magnificent 1,000-strong travelling Yellow Army sang their team on to try and find an equaliser, but on 16 minutes it was 2-0 with a similar sort of goal. This time Callum Hudson-Odoi was the creator with the run towards the heart of the retreating yellow line. He timed his pass well and Redan provided the finish, giving Eastwood no chance. Redan Blues 2 Yellow and Blues 0.
It took two great saves from Eastwood to deny St Clair after 28 and 36 minutes, the forward very impressive and clearly enjoying the banter from the away fans after he shushed them when scoring the opener…
United had found it tough to counter the fast flowing movement of Chelsea in the first half but stepped up noticeably after the break, when Josh Ruffels had an early effort drift wide, and they were still in the game as they played towards their own fans with renewed spirit.
Isaac Buckley-Ricketts underlined his potential with a run across the face of the Chelsea defence and a low left-footed effort that smacked against the left-hand post, Ledson dragged a 50th-minute effort wide and United were much improved and looking dangerous; Ruffels again working keeper Marcin Bulka with a fine drive on 52.
They had shown plenty of fight but were having to leave gaps to try and chase the game and on 64 they were heading for their first exit from the competition since they lost to Cheltenham Town in September 2014. Juan Castillo was the man to kill the game off, hustling to win the ball, running in from the left channel and curling a delightful effort beyond Eastwood to make it 3-0 and ease the Blues into the semi-finals.
United saw a Ricardinho free kick go just wide after 84 minutes and certainly asked questions after the break, but the Blues had been clinical in front of goal and also prepared to dig in and fight when needed. Good luck to them in the next round; very talented and only going to improve, although it will be interesting to see how many fans are at Wembley if they make the final.
United meanwhile regroup. They have no game at the weekend due to Wigan's FA Cup exploits but there is still plenty of football left in this season, starting when they return to London to take on Charlton a week on Saturday.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA