Oxford United kicked off 2018 with an entertaining 3-1 win over MK Dons at Grenoble Road this afternoon. An early goal from top scorer Wes Thomas was cancelled out by a goal from visiting skipper Alex Gilbey before Gino van Kessel gave the U's a half-time lead. They then ensured they started the calendar year with all three points when Jon Obika netted a third goal in the second half.
After the defeat against Wigan in their last home game, it was imperative that United started well and they got off to precisely the sort of start they would have dreamed of. It took just 15 minutes for them to take the lead through a very well-worked goal. Obika made it with a clever piece of play that carried the ball forward on the right while allowing others to join him. He then flicked the ball for van Kessel to take to the line, past a rather weak challenge from a defender. He cut the ball back for Thomas to slot home a simple finish from six yards out for his ninth of the season.
MK, fresh from a remarkable win over Peterborough with just nine men, understandably looked tired in the opening exchanges but had a low drive from Gilbey pushed away for a corner after 24 minutes from which they got themselves back on level terms.The corner was nicely flighted, George Williams flicked it on and Gilbey was at the back post to force it home and make it 1-1.
It was entertaining stuff and Obika might have restored the lead on the half hour when a clever quick throw from Canice Carroll got United flowing forward again and the striker just leaned back as he struck his effort goalwards from the penalty spot, the ball smashing off the bar when the goal beckoned.
Nothing comes easy in this league and the Dons should have taken the lead themselves when Kieran Agard sent a free header wide after 34 minutes, but United had been on top for much of the half and were 2-1 up at the break when the excellent Payne weaved through three men and smashed in a low effort which Lee Nicholls seemed to gather in but never quite had total control of. The alert Thomas stole the loose ball from the keeper’s grasp and Ryan Ledson squared it for van Kessel, who did the rest with another simple finish to make it 2-1 at the interval.
The Yellows were grateful to keeper Simon Eastwood for a very good save from Agard early in the second half but swiftly missed a much better chance at the opposite end when an excellent pass from Josh Ruffels left Thomas with just the keeper to beat, only for him to power it straight at Nicholls rather than either side of him.
Gilbey rounded Eastwood after 57 minutes but couldn't force the ball past the covering defenders and a minute later Obika punished such wastefulness. Racing away down the left the striker knew that the unmarked Thomas was to his right but chose instead to go for goal and Nicholls, horribly exposed once more, had no answer as United opened up a 3-1 lead. Two goals in two games for Obika who was excellent throughout and is starting to build up a good understanding with Thomas in a two-man attack.
United were in control but fortunate when Canice Carroll's attempted clearance came back off the bar after 67 minutes and life then got harder for the last nine minutes when an uncharacteristic flying tackle from Ricardinho on Conor McGrandles led to a deserved straight red card.
United will have to adjust at the back when they welcome Blackpool on Saturday but today they dropped in, tackled like demons and even had time to bring on Malachi Napa for a league debut with three minutes to go.
A win, three well taken goals and a very good start to the new year. See you on Saturday.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA
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