Oxford United's pre-season ended in defeat tonight as a Kieran Agard goal earned the MK Dons a 1-0 victory and denied Manager Karl Robinson a happy return to his former club.
Robinson will have learned plenty though in a match that saw his side slowly lose their early rhythm. The opening stages saw some slick passing from a United side that made just the one change to the team that beat Leeds three days earlier. Tony McMahon came back in at right-back and immediately showed what a calming influence he is going to be at the back.
With a solid base behind them, it allowed Josh Ruffels and Cameron Brannagan to get forward and join the front four, with Brannagan freeing James Henry for the first meaningful effort of the game, a curling effort on 8 minutes that flew just outside the post with home keeper Lee Nicholls stranded.
The Dons are much fancied for a swift return from League 2, although an injury to Callum Brittain after 20 minutes will have given new boss Paul Tisdale some concern at this stage of pre-season. They had certainly edged their way back into the game after United dominated the first 15 minutes, although Simon Eastwood had still not made a save by the time we reached half time; Agard placed a header well over the bar as we approached the half hour and Ryan Harley was unable to finish a promising move for the home side soon after.
Opposite number Nicholls made the best save of the first half when he beat away a powerful Henry blast on 43 minutes after clever build up play by the imposing Obika, but Henry also needed to be alert early in the second half to kick an Alex Gilbey header off the line as the Dons applied pressure with a string of corners.
United saw drives from Garbutt and sub Jamie Mackie almost break the deadliock in the 65th minute, the first blocked, the second dragged wide, but then on 66 minutes Agard finally found a way to end the stalemate when he got across his man at the near post and confidently touched a right-wing cross past the helpless Eastwood to make it 1-0.
United responded and a clever pass from Carruthers gave Brannagan a chance to shoot which was smothered by a covering defender. Seconds later and Obika got up well but couldn't keep his header down, before a string of subs added youthful enthusiasm and a late charge from the Yellows. Sixteen-year-old Fabio Lopes twice just failed to find a finish after good crosses from Cameron Norman and the U's were certainly chasing the game in the closing stages.
An equaliser was not forthcoming, but worry not. United have played ten games in pre-season and I honestly couldn't tell you the results in all of them. It's not about the final score, it is all about the final preparations. No injuries tonight, signs of growing partnerships in key areas, and a team spirit forged on the beaches of Ireland and tested against opposition from Conference, Premier League, Championshp and now League 2.
Time for the serious stuff to start.
See you at Barnsley...
Eastwood, McMahon (Norman 79), Dickie, Nelson, Garbutt, Brannagan, Ruffels, Hall (Whyte 60), Henry (Mackie 60), Carruthers (Baptiste 79), Obika (Lopes 79)
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher
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