Oxford United's pre-season continued with a 3-1 defeat at home to Crystal Palace this afternoon. Despite leading through a goal from in-form Jon Obika at the break, United were undone by second-half goals from Wilfried Zaha, Jeffrey Schlup and Sullay Kaikai in an intriguing game that will have given Karl Robinson plenty to be encouraged by despite the final scoreline.
As you might expect, the U’s had to concede ground early against their Premier League opponents who named a full-strength side and enjoyed the bulk of the possession in the first 15 minutes, although it was Rob Dickie who had the first chance of the game with a downwards header from a Tony McMahon corner in the tenth minute that keeper Wayne Hennessey dealt with easily enough.
United keeper Simon Eastwood made much the better save after 19 minutes when he somehow kept out a powerful effort from the much-wanted Wilfried Zaha who let fly from 12 yards but was denied by the keeper, falling to his right: a save that set the tone for an almost personal duel between the pair for the rest of afternoon.
Dickie made another excellent block from Andros Townsend after 32 minutes but it was far from one-way traffic, with the Yellows looking comfortable on the ball and inventive up front where new signing Gavin Whyte slotted in alongside Samir Carruthers and James Henry behind Obika.
On 36 it was Obika who made the breakthrough. A perfect through-pass from the excellent Cameron Brannagan reached the former Palace loanee who ran away from a covering defender, rounded the keeper, then took his time before slotting the ball into the net for his seventh goal in six games in pre-season.
Obika and Townsend were in the same schoolboy team at Tottenham as kids and the latter almost matched his old friend with a superb dipping effort on 38 that thankfully flashed over the bar, but United were indebted to Eastwood again for a second magnificent save early in second half to somehow keep a Zaha header out when all seemed lost.
Zaha was a constant nuisance and on 57 minutes finally found a way past even Eastwood. Slipped in behind the defence down the right, Zaha powered forward and then unleashed an unstoppable effort into the roof of the net for a deserved equaliser from Roy Hodgson's Eagles.
Four minutes later and they were ahead. This time Zaha was the provider, standing firm in the penalty area as United appealed for offside and tried to close in on him with teammate Schlupp the first to arrive and take decisive action to thump the ball past the helpless Eastwood to make it 2-1 to the visitors.
United's Number 1 then made another good save as Zaha again threatened, but United were lively at the other end and sub Malachi Napa saw a decent effort deflected just wide as they pushed for an equaliser before Kaikai sidefooted home a Townsend cross on 87 to seal a win for the Eagles.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign for the future was a home debut for 16-year-old Fabio Lopes as the U's rang the changes for the last 15 minutes but more immediately they look to be in decent shape with the season now just two weeks away. Defensivley sound, despite the final score, against a side two divisions above, United were also bright in attack and inventive in all areas.
Still work to do but a solid base to build from and another chance to keep polishing and improving as we welcome Leeds United on Tuesday evening.
Eastwood, Garbutt, Dickie (Raglan 78), Nelson (Mousinho), McMahon (Norman 78), Ruffels (Lopes 78), Brannagan, Carruthers, Henry (Baptiste 61), Whyte (Napa 61), Obika (Hall 78)
Stevens, Hall, Norman, Mousinho, Napa, Baptiste, Raglan, Lopes
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels
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