Rob Hall made his mark on pre-season with a goal as the U's ended their home summer friendlies with an entertaining 4-3 win over Leeds United at the Kassam Stadium tonight. Two goals from last season's top scorer James Henry and a simple finish from in-form Jon Obika gave United a win despite a spirited second half comeback from the visitors.
It was a night of good goals but Henry should really have opened the scoring in just the third minute when visiting keeper Will Huffer hoofed a clearance straight to him; Henry was unable to keep his shot down from the edge of the box. No matter, as four minutes later Hall instantly answered any questions about his fitness by getting the better of a 50/50 challenge to nick the ball forward and square for Henry to roll the ball perfectly beyond the reach of the hapless Huffer to make it 1-0.
Leeds saw Jamie Shackleton exploring the car park with a rising effort after ten minutes but were otherwise well shackled (I thank you) by the impressive back four of Cameron Norman, Rob Dickie, John Mousinho and Luke Garbutt. Norman, in particular, caught the eye and looks to have made the transition from King's Lynn to playing the likes of Leeds with ease.
Hall, recently crowned King of Twitter, was proving just as impressive on the pitch, covering plenty of ground and jinking past defenders with far more control than he displayed over the English language, and on 27 minutes got the goal he deserved. Obika was at the heart of it, showing good strength to take United forward and when Henry got the ball he dinked it forward for Hall to drop his shoulder then force the ball past Huffer to make it 2-0.
He might have had another with a dipping effort on 35, then curled a superb effort just wide two minutes later as he underlined just how important he will be this season, but Henry was not to be outshone and when Obika let fly on 42 minutes and Huffer palmed it into the middle of the goal, it was Henry on hand to punish the keeper’s error by placing it casually back behind him to make it 3-0 at the interval.
One side Roofe-less the other ruthless, but one former United man did make a scoring appearance when Tyler Roberts came on as a sub at half time and marked his return to the Kassam by firing a difficult chance past Eastwood on 54, clipping it in via the post for a neat goal from wide on the left.
Suddenly the game became extremely open. United might have regained their three-goal cushion a couple of minutes later when some superb approach play from Henry set up Obika, who Leeds found very hard to stop all night. His shot from the edge of the box would have flashed into the top corner had sub keeper Jamal Blackman not used all of his six-foot seven height to reach up and tip it over.
Never mind, two minutes later and the big man had his usual goal when the marauding Mousinho did well to reach the ball at the back post and roll it across the goal line for Obika to touch home the simplest of his eight goals in seven games.
Back came Leeds to make it 4-2 when Lewis Baker sneaked in to tap home a Shackleton cross from six yards out and then on 71 it was game on when Jack Clarke was given too much time on the edge of the box and fired a low shot past Eastwood with a deflected effort that made it 4-3. Having had a 'goal' chalked off for offside as well, Leeds were suddenly well in the game after looking finished at the break, but United will have learned lessons and will surely not over-commit men quite so much when the league campaign starts at Barnsley on 4th August?
There were more things to enthuse about than just the scoreline: Jamie Mackie made his first appearance, 16-year-old Fabio Lopes was given an opportunity again, and the watching Marcus Browne, signed earlier in the day, will add plenty of flair to what already looks a very strong unit.
Things to work on, for sure, but a win over Championship opposition can only be a positive.
We move on to one final friendly, away at MK Dons on Friday. See you there.
Eastwood, Norman, Dickie (Raglan 81), Mousinho, Garbutt, Ruffels (Carroll 81), Brannagan (Nelson 74), Hall (Napa 46), Henry (Mackie 70), Carruthers (Baptiste 74), Obika (Lopes 83)
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Daniels