Irish eyes were once again smiling on Oxford United as they made it three wins from three games as the curtain came down on their tour of Ireland. Goals from Jon Obika and Luke Garbutt sealed a win over a strong UCD side to keep things ticking over nicely ahead of the new season.
There were a couple of difficult half chances which Tony McMahon and Josh Ruffels couldn’t quite steer on target, while UCD had two good strikes from distance without testing Simon Eastwood too much before United started to hit their stride a little and James Henry went close with a clever efforts from a deep cross into the box.
Shandon Baptiste has been excellent in all three games here and after 25 minutes was key to the opener once again. After a slightly odd moment where a leaky sprinkler formed a puddle which stopped the ball and allowed United to gain possession it was Baptiste who beat his man and then slipped a well-weighted pass beyond the UCD defence for Obika to race on to and finish with a low drive across the stranded keeper.
Comfortable on the ball, United were always in control and five minutes later it was 2-0 when Baptiste was involved once again and Garbutt burst between two men before rifling the ball across the keeper for a powerful first goal for the club.
Obviously you can’t read too much into friendlies but the new full backs, McMahon and Garbutt, have looked very solid, as have Sam Long and Cameron Norman in those roles, and with Rob Dickie and Curtis Nelson excellent in the first half here and Charlie Raglan and John Mousinho also impressive, the defence looks in good shape even at this early stage.
Mousinho was asked to play slightly forward in a holding midfield role in the first half, centre half in the second with the subs happening after an hour, as planned.
It was Simon Eastwood who made the first save of the second half as UCD pressed once more, but Samir Carruthers blasted a decent effort just over the bar after 52 minutes and it took a good save to deny Obika once more from a header after a wicked cross from Armani Little.
Norman, Raglan, Long, Napa, Little, Shearer and Carroll were all given the last half hour and did well against their tiring hosts, although Mousinho, Ruffels and then Napa all wasted decent chances as they adjusted their sights in front of goal.
Good approach play and solid defending made the second half easy on the eye, although United may need to be a little more clinical when the serious games begin.
However, you have to give credit to the UCD team who made it another good game and were perfect hosts, just as Portmarnock and Longford have been on this tour.
Obika might have stretched the lead further as United continued to press before he was replaced by youngster Owen James for the closing minutes.
Malchi Napa blazed one further effort into the trees, Canice Carroll followed suit soon after but as we know, results aren't that important this stage. Unless you are England.
Eventually the ground emptied after 75 minutes as fans headed for bars to watch a slightly more important game this evening. However, this was another solid performance from the U's who now return home to take on Oxford City and Hampton & Richmond in a double game day on Saturday. See you there.
Eastwood (Shearer 60), McMahon (Norman 60), Dickie (Raglan 60), Nelson (Long 60), Garbutt (Napa 60) Mousinho, Ruffels, Baptiste, Henry (Little 60), Carruthers (Carroll 60), Obika (James 80)
Report by Chris Williams, photography by Liam Faulkner