Oxford United let a 1-0 half time lead slip as Northampton came from behind to beat them 2-1 in the Checkatrade Trophy at Grenoble Road this evening. Leading through a James Henry goal at the break, United were undone when Kevin Van Veen's fifth of the season and an Aaron Pierre goal kept the Cobblers alive in the group stages and left the U's needing a result in their final group game at Wycom
The U's dominated the first half, although with neither team showing great form in the league it was hardly surprising that there were a few wayward passes and crosses in the opening stages; one deflection off Rob Dickie flicking the left post as the Cobblers went forward, and a cross from the returning Samir Carruthers evading a glut of forwards in the box.
Carruthers eased himself into the game, as did Charlie Raglan and Simon Eastwood on their comebacks, but it was the familiar figure of Henry who gave his side the lead with a deflected effort on 24. Sliding to his right, Henry let fly and saw the ball loop off defender Pierre to leave keeper Lewis Ward stranded and the U’s a goal to the good.
A subsequent bout of handbags broke out a minute later, with three yellows for the visitors and Henry booked for the U’s as tempers flared. With Henry at the centre of everything and clipping an effort against the post after 27 minutes, United were on top - Ward making a good save from the outstanding Shandon Baptiste after 34 minutes and Luke Garbutt fizzing a number of dangerous crosses into the box from the left flank.
Another cross from Sam Long had just too much pace for Sam Smith to turn with as we approached half time but Smith had led the line with plenty of energy and saw a flicked header pushed over by Ward right on half time, while Long had combined his defensive duties with some bright attacking ideas and United were full value for their half-time lead against a Cobblers side who had seen half their men booked before the break.
However, United hadn't managed to extend their lead despite seeing more of the ball and were made to pay for that. Ten minutes into the second half Van Veen let loose with an effort from 25 yards that beat Eastwood all ends up and drew the visitors level. Game on when it should really have been game over.
Henry poked an effort too close to Ward and Jamie Hanson saw a ferocious drive deflect just wide as the U's tried to recover from the setback but on 65 Northampton had completed their comeback when Pierre was given far too much room to take down a hopeful ball into the box and finish neatly past the helpless Eastwood for his first goal for the Cobblers and a 2-1 lead to the visitors that seemed unlikely at the break.
It wasn't as though that goal sucked the atmosphere out of a sparce crowd but United needed to show a reaction and almost did just that when Garbutt let fly from distance but saw his left-footed effort smack back off the right-hand post with Ward well beaten. The same player curled another just over from similar range on 85 and United ended the match with a line of five men up front as they tried to take at least one, possibly two, points out of the game.
Marcus Browne, another to make a return after injury, saw a purposeful run end with a blast just wide on 87 but there was to be no late drama, other than a predictable red card for John-Joe O'Toole for kicking the ball away, and new Northampton boss Keith Curle had his first win while all United could do was lick their wounds and regroup for a big league game at home to Plymouth on Saturday.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA