Goals from former Plymouth pair Jamie Mackie and Curtis Nelson earned Oxford United a fully deserved 2-0 win this afternoon at Grenoble Road. The U's returned to winning ways in a performance full of character and determination, lifting themselves off the bottom of the table and leapfrogging their opponents in the process.
In such an important game an early goal from Man of the Match Mackie was the perfect start. It owed plenty to the excellent James Henry, whose run took him past two defenders before he slipped the ball through for Mackie. With just Matt Macey in front of him, Mackie fired across the keeper with a low finish and United had a priceless early lead.
They might have extended it with the magnificent Marcus Browne drilling an effort wide after his free kick had been blocked by the wall on 22, but the on-loan West Ham man was causing so many problems with his pace and power, with the moment of the first half seeing him win a tackle on the edge of his own box, charge forward and cross for Holmes who couldn’t get it on target (and was offside anyway).
Plymouth saw a Graham Carey effort float well wide after a collision between Simon Eastwood and Rob Dickie and grew into the game. Stuart O’Keefe sent a decent chance into the car park and Eastwood made a good save from Freddie Ladapo in first-half injury time, but the U’s were good value for their lead at the break and that little spell before the interval was to prove Plymouth's best period of the 90 minutes.
United might have doubled their lead soon after the break: an awkward swirling effort from Henry touched over after almost catching out Macey and McMahon and Dickie both joining the attack but unable to get efforts on target. Browne had tormented his marker for an hour before being replaced by Shandon Baptiste, who carried on the good work, but both Henry and Holmes were also in impish mood and proving very hard to stop by a Plymouth back line having to also deal with Mackie, who never stopped running for the cause.
At the other end, Nelson typified the determination of the whole back line to stop the Pilgrims' progress and keep a clean sheet, but both full-backs McMahon and Josh Ruffels had excellent games alongside the fiercely competitive Nelson and Dickie. Ruffels found time to join the attack but was unable to volley a McMahon cross on target, while a curling effort from Henry was tipped round the post by Macey after 70 minutes as United looked for a second goal that would surely seal victory.
That goal finally came with 15 minutes left and owed plenty to Mackie's selfless set up. Through on goal and with his second United goal there for the taking, Mackie instead waited till the keeper came to him then rolled it to his right for Nelson to fire home and make it 2-0 and just about end the argument for the afternoon.
That was further settled with nine minutes left when the whole thing got just too much for Yann Songo'o who piled into Mackie and was promptly shown a second yellow card/red card combination by ref Andy Woolmer.
Plymouth's ten men were beaten and United had a crucial win under their belts. A good win, a fine performance, and now they need to build from this and win plenty more battles to come. But for now, enjoy.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA