Oxford United were beaten 2-1 at AFC Wimbledon this afternoon as two first half goals from the home side extended the United's run of away games without a win. A Scott Wagstaff header and a Joe Pigott finish were enough to earn Neal Ardley's side a first home win, despite a spirited second half from United after Cameron Brannagan had given them a lifeline just before the break.
The defeat wasn't through lack of effort. United might have scored inside two minutes when the pace of Gavin Whyte opened things up and Brannagan sent in a fine right-footed effort that was destined for the top corner until home keeper Joe McDonnell got the very tip of his fingers to it. Ricky Holmes then sent an effort from similar range well over the John Green stand after 10 minutes; not really a fault in our stars, just a bit wayward. So United had created the first couple of chances but Wimbledon had already whizzed a couple of dangerous crosses into the box and it was the home side who took the lead after 20 minutes with a simple goal. Pace down the left from Andy Barcham, an inviting cross and Wagstaff almost unmarked to head past the exposed Mitchell to make it 1-0.
United dug deep and kept trying to work the ball out wide to wingers Gavin Whyte and Ricky Holmes, but they were undone on 33 with another simple goal. A long ball through the middle, a stumble from the unfortunate John Mousinho and Pigott through on goal to plant the ball past Mitchell once more. For a side without an away win all season there was now a sizeable mountain to climb, although Wimbledon had scored with both of their efforts on goal in the first half and United had matched them for possession and determination.
Unwavering in their determination to play their way back into the game, United kept moving the ball neatly against their more direct hosts, and on 43 minutes that paid off as they at least established a solid base camp for the second half. A quick throw from Holmes and a ball inside for Brannagan allowed the midfielder to play a one-two with Henry and then another with Obika to set him free on goal and able to thump a low shot past McDonnell to make it 2-1 at the break and change the tone of the whole game.
United, visibly lifted by that goal, took the game to the home side in the second half and might have been level after 52 when Holmes escaped marker Watson with elementary ease but drilled his shot over the bar after James Henry had danced his way through the home defence. Whyte sent another effort wide and Wimbledon, without a home win this season, dropped deeper and deeper as United kept the ball and probed for openings. Whyte sent another dipping effort over the bar on 66, Jamie Mackie was thrown on to add his experience up front and the Yellows' heat map was certainly in the Wimbledon half without truly getting a clear sight at goal.
They had run themselves in to the ground in chasing the game and there was plenty of urgency: Whyte cramping up and being replaced by Sam Smith for the last ten minutes, Mitchell up in the penalty area for three minutes after going up for one of a string of late corners. But underlying it all was a familiar story: unfortunate slips and errors getting punished at one end and a blunt cutting edge at the other.
Things will get sharper; key players are close to a return and United are playing some neat stuff without any reward at the moment. They have another chance to get it right when they welcome Luton Town on Tuesday night.
See you there.
Report by Chris Williams, pics by Steve Daniels and Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA