Oxford United Women fell to their first home league defeat since the start of October last night against second-placed Cardiff City Ladies in a pulsating game.
United opened the scoring in the first half through Ellie Noble’s spectacular strike, but the Welsh side hit back through Grace Horrell, Kylie Nolan and Gwen Davies. With quarter of an hour remaining Gemma Sims pulled a goal back for the U’s from a corner but, despite throwing everything at the visitors, United were unable to find the equaliser.
Cardiff began the game on the front foot, but they were largely restricted to long-range efforts that failed to trouble Lucy Thomas in the Oxford goal. Once Oxford came through the opening spell, however, they began to threaten with Evie Gane and Cheryl Williams both getting shots away.
Chloe Lloyd had a 31st minute shot that went narrowly over but United made the most of this escape as just a minute later they took the lead. Coming down the left, Noble cut inside and launched a shot from outside the area that whistled past Poppy Soper. It was the first moment of true quality in the game and it gave the U’s the impetus to go forward and test Soper two or three more times before the interval.
The second half started brightly, with both teams getting forward in numbers, but the signs were there for Cardiff, who had three very fast forwards bursting through and causing United all sorts of problems.
The equaliser, on the hour, came from a Cardiff corner, from which Horrell bundled the ball past Thomas from close range. Three minutes later Kylie Nolan went close as she lobbed the ball over Thomas but it drifted just wide.
It didn’t take Nolan long to get her name on the scoresheet, though, as from a quick break she took the ball around Thomas for a simple tap in. With United struggling against the pacey Cardiff forward line, they conceded another goal in the 73rd minute from a breakaway, finished by Davies who slotted the ball past the United keeper.
Oxford replied almost immediately, as Sims was on the end of a corner to head the ball firmly past Soper and give United a sight of a comeback, and it was the signal for the U’s to turn up the pressure as they sought the equaliser.
United peppered the Cardiff box with cross after cross, and Cardiff were forced into a rearguard action, conceding several free kicks from which the ball was launched into the visitors’ area, with United keeper Thomas also joining in the fray.
Oxford came close on a few occasions but were denied by dogged defending and one superb save by Soper from a back header from her own defender. However, it was not to be for the U’s, who fell to defeat and, with just two games remaining, can now finish no higher than third, which is in itself a superb achievement.
United: Thomas, Bent, Haynes, Mobbs, Allen, Noble, Timms, Baker, Sims (Walklett 88), Williams, Gane