Oxford United's unbeaten start to the season was ended by a resurgent Blackpool side today as a set piece and a corner gave the home side a 2-1 win. Ryan Edwards' header and an Armand Gnanduillet spot kick gave the visitors three points despite United dominating much of the game and a Josh Ruffels goal giving them hope.
It was a fine game to watch and United will count themselves very unlucky not to have got more from it. The difference between this visit and the last couple of trips to Bloomfield Road was that this time the Blackpool fans were backing their club and both sets of fans created a terrific atmosphere right from the first whistle.
United dealt with it but on six minutes were behind for the first time this season when a simple corner from the right was powered home by the head of centre-half Edwards, thundering through the heart of the defence to meet the ball six yards out.
United rallied and one or two crosses started to fly across the Tangerines’ back line without anyone being able to reach them. At the other end it should be noted that the three goals now conceded have come from two penalties and a corner so the backline were clearly coping with the threat from open play.
Indeed, it was a defender who had their best efforts in the first half hour when Ruffels first ghosted in at the back post after 19 minutes but couldn’t beat keeper Jak Alnwick with an effort that seemed to come off his shoulder. Ruffels almost turned provider two minutes later from a similar position but Jamie Mackie couldn’t quite get over his header as he raced in to meet the left-back’s clever header across the face of goal.
United played some neat football and everyone is so comfortable on the ball that it was important to stick to the plan and stay patient. A couple of James Henry crosses were perhaps a yard too far in front of their target, Ben Woodburn’s flicks and tricks almost unlocked the home defence and all was far from lost.
Indeed, had Mackie got more than the bottom of his studs on the ball after 35 minutes the scores would have been level. They were also extremely unlucky after 38 minutes when Woodburn drove through a sea of legs and smashed his effort against the left post with the keeper stranded and praying it went wide.
They were left to rue those chances in injury time though, when Gnanduillet won and then converted a penalty after Dickie brought him down, but in a breathless end to the half, United gained a crucial lifeline when the excellent Chris Cadden crossed and once again Ruffels arrived at the back post to head home via the post, despite the best efforts of the home defence on the line.
That goal changed the team talks for both managers but United would have been extremely hard done by to go in two goals down. They roared forward like seagulls after seafront sandwiches after the break, forcing corners and squeezing the Tangerines ever deeper. Henry saw an effort blocked at the near post and it took a fine save from Alnwick to tip a Woodburn effort round the post after the magnificent Mackie had chased and harried a defender into another error to allow Woodburn to let fly from the edge of the box.
Surely an equaliser had to come? On 65 minutes Ruffels was in attack once more and clipped the ball across for the rampaging Jamie Hanson to thunder a header at goal, only for the ball to come back off the bar with Alnwick beaten once more. Sub Rob Hall was thwarted by a sliding tackle as he seemed certain to score with his first touch and United had thrown everything at the home side; Henry was inches away from touching an Anthony Forde cross home as United pressed one last time.
Sometimes you don't quite get your reward but the superb away fans rose to their feet to applaud the efforts of their team once again. Lots to be positive about and a chance to put it right against Burton on Tuesday night.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels and Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA