Oxford United were beaten 3-1 by Bristol Rovers this afternoon despite taking an early lead through Ben Woodburn. Strikes from Ed Upson, Jonson Clarke-Harris and sub Tom Nichols saw the Gas hit back to claim all three points and leave United once again scratching their heads as they seek their first away win of the season, despite playing well in long spells of the game.
After two defeats in a row there were changes to the line up, allowing Elliott Moore to slot in as left-sided centre half, Jamie Hanson to start in a holding role in midfield and Tariqe Fosu to come back on the left of the 3 in a 4-2-3-1 shape, with Matty Taylor initially the focus of the attack as well as most of the home fans’ attention.
The former Rovers striker had a mixed return, missing his kick in an early attack, picking up an early booking when he ran into a defender and then limping off with a groin problem that saw him replaced by Jamie Mackie after half an hour.
It was an interesting clash of styles: United tried to play their way through the Pirates and the home side tried to be a little more direct: centre half Tom Davies twice off target with efforts from nicely flighted set pieces.
If it was patience you wanted, then watch United’s opening goal. Patient play from the U's ended with Dickie rolling it to Woodburn who turned and faced goal 25 yards out. He didn't go for power, pure placement, and the ball rolled delicately into the bottom right corner for a well-taken first goal for the club. Don't think it even reached the back of the net but United were a goal up.
If the home defence thought they would get it easy, they had another think coming, with Mackie coming on for the unfortunate Taylor; Mackie immediately pinned two of them to allow Fosu to roll into a decent shooting position.
Having looked good value for their lead, United then somehow managed to be behind at the break, and worse was to follow after the interval.
The equaliser was a good strike, but could have been prevented. A ball in from the left was cleared only as far as Upson who had acres of sunlit space 20 yards out and clipped it up before smashing it beyond the reach even of the diving Simon Eastwood for 1-1. As we went into injury time, it was 2-1 when Josh Hare crossed a perfect ball in, off balance, and Clarke-Harris powered a header back across Eastwood to give the home side a half-time lead.
United stayed true to the game plan and tried to pass their way back into contention; Woodburn was full of neat movement and Fosu always willing too take men on. Dickie's clever pass gave Henry the chance for an inviting cross on the hour that nobody gambled on and a Brannagan effort soon after flashed across the box without a diversion goalwards.
Henry's touch for once let him down with a pass to Woodburn that was just a fraction light and allowed the lone defender to clear in a 2-on-1 break after the hour, while Fosu headed across goal on 71 as yet another cross came into the Pirates penalty area without anyone getting a telling touch.
Nice to watch, but soon to be punished as Nichols ended the game with 13 minutes left. Good approach play from Ollie Clarke paved the way when he drifted right to left across the area then poked through for the sub, who smashed it past Eastwood for 3-1 and a third defeat in a row for the U's.
Some nice patches in the game but not enough of them and too easily repelled by the eager Pirates.
On to Millwall. See you Tuesday.
Rport by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Damiels and Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA