Oxford United picked up their first win of the season thanks to a Cameron Brannagan goal that earned them a 1-0 win over much-fancied Peterborough United this afternoon. Brannagan's 12th minute strike was enough to divide two good teams and leave Karl Robinson's side unbeaten after two games of the fledgling campaign.
United, unchanged from the side that drew at Sunderland seven days earlier, went close inside the first four minutes when Tariqe Fosu rattled an early effort against the post after sending two defenders flying on a sodden Kassam Stadium pitch. Jamie Mackie headed the cross over when Josh Ruffels recycled the ball but having pressed the Posh back there was no surprise to see the U’s take the lead after 12 minutes.
Chris Cadden, always an outlet down the right, raced forward at pace and flicked the ball through for James Henry in space as three of the visitors’ back line stepped up while Niall Mason dawdled. The last thing you want to do is give Henry space behind your defence and when his ball was only half cleared to the edge of the area by Alex Woodyard, Brannagan was there to smash an unstoppable effort just inside the left hand post, giving keeper Christy Pym no chance at all.
It was a bright, open game although a couple of hefty challenges kept ref Salisbury interested. That was competitive rather than malicious though and in Fosu and Woodburn United had players willing to try a flick or a feint to open up the visiting defence.
Peterborough also have a variety of ways of creating chances including the power of Ivan Toney, the pace of Mo Eisa and the skills of Marcus Maddison who sent one free kick too high, one wide right and saw two 45th minute corners just about cleared at the near post as United scrambled to keep their lead.
Set pieces aside, United were largely untroubled in the first half and might have doubled their lead after half an hour had Woodburn not dragged a drive just wide when well placed, or on 36 when Mackie slid in with typical bravery but couldn’t quite steer a Ruffels cross past a covering defender who forced it away for a corner.
A quiet word here for Alex Rodriguez-Gorrin as well. The new arrival in midfield quietly purrs around in midfield but won countless tackles and kept the shape for his side, allowing those further forward to catch the eye with some slick passing and movement. It was not just the Spaniard snapping into challenges though: United were first to the ball throughout a highly encouraging first half.
Peterborough were bound to improve after the break, with two subs coming on as a signal of intent and Maddison (naturally) the first to test Eastwood with an early effort after the break that the United keeper needed to be alert to before touching over the bar.
Under pressure for the first time, United's two centre backs stood firm and defended stoutly. Rob Dickie, who became a dad in midweek, seemed determined to mark it with a win while John Mousinho was similarly resolute as he marked his 500th senior appearance with an outstanding performance in which his experience stood out among his young teammates.
One of those youngsters, Woodburn, will go on to play hundreds of games but perhaps at the back of his mind will remember a miss on 68 minutes when Mackie burst clear of a labouring defence and set up Henry for a delicate chipped effort that beat keeper Pym all hands up. The ball came down off the crossbar to the feet of the on-loan Liverpool forward but with Pym scrambling towards him Woodburn lifted his effort into the stand rather than into the gaping net.
The youngster will score plenty though; one long-distance effort on 77 moved so much that Pym opted to chest it away rather than risk gloves while another drive moments later was just wide of the right hand post.
Peterborough play pretty football but so do United and on the day they had that touch more tenacity. If every season has its moments so does every game. Today, mine came on 83 minutes when Jamie Mackie chased the ball about 80 metres, and as it moved between four different players, he finally hounded it down and hammered it clear; too knackered to do anything else but earning a huge ovation from the crowd.
No shortage of effort, no lack of ability or flair. Long way to go, but two games in and United are just fine.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA