A Tariqe Fosu goal earned Oxford United their first point of the season with a 1-1 draw at Sunderland today. Fosu's debut strike was cancelled out by a Lynden Gooch penalty after the break but the U's were full value for their point and will be very pleased with their start.
Despite having four players making debuts - Cadden, Gorrin, Woodburn and Fosu - United got into a nice rhythm at the start and Fosu had the first effort with a fourth-minute drive which went well wide from inside the area.
The more familiar figure of Simon Eastwood then made an excellent first save of the season, flying to his right to tip a Marc McNulty effort round the post and that proved crucial when United stormed up the other end of the pitch to open the scoring.
In reality it came from a defensive error; a loose pass was picked off by Woodburn who moved it quickly for Fosu in behind the trailing home defence. Keeper Jon McLaughlin came to meet him but the former Charlton man kept his head and clipped a delightful finish over the prone custodian for a memorable debut goal.
The Black Cats, backed by 33,000 fans, came back strongly but the back four of Cadden, Dickie, Mousinho and Ruffels were excellent, while Gorrin covered miles in his covering role just in front of them.
Indeed, it might have been 2-0 if ref Mr Wright hadn’t spotted a sly foul by Jamie Mackie while Dickie was powering home a header from a corner. That really would have put the cat among the, um, Black Cats.
Mackie and Mousinho’s experience helped settle a few of the younger players around them but United were largely untroubled for the rest of the first half after taking the lead, while the excellent Woodburn showed glimpses of what a dangerous acquisition he is going to be in that number 10 role just behind the terrific Mackie.
A 1-0 lead at the break was always going to be difficult to defend once the home crowd got going and three minutes into the second half that proved the case. Gooch was the cause of the problem, getting in behind Ruffels inside the box. A leg came out, Gooch went over and ref Wright pointed to the spot. Gooch picked himself up to send Eastwood the wrong way and level matters, setting up a superb second half in the process.
Dickie and Mousinho were immense as they repelled the home side time and time again, and Cameron Brannagan almost regained the lead for his side with a floated effort just after the hour that was only a foot too high following a terrific cross from the marauding Cadden.
Where the energy came from on a roasting afternoon is beyond me, but United's fitness shone through and it remained anyone's game. They remain a work in progress and new faces will add to this team but Karl Robinson could hardly have asked for more from any of his team today. Indeed, sub Rob Hall almost won it with a low drive kicked off the line by a defender with two minutes left after more good work by the hard-working James Henry.
Sunderland applied late pressure but United stood firm for a terrific performance against the favourites for promotion: a million miles away from last season's opening day at Barnsley. Highly encouraging - it took us until about Christmas to get a point last year so we are up and running straight away.
See you at home to Peterborough next Saturday
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Darrell Fisher and Steve Daniels