Oxford United's year to remember ended with another win today as Mark Sykes' goal earned them all three points at AFC Wimbledon. Leading through a first half own goal, United were pegged back by a Joe Pigott goal before Sykes decided an entertaining encounter with the match winner.
As promised, Karl Robinson made changes despite back-to-back wins: Sykes, Sam Long, Elliott Moore, Jamie Mackie and Rob Hall all came into the side and settled quickly into the usual fast-moving, passing style which has been the U’s usual style in the first half of the season.
To make that work they rely on the excellent Alex Gorrin, who showed that perfectly by having the first shot of the match at one end and then making a goal-saving tackle at the other within 30 seconds of a breathless opening ten minutes.
Wimbledon are always dangerous from set pieces and Pigott did get the ball into the net but from an offside position after a 16th minute free kick, before United started to raise their game and, after a string of corners, it was no surprise to see them take the lead in the 26th minute when Sykes and Long combined down the right and Long’s terrific cross was poked horribly past Trott by McLoughlin at the back post under minimal pressure.
United then took control, with Hall and Mackie going close and Wimbledon limited to one long-range effort from Marcus Forss that wasn’t Fors-full enough to test Jordan Archer, but it did raise the home side for a late surge at the end of the first half, with Archer making one outstanding save from Terell Thomas to preserve the one-goal advantage at the break.
It didn’t last long though. A minute into the second half and Pigott was in a similar place when a similar ball came in and his header gave Archer no chance and pulled the home side level.
Pegged back at a difficult away ground. Would United have the character to recover? Do you need to ask?
All that the equaliser did was set the game up perfectly and both sides went for a win rather than settle for a draw.
Both Hall and Ruffels went close with long-range efforts - the second tipped over spectacularly by Trott - before Sykes capped a fine performance with another excellent team goal. I am learning to watch United goals back after the event to work out how they create gaps, but the final pass definitely came from Baptiste, who slid a wonderfully weighted pass behind the Wimbledon back line for Sykes to gallop towards Trott and slip the ball calmly home.
The Northern Irish midfielder almost scored again with a rising effort that Trott tipped over and with the non-stop running of Ruffels carving holes down the left, United were once again in the ascendancy. Baptiste would have scored another wonder goal had Trott not saved his 78th-minute drive after a flowing move, the inspirational Dickie was off target with an 80th-minute header and United were full value for the win, despite the game going end to end and Wimbledon pressing them all the way.
Three wins in a row, another sold-out away end and all is well. United started the decade with a home defeat to Tamworth. They end it with fans wondering if the Championship might beckon for a side up to second. I've been at both games and I know which I prefer.
Happy New Year. See you at Doncaster.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Daniels and Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA