Oxford United's Under 23 side went out of the Premier League Cup but should be very proud of their campaign despite a 2-0 defeat at Wolves this evening.
Needing a win to stand any chance of progressing Chris Allen's side were beaten by a Nial Ennis goal in the first half and a late second from Paolo Alves that sent their Premier League opponents through from a group that has seen United more than hold their own against Wolves, Swansea City and Hull City in this, their debut season.
United started with Max Harris in goal with Matt Berry-Hargreaves and Matt Taylor as full backs outside Freddie Niblett and Nico Jones. Kyran Lofthouse, Aaron Heap, Aaron McCreadie and Owen James formed the midfield four, with Albie Hopkins just behind Dejon Noel-Williams up front.
With both sides needing a win to reach the under 16 it was always going to be a full blooded cup tie and so it proved with some strong challenges in an open game which saw Wolves ahead after 15 minutes when striker Ennis volleyed in from ten yards after a deep cross from the eye-catching Ryan Giles had been headed back across goal.
United responded well and continued to play the passing football which has been their trademark throughout the competition.
A foul on Lofthouse led to a free kick, central and 30 yards out which saw James force a good save from the keeper when he fired low and hard through the wall, although Pedro Goncalves should have put his side 2-0 up moments earlier when he inexplicably passed meekly wide with the goal at his mercy - the same player then headed wide of the other post on 41 from very similar range.
James saw a free kick go close in the opening minutes of the second period as the U's sought an equaliser, but Giles, who has played for the first team this season, was a constant danger on the left flank and the pace of the entire Wolves front line caused untold problems on the break whenever United committed too many men forward
James and Lofthouse went off after an hour to travel north and join the first team squad ahead of the game at Blackpool tomorrow but United threw men forward in the last half hour to try and get something out of the game, sacrificing a little bit of defensive security and thankful that their hosts were wayward with their finishing when gaps appeared.
There was effort and endeavour but that one clear chance proved elusive for both sides until Alves finally took advantage of the space after 85 minutes to fire past Harris from the edge of the box to send Wolves through, moments after sub Ryan Crooks had seen his shot saved from United's best chance of the night.
No shame for the young U's, who will have enjoyed the experience of playing at this famous old ground and learned valuable lessons, as from every match they play.
United: Harris, Berry-Hargreaves, Taylor, McCreadie, Jones, Niblett, Lofthouse (Taverner 60), Heap, Noel-Williams (Crooks 80), Hopkins, James (Lopes 60)
Subs unused: Agboola, Elechi
Report by Chris Williams, See reaction in iFollow