Oxford United's Checkatrade Trophy run ended at the quarter final stage tonight when in-form Bury came out on top in a fine cup tie. A penalty from captain James Henry and a comeback cracker from Samir Carruthers were not enough as two goals from Danny Mayor and strikes from Dominic Telford, Byron Moore and Adam Thompson sent the Shakers through.
There were few signs of the danger to come when United dominated the opening stages. Ahmed Kashi on his debut made an instant impression with a thunderous first challenge that took the ball cleanly while dumping a nervous Shaker player into the snow that dusted the playing surface and necessitated the ground staff brushing the lines before kick off. Kashi also blazed a decent effort just over the bar inside the first five minutes, shortly after Jamie Hanson had charged in to the opposition penalty area and got the first shot of the evening away, before the pair reversed roles and Hanson this time slid in for a fierce tackle that left another Shaker shaking and a ten foot long scar in the snow.
United meant business and had looked good but it was the home side who took the lead with just their second attack. Telford was off target with their first effort after 15 minutes but the conditions were against the keepers and on 17 minutes they played a part in the opening goal. This time Telford let fly from 20 yards but it was the sort of shot that Eastwood would normally deal with easily. This time the ball escaped his grasp and seemed to slip under him to gift Bury an early lead.
United came back strongly with Jordan Graham leading the charge down the right wing and Marcus Browne down the left. On 23 minutes they had the ideal chance to get back on level terms when Browne skipped past his man, Tom Miller unwisely slid in and Henry calmly slotted home his 14th goal of the season from the penalty spot.
That was fair to that point but the U's needed to steady the ship at 1-1 and instead within three minutes were behind once more. Right wing-back Miller is Bury's not-so-secret weapon with his long throws from either flank and from the left launched another shell into the danger area. Kashi missed it, the ball bounced up and hit Dickie and the loose ball went to centre-half Thompson, who thrashed it low and hard almost through Eastwood to make it 2-1.
United set about their task once more and Browne had one effort, Ruffels skipped past two men but couldn't find the killer final pass and there were signs of a comeback. However five minutes before the break they were two goals adrift when Bury scored a neat third goal. Callum McFadzean was the danger man down the left and after some neat interplay with Danny Mayor the ball was delivered low and hard across the six yard box for Byron Moore to slide in for a simple finish. Four shots, three goals for the home side and United left with no option other than outright attack for the second half, throwing on Carruthers and prepared to leave gaps as they chased the game.
The on-loan Sheffield United man made an immediate impact. Knitting things together and always available, Carruthers started a good move with a ball out to Graham. Mackie unselfishly drew men into the box, leaving space on the edge of the area where Carruthers ghosted in and then fired the ball past keeper Joe Murphy for a fine goal that went beyond a mere consolation: Carruthers has worked so hard to get back, deserved his goal, and if he can stay fit then any side with him, Graham, Henry, Browne and Gavin Whyte available is going to create chances. Indeed, all five of them ended the game, which is a positive despite the exit.
The problem remained twofold: they still needed to chase the game and Bury had previously scored four goals in eight other home games this season. That danger was perfectly illustrated on 55 when the Shakers reopened their two-goal cushion. Mayor was the man this time, looking up and striking a curling effort beyond the diving Eastwood and into the top right corner to make it 4-2 and book Bury's place in Friday's semi-final draw. I'll be honest with you readers - I won't be listening.
United still went forward, Ruffels heading a corner wide on 68 and nobody giving up the cause in front of a fantastic, frozen 101 away fans, but with 14 minutes to go the Gigg was up as Mayor again let fly from outside the area and a deflection took the ball beyond Eastwood for 5-2.
Graham fizzed a good effort wide, Nelson blazed another over, but by then it was academic. Bury, second in League 2, are a good side and on this form will win promotion to League 1. United have just one thing left to do this season: make sure they are there to welcome them.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Kath Faulkner, stats by OPTA