Oxford United started 2019 with a hugely disappointing 3-0 defeat at Plymouth this afternoon. Two goals from Ruben Lameiras after an opener from Antoni Sarcevic made it three defeats in a row for the U's who were unable to replicate a performance that saw them win on the same ground a month ago.
United had dominated the corresponding game at Home Park in the FA Cup just the other side of Christmas and started brightly again with captain Jamie Mackie - handed the armband at his former club - leading the side intelligently and acting as a focal point for the pace of Whyte and Browne to work either side of.
However, Plymouth matched them for energy and in the ninth minute were ahead when former United man Ashley Smith-Brown cut inside his man and cracked in a shot that Ruffels bravely blocked inside the six-yard box, only for the ball to fly to Sarcevic who volleyed home from eight yards out for a well-taken opener.
United then had to batten down the hatches a little as the home side came at them; both Dickie and Nelson made important blocks and Ruffels came back from his more advanced midfield role to make one great challenge inside his own area.
United started to become an attacking force once more,with Mackie and Whyte firing straight into the gloves of home keeper Kyle Letheren and Browne starting to force Smith-Brown back down United’s left. Sadly, with four minute to go before the break, they were 2-0 down when they were caught out by a throw down the Plymouth left and a simple ball across the box found Lameiras in acres of space to slip the ball across the exposed Eastwood for his first goal of the afternoon.
It would have been worse at the break but Eastwood flew to his right to tip a Carey drive round the post on 43 minutes and both Dickie and Hanson made further crucial blocks to keep it at 2-0 and keep their side in it at half time.
The second half continued in similar vein despite the introduction of John Mousinho at the base of midfield to try and stem the flow. It worked to some extent but there were still several threatening set pieces and much of the play was in United’s half as the home side looked to kill the game off completely.
Hopes were rasied when Dickie threw himself at a Brannagan corner on the hour but couldn't steer his header on target, and then on 67 the game was up when Lameiras ran across the face of the box, cut back to his left and dragged his low effort past the stranded Eastwood to make it 3-0 and end the game as a meaningful contest.
United, with little to lose, threw men forward and Dickie had two headers go close, Browne had an effort deflect wide and Hanson smashed a 25-yard effort wide but a goal would have been a mere consolation and Argyle had taken their chances and started the new year with a terrific performance.
United meanwhile must regroup. The next three games are in three different competitions: FA Cup, Checkatrade Trophy and then league action again. A big week in which they need to recapture the form that preceded the festive period.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA