Owen James’ first half strike was not enough tonight as Oxford United's U23s lost 3-1 away to Kettering Town in a pre-season friendly.
The side, which contained senior pros Tony McMahon and Sam Long, also saw Kyran Lofthouse, Nico Jones, Kevin Berkoe and Aaron McCreadie return to the side following their involvement with the first team earlier in the week.
Watched on by Karl Robinson, the opening ten minutes were played with a high intensity but both sides struggled to create any chances until the U’s grabbed the opening goal on 16 minutes through James. Lofthouse broke free in the area and his cross was turned in by the United forward.
On 37 minutes Kettering pulled level through Connor Kennedy who rose highest in the area from the corner and headed beyond Jack Stevens in the United goal.
The hosts then took the lead shortly after half time after a forward was pulled down in the area, Dan Nti’s strike from 12 yards sending Stevens the wrong way.
The U’s battled in midfield and almost drew level through Nico Jones whose stabbed effort from a corner was saved by the feet of Paul White but Kettering twice had the opportunity to take the lead in almost identical circumstances. Two one-on-one chances were worked within 30 seconds but both strikes – from Lindon Meikle and Joe Carta respectively – were poked wide of the right post.
Stevens was in inspired form between the sticks throughout the evening. The pick of the bunch came on 70 minutes when the goalkeeper tipped Meikle’s looping effort past the post.
The U's tried to muster something from the game but could not find an equaliser. In doing so they were caught on the break and gave away a cheap foul. Nti stepped up for his second of the night and fired into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
It was another physical test for the youngsters, who next travel to Banbury on Tuesday night.
UNITED: Stevens, McMahon, Long, Jones, Berkoe, McCreadie, Heap, Trialist, Lofthouse, James, Crooks
Report by Liam Potter