Oxford United picked up one of their best results of the season when a Curtis Nelson goal earned them a 1-0 win at Coventry this afternoon. Defender Nelson's second-half effort was enough to decide a tight game at the Ricoh Arena and keep United moving in the right direction away from the foot of the table.
Nelson's goal may have decided it but the early stages were slightly ominous, with three saves of increasing difficulty for Simon Eastwood inside the first three minutes. The keeper dealt with all of them in his usual unflappable manner, marking his 150th appearance for the U’s with yet another fine performance and a clean sheet: a magnificent save on 23 minutes where he pushed an Amadou Bakayoko header on to the post the highlight.
Skipper Jamie Mackie had a difficult early header go wide but with Cameron Brannagan driving them forward from midfield and Ahmed Kashi providing a very solid base for those further forward, the U’s were well in the game throughout a very even first half. They really should have scored the opening goal after half an hour as well when Nelson got in front of his man at a corner but couldn’t steer his header on target: a sign of what was to follow.
Home keeper Lee Burge also let a Luke Garbutt effort squirm under his body on 42 and was relieved to see it roll out for a corner rather than a half-time lead to the visitors but the Yellows had done well in the first 45 minutes and then raised their game after the interval.
Eastwood was called into action again two minutes into the second half with another excellent save down low to his left but there wasn't relentless pressure by any means and United were crisp into the tackle and prepared to challenge for any ball: wingers Graham and Browne both booked before the break for strong challenges that left their markers in heaps on the ground.
The breakthrough came on 56 minutes and was a mighty good scramble; it wouldn't be a United game at the moment without something unusual happening. This time it came from a wicked Brannagan corner which Nelson headed goalwards, Burge bundled on to the post, Nelson was still alert and got another touch and the U's were a goal up. Nelson's goal (possibly a Burge OG) but Coventry argued that it hadn't crossed the line and Long's involvement may just have been to celebrate the goal rather than get a touch.
Frankly, the finer details aren't too important at this stage of the season and that goal had, at that precise second, lifted the U's to a season high 15th place (soon to become an amazing 13th - almost into the top half of the table!). Stop the season I want to get off now. A time to take a breath and defend with everything you've got, but United opted instead for 'attack is the best form of defence' and Luke Garbutt almost doubled the lead with two good efforts soon after as they went for a second goal.
Such adventure was sacrificed once we got to the last ten minutes as United dug in and tried to kill the game off. Kashi and sub John Mousinho stifled any home threat, Long, Nelson, Dickie and Ruffels were untroubled and United were given a standing ovation by their magnificent travelling fans as they celebrated a famous win on the road; just the second of the season but vitally important.
A fantastic victory. Note to all the youngsters on the Family Away Day: it's not always this good, but when it is, it's brilliant....
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher and Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA