Oxford United's season continues to gather momentum at just the right time. Last week the first away win, this week their first back-to-back wins of the season. Two headers from Jerome Sinclair, his first goals for the club, earned them a 2-1 win over Scunthorpe United at the Kassam Stadium that kept them moving in the right direction away from the bottom four, despite George Thomas's injury time consolation for the visitors.
United, unchanged after beating Blackpool seven days earlier, started slightly shakily in a first half that should probably be glossed over fairly quickly. Simon Eastwood needed to save the first shot of the day from Funso Ojo and then race from his line to stop Kyle Wootton in his tracks (literally) when he headed the ball past the keeper before running squarely into the solid figure of Eastwood.
United were rarely in real danger though and their best effort came when Mark Sykes raced clear on 20 minutes after a perfect through ball from the hard-working Jerome Sinclair only for Tom Pearce to deny him even a shot on target with a perfectly timed tackle just as the midfielder prepared to shoot. Other than that it was a game played in the middle third of the pitch with neither side truly taking the initiative: United didn’t muster a shot until the very last kick of the half: a Sykes effort that just about reached the underworked Jak Alnwick in the Iron goal.
Things had to improve and there was a fresh impetus to the U’s as they attacked towards their own fans after the break.
The game was crying out for one moment of quality. Levi Sutton almost provided it for the visitors with a rising drive on 56 but Graham showed his class with a wicked cross moments later that Alnwick clawed off the head of the diving Sinclair at the back post.
Gavin Whyte was given half an hour to inject some pace down the right but it was on the other flank that the goal was created and by United's other Northern Irish star. Sykes seemed to have had the door closed as he tried to get towards goal but cleverly switched to his other foot and clipped a perfect cross for the unmarked Sinclair to head a simple goal back across Alnwick to make it 1-0.
Sinclair had deserved that goal on workrate alone, showing the full spectrum of what he is about and unlucky to see five good runs across the defence lead to nothing.*
With ten minutes left, he doubled the lead and made the points safe against an Iron side who had faded badly after the break. Whyte set the ball back, the hugely influential Mousinho sent in another tantalising cross and this time Sinclair noddded the ball into the other corner to make it 2-0. This gave United a valuable three points despite sub Thomas turning the ball home from six yards in injury time to set up an unneccesarily tense last two minutes that were all too familiar after United let a 3-0 lead slip away at Scunthorpe earlier this season!
Never mind that. Look everyone: two wins does not a season make and when the game was 0-0 United were actually back in the bottom four. But they ARE playing well and there are good signs wherever you look: Sam Long a model of determination in the back four, Sinclair off the mark and running and match changers on the bench each week.
Another good win and now it is up to the U's to keep their foot down when we head for Gillingham next Saturday.
Report by Chris Williams, Main Picture by Jack Brown, Gallery pictures by Steve Daniels and Tom Melville, stats by OPTA
*forgive me it IS my birthday!