Oxford United left it late but a James Henry goal made it 16 unbeaten and sent them through to the third round of the FA Cup with a 1-0 win at Walsall this afternoon. Henry's strike decided a typical cup tie and finally ended the stubborn resistance of a Walsall side who pushed in-form United all the way.
They may have been unchanged from the side that started at Southend last week but United are unrecognisable from the side that came to this ground in April, essentially needing to win to stay in League 1. Eight months on and they are a side with a clear style and belief, with everyone comfortable on the ball and willing to work their socks off for each other.
Walsall changed Manager at that game in February and are now facing a different fight at the wrong end of League 2 but they started well and the opening half was end-to-end, with the U’s unable to break down the home defence and restricted to neat touches on the approach play and then long-range efforts at goal. Fosu and Henry both tried their luck and full backs Ruffels and Cadden were a constant source of danger down the flanks.
A backheel from Josh Gordon was the home side’s best effort of the first half, while United’s came when the irrepressible Fosu poked across keeper Liam Roberts to force a good save down to his left. Taylor did get the ball in the net right on half time but was denied by an offside call before the second half took a decidely one-way slant.
The home side did see Gordon head an early chance wide but it turned out to be their best chance of the day as United started to drive forward and Cadden, running riot on the right, blasted one shot wide and another into a dazed defender's nose as United threw the kitchen sink at the Saddlers.
Henry was playmaker, Ruffels almost marked his 200th start with a goal one minute into the second half, keeper and man-of-the-match Roberts clawing it off the line, but with former U's defender James Clarke skippering a stubborn resistance, United just couldn't find a way through until with time running out Taylor held the ball and flicked infield for the unstoppable Cadden to cross low and Henry to slot home and send the U's through.
Sixteen unbeaten, another clean sheet and into December still fighting on all fronts. Unforgettable stuff indeed. The draw is on Monday evening. Can't wait for the next instalment of this amazing adventure.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels and Darrell Fisher