Oxford United made it ten unbeaten against ten-man Rochdale this afternoon at the Kassam Stadium. Goals from Josh Ruffels, Tariqe Fosu and Sam Long eased Karl Robinson's side past a Rochdale side reduced to ten men just before half time as the U's continued their march up the table.
Against a Rochdale side playing in a startlingly bright pink away kit that lit up the grayest of winter afternoons, the U’s took a little time to settle and allowed Dale a couple of long-range efforts which flew harmlessly into the stands, but those were pretty much the only chances they had all day as Simon Eastwood grew lonelier and lonelier in his own half with every passing minute.
Dale had a warning when Ruffels glided a corner just wide with the first true opening of the game, but on 20 minutes the left-back put his side in front in emphatic style. A Brannagan corner nodded down by Alex Gorrin and Ruffels was on the move to smash it past keeper Jay Lynch from close range for his first goal of the season.
That lifted the U’s, who started to play with their usual rhythm and style, prompted by Brannagan in the middle of the park and with Fosu and Mark Sykes starting to find space out wide. A Fosu free kick on 24 zipped off the turf and out of the arms of Lynch and it was only a matter of time before the second goal came along.
When it did, it was due to a couple of pieces of superb technique. First Brannagan chested a ball up and volleyed it past Lynch but on to the bar. The ball spun high into the drizzle and dropped towards Fosu who had no hesitation as he calmly slotted the dipping, spinning ball into the bottom right corner for an expertly taken second goal.
Rampant at that stage, James Henry might have had a third on 31 minutes but slipped at the vital moment, Mackie nodded a dipping Henry cross over the bar on 36, then powered another header at goal on 37 which Lynch somehow beat away before the frustration all got too much for the visitors and 40-year-old forward Aaron Wilbraham dived in to take the legs away from Fosu and earn a red card which clashed rather horribly with his pink shirt.
Two-nil up and with a full half against ten men there was no need to risks and the hobbling Brannagan and Cadden were off within six minutes of the second half kicking off; a half which became attack v defence as Dale defended deeper and deeper and United wasted chances to score more goals.
Sykes ended a 40-yard run with a left-footed effort well over, Mackie headed wide via his ear from ten yards and Dickie and sub Shandon Baptiste were unable to get their efforts past the block of beleagured defenders. Henry hammered a chance wide, Sykes was stopped by the keeper, Baptiste sidefooted over, Dickie hit the keeper when the goal was easier, all while we were wondering how to spell beleagured (it's beleaguered).
There were further opportunities for Sykes, Henry and Mackie, and then with five minutes to go came the icing on the cake with a goal from local lad and longest-serving player Long. Sub Rob Hall cut a free kick back, Henry's shot was blocked and Long drilled it home to end the game with one last burst of positivity.
Ignore the red card; it undoubtedly influenced the game but United are irresistible right now and are deservedly in the play-off places with a last-16 encounter in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday as a bonus. Long way to go but why wouldn't you want to be on the journey with them?
See you Tuesday.
Att for it is a human number. Its number is 6,666
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA