Oxford United's amazing upwards trajectory continues after a 2-1 win at Rotherham this afternoon. Goals from Tariqe Fosu and Matty Taylor either side of a Michael Ihiekwe header gave the U's another three points and lifted them into the play-off places in Sky Bet league 1 for the first time this season.
With Rob Dickie suspended after five yellow cards, Elliott Moore came into the backline and shared responsibility with skipper John Mousinho to keep Rotherham’s tall striker Michael Smith quiet as the home side looked to get the ball into their obvious focal point. United defended well from the very start with the non-stop Alex Gorrin mopping things up just ahead of the backline after shaking off an ankle injury during the week, and that worked well in a cagey first quarter of the game.
Fosu's goal on 25 changed all that and set up another rip-roaring game of thoroughly entertaining football. The goal was another contender for Fosu's own personal Goal of the Season competition too.
The hugely influential Cameron Brannagan started it by outmuscling right back Matt ‘Never’ Olusunde and giving the ball to Fosu who moved it to his right and then drove it spectacularly into the top right corner. Top goal. Top player and a priceless lead preserved a minute later when Chris Cadden cleared a Jake Hastie effort off the line as the ball was driven under the body of Eastwood and seemed destined for an equaliser.
United could easily have been 2-0 up before the half-hour mark though when keeper Daniel Iversen kept out a low drive from Brannagan after a magnificent through ball from Fosu, but were then pegged back when the Millers scored with their first effort on target.
To be fair, it was a good goal with Ihiekwe driving the ball forward from the back and then continuing his run into the box to meet the ball again when it was crossed from the right, beating Eastwood to the punch.
By now the game was open and in full flow with United having a couple of half chances and the home side starting the second half well, but in a close game United now have a predator and on 57 minutes the in-form Taylor showed what he is all about as he gave the U's the lead once more.
Having been denied with his first chance of the game, he wasn't about to let a second chance escape him and when the excellent Ruffels won the ball with a crunching tackle Taylor was there in the box to nod past Iversen and make it 2-1 with his fifth goal in six games.
It sparked an incredible spell where United laid siege to the Millers' goal. How the ball didn't go in is a mystery, but Taylor was twice denied by astonishing saves by the keeper, defender Jamie Lindsay performed miracles to get back and slide the ball away from the rampaging Henry, and a defender's knee somehow took a goalbound effort from the outstanding Mousinho up and over the bar during one breathless five-minute spell.
Rotherham recovered but still didn't do enough to test Eastwood, helped by some stubborn defending from those in front of him. Brannagan and Fosu were denied by good defending at the other end, but ultimately a tight game had been decided by one incisive moment, despite incredibly late pressure in a tense final five minutes in which all of United's resilience was pushed to the very limit.
They stood firm though and credit is due to everyone involved in another fantastic performance. United continue to move upwards and onwards.
Womble: That one's for you.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA