Oxford United marched in to the last 16 of the Carabao Cup with a magnificent performance tonight against West Ham United. Goals from Elliott Moore, Matty Taylor, Tariqe Fosu and Shandon Baptiste gave Karl Robinson's side a superb 4-0 win at the Kassam Stadium which rolled back the years for the 1986 Milk Cup winners.
As you might expect it took some stout defending to keep the team that beat Manchester United at the weekend out at first, Rob Dickie making an early block and the Hammers seeing more of the ball in the opening moments, with United working hard to close their Premier League visitors down, but after the first five minutes United gave as good as they got and gradually took over.
Boss Karl Robinson was true to his word and made changes, despite winning the previous game 6-0; Sam Long and Moore came into the back line and did well, while George Thorne, playing at the base of a midfield trio with the hugely impressive Shandon Baptiste and the excellent Cameron Brannagan, is a fine passer of the ball who started a 13th-minute move which Brannagan should really have finished but he scuffed his free shot wide instead. Anthony Forde ran clear a minute later but again fired wide after a clever pass from Baptiste.
United then had missed the target with two presentable chances before the terrible luck that seems to follow George Thorne struck again. A block tackle, with both players going for the ball, saw the midfielder come off worse against Carlos Sanchez. No replays but to the naked eye it looked unfortunate rather than malicious, but it meant that Thorne left the field with his left arm in a sling and what looked like a dislocated shoulder and his full debut had lasted just 22 minutes.
Mark Sykes came on, Brannagan dropping deeper, and United then went desperately close to an opener when Rob Hall curled a splendid effort over the wall in the 25th minute but was denied a goal against his former club when the ball flew over the fence via the top of the crossbar.
The best chance of an even first half, although the Hammers forced a save out of Eastwood on 26 when the eye-catching Nathan Holland, on his first start, forced him into a sharp save to his left and Jack Wilshere sent a swerving effort into the keeper’s grateful gloves on 32, so there had been chances at both ends in a very open, very enjoyable first 45 minutes.
The second half was one-way traffic.
What we needed was a goal to lift a good game into becoming a great one. Nine minutes into the second half and the Moore the merrier for the U’s. It looked as though the Hammers backline had done enough to deny Moore and then Sykes a sight at goal, but Sykes persevered and slipped the ball across the six-yard box for Moore who touched it to his right then swivelled and drove the ball low and true beyond keeper Roberto for a priceless 1-0 lead.
It should have been more. Mackie, the talisman and leader, forced Roberto into a good save, Hall dragged a presentable chance wide and West Ham were being outrun and outplayed - one Sykes burst in particular fooling two defenders and ending with a cross hacked clear by the despairing visiting defence.
It may be a third of a century ago and it may be a different ground, but great nights like this in the League Cup were the trademark of the Yellows in their Golden Era, culminating in their 1986 Wembley win. There were some talented local lads in those days too: Brock, Jones, Thomas, and on 71 minutes it was another one of their own who made United's progress secure.
Again it was Sykes who provided it, this time with a deadly accurate cross from the right which picked out Taylor right in front of goal. His first touch of the ball was enough to send the ball beyond the helpless Roberto and suddenly the U's were en route for yet another upset and a place in the last 16.
With seven minutes left Fosu sparked wild scenes with a superb third goal. Receiving the ball inside his own half, Fosu ran at Arthur Masuaku, who slipped at the vital moment to leave Saturday's hat-trick hero with half the pitch to run into. He did so with the confidence of a man who knew exactly what was about to happen. Roberto approached hesitantly, Fosu danced round him and when the ball rolled into the vacant net the U's were through.
There was still time for Eastwood to join the party with a stunning save and then a fully deserved fourth goal when Man of the Match Baptiste ran through a non-existent defence that stood and watched as he weaved his way right the way through then passed it into the bottom-right corner to burst any remaining bubble. Magnificent.
Sometimes these upsets come through aggression, bad pitches, flukes or a million other reasons. This one was achieved through good football and a fierce belief in each other. West Ham threw on their big guns but in vain. The game was gone and United were cup heroes once more.
Now, if you enjoyed that then be part of it again on Saturday. See you against Gillingham. Enjoy the celebrations...
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels and Tom Melvin, stats by OPTA