Oxford United's pre-season continued with a 2-1 defeat at Crystal Palace this evening despite Cameron Brannagan giving them an early lead at Selhurst Park. The Eagles recovered with two goals after the break but there were plenty of encouraging signs as United head into the new season.
It was a step up for the U’s after scoring 12 unanswered against Woking, Banbury United and Oxford City in a 'three games in three days' run over the weekend which left the players to deal with tired legs after their efforts although there were few signs of fatigue during a high energy first half.
On a sunsplashed evening at Selhurst Park it was Roy Hodgson’s Eagles who started the brighter with Jack Stevens having to make the first of several good savesfrom Jeffrey Schlupp in the third minute and the defence of Long, Moore, Atkinson and Ruffels having to withstand early pressure.
However United then settled quickly into their stride with some neat passing and movement and on 13 minutes were ahead when Brannagan spread the ball wide for Long who controlled a tricky ball well, crossed to the backpost for Taylor who nodded down for Brannagan to fire home and give the U's the lead.
United were full value for that lead and played some bright football as well as defending stoutly when required: Rob Atkinson and Elliott Moore impressive in the middle of defence and Long and Josh Ruffels excellent as full backs.
The star of the first half was undoubtedly Stevens though who looked very composed and got a vital touch to a Schlupp effort to ensure the U's led at half time.
It had been 45 minutes of neat football from both sides and had it been a cup tie then people would have been loving the workrate on display. It's technically unlikely that a team would then make seven subs at half time, a goal up at a Premier League side, but a reminder perhaps not to get carried away in games like this.
The new look U's took time to get up to speed and were grateful to Stevens once again when he saved a weak penalty from Schlupp after a foul by John Mousinho, but that was just a let off before two goals in three minutes turned the game around
On 51 the U's' keeper was finally given no chance when Zaha burst clear and fired powerfully past him to level matters at 1-1, then on 54 it was 2-1 as James McArthur found space inside the box and slotted the ball across the exposed keeper once more to make it 2-1.
United rallied and Rob Dickie sent two headers wide from corners either side of the hour mark before Dan Agyei struck a good effort straight into the keeper's gloves from 25 yards out, but there had been some excellent defending at the other end and Palace had certainly raised their game after the break. Rob Hall again tested the keeper's handling but Palace had created far more chances and were deservedly winners.
We said it after the wins at the weekend and we will say it again here. Result irrelevant. Performance promising.
On to QPR at home on Saturday.
Stevens (Eastwood 78), Long (Clare 46), Moore (Dickie 46), Atkinson (Mousinho 46), Ruffels (Lofthouse 78) , Gorrin, Brannagan (Napa 68), McGuane (Agyei 46), Forde (Kelly 46), Taylor (Osei Yaw 46), Cooper (Hall 46)
Report by Chris Williams, pictures courtesy of Pinnacle Photo Agency (PPA)