Oxford United kicked off the new year with a 1-0 defeat at Doncaster this afternoon, when a Reece James goal was enough to decide a very close first game of 2020.
After three straight wins, United were full of confidence and were in control of long periods, including the opening period when they might have taken an early lead when Shandon Baptiste put the first effort of the match just wide after two minutes and Fosu and Cadden had pops at goal as the home side found it hard to get out of their own half.
However, Rovers improved as the first half wore on without really testing keeper Jordan Archer before the goal. Rob Dickie and John Mousinho blocked a couple of shots at source with Alex Gorrin sitting just in front of them to add extra insurance.
They started to cause problems and Mousinho made one magnificent tackle just before the half hour mark to rob Niall Ennis just as he prepared to at last test Archer, but even a defence as good as United’s concedes a goal from time to time and on 34 minutes James found a way through when a deflected ball rolled him free on the left of the box and he drilled a low shot across Archer and into the far corner to make it 1-0.
A goal down to the one shot on target, the U’s responded well and Dickie and Sykes both had half chances before the break and United then laid siege to the Rovers goal at the start of the second half with Matty Taylor nodding against the post on the hour and the ball stupidly bouncing the wrong way as Ruffels raced in to tap home.
A string of free kicks were rained into the Rovers area, Gorrin flicking one just wide and Baptiste curling a decent effort just over a minute later, although there was a constant threat that a well-organised Doncaster side might counter at pace and take the game away from the visitors; Archer made one save from a Watters effort with 20 minutes to go and Henry was booked for bringing down the same player a minute later.
United turned up the heat and kept doing the right things but just couldn't find a way through. Taylor came as close as anybody when, with ten minutes to go, he strode on to a ball and passed it beyond the keeper only to find defender Joe Wright in precisely the wrong place to thump the ball clear off the line.
Credit to Doncaster who saw the game out well, but United's end to 2019 wasn't quite matched by their start to 2020 despite plenty of industry and creativity. Had Taylor's effort gone in then a point would have been a decent return, but in the tightest of chases United had for once been unable to find a goal.
Long way to go. Enjoy the ride...
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Darrell Fisher. Stats by OPTA