Oxford United paid the price for missed chances today as they lost 3-1 at Gillingham. 2-0 down at the break after two goals in four first half minutes United got themselves back into the game with a Dan Agyei goal early in the second half before Oxford old boy Jordan Graham ended the revival with a third goal to give the home side three points.
With the return of Josh Ruffels at left back United had a more regular look to their back four in their new orange away kit and settled into the game nicely, almost quieting the piped in crowd noise that is played at Priestfield throughout games these days.
There were half chances from Agyei, Brannagan and Taylor as they pushed the home side back although the danger at the other end constantly came from former United man Graham - two free kicks coming to nothing before he finally found his range and helped the home side open up a two goal gap with a four minute blast.
First, having skipped past his man, Graham's cross was inch perfect and Oliver rose at the back post to head powerfully down between Simon Eastwood and the post. If United felt hard done by to be behind they didn't have long to feel sorry about it before they found themselves 2-0 down. This time it was Mellis who was both creator and taker, seeing a first drive blocked but getting on to the rebound and driving across Eastwood to make it 2-0 and leave United with a mountain to climb.
United weren't two goals down bad but now raised their game and saw even more of the ball but couldn't convert any of countless chances. Long and Henry were inches away from dangerous balls into the six yard box and then when the chance did come Brannagan fluffed his lines, sliding a Forde cross wide with the goal at his mercy. There were still chances- Taylor forcing Bonham into a good save, Ruffels having a drive cleared off the line but how United were 2-0 down at the break is a mystery.
What they needed was an early goal in the second half. Step forward Agyei who was on his toes when Taylor got up well to nod a deep cross down, just getting enough on the ball to help it trickle over the line and get United back into the match.
Long- always dangerous when he joins the attack, had a good effort deflected over the bar, Henry saw an effort block and United were all over their hosts, although thankful to Eastwood for one outstanding save from Eccles from a shot that flew through a forest of legs in front of the diving keeper.
A second open goal, even closer, saw Taylor head a splendid Forde free kick over the bar just after the hour but that was to prove crucial and the danger was that United would over commit men forward
In Graham Gillingham had the day's key man. With a little over 20 minutes to go full back Ryan Jackson got to the line and cut the ball back for Graham who made the finish look simple with a nice cushioned volley past the helpless Eastwood to make it 3-1.
United continued to press- Henry dragging a good chance wide and Moore unable to stab a set piece home from close range although Eastwood made a miraculous save at the other end when Oliver let fly from close range once again.
A neutral would have enjoyed the game. There are none at matches right now. Just the stark reality of defeat and regret at failing to convert any of 30 shots at goal...
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels and Darrell Fisher