Oxford United came from behind to claim an extra point after a 1-1 draw in 90 minutes tonight in the EFL Trophy. Trailing to a Tom Mehew goal, United hit back with a last-minute header from French striker Derick Osei Yaw after Jack Stevens' late penalty save had kept them in the game. That set up a penalty shoot out in which Cameron Brannagan, as usual, saw them home.
As is so often the case in this competition, there was another chance for United to give youngsters a chance, with four of the back five having come through the youth system. Kyran Lofthouse and Michael Elechi stepped up from the under-21 side and immediately looked at home in senior football as the two full backs, allowing another former Academy player Sam Long to move to centre half in front of Jack Stevens.
The only ‘outsider’, Rob Atkinson, is hardly a veteran but the inexperienced back line were still finding their feet as a unit when Rovers took the lead in just the 11th minute. A looping throw from the right wasn’t dealt with and Mehew drove the ball past Stevens for a well-taken opener.
Ed Upson drove a decent effort just wide soon after and although Marcus McGuane had fired the first chance of the game wide, United had rarely troubled visiting keeper Jordi van Steppershoef until the same player planted a shot from 20 yards straight into his gloves.
The U’s started to grow after that, with Rob Hall, Derick Osei Yaw and Mark Sykes all having efforts at goal around the half-hour mark, although Stevens rescued his side for the first time with a good save when Mehew threatened to score a second after a quick break from the visitors. The keeper also made two excellent saves just after the break to keep his side in the tie, the second from Cameron Hargreaves, son of onlooking former United skipper Chris.
Having won their opening group game against Chelsea U21s, United knew that a win would see them through and a draw would get them close, Hall's free kick almost drawing them level as they started to press and the same player dragging a second effort wide with 20 minutes left.
To be honest, just having a game of football with no external drama was looking nice - an assistant ref having to limp off with a groin injury doesn't count as weird these days. It became the talking point though when John Flynn, having limped off, waved from his new role as fourth official and ref Hair gave a penalty against sub Nico Jones for a sliding challenge with five minutes left. However, Stevens guessed right, saved the pen and justice was, probably, done.
United had been disjointed but never out of it and always tenacious and on 89 minutes were level when Osei Yaw got his head to a fine ball from the impressive Hall to level and send us to penalties, despite ten minutes of official injury time.
And so to penalties.
Leahy scored the first, Osei Yaw levelled. Stevens saved from Upson, Agyei coudn't make the most of it. Hare made it 2-1, McGuane levelled for 2-2. Hargreaves made it 3-2, Hall equalised. Baldwin was denied by the excellent Stevens, leaving Brannagan to secure the extra point with the decisive spot kick.
United, on five points, head for Walsall to finish the group. #LetFansIn to see it...
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA