Oxford United's Sky Bet League 1 campaign kicked off with a disappointing 2-0 defeat at Lincoln this afternoon. Close range headers from Anthony Scully and Adam Jackson were enough to give the home side all three points as the U's failed to hit top gear at the first attempt.
The season started with both sides taking the knee before the game kicked off three minutes early; no fans, why wait? Both keepers were apparently waiting for 3pm because both got away with hesitation when through balls came their way in the opneing two minutes, with Rob Atkinson also needing to be brave to head away among the flying boots as the Imps impressed in a first half in which the U's failed to muster a shot on goal.
Lincoln were given a helping hand in the opener though when Atkinson, bringing the ball out of defence, gave the ball away and set his team on the retreat as Lincoln came at them with a man advantage. A decent cross, a downwards header from Scully and the U’s were a goal down after seven minutes. I wonder how many times a father and son have both scored against the U’s? Dad Tony netted for QPR against Oxford almost exactly 22 years ago…
United took 45 minutes to settle and Lincoln were chasing and harrying and making it very hard for them to settle on the ball. Scully toe-poked a dangerous effort just over the bar and James Jones curled a decent effort just wide as Michael Appleton’s side pressed for a second goal. Jones almost found the net with a fierce blast after 37 minutes and United will have been given the half-time hairdryer treatment, power permitting in their temporary portakabin away changing room.
Whatever was said had an immediate effect, with greater intensity and tempo after the break. Both Brannagan and Sykes forced home keeper Alex Palmer into action before the hour mark and United began to push the home side back despite losing Josh Ruffels to a shoulder injury.
Captain Brannagan started to drive his team forward and the introduction of Joel Cooper for a debut, postponed so he could be away with Northern Ireland last weekend, gave the U's fresh impetus as they chased the game in the final quarter.
Taylor couldn't get any power on a 67th-minute header but just as United were pushing for the first time, Lincoln put the game beyond them with a simple set piece to end their revival.
The hugely influential Jones clipped a free kick into the six-yard box, Jackson got in front of his man and the rest was easy as he planted his header down and past the helpless Eastwood from close range.
Brannagan forced a save from Palmer and the men in yellow threw caution to the wind to try and avoid defeat, but a double save on 83 confirmed that it just wasn't to be their day when Palmer got down to push away another Taylor effort then somehow got up to block the follow up from Sykes as he was first to react to the possibilities from the rebound.
To add insult to injury, Rob Atkinson was dismissed as he ended Harry Anderson's injury-time run with a tough challenge, but by then the game was over.
A better second half but an opening day defeat nonetheless. Whatever the result had been, I would have written the same thing as a summary. Long way to go...
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Daniels and Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA