Oxford United made a winning start to the season as they went through on penalties in the Carabao Cup at the Kassam Stadium this afternoon. Leading through a Cameron Brannagan strike, United were pegged back by a Ryan Longman goal to force the opening game of the season into a penalty shoot-out. Eastwood made saves, Brannagan scored the winner and it was just like the last game played here all over again...
In a fiercely contested first 90 minutes of the season there were debuts for Rob Atkinson and Marcus McGuane, both impressing, and United's best spell of the first half came early. There was a free kick from Brannagan that drew the first save of the afternoon from Dons’ keeper Connal Trueman. Mark Sykes then blasted a fierce effort at goal which was blocked by the back of Terrel Thomas who also kicked away a further effort from the always dangerous James Henry before we reached the 7th minute.
United had looked sharp although a couple of well-delivered set pieces kept them honest at the other end as Wimbledon started to grow into the game, and it took an excellent save from Simon Eastwood to keep things level after 24 as Thomas popped up at the other end to chest the ball down and blast at goal from eight yards out.
That chance apart, United looked solid defensively, with Elliott Moore looking very accomplished to the right of Atkinson and Alex Gorrin ruthlessly efficient in mopping things up just in front of them, but the early chances had dried up.
Kicking towards their own fans in the second half, United would normally gather momentum but this time, facing an empty sea of blue, they were again grateful to Eastwood for an outstanding save to get down and claw away a Luke O’Neill header five minutes after the break.
There were shouts for a penalty when Joe Pigott took a tumble but United had struggled to break the Dons down after their initial forays and gave Anthony Forde and Liam Kelly half an hour to find a way through. It did the trick.
With 63 minutes on the clock Matty Taylor was denied space to get a shot away so spread the ball wide for Forde. His delivery wasn't cleared and captain Brannagan seized on a difficult bouncing ball to volley past Trueman and give his side the lead with their first goal of the new season.
Trueman spooned away another long-range effort soon after, but Wimbledon weren't finished and four minutes after the goal were level again with a scrambled effort after a set piece was nodded goalwards by Ryan Longman. There was a deflection from a yellow sock and a mass of bodies but Longman was the scorer and it was level pegging once more.
United came back and Ruffels had a header but the visitors continued to create the clearer chances. Pigott should really have given his side the lead with a free header that he steered wide of the mark, and Eastwood needed to stop an Alex Woodyard drive on 77 as the Wombles tried to clear up without the need for penalties.
On 83 minutes Eastwood was the hero when he stopped an Anthony Hartigan penalty after the dangerous Nesta Guinness-Walker had crashed into the retreating Forde, but that forced the game in to the drama of the shoot-out.
O'Neill scored, Forde levelled expertly. Reilly saw his spot kick saved by Eastwood; McGuane made it 2-1. Guinness-Walker couldn't beat Eastwood but Henry was denied. Alexander's penalty was great, Taylor thumped home for 3-2. Pigott levelled but Brannagan, of course, won it from the spot.
The draw for the second and third rounds takes place on Sunday afternoon. United are safely through after a winning start. They will play better than this but they are through. That's all that counts.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA