Oxford United started their EFL Trophy campaign with a 2-1 win against Chelsea U21s at the Kassam Stadium this evening. First half goals from Dan Agyei and debutant Derick Osei Yaw gave them a 2-0 lead before sub Jon Russell pulled one back in an entertaining game between two good passing sides.
United rang the changes after Saturday’s win over Wimbledon in the Carabao Cup, with Osei Yaw and Sean Clare making first competitive starts, youngster Nico Jones starting alongside John Mousinho at centre half, and Dan Agyei operating through the middle of a three-man attack.
Jones is always assured on the ball and spread two delightful passes to the wide players in the opening minutes as the U’s matched the Chelsea youngsters for style. Having done so, they then scored a well-worked opener after 17 minutes to settle any nerves. Liam Kelly, playmaker, spread the ball wide for Clare who moved it on to Sykes who battled through and when the ball came into the box, Agyei squeezed it past keeper Lucas Bergstrom to make it 1-0.
Chelsea, as you would expect, were neat on the ball and swift of thought and movement, but a rising Luke McCormick effort on 21 minutes and a clever flick from Thierno Ballo on 31 were both off target and did little to threaten Jack Stevens’ goal, despite some superb approach play.
The United keeper’s first save was a good one, down smartly to push away a Juan Castillo effort five minutes before half time, but it was United who were to find the net before the break.
It almost came when Osei Yaw’s goalbound header from an excellent Anthony Forde set piece was hacked off the line just before the break, but the French striker wasn’t to be denied and in injury time showed once again that he is a clinical finisher with a low drive across Bergstrom to make it 2-0 with almost the last touch of the half.
Stevens needed to be alert to keep a Russell drive out in the first minute of the half but on 53 Russell, only on at the break, rustled the net with a low drive after a clear run at goal to make it 2-1 and give Andy Myers' side hope. An irritating goal from Karl Robinson's point of view as it started from an Oxford throw on half way.
Agyei saw a powerful drive saved by Bergstrom soon after, Long - excellent in an unfamilar left-back role - flashed another effort from the edge of the box just wide and Mousinho saw a header saved but it was fascinating football to watch with Chelsea so comfortable on the ball and United working overtime to deny them space in key areas.
With Mousinho outstanding at the back, United held firm and might have extended the lead had Bergstrom not saved another Agyei effort. They then ended the game with ten men when Clare was forced off through injury after all three subs had been used. There was extra drama when giant keeper Bergstrom threw himself at an injury-time corner, but under the circumstances United will be pleased with a win, while Chelsea will have learned plenty from the experience.
A win then, and one down, two to go - Bristol Rovers at home and Walsall away. An opening win makes life easier, but as with the season itself, there is a long way to go.
Carabao Cup: Through
EFL Trophy: Played 1 Won 1
Time for the league to start again at Lincoln on Saturday.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA