Oxford United picked up their first league win of the season this afternoon as first-half goals from Ryan Williams and Cameron Brannagan gave them a 2-1 win over Charlton Athletic, despite a Connor Washington penalty for the visitors on an emotional day at the Kassam Stadium.
The fans returtned, the noise was back, the colour was back and of course the drama and need for flexibilty were back, with an inspired piece of quick thinking from boss Karl Robinson helping his side take the lead in a very impressive performance.
When Anthony Forde limped off after the warm up, there weren't too many obvious choices to fill in at right-back, but Williams stepped up, sacrificing a role further forward for uncharted territory at the back but still finding time to run the length of the pitch and open the scoring in a Man of the Match performance.
Half way through the first half, it was the Australian who gave his side the lead when he won the ball and then just kept running. Brannagan fed Gavin Whyte whose shot was palmed back by keeper Craig MacGillivray. Williams smashed home the loose ball and the noise and passion went up to a whole new level.
Mark Sykes, starting despite having originally been on the bench, was full of running, Alex Gorrin filled holes wherever required, and Sam Winnall led the line intelligently as United looked to double the advantage.
Luke McNally was solid alongside the excellent Jordan Thorniley, although the first real chance had come at the other end before the goal, with Jack Stevens making an excellent save from Washington when he ran in behind the defence after 14 minutes.
However, United continued to offer the greater threat and after half an hour were 2-0 up with another excellent goal. Whyte spread the ball wide to Sykes, Brannagan again made a clever run to join the attack and when Akin Famewo stopped the ball reaching the lurking Winnall, it was Brannagan again to drill the loose ball past the helpless keeper and United were two to the good.
The game then came fully to life, with Charlton coming back into it from the spot after Jayden Stockley headed goalwards and Winnall, in midair, was judged to have blocked the ball with his arm. To the naked eye it looked like it hit him in the face, perhaps then hitting his trailing arm, but whatever the merits of the decision, Washington rolled the penalty home and suddenly United’s lead had been halved.
Robinson and Gorrin were booked, Henry had a shot saved, Charlton had a good spell and half time came as a welcome breather for everyone after a hectic first 45 minutes back together.
The tempo dropped slightly after the break, although Winnall should have won it on the hour when Sykes fizzed the ball across and the sliding striker was inches away from making it 3-1, getting no more than a stud to the ball as it flew almost along the goal line.
Charlton are a good side and will do well, but United, even with last-minute disruptions and key players such as Elliott Moore and Sam Long unavailable, were more than a match for them in a fascinating second half where their attacking options were underlined with Matty Taylor and Nathan Holland making cameo appearances at the tail end of the game.
Defensively they are sound too: three games played in all competitions and they have only conceded from the spot or via an own goal. Two games in, four points on the board - four more than usual - and clearly much more to come from this side.
Most importantly, arguably more so than the final score, there were over 7,000 home fans to see it in the glorious Oxfordshire sunshine.
Welcome back. We missed you. That one was for you....
Fifty/50 winning number:72645
Att: 8,440, Away:1,373
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Daniels and Steve Edmunds, stats by OPTA