Oxford United's early season momentum continues as they cruised past Crewe thanks to a James Henry penalty at the Kassam Stadium this evening
Henry's spot kick was enough to decide a game where United held the upper hand for much of the 90 minutes without quite shaking off a stubborn Crewe side who had late chances which could have ruined an otherwise excellent evening for Karl Robinson's impressive side.
United have yet to name the same line up in consecutive games this season and have an embarrassment of riches at the top end of the field, Billy Bodin, Matty Taylor and Nathan Holland all coming into the side. They do however have an annoying habit of having to make early changes; Anthony Forde was still out of action after limping off in the warm-up on Saturday and Holland hobbled off after just 15 minutes this evening allowing Dan Agyei to illustrate both points I am trying to make.
It’s a squad game and United have genuine strength in depth. Even with the changes, they dominated the first half with keeper Jack Stevens barely touching the ball and the home side gradually increasing the pressure as the game went on.
Perhaps their crosses hit the first man too many times when they did get into the final third, but when they did swing one into the box after 27 minutes the imposing Luke McNally headed over the top, Bodin following that soon after with a rising effort as the U’s started to apply pressure for the first time.
That paid off after 31 when McNally stormed out of defence and spread the ball wide. Agyei crossed, Taylor challenged and as Bodin homed in onto the knock-down, Terell Thomas stretched out a leg and gave ref Robert Madley an easy decision to make: Henry firing into the roof of the net to make it five goals from five different players so far this season.
Taylor was inches away from becoming the sixth as he slid to convert a Bodin cross that was just too strong for him soon after, but United were good value for their lead at the interval.
There was further disruption soon after the break with Williams twisting awkwardly when crossing and replaced by John Mousinho, meaning McNally having to move to right back. It's not his natural position but just like Williams on Saturday, he uncomplainingly* gave it absolutely everything for the cause.
The first hint of danger at the other end came on the opposite flank, when Callum Ainley's low shot after 68 minutes forced Stevens to plunge to his right and make a fairly routine save, but United almost doubled their lead when the pace of Agyei got him to the ball just ahead of keeper Dave Richards only for the ball to drift wide.
Crewe had improved in the second half but their best spell came in the last ten minutes as they chased the game. Sub Griffiths had the ideal opportunity to level matters with his first touch but could only guide a header wide from eight yards with Stevens beaten. Left back Rio Adebisi smashed a volley into the car park in injury time with their other clear chance, but United had perhaps deserved a little good fortune.
In the last two seasons one of those chances would have gone in; United didn't enjoy much luck in the opening ten games in either campaign. Tonight they missed the target and the U's have seven points from nine.
A promising start and plenty more to come.
See you at Bolton on Saturday.
Fifty/50 winning number: 73163
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Daniels and Steve Edmunds, stats by OPTA
*no, not sure either.