Oxford United won a thoroughly entertaining game against Spurs Under 21s but are out of the Papa John's Trophy despite a 3-2 win
In a game that had everything but the crowd, United were ahead inside two minutes through the first of Joel Cooper's two goals of the night. Dane Scarlett's penalty, sandwiched between Cooper's goals, made it 2-1 at the break, but an Alex Gorrin goal stretched United's lead before Luke McNally's red card soon after. United held on to win but go out after Jack Clarke's 88th-minute goal made it 3-2 and left Spurs above the U's on goal difference.
United were slightly slower out of the blocks than last time. At Burton they scored after 48 seconds, this time it took twice as long at 95 seconds* before Cooper fired them ahead. Determined to make the most of a rare opportunity, Cooper started the move with a smart turn past right back Michael Craig before moving the ball across the box where Billy Bodin had a shot blocked before Cooper seized on the rebound and slammed home for a perfect start.
It should have been 2-0 soon after. Spurs overplayed at the back and rolled the ball straight to Dan Agyei, who was frustrated to see keeper Timothee Lo-Tutala redeem his involvement by blocking his goalbound effort.
The lively Clarke, whose battle with Jamie Hanson was quite something, sprayed a couple of passes around and had an early effort saved by Simon Eastwood, but Cooper again got in on goal and powered a shot through the troubled Lo-Tutala after 13 minutes, the keeper this time recovering to pounce on the loose ball as it trickled through his legs.
A second goal would have given the young Spurs, under Wayne Burnett, a real problem, but as you would expect they stuck to their guns, moved the ball nicely and after 24 minutes were level when young Scarlett employed an old pro's trick of slowing down and allowing a defender behind him, Luke McNally, to run into the back of him.
Ref Chris Pollard pointed to the spot and the indestructible Scarlett picked himself up and beat Simon Eastwood with ease to make it 1-1.
It was excellent to watch and on 28 minutes the U’s were back in front when Cooper restored the lead. It wasn’t a great build up, it was more of a half clearance from the opposition, but Cooper was prowling in the D and was deadly accurate with his shot, low and true and into the bottom left corner for his second of the night.
Make no mistake, this was not a case of the EFL club outfighting the cultured kids of the Premier League Academy. United can play football themselves and one great move just before the break allowed Bodin to test Lo-Tutala’s handling once more, although Bodin should have scored a minute into the second half when Spurs once again overplayed in their own area and gifted the U's a chance, only for Lo-Tutala to save.
The post came to the keeper's rescue on 63 as Marcus McGuane was inches away from a goal on his return to the side, but on 64 United finally had their third when McGuane swayed out of the way and Gorrin roared past a startled defender, charged to the edge of the box and fired, left-footed, past Lo-Tutala for a rare, but excellent, goal.
Bodin was terrific but Lo-Tutala denied him with an astonishing save on 68 minutes as United looked for a fourth goal that would give them an unlikely route through to the knock-out stages.
A mention for young midfielder Josh Johnson, who got better as the minutes ticked by, and John Mousinho, who marshalled the defence expertly, especially after McNally saw red for the second time in the competition this season, this time for a clumsy rather than malicious challenge that caught Scarlett and drew red.
Youngster James Golding did well on his debut as United sought stability from the central defender in the closing stages, Josh Anifowose and Gatlin O'Donkor also stepping up for late appearances in a competition designed for just that.
Their slim hopes of progress were finally ended with two minutes left when Clarke drove past the unsighted Eastwood, but United had entertained the fans and given players match minutes as well as opportunities for youngsters.
Out of the Trophy but on to the league: See you Saturday against Morecambe in Sky Bet League One.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Edmunds, Steve Daniels and Rex Shutterstock
*Go on, challenge it I dare you