Cambridge United received a sucker punch in the dying embers as Oxford United clawed a last-gasp 1-0 win at the Kassam Stadium...
The U’s defensive grit and perseverance looked to have paid off for a third consecutive match – but with moments left on the clock, Tyler Goodrham curled an audacious attempt home to separate the sides.
On cloud nine, United arrived in OX4 full of optimism – rightly so after utilising starts for 20 different members of the squad and being rewarded with two successive wins and clean sheets. Standing in their way was a Karl Robinson side determined to get going by registering their first points of the campaign.
Mark Bonner made nine changes from the midweek scalp of Millwall, with just George Williams and Shilow Tracey keeping their places. Fortunately for the Head Coach, several key men passed late fitness tests, allowing him to opt with a settled squad – whereas Joe Ironside dropped to the bench following successive starts.
Backed by a travelling support in fine voices, the U’s generated the first opportunity on the 4th minute when, after witnessing Simon Eastwood lurking past his line, Sam Smith attempted an audacious 30-yard lob which threatened, but eventually bounced wide of the post.
Assertive when roaming down the wings, James Brophy’s lung-busting run on 17 dissected Stuart Findlay before winning a foul on the edge of the box. The resulting free-kick was headed towards Tracey in acres of space, he cut it back to Harvey Knibbs who poked just past the post – let-off for the hosts.
It was Harrison Dunk’s turn to test his luck from distance on the 23rd minute, handing Eastwood a scare as his effort rifled narrowly over the crossbar.
An encouraging opening to proceedings continued. In the following attack, Steve Seddon pulled off an excellent block to deny George Williams’ cannoned attempt from the outskirts of the penalty area after a well-worked move from his fellow U’s full-back.
Oxford grew from here, seeing plenty of the ball in the final third – United were starting to struggling to contain them at times, forcing fouls as the atmosphere started to heat up. The hosts believed they should have had a penalty on 39 after Lloyd Jones knocked down Marcus Browne.
Applying the afterburners, Tracey scampered down the flanks two minutes later and whipped in a teasing cross, evading Elliott Moore and taking Smith by surprise as the ball bounced off his leg and into Eastwood’s palms.
It proved the last action of a promising first half. Whilst the visitors were unable to capitalise on their chances, yet again there was no faulting the defensive desire.
Adam May’s pinpoint pass found Smith on the 52nd minute – under pressure, the striker cut in slightly but couldn’t keep his shot down.
With the clock creeping past its hour mark, the hosts were gradually turning the screw – their heavy pressing meant the U’s couldn’t become complacent. Nonetheless, they were soaking it up well.
Oxford’s best chance of the encounter fell on the 68th minute when, for the first time, Dimitar Mitov was truly tested. Remaining alert, Matty Taylor met substitute James Henry’s dangerous delivery from the six-yard box, before the Bulgarian tipped the ball behind for a corner. In the midst of a spell of sustained pressure, the U’s rolled their sleeves up.
Ten minutes later, Smith got in behind Elliott Moore and, from a trickly angle at the far left of the penalty area, drilled agonisingly wide of Eastwood’s left post.
On 81, astute moments of brilliance from Mitov prevented the U’s clean sheet when he first tipped over Moore’s demanding header for a corner, and then producing a carbon copy by preventing Taylor’s attempt.
Deep into added time, just when a share of the spoils looked destined, Goodrham’s peach of a strike curled past Mitov to separate the sides and break United’s hearts.
United now have a full week to recuperate before returning to the Abbey Stadium next Saturday (13th August) when they welcome newcomers Exeter City. Back the U’s in their endeavours to bounce back and return to winning ways.
Oxford United: Eastwood, Long, Moore, Findlay, Seddon, McGuane (Goodrham, 85), Brannagan, Browne, Murphy (Bate, 70), Taylor (Jones, 85), Bodin (Henry, 65)
Subs Not Used: Stevens, Gorrin, Brown
Goalscorers: Goodrham (90+3)
Bookings: Findlay, Browne
Cambridge United: Mitov, Williams, Okedina, Jones, Dunk, Digby, May, Tracey (Ironside, 84) , Knibbs (O’Neil, 84) Brophy (Janneh, 84), Smith
Subs Not Used: Mannion, Haunstrup, Taylor, Lankester
Referee: Tom Reeves
Attendance: 8057 (595 away fans)