Oxford City continued their excellent start to life in the Conference North with an impressive 3-1 victory away at Harrogate Town. Harrogate were two places ahead of City on goal difference going into the match, but victory in North Yorkshire moved City above their opponents and leaves them just a point behind the play-off places.
Harrogate looked the brighter side in the opening exchanges, but despite their domination of territory and possession, they were unable to create any meaningful chances. Oxford City, on the other hand, seemed comfortable to let their opponents keep the ball and made the most of their chances when they came. They took the lead after eight minutes, when a cross from the right wing found Darren Pond unmarked and in acres of space. He rose to power home a header past former Macclesfield Town goalkeeper Jose Veiga and give City the lead.
City continued to pose the greatest threat going forward, despite seeing relatively little of the ball, and could have doubled their lead when Nabil Shariff sent a dangerous ball flashing past the Harrogate goalmouth.
Instead Harrogate got the equaliser their play had perhaps deserved. Chib Chilaka embarked on a barnstorming run through the heart of the City defence, before being stopped in his tracks by a strong challenge. But City failed to clear their lines properly and the ball fell to Dave Merris who unleashed an unstoppable 30-yard effort which nearly broke the net as well as giving City goalkeeper Warren Carter no chance.
Harrogate played some nice passing football but lacked any serious attacking intent, and were let down badly by some serious defensive failings (sound familiar, OUFC fans?). This was illustrated when City regained the lead before the half-hour mark, when the home side's defence failed to cut out a Shariff through-ball which found Declan Benjamin, who shot past the exposed 'keeper. They were nearly undone again on the stroke of half time by a simple long ball from Paul Stonehouse. Benjamin lobbed the onrushing goalkeeper, only to see his shot bounce wide.
Harrogate's performance was perhaps best summed up by their first chance of the second half, when the ball sat up perfectly for Luke Dean 20 yards from goal. He unleashed a beautiful volley, catching the ball sweetly, but his shot sailed harmlessly wide. Instead, Oxford City extended their lead. Pond received the ball wide on the right and his low, probing ball found Shariff. His shot struck the 'keeper but fell to Declan Benjamin to tap home for his second of the afternoon and fifth of the season.
Harrogate attempted to get back into the match, but City contained them without much fuss, though the hosts did have their chances. Subs Alex Meechan and Adam Nowakowski combined well when Meechan pulled the ball back from the byline for his team-mate to shoot wide when in space in the area. They thought they had pulled a goal back in the dying minutes when City goalkeeper Warren Carter claimed an aerial ball only to be bundled into the net. The referee appeared to hesitate but eventually decided to award the free kick, and City were able to see the game out relatively comfortably.