Wednesday, 3 October 2012

MATCH REPORT: Oxford United 3-2 AFC Wimbledon

Finally, after more than a month and six league games, Oxford have managed to record their fourth win of the season. It came against a Wimbledon side who have struggled all season, but who could have taken the points in what was a lively, if scrappy, affair at the Kassam Stadium. And despite the euphoria that accompanies the win, there were still many aspects of the performance that leave cause for concern.

Wimbledon started the brighter of the two sides and nearly opened the scoring in the opening minutes, but Wayne Brown got down well to block Sammy Moore's shot. Hearts were in mouths again moments later when Wimbledon hit the post from the resulting corner. United then found their stride and began to look threatening, particularly in wide positions where Potter and Rigg were causing the Wimbledon defence no end of trouble. It was from a Sean Rigg run that Oxford were able to earn a free kick on the edge of the area and Jake Forster-Caskey stepped up to give the yellows the lead with a beautiful curling shot.

In typical Oxford style, however, it wasn't long before the scores were again level. The visitors began to press forward and the Oxford defence began to get jumpy. After Brown had failed to claim one corner at the near post, another soon followed in exactly the same place. The ball pinged around the box off various heads, then cannoned off the crossbar only to meet Byron Harrison's raised boot to rebound into the net.

Oxford's confidence visibly drained out of them and AFC Wimbledon began to take control of the match. Harrison could have doubled his tally for the night after getting the wrong side of Brown, before Michael Raynes limped off with an injury as events began to turn against United. Wimbledon got the second goal they had been threatening shortly before the break when Jim Fenlon found himself with time and space on the ball on the edge of the area. He picked his spot and curled the ball into the corner of the net to give Wimbledon the lead. To be fair to the fans in the East Stand, most responded to going behind admirably, doing their bit to try and raise the players, but the boos rang out around the stadium as Oxford again found themselves behind at half time.

Whatever Wilder said at half time seemed to do the trick, as Deane Smalley levelled the scores soon after the restart. Smalley had just missed a golden chance after failing to properly get his head to an excellent ball on the six-yard box, but Rigg recycled the ball and found the head of Alfie Potter. Wimbledon 'keeper Seb Brown spilled the ball into the path of Smalley, who instantly atoned for his miss with a simple tap-in.

Wimbledon came inches from re-taking the lead soon after, when a long shot from Christian Jolley caught Brown wrong-footed and struck the inside of the post. Brown appeared to have picked up an injury and soon made way for Ryan Clarke to join Raynes and Lee Cox on the treatment table and add to Oxford's injury woes (we'll have more to say on that later this week).

Despite a few dodgy moments down at the Oxford end it soon became clear that the hosts were the more ambitious team as the match drew to a close (unsurprising considering Wimbledon's lowly league position) and began to press for the winner. It came with ten minutes remaining when Alfie Potter connected with Tom Craddock's cross-shot to divert it past the helpless Wimbledon goalkeeper and send the home fans into raptures.

However, the match was still not over and Wimbledon again came close to snatching a point when Will Antwi headed against the crossbar and Clarke somehow got himself in the way of the follow up to preserve the lead and ultimately the points. The referee did his bit for the visitors' cause, finding five minutes of stoppage time from somewhere, but United were able to hold on for the win to the delight and relief of the home fans.

So the run comes to an end, but let's not allow the result to disguise the fact that there are still significant problems with this team – the defence in particular. I'm unsure quite what has happened to the defence which looked so solid in August, but every time a ball is played into our box it causes chaos and a better side than Wimbledon could have scored five on that showing. With league leaders Gillingham the next side to visit, let's hope that statement is not proven to be correct and that the win will provide a solid base on which to mount a charge up the table.

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