The play-off charge we had been beginning to get excited about came to a stuttering halt as Oxford found themselves beaten at home to a mediocre Chesterfield side. The curse of the Kassam struck once again it seems, as this result means that Oxford have now been beaten seven times at home this season. No wonder so many are feeling disgruntled.
Oxford looked to get on the front foot from the kick-off and, just as they had in midweek against Barnet, it was a lively start. But it wasn't long before we found ourselves on the back foot as Chesterfield, from their first (and as it turned out, only) chance of the game, took the lead. Defensively it was a really poor goal to concede, failing to deal with a simple long ball on the right-hand side which fell to the feet of Marc Richards who buried the ball into the back of the net.
But neither fans nor players were disheartened by the early setback and the extent to which United dominated the first half was impressive. However, through a combination of bad luck and a lack of composure in front of goal the numerous chances Oxford created in the first half all failed to level the scores. Deane Smalley in particular was a repeat offender, doing really well on numerous occasions to get himself into a good position only to fluff his lines at the crucial moment.
The first of these clear chances came as goalkeeper Tommy Lee – who had been the subject of much taunting from the home fans – spilled a cross at Smalley's feet, but he was unable to scramble it over the line and Chesterfield were able to clear. And again he was inches away from an equaliser when a dangerous ball from Damian Batt beat the keeper, but Smalley just couldn't stretch enough to reach it when the slightest of touches would have resulted in a goal. Smalley's hat-trick of missed chances came shortly before the half, when an excellent ball from Scott Davies put him through one-on-one with the goalkeeper, who was quick to go to ground. But instead of chipping it over the now-helpless keeper Smalley instead chose to blast the ball at his face and the chance was missed.
Chesterfield also played their role...the role of irritating, time-wasting match-spoilers. They were aided in their attempts to slow the game down to a walking pace by a thoroughly inept referee who did nothing to move the game on and played a laughably small amount of injury time after numerous stoppages for dubious 'injuries' to the Chesterfield players.
But if it seemed slightly unbelievable that we could have found ourselves 1-0 down after an impressive first-half performance, the second was an uncomfortably familiar demonstration of how not to overcome a single-goal deficit. United created nothing, looking utterly clueless going forward and awful in possession. Countless times passes went astray and possession was wasted, and the lack of movement off the ball betrayed a side that was completely out of ideas.
Both Sean Rigg and Alfie Potter, both of whom are usually dangerous players, had subdued games. They saw plenty of the ball, especially in the first half, but were unable to do anything with it and both struggled to get past the Chesterfield full-backs.
In a sign of desperation, Chris Wilder threw Harry Worley into the fray towards the end of the game, the result being that Oxford started pumping balls forward to the big man which were harmlessly punted back. To see us looking so listless when chasing the game and totally incapable of testing the keeper at all in the second half was incredibly frustrating when chasing the game. And especially because, on the evidence of the first half, Chesterfield would never have been able to withstand a sustained period of pressure if we could only have kept the tempo up.
But it wasn't to be, and we now look to our impressive away form to rebuild confidence against Northampton next weekend. The more reactive elements amongst our supporters have been quick to declare our season 'over' after this result, but the fact is that it was pretty unlikely that we would be able to reach the play-offs before this match and it's pretty unlikely now. It is, however, still possible.