Oxford’s ladies lost for the first time since the opening day of the season as they were knocked out of the League Cup by Swindon Town. Maybe they have been distracted by their incredible FA Cup run, or perhaps they were missing the presence of captain Sahara Osborne-Ricketts who was sidelined after picking up an injury last week, but this definitely had the feel of an ‘After the Lord Mayor’s Show’ performance.
The opening exchanges were very even as each side tried to get to grip with the other's contrasting style of play, with Oxford playing their usual passing game while Swindon chose a more direct route. Twice United got the wrong side of the Swindon defence, only to be foiled by the linesman's flag. And the Oxford defence which had looked so strong last weekend appeared nervous when faced with a barrage of probing long balls up to Swindon's pacey front two.
It was Swindon who broke the deadlock after being awarded a soft free-kick on the left-hand side. The ball in was inch perfect and Collings rose high above the Oxford defence to power in the opener against the run of play.
The Oxford girls stayed calm after the set-back and stuck to their game and began to create some chances of their own. Striker Lauren Allison was presented with a glorious chance to level when she latched on to a beautiful defence-splitting pass from Dan Anderson, but Swindon keeper Robyn Levett saved with her legs.
The equaliser did come, however, before half-time and it was remarkably similar to Swindon's opener. A ball in from the right-hand side found Allison in acres of space in front of goal and she duly nodded in to send the sides in all-square at half time.
Oxford started the second half on the front foot, but it wasn't long before Swindon started pushing them back and United struggled to get out of their own half. And it was during this spell that Swindon retook the lead from another set-piece. A corner was cleared at the first attempt but then found its way back into the United area and onto the head of Kim Reeves and past goalkeeper Hannah Cox.
Oxford tried to find a way back into the match but never found their stride. As the game wore on they were forced to press forward more and they were punished when Swindon struck again on the counter-attack. A simple long ball through the middle of the defence found Kirsty Shell onside and she lobbed the ball over the onrushing Cox to extend the visitors' lead with 15 minutes remaining.
Oxford then finally clicked into gear and produced their finest move of the match. A great sequence of passing football completely exposed the Swindon defence before Natasha Caswell laid it on a plate for Allison, who coolly slotted past the Swindon keeper for her second of the afternoon.
But any hopes of a revival were short-lived when some calamitous defending allowed Swindon's Abbie Picton to stroll through United's right-hand side and fire in from a tight angle. 4-2 and the game was essentially over, but there was still time for Allison to miss another one-on-one and for Swindon to come inches from a fifth when a thunderous shot struck the crossbar and bounced on the line to be gathered by the grateful Cox.
The Oxford players were all visibly disappointed at the final whistle, but there were still positives to be taken from the game. We were easily the better side on the ball, but just got dragged down into playing a scrappy game which suited Swindon more. Lauren Allison looked impressive and very dangerous up front (though she needs to get a firmer grip on her temper after picking up a silly booking for backchat) and could have finished the day with four goals. And while the defeat is disappointing it's hardly a tragedy to be out of the League Cup while the league title is still up for grabs and the FA Cup campaign is still very much alive. They have to recover quickly though, as they travel to Keynsham Development next week for their first league match in a month.