Thursday, 2 May 2013

MATCH REPORT: Oxford United 4-2 Oxford City

Oxford United are champions of Oxfordshire for the fourth time in five years after missing out on last year's final. It was an unusual match-up as a full-strength Oxford City side fresh from a successful debut season in the Conference North took on an experimental United lineup comprised of a mixture of young pros/youth team players and a smattering of current first-teamers (most of whom, I suspect, will have had their minds on the announcement of the retained list the following day).

City have just come off the back of a ridiculous run of matches, playing 12 games in April (an average of three matches per week) but if that left them tired out they didn't show it in the opening stages of the match as they threatened to run riot against the cobbled-together United side. 19-year-old Max Crocombe, who has looked assured in his recent first-team performances, was given a particularly tough time in the first half, finding himself caught out by a free-kick from United old-boy Jamie Cook, who was unlucky to see his effort come back off the frame of the goal.

Picture from @OUFCsNumber31
Cook was left cursing his luck again shortly after when another dangerous shot struck the post, but he was given a golden opportunity to get his name on the scoresheet when City were awarded a penalty. A nice passing move (which would have been impossible on the boggy surface of Court Place Farm – or at the Kassam for most of this season!) removed the youthful United defence from equation and as Cook burst through on goal he was brought down by Crocombe, who can consider himself lucky not to have been shown red. Cook made no mistake from the spot and City deservedly led at the break.

But while United were mostly reduced to chasing shadows for much of the first half, they responded well in the second and looked a lot brighter as the side began to settle. Youth team player Josh Ashby levelled the scores not long after the break with an excellent left-footed shot from outside the area which crept past City's teenage goalkeeper Nick Townsend (on loan from Birmingham).

And United were clearly in the ascendancy as they took the lead when Tyrone Marsh – who has been in good goalscoring form at Conference South Staines Town, scoring nine times in 16 appearances to help them avoid relegation – replicated Ashby's goal from the other side of the area. This appeared to sting City into action and they drew themselves level almost immediately as the commanding Darren Pond seized on a defensive mistake and slipped in top-scorer Felipe Barcelos to slide the ball past Crocombe. City were, perhaps understandably, the most keen to avoid extra time and pushed hard for a winner, but none came and the sides were forced to play an extra 30 minutes.

City were clearly tiring and JP Pittman – in his final appearance in a yellow shirt – took advantage as he accelerated through a gap in the defence and slipped the ball past Townsend to restore the lead. And from this point there looked to be little doubt about the final outcome, which was sealed in the final moments by substitute James Roberts – who has been on fire for the youth team this season – as he latched onto an excellent ball from Sam Long, beat his man and fired home to bring the Oxfordshire Senior Cup back to the Kassam.

It's always nice to end the season with some silverware, but more important to me was the interesting lineup which seemed symbolic of the transition the club is going through at the moment. As we said goodbye to Jon-Paul Pittman, Simon Heslop and Tony Capaldi – all of whom have now been released by the club – we were also given a glimpse into the future, with teenagers Max Crocombe, Sam Long, David Lynn, Tyrone Marsh, Callum O'Dowda, Josh Ashby and James Roberts all featuring. For many of those young players, this was the first chance they have had to test themselves against senior level opposition of Oxford City's quality and they rose to the challenge well. From tonight's indications, the future may be bright for this generation of youngsters.

Picture from @OxfordMailOUFC

United: Crocombe, Davies, Long, Capaldi, Lynn, Pittman, Heslop, Ashby, O'Dowda, Marsh, Constable (C)

City: Townsend, Benjamin, Learoyd, Willmott, Stonehouse, Pond, Ballard (C), Malone, Bell, Barcelos, Cook

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