By Tony Fallows
Oxford United grabbed a late equaliser at Thame United’s new ASM stadium last night to head into the new season unbeaten. Tom Craddock pounced on some tired defending in the 87th minute to half-volley a deserved goal for the forward who led the line impressively throughout the match.
The first 45 minutes were an even contest, with the Us’ Wayne Brown kept busy in his first match since signing permanently for United, while Thame’s impressive Milan Baresic also had his fair share of work to do in goal.
The Thame stopper looked competent in the air as he dealt with a number of fine Peter Leven corners – the Scotsman played the full 90 minutes – and at the other end Brown was tested a number of times by the lively Aaron Rogers. But despite the number of chances, both ‘keepers were up to the task and the two sides went in at half-time even.
Ryan James, who partnered youth-team defender Cole Hinchliffe in the centre of defence, was forced off with a reported tight groin (ouch!) and he was replaced by another youngster Sam Long. Ben Purkiss moved from right-back into the centre with Long lining up down the right.
Immediately after the restart Tom Craddock had a fine chance to put the Us 1-0 up, after rounding Thame’s substitute ‘keeper – Baresic came off injured at half time – his shot towards an open goal was cleared after hitting the near post.
Oxford were made to rue that missed chance as an old problem reared its ugly head. The centre-back pairing of Hinchliffe and Purkiss failed to deal with a deep free-kick into the United area and Thames’ Nik Rhodes was left with an easy header in the six-yard-box to put the Hellenic Premier League side ahead. This is the first goal that Oxford have conceded in their entire domestic pre-season.
Despite the setback United continued the pressure, though the wide forwards Aaron Woodley and Tyrone Marsh showed their preference to play through the middle resulting in the match becoming more and more congested. Simon Heslop, Leven and Simon Clist failed to cut through the sea of Thame defenders who sensed a scalp and defended admirably.
United’s lack of width continued to be a problem until the last ten minutes, as a tired Thame United side failed to push the United full-backs into retreat. Steven Kinniburgh and Sam Long began to put numerous deep crosses into the Thame box and, with just moments of the game left, the breakthrough came.
Long worked his way to the by-line and the change of angle on the cross caused chaos in the Thame defence. The ever alert Tom Craddock pounced on the loose ball to smash home.
The result was harsh on Thame and a real lesson for United – those wide players in Alfie Potter and J.P. Pittman will be crucial this season.
There were 650 fans at the impressive new ASM Satdium, as many Oxford supporters seemed to be taking the opportunity to watch their side in the final pre-season match before they travel to Rotherham United on Saturday. Going unbeaten in pre-season is all well and good, but it is in the competitive matches where it counts. Chris Wilder will be working hard to ensure that there is not a first defeat in ten waiting for the Yellows next week.
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