Uninspiring United Fall To Defeat At Chesterfield

Photo courtesy of Jon Whiles Photography
Photo courtesy of Jon Whiles Photography
Article by Jack Shoemark

United’s dismal run under caretaker manager Mickey Lewis continued with a 3-0 defeat at top of the league Chesterfield. Two goals in the first twenty minutes had killed the game as a contest long before the U’s saw red mist to be reduced to nine men. Johnny Mullins was stretchered off and the league leaders added a third in stoppage time just to compound the misery.

Danny Rose and Alfie Potter returned to the starting XI with David Connolly and James Constable dropping to the bench which featured the fit again Max Crocombe. Potter and Ryan Williams provide the width in a 4-5-1 formation that was supposed to turn into 4-3-3 on the attack (I think) but rarely did.

The Yellows actually started the game reasonably well. A Danny Rose free kick was cleared as far as David Hunt who hit a tremendous rising volley that was gaining momentum right up until the moment that Chesterfield keeper Tommy Lee guided it over his crossbar. It was straight at the Spireites keeper, anywhere else on target and it was a goal. From the resulting corner, Tom Newey went close but it was the home side who struck the first blow.  Moments after a Gary Roberts free kick landed on the roof of the net, poor defending down the United left gave Jay O’Shea acres of space to put a cross into the box that should never have come.  Even poorer defending from Hunt saw him somehow get under the ball and miss his clearing header. Olly Banks took charge of the situation and fired low past Ryan Clarke to put the leaders in front and settle the anxiety that was evident all around home sections of the stadium.

Eight minutes later and it was 2-0 as the U’s managed to gift another goal to Chesterfield. Firstly, Mullins gave away a needless free kick halfway inside the United half. From the chipped ball in, Deane Smalley placed two hands on Ian Evatt and pushed the veteran centre half to the ground for the most blatant penalty ever known to man. Roberts stepped up and sent Clarke the wrong way from the spot. If you give a top of the table side two goals then you are going to have problems. The rest of the first half saw both sides have their fair shares of possession but without creating anything clear-cut. Smalley had a shot blocked by Evatt whilst Newey deflected another Roberts shot wide.

The U’s needed to score next if they were to salvage anything from the game and after fifteen minutes of lots of pretty possession football from both sides, the golden chance fell to Ryan Williams. Picking the ball up on the halfway line, the Australian winger cut between two home defenders to put himself through on goal against Lee. After two goals in his previous two games, the Fulham loanee must have fancied his chances to score but his shot was well saved by the Chesterfield keeper. Mullins was denied by Lee after a corner wasn’t cleared and placed a header over the bar minutes later.

Those chances marked the end of United’s involvement in the game from an attacking perspective despite the introduction of James Constable, David Connolly and Sean Rigg. Infact, Rigg and Constable ended up playing as part of a makeshift back four after the two red cards. Firstly, Tom Newey who had been involved in an incident with Banks a little earlier decided to seek revenge and launched into a reckless two footed tackle that may or may not have caught the Chesterfield man. Banks leapt into the air regardless to avoid the incoming assault and it didn’t take very long for the red card to be produced. Newey knew he was going and didn’t produce any complaints. There was just time for Evatt to ping a head against Clarke’s crossbar before Michael Raynes decided he wanted to join Newey for the party that was clearly happening in the away dressing room. Already on a booking, Raynes was beaten all ends up by the Chesterfield player and brought him down and could only lie on the ground in despair as the yellow and red cards were shown.

At least the game was almost finished so it surely couldn’t get any worse for United…

Mullins went down after sliding to block a Chesterfield cross and after brief treatment from Andy Lord had to leave the pitch on a stretcher. He was sat up and acknowledged the applause from all sides of the ground so hopefully isn’t too seriously injured.

An eight man team containing Constable at centre back and Rigg at left back held out for all of 40 seconds before gifting another goal to Chesterfield. After Williams and Connolly contrived to lose the ball, Danny Rose won it back before giving it straight to Roberts who latched onto the loose ball, glided past Jake Wright and prodded the ball over the onrushing Clarke. The referee’s whistle sounded seconds later to end the misery for the 500+ fans who had been loud throughout.

United stay 6th somehow but are now eight points off the automatic slots and more worryingly sit only four points ahead of York who moved up to 8th with only goal difference keeping them out of the play-offs.  Everything is very much in Oxford’s own hands with games against the four teams immediately below them to come but the annual slump in form has come very much at the wrong time once again.

Friday’s game against Hartlepool can now rightly be called a “must win” but with Raynes, Newey and Mullins all missing the likes of Sam Long and Matt Bevans will have to step up from the development squad once again.