Saturday 14th December 2013 ko 15.00
OXFORD UNITED 2 (Constable 8 Kitson 90)
DAGENHAM & REDBRIDGE 1 (Murphy 45)
Att 4,091 (194 away)
Programme £3 (inc Oxford Mail)
This game saw something unusual for OUFC manager Chris Wilder, he actually had to pick the team! With Michael Raynes, Sean Rigg restored to fitness and loanee Asa Hall eligible, the side looked far more like the side top of League 2, and in the FA Cup 3rd Round.
There was one massive surprise though, and that is that the visitors tried to play United at their own passing game. Ask any Oxford United fan how to beat the U’s at Grenoble and you’ll get the same answer. Stifle the midfield, and in particular Dave Kitson, then counter-attack where you can. It worked for Bristol Rovers and Portsmouth, and its got to the point where I settle into my seat expecting more of the same.
Except on this occasion we got quite wonderful goal from James Constable to start off proceedings. Danny Rose’s corner was headed back across the goal by Johnny Mullins, but the ball was in front of James Constable, who had his back to goal. Constable muscled himself a yard of space then launched himself into a quite exquisite bicycle kick. Daggers keeper Chris Lewington remained rooted to his line, utterly staggered. That’s 103 goals for Constable for Oxford United, and that was one he’ll remember for the rest of his life.
From there, Oxford dominated the first half. Josh Ruffels and Ryan Williams looked dangerous on the flanks, but chances were missed that could and should have buried the opposition. Constable forced a save from Lewington, as did Ruffels, and Kitson’s cross from the left was just that little bit too far in front of Constable.
Kitson playing in the corridor of uncertainty between midfield and attack looked irresistible and with Daggers trying to match OUFC pass for pass he had, and made use of every yard of space.
But as half time approached the nerves began to surface. One-nil is never enough, and in Rhys Murphy Daggers have the division’s top goalscorer. Zavon Hines dinked, and Murphy lobbed Ryan Clarke in the Oxford goal from 20 yards for a goal the equal of Constable’s earlier. As good as it was, on the balance of play it was a travesty of justice.
United continued to control the game in the second half, but the end product continued to elude them. The visitors changed shape, to do what I thought they’d do in the first place. Kitson, plotted, moved and found some outrageous passes, Rigg replaced Ruffels but it looked to be another frustrating afternoon, and with both Chesterfield and Fleetwood United were in danger of dropping to third.
I wonder what odds you would have got before the game on Kitson being booked. He has I believe, still got the worst disciplinary record this season in the Football League at Premier League and with only one card issued in the game, it was almost inevitable that the forward would be on the receiving end. Often he’s as much sinned against as sinner, and the two fouls he committed seemed barely worthy of his tenth booking of the season, and the two-game ban that will result. I do wonder whether his eloquence and Premier League past is held against him though.
The eloquent do tend to get the last word though, and Kitson certainly managed to do that! With the 3rd of 3 minutes of stoppage time left substitute Deane Smalley found David Hunt overlapping on the right. His cross hung in the air inviting someone to attack it, and there was Kitson to power home his header, and ensure United will be top for Christmas.
In fact, other than Kitson’s booking the only disappointment was the attendance. With money tight pre-Christmas, attendances traditionally are depressed this time of year, but with the side top, despite all that’s been thrown at them perhaps people should be backing the side more. Many are quick to ask for more players during the transfer window, but if those calls aren’t backed by cash across the turnstile, why should Ian Lenagan take notice?
Now it transpires that Kitson, is in fact only on 9 bookings, as the 2 yellows against Bristol Rovers for some reason only count as one red. Still, the question remains, what would be the odds on him getting booked at York this coming Saturday?