Sunday, 1 May 2011

Oxford United v Lincoln City, 30 April 2011

Venue: Kassam Stadium, Oxford
Attendance: 7,485
Final score: 2-1
This is without doubt the most difficult match report of the season to write - though granted it may be nothing compared to next week’s if things go badly for the Imps.  At the moment, however, I confess I’m finding it difficult to gather my feelings.  One moment I’m thrown to the pits of despair and unable to be convinced that City have the proverbial feline in the underworld’s chance of avoiding the drop.  The next I’m cheered by the thoughts that Barnet have a mammoth task themselves and that ultimately they may fail at the final hurdle and make City’s result immaterial.

As you’ve seen the scoreline above, you will already know that City were beaten by Oxford United.   More important than recording every kick of the game is, I feel, a recording of the nature of the defeat, and crucially what it leaves City needing to do to avoid relegation.  Basically, as I’m sat writing this, if Barnet lose or draw their last game, Lincoln’s result is irrelevant.  If Barnet win, Lincoln also need to win.  To put it another way, the Imps need to win to ensure that Barnet have no chance to overtake them.  Sadly, that in itself may prove a herculean task.

So what happened against Oxford to leave us in this precarious situation?  Oxford sat slap bang in the middle of the table before the game, in 12th place and with 60 points.  They had nothing but pride and contracts to play for, and there were even rumours (ultimately unfounded) that they may even blood some youngsters.  City had beaten them 3-1 at the Bank nearly two months ago.

The Imps’ lineup also allowed for some confidence amongst the superb away following – aided by the Club offering free transport to the match. Green moved to right back, allowing Cian Hughton to play on the right wing, where I and others feel he is better suited.  McCallum played wide left which allowed Howell to play more centrally with Fuseini, with Keltie behind them screening the back 4.  Grimes was the lone striker.

Before kick off, the position was simple – if City won and Barnet got anything other than a win then the Imps were safe.  Any other combination of results and it would go to the final day of the season.  A simple message to get across to the players then – it’s still in your hands.

Oxford started the game brightly, with Alfie Potter getting in an early shot.  Just a minute later Parish had to tip a deflected shot over the bar.  City’s players were looking a little tense.

Football is, however, nothing if not full of surprises, and City took the lead with their first attack.  Grimes found McCallum in space who chipped a neat cross in to Hughton, who found the back of the net with his header.  With only 5 minutes on the clock, the travelling Imps were in raptures and Oxford were stunned.

News filtered around the ground that Accrington had also taken a 1-0 lead against Barnet on 4 minutes and Northampton were also 1-0 up against Stevenage on 3 mins.  As it turned out, Barnet would equalize on just 7 minutes, and it was clear that the afternoon would contain more twists and turns.

City’s 4-5-1 formation challenged Oxford to try to break them down, and the game settled down with Oxford having more possession but not creating chances.

City were relying on breaking quickly to create their own chances, and on 18 minutes they came achingly close to doubling their lead when Howell unleashed a thunderbolt from all of 25 yards.  Oxford keeper Clarke was at full stretch and may have got a touch before the ball smashed against the crossbar.  City were unfortunate, but the effort gave hope that they could cause Oxford more troubles in the match.

At the other end, City almost paid the price for a defensive lapse.  An Oxford freeckick was fed to the unmarked Constable on the edge of the box, who drew a good save from Parish, who was them able to smother the rebound.

On 30 minutes City were able to have their own spell of pressure, and good work between Howell and Grimes led to Grimes seeing his shot saved.  The scramble that ensued saw Fuseini then Keltie both have shots blocked.

As halftime approached, City began to have more of the possession.  Niggly fouls committed by Oxford players were symptomatic of their growing frustration.

As the single minute of injury time was running out, the most controversial moment of the game occurred.  Keltie played a terrible backpass which put Craddock through on goal.  Parish rushed out and clipped Craddock outside of the area.  Fortunately Green had managed to get back behind him and the referee only brandished a yellow card for Parish, much to the anger of the home fans.  It was a horrible moment for City, and a red card for Parish would surely have put paid to any chances of getting a result.

The resultant freekick was charged down and the halftime whistle sounded immediately.  The referee left the pitch to the sound of the Oxford fans chanting ‘cheat’.  The last thing City needed was a home team and crowd invigorated by a sense of injustice.

The second half began in similar fashion to the first.  Howell could only put an early shot wide, before Oxford began to have more possession, and missed two half chances of their own.

City were again denied by the woodwork when Fuseini’s cross-cum-shot hit the post and McCallum’s follow up effort was blocked for a corner.

City’s gameplan was working, but would be undone by an error characteristic of the season on 61 minutes.  A corner was floated in, but Parish’s positioning was wrong and he flapped at it, leaving his net unguarded for Asa Hall to score from 8 yards.  I’m going to save my comments on City’s goalkeeping failings for an end of season piece, but needless to say City player’s heads visibly dropped as yet again the hard work was undone by a moment of poor decision making.

Oxford were visible buoyed by their equalizer, and went on the hunt for the winner.  Constable went down in the box looking for a penalty but his claims were waved away.  Some among the Imps crowd felt that his theatrics were worthy of a second yellow card, but the referee simply waved play-on.

Parish was then forced to make a good save from Potter with his legs, before Oxford took the lead on 75 minutes.  Potter tricked his way into the box and the ball found its way to Craddock, who fired past the helpless Parish.

City were now shellshocked, but a draw would increase their chances of getting a result on the final day as Barnet were now also losing.  The City players had to try and get an equalizer from somewhere.  With the goal difference already shockingly bad, conceding another would not matter, and the City faithful urged their team to thrown caution to the wind and attack.

With 10 minutes to go, the chances of City pulling one back took a major blow when Hone tripped Constable on the edge of the box.  Having received a yellow card in the first half, the City centre half was duly given his marching orders.  Considering how important next week’s match is, I think all Imps fans would rather have seen Constable allowed to score rather than us have to play the crucial final match without one of our most consistent defenders.  It was a cruel additional twist that City did not predict, and certainly did not deserve.

The decision effectively ended the game, the only saving grace being Barnet’s eventual 3-1 defeat, leaving the situation as I described at the outset.

So City still have the advantage of being two points ahead of Barnet, but results for Hereford and Northampton mean that they are now safe.  Stockport have been officially relegated, leaving only Lincoln and Barnet to fight for survival.  Barnet will face Port Vale, who smashed Morecambe 7-2, while the Imps face Aldershot, who drew 2-2 with Rotherham.  Perhaps City have a slight advantage in that Aldershot’s season is over, whereas Port Vale require a win to perhaps squeeze into a playoff spot.  Considering the crazy results this season has already thrown up, anything is possible.

1 Ryan Clarke
2 Damian Batt
3 Anthony Tonkin
4 Paul Mc
6 Jake Wright
9 James Constable
14 Asa Hall
15 Alfie Potter
22 Harry Worley
28 Josh Payne
29 Tom Craddock
32 Steve MacLean for Mclaren (57)
18 Steve Kinniburgh
for Wright (72)
23 Ben Purkiss
for Batt (76)
21 Simon Eastwood
25 Aaron Woodley
27 Tyrone Marsh
30 Mitchell Hanson

24 Elliott Parish
2 Paul Green
4 Adam Watts
6 Danny Hone
3 Joe Anderson
8 Clark Keltie
31 Ali Fuseini
15 Luke Howell
25 Cian Hughton
9 Gavin McCallum
29 Ashley Grimes
10 Drewe Broughton
14 Josh O'Keefe
19 Jamie Clapham
26 Tom Kilbey
27 Ben Hutchinson
39 Scott Spencer
1 Joe Anyon

No comments:

Post a Comment