First-half blitz sinks sorry Fleet

George Purcell nets a consolation goal as Oxford power to victory with a first-half demolition job…



EBBSFLEET UNITED 1-3 OXFORD UNITED

Fleet succumbed to a disappointing defeat in front of their largest home gate of the season after Oxford raced into an early 3-0 lead at Stonebridge Road this afternoon. It looked as if the clutch of presentation awards immediately preceding the kick-off had distracted the players as the visitors took less than 30 seconds to wrestle control of the Fleet’s kick-off and open the scoring. In bright sunshine and a carnival atmosphere among the home fans, most supporters – and indeed players – had barely concentrated their minds when Yemi Odubade advanced down the Oxford right and played Matt Green through on goal. As Lance Cronin advanced, Green calmly stroked the ball past him and into the back of the net.

Oxford looked dangerous going forward and with the Fleet relying on an offside trap that was always going to prove dangerous against the nippy Odubade, the scene was set for a torrid first half. On 20 minutes, Oxford doubled their lead – Odubade again outpacing the attentions of James Smith and Paul McCarthy and playing the ball low past the remaining covering defenders to find Phil Trainer on the edge of the six-yard box and he had the easiest of opportunities to convert for 2-0.

A minute later the yellow boots of Odubade were dancing again inside the penalty area, though fortunately for the Fleet he lofted a shot over the bar from close range. The reprieve was short-lived. On 28 minutes Oxford repeated the trick that had worked so well for them in the opening exchanges, found Odubade wide, he sped inside his markers and found Green in space and the on-loan Cardiff striker finished for an unthinkable 3-0 lead.

Finally on 34 minutes the Fleet registered an attempt on goal, Stacy Long reminding Billy Turley that he had work to do, albeit less than he’d normally expect in 90 minutes, but the low shot wasn’t unduly troubling for the veteran keeper. Oxford’s midfield increasingly choked the life out of Fleet’s three-man centre line and swapped their play between long balls to their pacy front men and working it upfield through the guile of Eddie Anaclet and Jamie Hand. Long had another attempt with a free-kick on 40 minutes, but again Turley was equal to it.

Presumably with Liam Daish reminding his charges that places at Wembley were by no means guaranteed, the Fleet came out with more purpose in the second half. Gary MacDonald replaced ex-Oxford man McCarthy and the skipper’s armband went to McPhee. And it was the stand-in captain who got Fleet back into the game on 50 minutes, beating Matt Day to a loose ball and crossing to the Fleet left where George Purcell nipped in ahead of the Oxford defence and fired past Turley.

Now the home side finally looked interested and began to pen Oxford back into their own half. McPhee headed wide on 53 minutes and signalled the start of a 15-minute spell when the Fleet ruled the roost with a succession of corners and half-chances. There was also a good shout for a penalty when Purcell made space inside the box and attempted to cross to the waiting Luke Moore but Barry Quinn lifted an obvious arm to parry the ball. As Fleet fans and players howled for a penalty that may well have turned the tide, referee Nick Kinseley – never a favourite at Stonebridge Road given his history of questionable performances – seemed to be the only man in the ground whose eyes deceived him and waved play on.

As a result, when the man in black succumbed to what appeared to be a heel injury and hobbled off shortly afterwards, he got little sympathy from the Fleet faithful and an earful from Liam Daish as he swapped roles with the fourth official.

Oxford, understandably given their lead, sat back and barely threatened in the second half, though James Clarke managed to negotiate the length of the pitch and got into a good position inside the Fleet box, only to overrun his attempted shot and hit the hoardings behind the goal for what was ultimately a waste of energy. The Fleet’s pressure eased off after their penalty appeal and though they still looked good value for a second goal, could not quite find enough penetration to make Oxford pay. The steadfast Turley made a good save from McPhee on 77 minutes and a Charley Hearn free-kick on 89 minutes brought about another good save.

It was to be the Fleet’s last opportunity and as Oxford overtook the Fleet in the table and the sun set on another season at Stonebridge Road, the disappointment of recent weeks was obviously tempered by what awaits Fleet fans in two weeks. The smiles were still on faces and the anticipation was everywhere – Fleet fans must just hope that today’s first-half blew away whatever cobwebs exist among Daish’s squad.

TEAM: Cronin, Ricketts, Opinel, McCarthy (MacDonald 46), Smith, Barrett, Bostwick (Hearn 76), Long (Eribenne 88), Moore, McPhee, Purcell. Subs not used: Mott, Hawkins.

Att: 1,852

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