Oxford City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)
Apologies for another song-title misappropriation would be due to Marvin Gaye, were he still with us. That said, if he were – and had he laid his hat during later life at the place in SK3 that we call home – Marvin might have been moved a good few times to ask “What's Going On?” when it came to discussing County at various points in the thirty years since his passing.
As it turned out, last night's 300-plus-mile round trip to the Conference North's Southern-most location did produce its share of unanswered talking-points – including a ‘blink-and-you-missed-it' sending-off and two ‘goals' that never were – as County went down by the odd goal in three, to taste defeat for the first time in eight games and since August Bank Holiday Monday.
The rain that had lashed down on Stockport since daybreak gave way to blue skies and sunshine on the journey down to Oxfordshire. Dry weather, coupled with the prospect of a contest between teams, just a single place and point apart, who each scored five (and also, rather crazily, conceded three) at the weekend, suggested ideal conditions for footballing fireworks. And, in the event, there were several of those – albeit without quite so many goals thrown in!
County's 4-3-1-2 starting formation showed one change from that which first took to the field against Gloucester on Saturday. Scott Duxbury had not recovered from turning his ankle then, and, as a consequence, Matthew Todd was called up, by way of a direct replacement, to make his first start in a League match. ‘Toddy Junior' soon found himself in the thick of the action, as the game at Marsh Lane got underway, too – picking up an early yellow card for a second foul on the lively Kynan Isaac.
Oxford were certainly enjoying the lion's share of possession as the first half progressed, as well as looking dangerous on each occasion their pacey strike-force advanced towards the County area. City's leading scorer, Adi Yussuf, looked for all the world as if he would add to his tally in the opening half-hour. He reckoned, however, without a last-ditch tackle from Stephen O'Halloran and, shortly afterwards, a brave dive at his feet by Danny Hurst. These excellent challenges thwarted Yussuf when he had twice run clear on goal, and kept the contest scoreless.
Not that it was to remain so for much longer, mind – as Yussuf proceeded to bag a brace within five minutes and send the home side in at half-time two goals to the good. His first strike came courtesy of a squared assist from the left by Marlon Jackson, while his second was very much a solo effort – outpacing the County defence to blast home, after collecting the ball and running from his own half.
HALF-TIME: Oxford City 2 (Yussuf, 34 and 39), County 0.
Having conceded twice not long before the break, County knew that nothing less than a goal of their own early in the second half would do if they were to get themselves back in the game. And so it came to pass within just three minutes. Some good work by Chris Sharp down the right flank led to a Richie Baker shot, which Mark Scott could only parry into the path of Kristian Dennis. The Menace made no mistake, converting his eighth League goal of the season and halving the arrears on the night.
Ten minutes later, the Hatters looked to have drawn level, when Mark Lees headed a Jamie Milligan free kick goal-wards. The ball was cleared, amid claims from County players and nearby travelling representatives of The Twelfth Man that it had crossed the line beforehand.
Either side of that moment, Yussef missed opportunities to claim a hat-trick – seeing one effort saved well by the legs of Hurst, and blasting another one high over the County bar after the visiting ‘keeper had spilled an Isaac cross.
Hurst's opposite number, Scott, made the evening's finest save a little later – tipping away another Milligan free kick for what, with fewer than twenty minutes left on the clock, was County's first corner of the match.
With County still looking as if they might snatch at least a share of the spoils, Alan Lord sent on Scott Spencer and – on this night of a near-full moon – Nathan Woolfe for, respectively, Lee Stevenson and Lees. Todd moved across to occupy the latter's right-back berth, while he was replaced at left back by Tunji Moses who had been introduced in midfield a short while earlier.
As had been the case against Gloucester at the weekend, the game's late stages featured a straight red card – on this occasion, unfortunately, to a Hatter. Saturday's Man of the Match, Sharp, was the player in receipt of his marching orders – seemingly for an off-the-ball challenge on Darren Mullings.
The ten men continued to press during five additional minutes, and managed at the death, through Spencer, to get the ball in Oxford's net. Too far beyond death, regrettably, as, immediately prior to that, the added time had expired and the full-time whistle blown.
Very much the archetypal ‘game of two halves', then. And one on which, during the long schlep home, County will have pondered what may have been…
FULL-TIME: Oxford City 2 (Yussuf, 34 and 39), County 1 (Dennis, 48).
Team: Hurst, Lees (Woolfe, 80), Todd, Churchman (Moses, 66), Gregson, O'Halloran, Baker, Stevenson (Spencer, 74), Dennis, Milligan, Sharp.
Unused Subs: Ormson, Fagbola.
Booked: Todd, Gregson.
Sent Off: Sharp.