Saturday afternoon saw Oxford United host Sheffield Wednesday and their exuberant traveling fans for a tightly contested clash of football under the floodlights at the Kassam Stadium. Having lost momentum in their bid for promotion to the Championship due to 3 winless games on the spin, including a crushing defeat to rivals Wycombe Wanderers, the pressure was on Oxford to deliver. For Wednesday, it was an opportunity to close the gap on Oxford, being just 3 points behind with a game in hand.
The game began in Sheffield Wednesday’s favour. The away side pressed with high intensity from the start, and it took only 6 minutes for their captain, Barry Bannan, to slot home a strike from 25 yards putting the Owls ahead. The rhythm of the game continued in similar fashion with Wednesday dictating the tempo and frequently isolating Oxford’s fullbacks to conjure dangerous attacks. By contrast, Oxford looked pedestrian. f They lacked midfield presence and the few opportunities they did work down the right hand side for creative spark Mark Sykes were largely dealt with comfortably.
Oxford’s defence kept them in the game for the first half, and in the dying seconds before the interval, Marcus McGuane whipped a pin point cross into Wednesday’s penalty box for Oxford’s talisman striker Matt Taylor to head in an equalizer for the home side. He’d had a very quiet 45 minutes but was clinical in a crucial moment of the game to upset Sheffield Wednesday’s game plan. The Yellows were back in it!
Oxford United made a half time substitution of young Luke McNally for the captain Elliott Moore, opting to transition from a centre back pairing to a back three with more advanced wingbacks. This decision would prove to be a tactical masterstroke. Oxford instantly looked far more imposing down the wings as well as more defensively resolute in the face of Wednesday’s attacks and this was certainly the turning point in the game. However, quite against the run of play, it was the Owls who took the lead again in the 60th minute. Following a beautifully constructed move on Oxford’s left flank,Josh Windass struck only a matter of minutes after he’d been introduced as a substitute . 2-1 to Sheffield Wednesday. But in their moment of joy, Wednesday left themselves vulnerable at the back straight after kick-off and Taylor capitalized on a lack of concentration from Wednesday’s defence to bundle in another equalizer for the Yellows! 2-2, and what a game this was turning out to be!
From then on, Oxford dominated possession and enjoyed the lion’s share of chances, with dogged performances from the midfield pivot of Brannagan and McGuane snuffing out any build-up play from Wednesday. The reward ultimately came for Oxford United as substitute Sam Winnall headed in an 82nd minute winner from a corner against a tired Wednesday defence. The Yellows stayed vigilant to see out the 3-2 win through 7 nerve-shredding minutes of injury time, much to the relief of the home crowd who responded with rapturous cheering and applause at the full time whistle.
It was a hard fought win for Oxford United, and they earnt themselves 3 precious points to begin to open a gap between themselves in the top 6 and the rest of the league. The Yellows will be eyeing up those play-off spots and this could prove to be a very significant win in their campaign for promotion. With just under half of the season left to play, Oxford United are in control of their own destiny and will feel that they are more than capable of securing a top 6 position and maybe even a spot in the Championship for next season!
Image Credits: Geograph