Report - Colchester United 0-1 Oxford City
Hoops Dazzle U's to Advance in the FA Cup.
By Ryan Bratley
A memorable rearguard action underpinned Matt Paterson's early second half goal to propel Oxford City into the Second Round of the Emirates FA Cup.
The Hoops set out to play football, producing a number of chances throughout the game, and had the killer instinct to see off the wasteful hosts.
Although Reece Fleet and Cristian Navarro were both forced to miss out, Mark Jones had the luxury of selecting from an almost full strength squad. Jack Stevens lined up in goal behind centre backs Joe Oaster and Lee Henderson. Miles Welch-Hayes, cleared to play by parent club Bath City, retained his place at right back whilst Freddie Grant deputised on the left. Godfrey Poku and Mo Fofana Held in the middle of the park, supporting Rob Sinclair in a more advanced role, while Zac McEachran and David Pearce operated out wide. Finally, Matt Paterson operated up front as lone striker.
The Hoops were also able to name a full bench thanks to a number of Nomads travelling with the first team squad: Luke Sanders and Dec Peart joining first team veterans Sami Khawaja and Jack Tutton.
The opening 5 minutes saw Colchester United immediately calm themselves with a spell of patient passing. The Hoops responded with a foray forwards which saw Sinclair take an uncharacteristically early shot which missed the target.
The hosts persevered with their low tempo approach in attack, happily chancing their arm from range as Kyel Reid cleared the bar from outside the area and Ryan Jackson produced an exceptionally mis-hit shot which somehow went out for a throw behind the point from which it was hit.
The Hoops endeavoured to play their own style of game despite the enormity of the occasion, allowing the likes of McEachran and Sinclair to run at the midfield and the full backs given license to push forwards when the time was right. These factors combined beautifully in the 19th minute as Welch-Hayes made his way to the byline to deliver a driven cross which the defence did well to clear.
The Hoops carried this momentum, putting together a 5 minute spell of pressure which showed Colchester exactly why they shouldn't be taking a place in the next round for granted. Sinclair shrugged off the challenges of three players before working the ball to Pearce whose shot from range didn't quite have the legs to worry Sam Walker.
It was then McEachran's turn to show off his silky skills, bypassing players with ease to find Pearce on the left. McEachran got the ball back after more delicate passing, finding the killer through ball into the path of Sinclair who was only stopped by an exceptional sliding challenge.
The end to end nature of the game was then knocked up a gear as Tom Eastman rose highest to rattle the crossbar, the loose ball then nodded wide.
Undeterred, The Hoops put together an almost immediate response as McEachran once again found Sinclair, this time on the edge of the area where a heavy challenge saw the referee left with little choice but to award a free kick. Paterson stepped up to take the set piece, getting every single one of his laces behind the ball to smash the woodwork.
The hosts spurned another good chance on the half hour mark. Indecision in the City midfield saw the ball lost, Ryan Inniss snaking his way around the box before teeing up Mikael Mandron to clear the crossbar comfortably.
Fans, particularly the 153 following Oxford, were given some welcome respite from all of the action with a quiet 15 minutes punctuated only by Stevens smothering a weak effort from Mandron.
The Hoops rallied in the final seconds of the half to give Colchester one final scare. McEachran cut out a loose clearance, playing a ball into the path of Paterson in the right channel. The top scorer opted to shoot first time, seeing the effort blocked at close range, but fought his way onto the loose ball to curl a second shot narrowly wide of the far top corner.
The half time whistle brought to a close an opening 45 minutes in which The Hoops had done a lot to impress. Whilst not having created as many clear cut opportunities as their more prestigious hosts; the focus on clean, passing play and the technical ability of many attacking players had set them apart from the archetypal FA Cup minnow pumping optimistic long balls into the box.
With the wind in their sails and fans in full voice, City came out for the second half with all guns blazing and took the lead within a minute of the restart.
The combative Poku won possession in midfield and was quick to look for a positive, forward pass. The ball was worked to Pearce on the left had side of the box with time and space to curl a perfect cross for Paterson to nod into the bottom corner. Cue madness among the travelling fans, many of whom had yet to re-find their seats, and equally indulgent celebrations from the team on the pitch as Colchester boss John McGreal's half time talk was left in tatters.
Conceding inevitably forced the hosts' attacking play to become far more urgent. Grant found his name in the book in the 51st minute following a heavy challenge the the resulting free kick needed a deflection off of the wall to keep it away from the goal.
The Hoops cautiously probed for another goal of their own, McEachran producing a delightful touch on the right wing before finding Welch-Hayes whose cross required a smart clearance.
The tempo of the game dropped once again following the flurry of activity but the level of pressure on the City defence slowly rose, the backline working tirelessly as a unit to prevent any clear cut opportunities.
It was, however, inevitable that Stevens would be tested in the final third of the game and the on-loan goalkeeper was more than up to the task. Inniss's effort from the edge of the area in the 70th minute looked to be sneaking inside the post but the City stopper got down superbly to tip it wide. The resulting corner somehow fell at the back post where a firm volley was deflected wide to give Colchester another opportunity to deliver.
Five minutes later, The Hoops were relieved to see Mandron's unorthodox flick pass just wide of the far post.
Mark Jones made his first change with just over ten minutes left to play; Zac McEachran receiving a well-earned ovation as he was replaced by Horatio Hirst.
As the game entered its final five minutes the frustration of the home crowd came into clear focus with their side resorting to optimistic crosses from deep positions. With the central defensive partnership of Henderson and Oastler winning almost everything in the air, Brandon Hanlan's weak effort was the nearest that approach came to yielding a result.
They did, however, look much more dangerous with the ball at their feet. Chaos reigned as the hosts managed to work the ball into the penalty area, an optimistic penalty shout being waved away before Kyel Reid dragged a left footed effort horrible wide of the target. A minute later, a well-struck effort from range took a deflection which saw it pass narrowly over the bar with Stevens already committed.
The Hoops could have sealed the game in the second of five added minutes. Poku once again took control of the ball in midfield, calmly picking out the run of Sinclair down the right channel. The midfielder was calm in possession, taking hi time as he advanced on goal and teeing himself up for a left-footed shot which curled narrowly wide of the far post.
The final scare came with less than a minute remaining as the ball once again fell to Colchester feet in the City box. A series of strong blocks saw the ball finally cleared by Fofana as every player in green put their bodies on the line for the final few moments of the game.
Riding on a cloud of vocal support from the travelling fans, The Hoops kept the hosts at bay for a few seconds more to secure their place in the Second Round.