Report - Notts County 3-2 Oxford City
Late Heartbreak for Hoops
Oxford City's players did the club, the fans, and indeed the whole county proud as a cruel stoppage time goal gave Notts County a 3-2 victory in the Emirates FA Cup Second Round.
The Hoops looked set to earn a replay having twice come back from behind thanks to goals from Rob Sinclair and Matt Paterson, but the celebrations were cut short by Jorge Grant's close range finish in the fifth of four added minutes.
Mark Jones' team selection sprung no huge surprises with the gaffer sticking with the side which has been picking up much-needed points in the league. Jack Stevens lined up in goal behind a central defensive partnership of Joe Oastler and Cristian Navarro with Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain and Freddie Grant operating at right and left full-back respectively. Godfrey Poku captained the side from midfield alongside the dependable figure of Mo Fofana, with Rob Sinclair in front of them. Somewhat unusually, Dave Pearce took up a position on the right wing with Zac McEachran on the left, both supporting lone striker Matt Paterson.
With the additional pre-match formalities demanded by TV coverage dispensed with, the Magpies started the game on the front foot and The Hoops had Oastler to thank for cutting out a low ball across goal in the 5th minute. Five minutes later another ball into the box looked like posing problems but Shaun Brisley's header failed to test Stevens.
The right wing looked the most likely source of a strong City attack and this proved to be the case as Pearce took control of the ball in the opposing third. Cutting inside onto his left foot, he delivered a cross which just evaded Paterson at the far post.
This turned out to be a valuable dry run for City's next foray into the Notts County box. Grant rose well to meet a Rob Sinclair corner and, as the hosts struggled to clear their lines, Pearce was able to deliver an almost identical ball which this time found its target, Paterson just failing to get enough contact to send his header goalwards.
City fans will have known that Sinclair was one of the main men to watch, but the midfielder made sure everybody knew what he was capable of with a sublime touch on the half way line which sent Carl Dickinson chasing bearded shadows.
Dickinson did, however, look like a threat going forwards and his cross for John Stead should have at least been directed goalwards.
Clearly disappointed by his previous effort, Stead attempted the spectacular with a flying volley which Stevens did superbly to push behind for a corner. The resulting delivery lingered in the City box, eventually allowing Magpies skipper Richard Duffy to bundle home from a couple of yards to give his side the lead in the31st minute.
The goal should have settled the game but instead paved the way for a scrappy ten minutes in which the game was rarely allowed to flow. This period was punctuated only by a Notts County free kick,a though this was noteworthy only in that Dickinson's effort failed to beat the wall.
The Hoops' best chance of the half arrived very late. Cristian Navarro found himself in the opposing half where he won the ball, keeping a cool head to find the onrushing Pearce and spark a dangerous break. The ball found its way to McEachran on the edge of the area and his chipped ball out to Paterson allowed the striker to pick out Sinclair on the edge of the 6-yard box. Unfortuantely for the travelling fans, Sinclair was unable to make a clean contact with the ball and the teams went in for the break with the scores still at 1-0.
At this point every City fan in the ground will have been acutely aware that it took Matt Paterson less than one second half minute to find the back of the net in the previous round. It is therefore no surprise that most were sure to find their seats in good time before the start of the second period.
They were almost rewarded for their diligence as Oxlade Chamberlain won a 47th minute corner. The delivery saw Navarro with an opportunity to shoot from the edge of the area but his effort on the volley was the definition of ambitious.
The game exploded into live in the 52nd minute. An incisive move down the left saw Stead's deflected shot rattle the post, gifting the Hoops an opportunity to break. Sinclair took control of the ball to do just that, finding Zac McEachran in order to continue his run into the box and receiving a return pass with his back to goal. The cultured midfielder showed the utmost composure, holding off his man as he worked his way across the box before finding the bottom corner.
The goal sent the already vocal travelling fans into raptures, but these celebrations proved to be short lived.
A lapse in concentration saw the City defence overrun, allowing the Magpies to work the ball from left to right across the box where Terry Hawkridge went down under a challenge from Grant. Stead stepped up to take the spot kick and, once the referee was happy with the positioning of the ball, sent Stevens the wrong way to restore his side's lead.
With two goals having been scored in the space of two minutes, the game once again went a little quiet – the hour mark coming and going with the game still very much in the balance.
The 62nd minute saw the Hoops come agonisingly close to equalising for the second time. Sinclair was once again the man to spark the attack, bursting free down the right and finding Paterson on the edge of the area. With support to his left in the form of McEachran, the striker opted to shoot: firing narrowly wide of the far post on his left foot.
With the possession split fairly evenly, the Magpies continued to create half chances whilst the Hoops focussed on trying to craft that one clear-cut chance which would get them back into the game.
The hosts' approach nearly paid off with 20 minutes remaining as another deflected shot, this time from Ryan Yates, forced Stevens into an uncomfortable save down to his right. The on-loan goalkeeper did just enough to push the loose ball out of easy striking range for Stead, shepherding the forward wide enough to prevent an easy goal.
Mark Jones' first change followed shortly after: Freddie Grant, who has performed superbly despite conceding the penalty, made way for Reece Fleet as the Hoops opted for a more offensive formation.
The change paid off almost immediately. McEachran, now playing on the right wing, battled his way to the byline from where his pullback found the onrushing Paterson. The club's top goalscorer made absolutely no mistakes, producing a beautiful side-footed effort which had Ross Fitzsimons beaten all ends up.
If the celebrations for the first goal were indulgent, the scenes which followed the second were downright opulent as the players came to join the travelling fans in front of the Jimmy Sirrel stand.
When play eventually restarted it was the Hoops who looked most likely to find a third. Two minutes after the goal Sinclair once again found himself running with the ball at his feet inside the opposing area, this time falling victim to a heavy challenge which failed to move the referee into awarding the game's second penalty.
With 15 minutes between them and a midweek trip to Marsh Lane, Notts County continued to pepper the City box with crosses but found little success as Stevens took command of his area as the Hoops held firm.
With 90 minutes played the Fourth Official's board indicated a minimum of four added minutes, drawing cheers from the home support as they clung onto the hope of a late winner.
A low ball across Stevens' goal looked like providing just that but somehow avoided a touch from either side.
With every available man in green behind the ball, the Magpies were forced to get creative. A chip over the top almost paid off as substitute Jonathan Forte looked to have got in behind but Oastler was on hand to produce a challenge just as he looked to pull the trigger.
This could have been the final chance of the game but, as ever in football, heartbreak was only seconds away. A 95th minute cross found the head of Forte and Stevens looked to have pulled off a miraculous last-second save. Unfortunately for the Hoops the loose ball fell to Jorge Grant for the simplest of finishes. A cruel end to an exceptionally entertaining game.
Defeat means that the Hoops' dream run in the cup is over. However, having smashed all expectations with their victory over Colchester United and come within seconds of a place in the hat for the Third Round, we can say without fear of exaggeration that every player who turned out in bright green today was part of a truly epic FA Cup tie.
Whether you travelled to Notts County, watched the game on TV, or even just kept an eye on the score; we would like to thank everybody who has supported us on this wildest of rides.
Oxford City: Stevens, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Grant (Fleet 72), Poku (c), Navarro, Oastler, McEachran, Fofana, Paterson, Sinclair, Pearce (Jones 85).
Unused Subs: Sanders, Hirst, Forde, Tutton.
Attendance: 5,092 (274 Away Fans)