Report - Oxford City 1-2 Braintree Town
City felled by The Iron
A depleted Oxford City failed to capitalise on a strong start against recently relegated Braintree Town, falling to a 2-1 defeat despite taking a 7th minute lead.
With three key players out of action through injury and suspension, Mark Jones was forced into a change of formation for today's game. Jack Stevens lined up in goal with Godfrey Poku filling in at centre half alongside Joe Oastler with Eddie Jones and Cristian Navarro operating as fullbacks. Reece Fleet, Rob Sinclair and Zac McEachran took to the centre of midfield, flanked by Dave Pearce and Horatio Hirst, with Matt Paterson as lone striker.
The Hoops got off to a flying start with Paterson getting in on goal twice in the opening minute. A good run and pass from Hirst created the first opportunity and, although a slightly heavy touch took him nearer the byline than he may have liked, the striker was still able to test the 'keeper from a tight angle. Braintree then struggled to clear their lines and an excellent intervention from McEachran saw the ball back at Paterson's feet, unfortunately striking just wide.
Fortunately City didn't have to wait long for the breakthrough to come with just seven minutes played. McEachran was once again instrumental, driving through the middle and playing a pass into the path of Paterson who coolly knocked the ball past his man before poking home.
It could have been two eight minutes later as Jones's cross fell kindly to Pearce at the far post but, whilst his effort was on target, it lacked the power to beat Nathan McDonald in the Braintree goal.
Ben Wyatt almost came up with a spectacular equaliser for the visitors, driving a shot inches wide of the top corner from very long range.
The game pivoted around an unorthodox early change from Braintree manager Brad Quinton on the half hour mark. The introduction of Phil Roberts in place of Alfred Mugabo facilitated a change in shape and proved to be inspired as his side immediately began creating good chances from open play.
The substitute's first touch forced Stevens into an awkward save low to his right and he got the better of the City stopper just a minute later, only to be denied by the offside flag. Undeterred, the striker popped up again ten minutes later, powering a downwards header towards the bottom corner which Jones did excellently to block.
Despite the increase in pressure, The Hoops seemed set to weather the storm until half time. However, with two minutes of the half remaining, Jones brought down Roberts in the area and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Billy Crook's penalty was well struck, beating Stevens despite the 'keeper diving the right way.
The half time break saw Mark Jones forced into a change as Zac McEachran, playing through an illness, was unable to continue with Ezra Forde coming on in his place.
The Hoops once again made a reasonably promising start to the half with Pearce shooting narrowly over from range before sending another effort just wide of the far post.
The pace of Forde also caused the visiting defence some problems but the young forward was unable to find the perfect final ball, slightly overhitting a pass into the path of Paterson before seeing his low ball into the box well cleared.
Once again the visitors needed kicking into life and this time it was Scott Sholton who took the initiative, bursting down the left wing and making his way to the byline almost unchallenged only to find Stevens in his way at the near post.
The right side of the Braintree backline continued to look vulnerable and was weakened further by a booking for Osa Obamwonyi following a foul on Paterson in the 65th minute. The resulting free kick came to nothing but Hirst's cross from an almost identical position moments later saw Pearce test McDonald.
Whilst City had failed to capitalise on set pieces so far, The Iron came extremely close to scoring with a free kick of their own in the 72nd minute. Navarro was penalised for a poor challenge on the left wing and the resulting ball into the box found Christian Frimpong at the far post. His header back across goal picked out Roberts who somehow manage to nod wide from just a couple of yards out.
The visitors disappointment won’t have lasted for long as they took the lead just three minutes later. City wasted a free kick on the edge of the Braintree area and quickly saw themselves on the wrong end of an incisive break. A good run at the near post drew the defence in, leaving Roberts unmarked at the back post to receive a diagonal ball and fire past Stevens.
The goal was framed by two City subs: Justin Bennett replacing Matt Paterson before Horatio Hirst made way for Craig Fassanmade.
The game could easily have been put beyond reach in the 81st minute as Roberts found acres of space down the right wing, eventually cutting inside and firing in a shot which skimmed the woodwork as it went wide.
The final stages of the game offered little by way of chances despite The Iron being temporarily reduced to ten men as a clash of heads with his own player saw Obamwonyi receive a lengthy period of treatment on the touchline.
Defeat sees City slide to 19th in the National League South but Mark Jones was keen to stress how close he believes his side are to turning things around:
“At the moment we are in a little bit of a rut where every little mistake we makes seems to be getting punished. I do believe we've got good players in the dressing room: we've got good experience and we've got players who have played at a higher level but we are a bit thin at the moment in terms of the squad. We've got key players missing and we don’t have a big enough squad to deal with the likes of Lee Henderson, Freddie Grant and Mo Fofana missing.”
“I know it sounds like a cliché but we just need a lucky 1-0 win or something to settle people down. Everybody's judgement will always be on the result but if we look at the game analytically there are a lot of plus points.”
The Hoops now look ahead to a midweek trip to 17th placed Bath City.
Oxford City: Stevens, Jones, Navarro, Sinclair, Poku, Oastler, Hirst (Fassanmade 76), Fleet, Paterson (Bennett 75), McEachran (Forde 45), Pearce.
Unused sub: Ngathe