Report - Oxford City 3-3 East Thurrock United
Hoops rocked by late goal
By Ryan Bratley
An exceptional opening 45 minutes was not quite enough for Oxford City to cause an upset against unbeaten East Thurrock United in an enthralling 3-3 draw at The City Stadium.
Neutrals would no doubt have come away feeling they had got their money’s worth as the two sides traded momentum either side of the break, The Hoops seeing themselves pegged back three times from wining positions.
Mark Jones named an extremely similar side to that which faced Bath on Tuesday night. Jack Stevens lined up in goal behind a central defensive pairing of Joe Oastler and Cristian Navarro. Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain made his home debut at right back with Freddie Grant returning on the left. The midfield comprised of Godrey Poku, Reece Fleet, and Rob Sinclair with Dave Pearce and Zac McEachran operating out wide; all behind lone striker Matt Paterson.
The Hoops got off to an exceptionally bright start and took the lead within 5 minutes. Oxlade-Chamberlain went on an adventure down the right wing, bursting into the box and delivering a low cross straight onto the foot of a waiting Pearce. The diminutive winger made no mistakes as he planted a firm finish beyond the reach of Lukas Lidakevicius.
The Hoops' jubilation was, however, shortlived. Sinclair's 12th minute challenge on Sam Higgins saw the award of a dubious free kick just outside the area. Higgins himself stepped up to take the set piece and, in a moment eerily reminiscent of McEachran's goal against Chippenham, curled an effort into the top corner. Lewis Smith had a good chance to give The Rocks the lead minutes later but saw his low effort smothered by Stevens.
Despite losing their lead, The Hoops went from strength to strength as the half progressed. Paterson forced Lidakevicius into an excellent save in the 18th minute as he raced onto a long ball from Oastler. Holding off his man, the league's joint top scorer made the space to unleash a curling effort towards the ar bottom corner which saw the 'keeper at full stretch to tip around the post.
McEachran then looked to get in on the action with a powerful shot from outside the area which rattled the crossbar before Paterson failed to find the target with two headers.
A rare East Thurrock attack almost cost City, Oxlade-Chamberlain's half clearance giving Higgins a free shot at goal which went straight at Stevens. This presented an opportunity to break with McEachran finding Patterson out in the right channel. The striker picked out Sinclair on the edge of the 6-yard box but the ex-Forest green man somehow skewed his shot narrowly wide of the far post. It was then McEachran's turn to miss from a promising position, volleying into the ground from around the penalty spot.
Whilst City will undoubtedly have been unhappy with the missed opportunities, the edge was certainly taken off of them in the 35th minute when the simplest of passes through the middle put Paterson through on goal. Using his strength to hold off a defender, the striker showed the utmost composure to round first the 'keeper and then the defender on the line to bag his 7th goal of the season.
With their lead restored The Hoops continued to heap pressure on the visitors' defense, making the most of the zippy 3G surface to run and pass the ball at speed. Oxlade-Chamberlain continued to press forwards, making his way to the byline before cutting back and having a go himself. Unfortunately his left footed effort was wild and, with a number of players hungry for the ball in the box, something of a wasted opportunity.
The youngster didn't have to wait long for a chance to redeem himself as City broke from a corner. Beating two men as he raced through the middle, the Portsmouth loanee found McEachran on the left wing and continued his run to the far post where he met the incoming cross with a downward header which went inches wide.
The half time whistle was an unwelcome sound for The Hoops who had looked like scoring with every attack for the previous quarter of an hour.
The second half was, perhaps predictably, a very different affair to the first as City found themselves under pressure for long periods.
The East Thurrock attack began to come truly alive in the 55th minute. Smith looked to have got in behind and was ready to pull the trigger when Navarro produced a stunning tackle to put the ball behind for a corner. The resulting cross failed to find a head and instead fell to the feet of George Allen whose effort at the far post found only the body of Stevens.
Reece Harris tried his luck from range with an effort which flew narrowly over before Montel Agyemang somehow missed the target from 6 yards.
The visitors' second breakthrough finally arrived in the 63rd minute when a good ball into the box found the head of a diving Navarro, the centre half suffering the misfortune of diverting into his own net.
The few minutes after the goal were a time for both managers to show their hands. East Thurrock boss John Coventry replaced forward Femi Akinwande with giant midfielder James White whilst Jones introduced Ezra Forde in place of Dave Pearce.
Jones' change was a sign of attacking intent and this paid off almost immediately as The Hoops pushed forwards and won a corner which was taken quickly to Grant. The defender's initial ball into the box was cleared but a second delivery found the head of Fleet at the near post to glance home and give his side the lead for a third time with 15 minutes to play.
Jones quickly made his second change of the afternoon as Eddie Jones replaced Zac McEachran.
Whilst the hosts may have hoped that this lead would be the one to last, they were swiftly proven wrong as East Thurrock showed precisely why they are unbeaten so far this season. A simple ball into the box was met by Lee Burns whose header comfortably beat Stevens to level the game for a final time.
Speaking after the game, Mark Jones was once again left reflecting on points dropped.
“We've been on a run of defeats and we've stopped that so on the positive side we've got a point and not been beaten but I'm not feeling too positive at the moment. We've been in the lead three times today and obviously we haven’t managed to hold onto that lead on any of those occasions.”
“We've got to keep working and analysing why we don’t seem to be as good in the second half of games as we are in the first. I'm not happy with the second half performance: we've made poor decisions on the ball. At times we're a bit guilty of trying to do the same things over and over again, threading balls through and trying to keep playing. I didn't think they were the most mobile at the back, Paterson got in a few times in the first half and in the second we seemed reluctant to play a good quality pass down the sides of them.”
“We haven't managed to put a 90 minute performance together today. I'm not expecting us to dominate the game for the whole 90 minutes, you've got to expect the opposition to have their spell and East Thurrock are unbeaten for a reason and second in the table for a reason, but we've been in winning positions and not managed to win the game.”
Oxford City: Stevens, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Grant, Poku, Navarro, Oastler, McEachran (Jones 78'). Fleet, Paterson, Sinclair, Pearce (Forde 73').
Subs not used: Hirst, Bennett