Report - Oxford City 0-3 Gloucester City
New Year Nightmare
By Ryan Bratley
Oxford City failed to do a festive double over Gloucester City, falling to a self-destructive 3-0 defeat at Marsh Lane.
Two unforced defensive errors gifted the visitors their second and third goals, adding to an early headed effort by Chris Knowles.
Mark Jones made two key changes to the side which triumphed in Boxing Day's stale affair; Godfrey Poku and Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain dropping to the bench with Dave Pearce and Eddie Jones their replacements. Jack Stevens retained his place in goal, protected by centre backs Cristian Navarro and Joe Oastler, whilst Eddie Jones and Freddie Grant operated at fullback. Mo Fofana partnered Reece Fleet in midfield, behind the attacking threesome of Rob Sinclair, Zac McEachran and Pearce.
The Hoops got off to a nightmare start as, in the 8th minute, the visitors took the lead. A free kick from the left wing found Knowles at the far post where, having evaded the attentions of his marker, the diminutive midfielder was able to plant a header back across Stevens from close range.
Knowles repeated the trick in the 16th minute, his free header from a similarly placed free kick this time clearing the bar.
The Hoops grew into the game midway through the half and could easily have levelled when Jones' low ball into the box, the end product of a lively burst down the right wing, evaded everybody in the box. McEachran took on and beat three defenders to release Jones again a minute later, but his second cross of the game saw the same outcome as the first.
McEachran found his shooting boots just before the half hour mark, unleashing an effort from range which swirled in the damp air before being beaten away by Gloucester 'keeper Tom Hadler
Back down the other end, a Gloucester break down the left saw Ed Williams meet a low ball into the near post. Fortunately for City, Stevens got down smartly to make the save at point blank range.
With five minutes of the half remaining, Pearce's move into a more central role saw the midfielder come into the game. His tidy dribbling on the edge of the area allowed him to pick out the run of Grant, his low ball across goal not quite setting Sinclair up for an effort on goal. Moment later, A Paterson cross found the head of Sinclair, testing the reflexes of Hadler as he tipped the ball over the bar.
With this period of dominance giving plenty of reasons to be optimistic going into the break, City's downfall began as an extremely loose pass from Oastler was intercepted by Karnell Chambers. Stevens was quick in deciding to come off of his line but proven unable to beat Chambers to the ball, leaving the forward with the relatively simple task of lofting the ball into his unguarded net.
The start of the second half was slightly less hectic than the first, but it was Gloucester who once again had the first sight of goal: a missed interception gifting substitute Will Tunnicliff a shooting opportunity which he put narrowly wide. Minutes later, Knowles once again defied his lack of natural height to clip the bar with a header from a corner.
The Hoops came close from a corner of their own in the 58thminute, Paterson making a smart run to the near post to glance a free header into the side netting from a tricky angle.
Prior to that opportunity, Mark Jones had made his first change of the game with Godfrey Poku replacing Freddie Grant and the second substitution quickly followed: Eddie Jones making way for Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain. The changes heralded a change of shape for the Hoops with Fofana dropping back to join Oastler and Navarro in defence, allowing Pearce and Oxlade-Chamberlain to operate as wing-backs to support the attack in their hunt for two vital goals.
Poku's impact was visible from the outset and he almost made headlines with a rasping effort from 25 yards which Hadler did very well to tip over. Oxlade-Chamberlain, meanwhile, made the most of the opportunity to play his more natural attacking game by delivering two good crosses into the Gloucester box.
With things starting to look promising for the hosts, they once again contributed to their own demise in the 69th minute with makeshift centre-half Fofana losing possession on the edge of his own penalty area to leave Ethan Moore with the routing task of slotting past Stevens.
With the game seemingly gone, Mark Jones made his final substitution with Ezra Forde replacing Dave Pearce in the 78thminute.
The Hoops looked to rally during the closing stages but, despite continuing the play the effective passing football they had been producing all through the second half, failed to make the breakthrough. Long-range efforts from Poku and Paterson both had their merits but ultimately failed to find the target.
Defeat puts an end to City's 8-game unbeaten run, marking their first league defeat since Hemel Hempstead in October. Despite Mark Jones' philosophy of trying to look up the table rather than down, the most pressing statistic remains the four points separating the Hoops from 20th placed Poole Town and the relegation zone.