Report - Hungerford Town 1-2 Oxford City
City Conquer Crusaders
Oxford City made sure that their New Year’s Day defeat was a mere blip, returning to their late-2017 form as they ran out 2-1 winners away at Hungerford Town on Saturday afternoon.
Matt Paterson and Rob Sinclair netted in the first half to see the Hoops comfortably into the break with a two goal cushion and, although the hosts were able to get one back, City held on in the second half to register an important three points.
Mark Jones named his new signing Connor Stevens on the bench, and made one change to his starting line-up from that defeat to Gloucester City. Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain returned to the side in a slightly different role: pushing forward from his usual full-back position as he replaced David Pearce on the wing. He partnered Zac McEachran in that role, either side of the central midfielders Mo Fofana and Godfrey Poku, whilst Rob Sinclair was the attacking midfielder to complement lone striker Matt Paterson. There was no change with the five at the back as Jack Stevens remaining in goal behind his defence of Eddie Jones, Cristian Navarro, Joe Oastler and Freddie Grant.
It was Paterson who had the first fierce shot at goal as he struck the crossbar in the tenth minute. A corner was whipped in by McEachran and flicked onto the club’s top scorer who was in space on the edge of the box. His first time shot on the half volley had Crusaders ‘keeper Marcus Beauchamp well beaten but came crashing off the woodwork and away to safety.
A series of City corners came to nothing before they eventually took the lead right on the half hour mark. A break from the hosts' long throw saw Paterson pick the ball up 20 yards from goal before rifling into the top corner of the net to put City into a deserved lead.
They could have doubled the lead just five minutes later as McEachran did well to weave around a number of challenges before laying off to Sinclair in the box, but the City midfielder couldn’t get enough power to get his shot past Beauchamp.
City struck the woodwork for the second time just five minutes before the break. Another corner from the right from McEachran found City centre-back Oastler with time to take the ball down on his right foot. He then managed to flick the ball over his marker onto his left, before firing a low shot through a sea of bodies, only to see it hit the bottom of the post.
After a number of close calls, City were eventually able to double the lead right on the stroke of half time. Great perseverance from McEachran meant he won the ball in midfield before finding Sinclair on the edge of the box. The midfielder, named National League South Player of the Month on Friday, cut onto his left to avoid the last-ditch challenge from a defender before expertly curling into the bottom corner for his eighth goal of the season.
There was no time for after the restart as referee Aji Ajibola immediately blew for the interval.
After the break, Hungerford were to provide City with a much sterner test as they attacked down the slope towards their clubhouse end. Prior to this though, Mark Jones had decided to make one half time substitute with Reece Fleet entering the fray in place of Mo Fofana.
Despite what was to come, it was in fact the Hoops that had the first chance of the half. A quick break inside the opening minute saw McEachran square to Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose low shot forced Beauchamp to save with his feet. Whilst it fell to City feet inside the box, Hungerford had been able to get a number of bodies back to block the ball away to safety.
The Crusaders really grew into the half and forced a series of corners. Whilst a number of these were headed to safety, they did pull a goal back from one on the hour mark. The original delivery was headed only to the edge of the box, and the shot back in ricocheted off of a City body and fell to Nicholas Bignall on the penalty spot to rifle home.
The hosts ramped up the pressure following this and were nearly level just three minutes after. Bignall was found on the edge of the D again and his fierce shot looked to be dipping just under the bar and required a magnificent save from Stevens to palm the ball over.
With the pressure still very much on the City backline, the management made their last two changes with 10 minutes to go. Ezra Forde replaced McEachran in an attempt to add a bit of pace on the counter, while Connor Stevens was brought on for his debut to shore up the back line, in place of Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Just three minutes after and City were presented with an opportunity to put the points all but beyond doubt. Some excellent work from Sinclair down City’s left wing saw the second goalscorer cross to the first, however Paterson was unable to direct his shot goalwards.
They were able to hold out for the remainder of the half relatively unscathed for an important three points which move them up to 17th place, now 7 points clear of the drop zone. The Hoops are next due in action away at Havant & Waterlooville on Tuesday 9th December; however, with Saturday's/today's scheduled fixture at Westleigh park having been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch, we will be keeping a close eye on the weather in Hampshire over the next few days!
Oxford City: J Stevens, Jones, Grant, Poku ©, Navarro, Oastler, McEachran (Forde 80), Fofana (Fleet HT), Paterson, Sinclair, Oxlade-Chamberlain (C Stevens 80).
Unused: Pearce, Khawaja.