Report - Oxford City 4-1 Hemel Hempstead
City Tame the Tudors
By Alex Atfield
Manager Mark Jones' midweek squad changes were vindicated as his Oxford City side humbled high-flying Hemel Hempstead Town with an emphatic 4-1 victory. Both new arrivals, loanees Frankie Musonda of Luton Town and Samuel Nombe of Milton Keynes, acquitted themselves very well in an excellent City performance which saw them rise two places to 17th in the table.
Not only did City opt for changes in personnel, they also went for a change in strategy by changing the direction they were shooting in upon winning the toss, choosing to attack the Clubhouse End in the first half for the first time in several seasons.
Jones decided to retain the same formation as last week - what might be loosely termed a 3-4-2-1 - but made a number of changes from the deflating defeat at Concord Rangers, with Reece Fleet returning from suspension to replace Mamadou Fofana, and Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain and Musonda replacing Eddie Jones and the departing Cristian Navarro respectively. This meant that Craig King played in goal, whilst Connor Stevens and Musonda flanked the experienced Joe Oastler in defence. Freddie Grant and Oxlade-Chamberlain played as wing backs, with Fleet and captain Godfrey Poku in the centre of midfield, and the excellent pairing of Rob Sinclair and Zac McEachran playing in attacking midfield roles behind lone striker Matt Paterson.
Hemel made the better start, David Moyo forcing King to tip the ball on to his near post with a shot from a tight angle within the first two minutes. The Tudors also had the majority of possession and territory in the opening quarter of an hour, with Hemel captain Jordan Parkes - one of several ex-professionals in their ranks - pulling the strings in an advanced midfield position. The best chance of this spell fell to Alex Osborn, but he somehow spooned his effort out for a throw despite being just eight yards from goal.
The momentum shifted in the 16th minute when a good spell for City saw them pick up two consecutive corners. The second of these saw Grant rise well, forcing a save out of ex-City 'keeper Laurie Walker, but Fleet pounced to strike home the rebound for his sixth goal of the season.
The 20th minute saw arguably the defining moment of the match. Walker was held in high regard by supporters during his year-long spell with City in the 2015/16 season, but he was sadly sent off for handling outside his area on his return to Marsh Lane after diving low to his left as Paterson attempted to slide the ball in to the bottom corner when through on goal.
City made their numerical advantage count in the 24th minute with a scrappy goal following a goalmouth scramble, with Oxlade-Chamberlain appearing to be the player on hand to force the ball in. Hemel still looked reasonably lively in attack for the remainder of the half, refusing to lie down, but no clear-cut chances came to fruition for a while as the game ebbed and flowed. The closest they came to scoring came in the form of a couple of free kicks delivered by Parkes - one of these, in the 39th minute, just evaded Ismail Yakubu as he looked destined to cut the arrears with a leaping header at the back post. Hemel's best chance of the half fell to left back Joe Howe, who attempted to convert Moyo's cross with a header from just two yards out, but the ball in was a fraction too high as it skimmed off the top of his head and went out for a throw, meaning that City went in at half time two goals up.
Shortly after the break, Fleet let fly with an ambitious shot from 25 yards, which Walker's replacement Dillon Barnes tipped over. The resultant corner was met by Joe Oastler just six yards from goal, but his header went straight at the 'keeper.
The Hoops produced a good spell of pressure after this, Rob Sinclair in particular asking probing questions of a vastly experienced defence, but Hemel found themselves back in the game through veteran Darren Ward, who had come on less than ten minutes earlier. He planted his header past King following a ball in from the left from Yakubu.
Relegation-threatened City have been accused of having a weak spine in similar situations earlier this season, but they refused to roll over here as two delightful goals followed to finish the game in style. In the 78th minute, Oxlade-Chamberlain charged upfield with acres of space ahead of him. The promising Nombe drew a defender with a run at the near post, allowing Oxlade-Chamberlain to find Poku, who took an excellent first touch to glide between the two centre halves, before planting the ball in to the bottom corner with his second. Six minutes later, Nombe put the icing on the cake for City with a wonderful goal after playing a one-two with Sinclair.
All in all, this was a superb performance by City from back to front. The defence will be disappointed not to have kept a clean sheet, with all three centre halves producing stellar performances, the occasional stray pass from Stevens being arguably the only blot on an otherwise perfect copy book. This, allied with a steady, controlled midfield effort and an exciting, dynamic display from the forwards, will be what the team seek to reproduce when they make the long journey to Truro City next weekend, the second in a succession of fixtures against teams chasing promotion.
Oxford City: King, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Jones 85), Stevens, Poku (c), Musonda, Oastler, McEachran (Nombe 67), Fleet (Fofana 85), Paterson, Sinclair, Grant.