Oxford City were unable to follow up Monday’s victory with another, as Havant & Waterlooville remained the only unbeaten side in the division with a 3-0 victory at Marsh Lane on Saturday afternoon.
Parity only lasted three minutes as Alfie Rutherford gave the visitors an early lead, before Roarie Deacon doubled their lead on the half-hour, with Wes Fogden rounded off the scoring within five minutes of the second period.
Following a much-improved performance after the break at Twerton Park on Monday, Mark Jones opted to go with the same eleven that started that second half, which saw just one change to the starting XI. Influential midfielder Zac McEachran was recalled into the starting line-up, in place of defender Finn Tapp.
Tapp was replaced at right-back by Eddie Jones, who was celebrating his 100th appearance for the club this afternoon. He was joined at full-back by Ben Jefford, who operated on the left side. Club captain Joe Oastler and Tarik Moore-Azille operated at centre-back to complete a back four that protected goalkeeper Craig King. Further up the field, a central midfield partnership of Reece Fleet, Jack Self and Josh Ashby was complimented by attacking midfielders Kyran Wiltshire and Zac McEachran, who were both tasked with assisting lone striker Stefan Brown.
Having conceded within five minutes in their previous home match, Mark Jones will have been keen for his side to get off to a better start this time around. Unfortunately for him though, the opening goal came two minutes quicker this time around.
A corner routine for the visitors saw Nicky Bailey delivery into Roarie Deacon who headed goalwards. While King was able to save the initial effort, he was only able to palm out to where Alfie Rutherford was, allowing the forward the easiest of opportunities to tap home a loose ball to give his side the lead.
It took a further 10 minutes before the Hoops had their first sight of goal. It came from captain Oastler, who rose highest from a corner, however his powerful header was straight at Ross Worner in the Hawks’ goal.
Both sides then traded efforts from range, as Rutherford’s shot for the visitors from around 30 yards was straight at King on 25 minutes, before Ashby’s effort for the Hoops two minutes later went sailing just over the bar.
Just after the half-hour mark, and the Hawks doubled their lead. After being credited as provider for the first, Deacon went one better this time around. Picking the ball up just outside the box, the midfielder cut onto his right foot and shot from range, his effort directed perfectly into the far corner of King’s goal to make it 2-0.
The Hoops should have really halved the deficit within a minute of the restart as Wiltshire had beaten the offside trap to meet a long ball. With Worner having committed, the midfielder attempted to lob the stopper, and while the effort was weighted perfectly, he was unable to get the direction to the effort, and saw it drop just the wrong side of the post.
Two minutes before the break, Self went close as an Ashby free-kick from wide found the midfielder, who was able to glance a header towards the far post, however his connection wasn’t quite strong enough, which took the ball just past the post.
The visitors nearly ended the half as they started it, but for a King save. Rutherford was once again the man with the chance as he cut onto his right foot, before getting an effort away which was deflected, however the City stopper was able to get to the ball with his feet, despite having committed.
This turned out to be the last action of the half, and rather more worryingly for Mark Jones, the last action of King’s match.
After having struggled through the start of the season with a long-term knee injury, the City stopper was unable to complete the match, and had to be replaced at half-time, with Steven Caro coming in for his first appearance of the 2019/20 campaign.
Unfortunately for the Hoops, the replacement stopper’s first action of the match was to pick the ball out of the back of the net. The visitors all but sealed the result on 51 minutes as Wes Fogden was able to expertly control a shot that was heading wide from Anthony Straker. The midfielder was then left with an opportunity one-on-one with Caro, making no mistake as he slammed the ball centrally into the net.
City went out in search of a consolation goal and to give their home faithful something to cheer about. Zac McEachran created an opportunity out of nothing just two minutes after the goal as he was able to turn on the by-line to find an angle for a shot, however his effort was straight at Worner.
Five minutes before the hour, the Hoops forced another opportunity from a corner – Oastler once again meeting an Ashby delivery. City’s captain put the ball across goal that allowed Wiltshire to flick goalwards, however it was blocked on the line by a defender.
In a last-ditch attempt to earn something from the match, Mark Jones opted to make his final two substitutions on 63 minutes – Craig Fasanamade and Nana Owusu came on to replace Kyran Wiltshire and Jack Self.
But it was McEachran who continued to provide City’s best threat as, on 65 minutes, he turned on the edge of the box and got a shot away towards the bottom corner, forcing Worner to have to get down low to push away.
With just two minutes remaining, Worner was forced into what was probably the save of the match. A cross was dropped into Jefford, who looked to loop a header over the Hawks’ stopper, however he got up well to tip the ball over the bar.
Jefford was involved again as the clock ticked over onto 90. Lovely play on the edge of the box saw a ball threaded through to the left-back on the edge of the six-yard box. He put a first-time ball across the face of goal, where McEachran fired home, however the Hoops were denied this consolation by the linesman’s flag.
Despite a disappointing result, Oxford City have a midweek opportunity to get back on track as Weymouth make the long trip up to Oxfordshire to face the Hoops at Marsh Lane on Tuesday evening, a 19:45 kick-off.
Despite defeat, Mark Jones saw plenty of positives in his side's performance against one of the favourites for promotion, as he spoke to BBC Oxford Sport's Marie Indge after the match. Listen to what he said by clicking here.
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Oxford City: King (Caro H/T), Jones, Jefford, Ashby, Moore-Azille, Oastler, Wiltshire (Fasanmade 63), Fleet, Brown, McEachran, Self (Owusu 63).
Unused: Wright, Tapp.