Fleetwood 3-0 Oxford
By David Mitchell
Debut goals from Jamille Matt and Ryan Crowther and a late third from Jon Parkin gave Fleetwood Town a deserved sixth home win of the season, denting an Oxford United unbeaten run stretching back to 17th November.
A convincing performance throughout helped to eradicate some of the painful memories of Town’s last Highbury game, against Bristol Rovers, and gave manager Graham Alexander exactly the response that he wanted in front of an attendance of 2461.
Paul McKenna made his debut 24 hours after signing on loan from Hull City. Jamie McGuire returned alongside him in midfield and two further changes for Town saw a first Football League start for Nathan Pond and a full debut up front for the emerging talent that is Jamie Allen. Alan Goodall moved to left back to accommodate Pond. In-form Oxford, chasing a fifth successive league win, lined up defensively with Justin Richards the lone player in attack.
The first chance went to Town in the third minute. Allen played a short ball to Gareth Evans who struck a firm right foot shot from distance which Wayne Brown saved at the second attempt. Town continued to press on a pitch showing low bounce. Full-back, Shaun Beeley, was a constant presence in the final third. Allen showed confident touches alongside the more physical presence of Matt. The early pressure paid off after nine minutes. Matt looked to link with Evans on the edge of the penalty area and an attempted clearance by Michael Raynes cannoned into the tall striker. The ball rebounded goalwards, deceiving Brown and giving the ex- Kidderminster player his first Football League goal.
There were occasional threats from the U’s but Town could have doubled their lead in the 20th
minute. Matt was once again in the thick of the action, failing to capitalise on a half chance after an opening period where he had seen more of the ball than in the whole of his debut against Bristol. Evans was next to threaten, a second long-range strike forcing Brown to turn the ball round the post. Rob Atkinson headed in at the back post from the corner but was adjudged to have climbed aboard Damien Batt. Evans was a threat at every touch but blotted his promising start with a 24th
minute booking for a foul.
Town came unbelievably close to a deserved second goal in the 31st
minute. Atkinson was again a threat with his height and his header hit the post from close range before the ball ran agonisingly across goal and clear. Oxford responded to gain three corners in as many minutes but Town’s defence was well-organised and protected goalkeeper Scott Davies. There was an anxious moment before the whistle when the ball came over from the left but Town left the pitch with a worthy lead.
Both sides made immediate changes after the break. Adam Chapman returned from injury to replace Raynes for Oxford and Crowther came on for Brown, his first appearance since April 2012. United came forward with more conviction than in the first half, Chapman forcing Atkinson to head clear for a corner. The game was held up in the 52nd
minute after Allen had attempted an ambitious overhead kick in the area. The youngster needed treatment and referee Eltrington, after consulting with both assistants, booked an incredulous Brown. The keeper’s next action was a save from an Allen volley from 20 yards, set up by Matt.
Crowther did not have long to make a telling impact. Batt miscued a clearance and Crowther picked up the loose ball. A couple of touches followed by a neat left foot finish and Town were two-up. A third nearly followed just after the hour, Brown saving from Matt after Crowther had threatened again. Oxford leading scorer Tom Craddock replaced Simon Heslop and Dean Smalley replaced Richards as manager, Chris Wilder, rang the changes.
A Pond challenge on Smalley in the 66th
minute resulted in heated debate and a hat trick of bookings, Pond joined in the referee’s book by Smalley and McGuire.
Parkin returned to action after a lay-off stretching back to early November. The striker replaced Matt after 70 minutes. Brown had to be alert soon after, diving at the feet of Crowther to pouch a low cross from Evans. With 15 minutes left, Pond nearly stole in to profit from a free kick on the right.
There was generous applause for Allen as he was replaced by Alex Titchiner in the 77th
minute. Oxford pressed hard as the clock ticked down but could not create clear chances to gain a foothold in the game. Alfie Potter caught the eye with strong running down the right.
Town sealed victory five minutes from time. McKenna provided for Parkin to tuck away his 7th
goal of the season from close range and the job was completed.
Davies, Beeley, Atkinson (captain), Pond, Goodall, Brown (Crowther 45), McKenna, McGuire, Evans, Matt (Parkin 70), Allen (Titchiner 77)
Evans, Pond, McGuire