After putting in a dismal display at Dagenham on the Tuesday prior to our game at Oxford, I came away saying that we will play much better than that on occasions yet lose. My point was proven a little earlier than I had hoped, as Argyle lost 2-1 at the three sided Kassam stadium to slide into the relegation zone, albeit because of the alphabet.
Carl Fletcher opted to make changes for this game, as strikers Nick Chadwick and Matt Lecointe were dropped to the bench in place of Warren Feeney and Paris Cowan-Hall as Argyle started the game in a 4-5-1 formation.
Surprisingly it was Argyle, not the early pace setters in the league, that had the better of the opening exchanges after Tom Craddock sent his shot flying over Jake Cole’s goal. Argyle had the ball in the back of the net on the 10 minute mark through Warren Feeney although it was rightly flagged offside. The play in the lead up to the disallowed goal was promising though, as Conor Hourihane played a neat one-two with Andress Gurrieri before storming into the Oxford box. His ball across the box for Feeney to smash home was a good one, but the Northern Ireland international was miles offside. Truth be told, had Hourihane got a good shot on target himself, he probably would have scored.
At this point Argyle, backed by the Green Army in full voice, were well on top. Darren Purse directed a Hourihane corner goal-ward only for it to rebound back off Feeney who was desperately trying to get out of the way of it.
And then, in a cruel three minutes, the game was all but beyond the Pilgrims.
Stand in right-back Curtis Nelson failed to clear his lines which resulted in the ball being played into the box for Deane Smalley to take a few touches before smashing the ball past Cole from close range, and before the home celebrations for the goal had died down, Smalley made it two.
Conor Hourihane was caught in possession of the ball in the Oxford half which allowed the U’s to set up a swift counter attack. Alfie Potter led the charge with Smalley racing to catch up with him. As Potter reached the edge of the box he laid the ball off for Smalley to run on to, who fired home for his second of the game.
After failing to score in our first two games of the season it was looking highly unlikely we would get anything from this fixture, but at least the Greens gave themselves a half chance of getting back into the game by getting to half time with no further damage.
Fletcher made two changes at half time. Robbie Williams replaced an ineffectual Gurrieri, which pushed Onismor Bhasera up to left mid and Durrel Berry replaced Curtis Nelson at right back for his first appearance of the season due to injury.
The second-half was a totally different affair to the first. Oxford appeared to take their foot off the gas a little and Argyle dominated the possession yet rarely created any clear cut chances until Bhasera was brought down on the edge of the Oxford area. Up stepped Robbie Williams, whose sweet left foot is starting to become a good source of goals from free kicks, to curl the ball perfectly around the wall and into the bottom corner of the goal. It was the first goal Argyle had scored in the league and the first Oxford had conceded, the Pilgrims had 15 minutes of normal time to find an equaliser.
Argyle surged forward at every opportunity but could not find the goal to complete the comeback, although Berry went close with a speculative long range effort.
We are three games in to our League Two campaign, but only have one point to show for it. Had we been battered yesterday and played as poor as we did against the Daggers I would be very concerned, but I am not that worried – yet. Apart from the three minutes in which we conceded the goals yesterday I felt we were more than a match for Oxford, I left pleased with the performance despite the result.
It will be interesting to see how we fare when Jamie Lowry and Rhys Griffiths return from injury as I think they are two key players our side is missing. If we perform like we did against Oxford, one of the better teams in this division, on a regular basis I am sure the results will come. I just hope for Carl Fletcher’s sake that it is sooner rather than later, as there are already some fans making noises about how the chairman should think about removing him from his duties.
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