Coming into the game on the back of two consecutive wins, Oxford were hoping to close the one point gap between themselves and league leaders Nottingham firsts, and had a great chance to do so against Loughborough’s second team. The Midlands side were sitting at the bottom of the Midlands 1A division, having lost their opening three games.
The Blues started the match well, putting the Loughborough team under sustained pressure with their aerial dominance and strong physical play. This aggressive start paid dividends for the Blues, forcing errors from a Loughborough side that struggled to maintain possession.
The first chance of the game came the Blues’ way after a nice move resulted in Pat Barton playing the ball through to Dom Thelen, whose shot dragged wide of the post. A great chance that should have been converted.
Soon after, a great piece of skill from Zachary Liew, whose link up play with Captain Leo Ackerman on the left hand side troubled Loughborough for much of the first half, led to an incisive ball that cut through the Loughborough box, falling at the feet of Chris Caveney, whose shot was deflected out for a corner. Ackerman’s out swinging corner kick was decisively headed towards goal by Thelen but just missed the target.
Oxford’s dominance was really starting to show now and, despite Thelen receiving a yellow card for an ill-judged complaint at a poor refereeing decision, they showed no signs of relenting.
The Blues bench were once more on their feet just after the half-hour mark when a great shot on goal from Caveney drew an equally good save from the Loughborough keeper, but again, the reward for Oxford’s supremacy proved elusive.
The decisive moment came just before half-time and, despite their poor quality in the first half, it was Loughborough who scored. A momentary switch off from Liew left a gaping hole that was duly penetrated by a quick ball out from the back which was soon passed on to Loughborough’s pacy number nine, who would’ve struggled to miss from such close range.
The half-time whistle blew and Oxford were left ruing their missed opportunities in the first half, particularly as they only managed to test the keeper on one occasion.
The Loughborough side came out of the dressing room far more composed after the first goal had relieved some pressure. The Blues were undeterred though, and less than ten minutes into the first half a free-kick was given in Oxford’s favour. Whipped in by Ackerman, the ball was met by an unchallenged Thelen head and found its way into the back of the net, drawing Oxford level.
The game now evened out as Loughborough responded well, showing a fight that had been almost entirely absent in the first 45 minutes. The match became a more closely contested affair and it was a foul on the edge of Oxford’s penalty area by Oli Cantril that led to another Loughborough breakthrough and the Blues once more looking at a one-goal deficit.
15 minutes later, a great pass from Oxford’s Pat Collins to Thelen led to a corner ball for Oxford which Loughborough struggled to defend, only managing to put the ball out of play for a corner on the opposite side of the pitch. Loughborough again showed their difficulties defending set-pieces as the ball found its way to an indecisive player in purple who was muscled off the ball by a determined Ram Choudhury. The ball then found its way back to Ackerman who provided the cross for Oxford’s second headed goal, this time from winger Caveney.
Two Oxford substitutions sought to inject some pace into the game, and Oxford nearly snuck a winning goal after a nice free kick routine caught Loughborough unawares. The remaining ten minutes of the second half resulted in few chances as the teams largely nullified each other’s threats and the final whistle blew, meaning Oxford had to settle for a solitary point and regret not making more of their first half dominance.