A gritty display from the Blues has landed them a third consecutive win in their BUSC league campaign against a physical Nottingham Trent side.

Two goals from Kunal Desai and Sam Hall were enough to earn Oxford a 4-2 win in what turned into an ugly contest at the end, with both sides feeling the referee was not offering protection against progressively poor fouls. The game started at a frantic tempo, and it was Oxford who took an extremely early lead after good work down the left. A chipped cross from Toogood found Hall, who had timed his run from midfield perfectly. He found the space to chest the ball down before volleying beyond the keeper to give the Blues an ideal start.

However it seemed that this start had lead to a bit of complacency, and Oxford were soon facing a barrage of corner-kicks as Nottingham Trent piled on the pressure. The Blues were grateful for some last-ditch tackles from both Tom Wherry and Leon Farr as they struggled to contain a resurgent opposition, whilst Tom Orphin-Massey was booked for a cynical challenge on the edge of the area. The writing had been on the wall for a while, and Nottingham Trent finally equalised, capitalising on indecision between goalkeeper Dwayne Whylly and centre backs Orphin-Massey and Wherry, as the Nottingham Trent striker was able to latch onto an innocuous ball forward before calmly slotting the ball over the head of Whylly.

This seemed to further rejuvenate Nottingham Trent and they began to dominate both possession and chances, with ‘keeper Whylly forced into a number of relatively comfortable saves as the half wore on. Midfielder Cameron Knight was booked for a late tackle as Oxford began to become frustrated and chase the ball, compounding their problems in doing so and allowing the opposition to find more space within the Oxford half. Oxford was the more grateful of the teams when the half-time whistle went with the scores at 1-1, perhaps feeling lucky not to be behind.

‘The team-talk at half-time did the job’

The team-talk at half-time obviously did the job, as Oxford came out of the blocks quickly and retook the lead again within 5 minutes. A sweeping cross-field ball from McCrickerd was misjudged by both central defenders and allowed Desai the opportunity to calmly slot the ball past the keeper. This time there wasn’t a hint of complacency in the air, and Oxford started to find more room in the middle of the park as the opposition began to tire. Good work from Farr and McCrickerd released Toogood down the right, and his floated ball in was finished with style by Desai as his diving header secured his second goal of the day.

This doubling of Oxford’s lead seemed to be a signal to the opposition to ratch up the physicality of their game, and rash challenges were seen across the pitch, with the referee offering little protection. However, the referee’s insistence on keeping the game flowing was rewarded when Oxford were able to use an advantage given by the referee to further their lead. After Toogood had fed James Kelly, the winger was fouled on the edge of the area in a dangerous position but had already passed the ball to Hall. Hall did the rest, and a curling shot from 25 yards left the ‘keeper motionless, and a jubilant Oxford side preparing for another home win.

Further good chances were spurned by Oxford as they looked to put the game beyond doubt, but Nottingham Trent continued to have opportunities, although Whylly was rarely tested properly. As so often happens in football games where a side has a dominant lead, the losing side turned to violence, and with just 15 minutes to go Nottingham Trent were reduced to 10 men after a wild lunge by their central midfielder on Kelly long after the play had been stopped. The game threatened to turn into a farce as the yellow cards flowed freely, with Toogood booked for a late challenge, and three opposition players also booked inside the last 10 minutes.

Oxford were given a scare as their lead was reduced to two, with a dangerous ball headed into the top corner by captain Wherry for a spectacular goal. However, Oxford were able to stand strong and finish the game off, with substitutes Flood, Weston and Mayou again providing fresh legs that saw the Blues through to their third consecutive win – the last in a series of victories which have all come against teams considered potential league challengers.

‘Trent were reduced to 10 men after a wild lunge’

Skipper Wherry was delighted with his team’s success, and especially at the style in which it was achieved, with this being a more physical Blues performance than we have seen so far this season. The captain said: “It was a hard fought game and we really had to stick up for ourselves. Sometimes teams come to Iffley Road to bully what they perceive will be a weak Oxford side, but we showed that we can compete on this level, and then showed the ability to beat them for quality on the ball, scoring four very good goals”.

The double from Desai ensured that all four of the Blues strikers have now got off the mark, with Niko De Walden having also scored twice last week to secure a comfortable 3-0 win over last year’s runners-up Worcester. Despite a cagey first-half display from Oxford, the arrival of substitute De Walden spurred them on, and he scored twice inside 15 minutes to take the game beyond a quickly tiring Worcester side. Toogood scored the third after De Walden’s shot was blocked to take his tally for the BUSC campaign to 5 from 3. It is an impressive start to the season for the Blues, who will no doubt be eager to trouble the top of the table. The way they have begun this season suggests they should have no trouble achieving their aim.