After suffering a 5-1 defeat away to Birmingham University 1sts in their first league game of the season, the Blues knew they would have a fight on their hands when they welcomed Birmingham back to Iffley Road last Wednesday.
The Blues got off to a rocky start, and in the first 10 minutes were very much on the back foot. However Oxford somehow weathered the early storm. Slowly the Blues started to play their way back into the game, mainly due to a tactical change by Blues Captain Jack Fletcher, who moved Pembroke captain Alex Tsaptsinos from a more attacking role back into defensive midfield, alongside the Blues Belgian player Elias Adriaenssens.
This formational change shored up the midfield and allowed the Blues to start playing the fluid passing football that they have become accustomed to at home this season.
The Blues began creating chances, as the Birmingham midfielders failed to pick up the overlapping runs of the Blues’ fullbacks, in particular left-back Aidan Barry who took every opportunity to overlap Blues winger Ezra Rubenstein to try and help provide an attacking threat.
Eventually the Blues got their breakthrough; a diagonal run from Matt Smith pulled away two defenders and this gave American Mike Essman time to whip in a deep looping cross which was calmly dispatched with a first time side footed volley by Peder Beck-Friis.
The Blues took a 1-0 lead into half time but they were by no means complacent, and an inspirational team talk from the captain let the players know they had done nothing yet.
There was another tough 45 minutes ahead and there was no way that this Birmingham team were going to roll over and give the Blues another home win.
In the second half the Blues came out strong, and they began to create more chances. The Blues continued to play some lovely football through the midfield and were constantly finding Ezra Rubenstein on the left wing, who all game caused the Birmingham right back a lot of difficulty.
However, Birmingham still carried a significant threat particularly through their impressive frontman and it was only due to the solid defending of Rich Smith and Mike Moneke at centre back that prevented Birmingham from equalising.
As time went on there was a growing sense that the Blues were going to score another goal. A great passing move culminated in a mazy run from Tsaptsinos which saw him chopped down in the area, and the referee awarded a penalty. Ezra Rubenstein did not waste any time at all in picking up ball and placing it on the spot, he then calmly stepped up and slotted the ball into the bottom right-hand corner, just beating the goalkeeper, who dived the correct way.
The final 20 minutes saw the introduction of some fresh new legs, and this allowed the Blues to see out the remaining minutes with only one slight hiccup.
With 10 minutes to go Birmingham had a goal rightly denied due to an offside flag, but apart from that Birmingham never threatened the Blues’ goal, and when the final whistle went Oxford celebrated a hard fought and well deserved victory.