Report: Exeter City 1 Oxford United 3
Exeter City slipped to a 3-1 defeat on Boxing Day at home to a lively Oxford United side, who fared better in the wet weather.
James Constable broke the deadlock in the first half by capitalising on a bouncing ball, despite Exeter starting the brightest.
His second early after the interval was followed immediately by a strike from Peter Leven, putting the U’s in the driving seat.
Jamie Cureton netted a penalty midway through the second half to give Exeter a fighting chance, but defensive resolve by the visitors allowed them to hold onto their lead and subsequently all three points.
After the weekend’s postponed fixture against Torquay United, Exeter City boss Paul Tisdale was able to name an unchanged starting line-up from the last fixture against Plymouth Argyle. Tommy Doherty’s hamstring injury kept him sidelined completely. Oxford defender Liam O’Brien – who had a spell with City last season – missed out on the matchday 18.
The rain that had been forecast didn’t materialise in the early stages of the match, but the wind was swirling and making high-balls difficult to deal with. Peter Leven’s early direct ball was evidence of this, but Craig Woodman dealt well with the threat.
And an early free-kick from the right flank created a great chance for the U’s, but Liam Davis’ downward header was poorly directed and failed to trouble Artur Krysiak.
However the Grecians suddenly sparked into life and twice had opportunities to take the lead. Alan Gow won a free-kick just outside the box with some quick feet, and with the ball ideally placed for a right-footer, Jamie Cureton stepped up to shoot. His swinging effort tested Ryan Clarke, but he was well-positioned on the goalkeeper’s side of the wall to parry.
Cureton went even closer moments after by striking a ball on the bounce inside the area, but it thundered against the meat of the crossbar and bounced clear.
Despite City’s bright start, it was the U’s that took the lead in the 18th minute. A ball looped in the box by midfielder Lee Cox saw the pairing of James Constable and Tom Craddock causing a nuisance, and when the ball was allowed to bounce, Constable found the ball dropping to his right foot with the goal gaping. A first-time strike left Artur Krysiak with no chance, as the net bulged in front of the travelling fans in the Away Terrace.
Sean Rigg’s pace was proving troublesome on the left flank – and when he put the afterburners on, he cut a ball back from the byline and Craddock stabbed an effort towards goal, but it flashed over.
Constable had an even better chance just moments later, leaving Exeter fans with their hearts in their mouths. Another low ball in from the left found the striker with his back to goal and he pivoted to shoot, but it took the slightest touch as it squirmed past the post for a corner.
After a few shaky minutes, the Grecians settled back down again. Gow’s trickery once again won a free-kick from Tony Capaldi, who had had to replace Liam Davis who had limped off with what looked like a hamstring injury.
Gow was the man to fire in the free-kick from a narrow angle and it fizzed across the face of the goal, but no-one was able to get a touch on it as it sailed beyond the far post and out for a goal-kick.
The City fans in the Big Bank were up in arms calling for a penalty on the stroke of half-time when Gow released John O’Flynn in the box. However Damian Batt looked to make full contact on the ball as he turned it behind for a corner.
Half-time: Exeter City 0 Oxford United 1
The second half began in almost identical fashion to the first half, with City doing well in the opening exchanges yet conceding another early goal.
A big up-and-under ball was swirling in the wind and Baldwin’s header only laid it into the path of the onrushing Constable. He took a touch before placing the ball beyond the despairing Krysiak.
And the game was effectively killed off minutes later when Oxford opened a three-goal cushion. A ball into the box fell into the path of Leven, whose first-time strike came through a crowd of bodies to nestle in the far corner.
Tisdale rang the changes soon after as Gow, Liam Sercombe and John O’Flynn all withdrawn, to be replaced by Kevin Amankwaah, Jimmy Keohane and debutant Jamie Reid.
City were hoping to get back into the fixture with the changes and two of the subs almost created an opening. Amankwaah got down the right flank well and laid in Steve Tully who sent in a testing cross, but it caught Keohane unawares and it bounced harmlessly off his thigh and was mopped up.
However the Grecians were gifted a lifeline midway through the second half when a crossed ball appeared to strike a U’s defender on the arm. Despite the defenders’ protestations, the spot-kick was given.
Cureton made sure he was the man to take the penalty, and despite the distractions provided by the Oxford fans behind the goal, he tucked his shot inside the post to cut the deficit to two.
Josh Parker was introduced for his debut for the guests and looked to make an instant impact with a low, drilled cross. However there was no-one inside the six-yard box and it didn’t trouble Krysiak between the sticks.
City’s own debutant Reid was also looking keen to impress, and met Amankwaah’s deflected cross with a header. Unfortunately for the youngster his effort looped over the bar and landed on the netting.
With the clock running out, it was becoming increasingly difficult for the Grecians to develop any attacks as the U’s were happy to clear their lines whenever they won the ball back in their own half.
Reid almost latched on to a flick on by Baldwin after the ball was only semi-cleared when Matt Oakley launched a long throw into the box, but the ball struck his hand as it bounced up which earned him a harsh booking.
Keohane had an opportunity in the final moments as he hit a scrambled shot but the sting was taken out of the effort.
And the referee brought proceedings to an end straight after, leaving City without anything to show for their efforts as they slipped to a defeat.
Full-time: Exeter City 1 Oxford United 3
Exeter City: Krysiak; Tully, Baldwin, Coles, Woodman; Sercombe (Keohane 57), Bennett, Oakley; Gow; Cureton, O’Flynn (Reid 57).
Subs (not used): Evans, Davies, Dawson, Moore-Taylor.
Goal: Cureton (67 pen).
Oxford United: Clarke; Batt, Raynes, Wright, Davis (Capaldi 34); Potter, Cox, Leven, Rigg; Craddock (Parker 71), Constable.
Subs (not used): Brown, Duberry, Forster-Caskey, Worley, Marsh.
Goals: Constable (18, 50) Leven (52).