REPORT | OXFORD UNITED 1 ARGYLE 3
Oxford United 1
It was far from pretty at times but Argyle dug deep to secure three more massive points to the cause, largely thanks to a debut goal from Saxon Earley midway through the second half.
A cool finish by Matt Butcher had given the Greens a deserved lead on 19 minutes before Oxford levelled with a Cameron Brannagan free-kick on the stroke of half-time.
The second period was a scrap and, perhaps fittingly, Earley’s decisive effort was a scruffy prod from a set-piece, but just as important as any Pilgrim goal this season. Ryan Hardie added last-minute gloss to the win with a sweeping finish into the corner.
Argyle manager Steven Schumacher gave Earley his full Argyle debut and also drafted in Bali Mumba, Finn Azaz and Jay Matete from the excellent weekend win over Portsmouth at Home Park.
The Greens carried that momentum into the opening exchanges, with Nigel Lonwijk whipping over a dangerous cross from the right, although Oxford swiftly replied with a decent strike from Kyle Joseph warming the hands of Callum Burton.
The U’s continued to probe, forcing quality interventions from Lonwijk and Macaulay Gillesphey before Azaz attempted the ultimate in audacious, a 60-yard lob from the touchline that had home custodian Simon Eastwood scrambling backward as it landed on the roof of the net.
Argyle’s next effort was completely conventional and beautifully effective. Mumba slid a simple pass into the right channel and Butcher’s run was unchecked, allowing him to calmly slot the ball across Eastwood for his first goal in Green.
Ciaron Brown took the most offence in Oxford ranks, responding with a lung-bursting run that ended with a swivel and low shot well held by Burton. Five minutes later, Brown made a meal of his defensive day job, misjudging a hoof forward to gift Hardie a run into the channel but the shot was deflected into the side-netting.
A sublime curling cross from Lonwijk perfectly picked out the corridor between goalkeeper and defence on the half-hour, and Eastwood pulled out a terrific reaction save to rescue Elliot Moore, who had stuck out a boot in hope.
The Pilgrims were also steadfast at the back, James Wilson covering one break down the right from Oxford and then Matete tracking back superbly to block a goalbound shot. Unfortunately, there was no stopping the equaliser from Brannagan, fizzing a low curling free-kick into the far corner from 22 yards.
The game restarted with Oxford pressing high up the pitch and Wilson had to find an excellent clearance from an awkward bouncing cross, quickly followed by Earley doing a good job in disrupting a break down the Oxford right wing.
In general, however, the second period was a scruffy affair, with Argyle unable to find their normal fluency in attacking areas but a clever ball around the corner from Azaz did lead to a free-kick, Mumba bundled over in a dangerous position.
From that innocuous exchange, the Pilgrims regained the lead. Azaz flashed over the set-piece, which caused chaos and was recycled by Sam Cosgrove for Earley to poke it into the net from close range.
Argyle immediately freshened up the troops for the final quarter, Jordan Houghton and Callum Wright replacing Azaz and Matete but it was an Oxford sub, Tyler Smith, who had a shot on the spin that thankfully lacked the power to trouble Burton.
After the goal and a brief flurry of activity, the game returned to a scrappy state, with Argyle working tirelessly to prevent their hosts from building any momentum, as Joe Edwards and Ben Waine replaced Cosgrove and Mumba for the final 15 minutes.
The Pilgrims did restore some quality with a fabulous flicked pass from Butcher finding Wright for a fierce drive from a difficult angle, beaten away by the fists of Eastwood. James Bolton for Earley was the final Pilgrim change.
Argyle played out the closing minutes with admirable efficiency and struck one final blow, Hardie steering a class finish into the bottom corner after a swift counter.
Oxford United: 13 Simon Eastwood; 2 Sam Long, 3 Brandon Fleming (17 James Henry 80), 5 Elliot Moore, 8 Cameron Brannagan, 14 Lewis Bate, 16 Ciaron Brown, 18 Marcus McGuane (10 Sam Baldock 80), 22 Kyle Joseph, 27 Tyler Goodrham (23 Josh Murphy 73), 30 Yanic Wildschut (19 Tyler Smith 66). Substitutes (not used): 21 Ed McGinty (gk), 4 Stuart Findlay, 20 Ateef Konate.
Booked: McGuane 62, Fleming 64
Argyle: 25 Callum Burton; 3 Macaulay Gillepshey, 5 James Wilson (capt), 7 Matt Butcher, 9 Ryan Hardie, 16 Sam Cosgrove (23 Ben Waine 76), 17 Bali Mumba (8 Joe Edwards 76), 18 Finn Azaz (26 Callum Wright 66), 21 Nigel Lonwijk, 27 Saxon Earley (2 James Bolton 87), 28 Jay Matete (4 Jordan Houghton 66). Substitutes (not used): 32 Adam Parkes (gk), 10 Danny Mayor.
Booked: Matete 9, Lonwijk 43, Cosgrove 70, Earley 81, Burton 90
Attendance: 8,242 (1,490 from Argyle)
Referee: Alan Young