Oxford kicked off their season in style with a tense victory over League One Bournemouth on penalties. It was a fairly even match with relatively few chances and both sides seemed happy to give their opponents plenty of time on the ball – something which always tends to benefit United’s style of play.
Bournemouth started the brighter of the two teams and certainly looked at least a league higher than the hosts in the early exchanges, with Wes Thomas first going close from a cross and then Marc Pugh stinging Clarke’s hands with a vicious shot from the edge of the area. Many of the Cherries team will have been familiar to Oxford fans, having previously impressed at the Kassam in League Two in recent years – Lewis Grabban (Rotherham), Matt Tubbs (Crawley) and Wes Thomas (Cheltenham) have all had success in the fourth tier before moving to Dean Court.
Oxford held on after soaking up some early pressure as they gradually grew into the game and could have taken the lead when Damian Batt did well to find space in the penalty area and managed to get a shot away, which was held by Bournemouth goalkeeper Shwan Jalal. As the first half drew to a close it was Oxford who looked most likely to score as first Chapman and then Rigg struck against the keeper in the final action before half-time. Potter in particular was looking strong in his first competitive match since January and he was a constant thorn in the side of the Bournemouth defence.
The second half started fairly evenly with penalty shouts for both sides but referee Darren Drysdale waved away all protests as the game began to get scrappy, with some heavy challenges raining in from both sides. The match began to open up in the later stages as players tired and Bournemouth looked dangerous on the break, with both Thomas and Pugh being denied by some last ditch tackles. There was a heart-in-mouth moment for Oxford in the dying stages as Marc Pugh’s fearsome drive from the edge of the area cleared the crossbar by a matter of inches. Pugh was by far Bournemouth’s best player on the night and he terrorised Batt repeatedly on the left wing before similarly worrying the United defence in an attacking midfield role.
However, the best chance of the match came from Adam Chapman. Oxford were awarded a free kick out wide on the left and as the players gathered in the penalty area for the inevitable cross Chapman instead caught Jalal off-guard with a rasping shot, which was just tipped over the bar. Chapman was another player who impressed for Oxford this evening, putting in a very assured performance just in front of the defence.
With the match still goalless at the end of the 90 the game went into extra time and the tired players began to turn their attentions towards penalties. There were still half-chances for both teams, but it was clear by this point that the only way these two sides were going to be separated was from the penalty spot.
Craddock, Smalley and Rigg each stepped up and slotted their penalties away coolly, but were matched kick-for-kick by their Bournemouth counterparts. However, Marc Pugh, who had been so impressive for Bournemouth this evening, saw his spot-kick saved by penalty master Ryan Clarke and Chapman and Batt finished the job to send United through to the second round of the League Cup.