Sunday, 24 February 2013

MATCH REPORT: Oxford United 2-1 Newcastle United

Oxford's FA Women's Cup dream continued today in incredible fashion as the ladies dumped Women's Premier League side Newcastle out of the cup in their first ever fourth round tie at the Kassam, in front of a crowd of more than 700. After knocking out Charlton Athletic away from home in the previous round they proved that it was no fluke with a deserved victory over higher league opposition yet again.

The yellows, who were clearly up for the occasion, dominated the opening exchanges and took an early lead when Natasha Caswell's inch-perfect through ball found Katie Stanley who coolly knocked the ball over the advancing goalkeeper. And they doubled it soon after when Caswell struck a speculative shot from the edge of the area which squirmed under Newcastle goalkeeper Laura Wareham.

It was a powerful start from Oxford who blitzed the opposition during the opening 25 minutes, with the ball rarely leaving the Newcastle half. The lightning-quick Isi Meade excelled in her wing-back position, causing her opposite number no end of trouble (she reminded me of a left-sided Damian Batt), and Tash Caswell was pulling the strings in the middle of the park with a number of probing balls for the Oxford strikers to chase.

Newcastle did come into the game slightly midway through the half and there was a hearts-in-mouths moment when a corner caused chaos in the Oxford box with the ball bouncing off the inside of the post before being cleared in the ensuing goalmouth scramble.

But Oxford again reasserted their grip on the game as top-scorer Lauren Allison caused problems for the Newcastle defence and the side poured forward looking for a third. That goal unfortunately never came but the ladies left the field to a standing ovation after a first half in which they had thoroughly outplayed their higher league opposition. Most impressively, they proved that neat passing football can be played on the bog at the Kassam Stadium.

Newcastle, as might be expected, came back into the match in the second half. They pulled a goal back early on when Oxford failed to deal with a free kick into the box and Jess Havelock was on hand to tap in from the rebound. This is usually the part where the plucky underdog crumbles under the pressure as the higher league side begin to pile on the pressure but Oxford maintained their composure admirably and continued to play their game, marshalled by the impressive captain Sahara Osborne-Ricketts.

There were still a few nervous moments to come and Newcastle certainly saw more of the ball than they had in the first 45, but the better chances again fell the way of the hosts. Another superb through ball from Caswell set Allison free but she somehow managed to scoop the ball over the bar when one-on-one with the keeper.

Oxford hit the bar twice and Caswell went close numerous times in the closing stages, which would have added extra gloss to the result and arguably would have better reflected the balance of play. Although it felt as though the match was dragging on forever it rarely felt as if United's lead was in any real danger and they saw the game out comfortably, sparking wild celebrations on the pitch.

The result means that Oxford – the lowest-ranked side in the competition by quite a stretch – are among the final 16, with the chance to play a professional Women's Super League side in the fifth round. The draw is made at one o'clock on Monday afternoon.

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