Saturday, February 26, 2011

Defensive master class earns three points at Oxford

Hereford United put further distance between themselves and the drop zone with a battling performance and a pair of poacher's goals from Stuart Fleetwood at either end of today's match at The Kassam Stadium recording their fourth away win on the trot.

Manager Pitman tweaked his team by bringing back Janos Kovacs after his suspension and moving Harry Pell to a wide-right role while Richard Rose stepped forward into his holding midfield position with Rob Purdue missing from the squad completely.

The game started tentatively with the hosts attacking the missing stand end. Joe Colbeck was guilty of an aimless punt forward and Townsend was on the receiving end of a naughty elbow in the mouth from Constable but Colbeck made amends soon after when he delivered a fine cross from the left and Fleetwood stole between two defenders to guide the ball home from close range with less than ten minutes on the clock.

Fleets with Rose and Colbeck after the first goal

Colbeck and Oxford's MacLean got their legs tangled resulting in a free kick to The U's and Constable again displayed his unpleasant side by encouraging the referee to produce a card. Fortunately this referee was not for obliging and when Constable persisted a second time he found himself on the end of a stern lecture. The former Skiddlington Farriers striker eventually resorted to playing football but the covering Richard Rose cleared his cross from the right comfortably. Then Ryan Green had to be alert to chest away a dangerous cross from Heslop as The Bulls were put under pressure and only able to make occasional excursions into enemy territory.

Asa Hall screwed a twenty-yarder well wide and Tom Craddock saw his effort from a narrow angle beaten away by Bartlett before a misunderstanding between home defender Worley and keeper Clarke presented Joe Colbeck with an empty net but his lob from near the halfway line failed to beat the recovering keeper. The Bulls continued to defend with two disciplined banks of four and were rarely allowed to break forward. When they did, Heath and Kenny Lunt combined to release Fairhurst down the left and his deep cross was finger-tipped away by Clarke as Harry Pell shaped to meet the ball at the back post.

HT Oxford 0 Bulls 1

Colbeck collected a yellow card early in the second period despite appearing to make clean contact with the ball. The Bulls again found themselves having to defend stoutly but for all their possession and probing, Oxford still failed to genuinely threaten Bartlett's goal apart from pot shots from outside the box. The hosts play became more and more predictable with moves starting deep on the left through Wright and moving across midfield for the overlapping Damian Batt to loft the ball into the box where Kovacs and Townsend mopped up anything that got past the industrious Rose. Kenny Lunt fashioned a ball up to the marauding Fairhurst who released Fleetwood into the box but Clarke easily collected the striker's effort. Then The Bulls were caught defending too deep and the goal had a charmed life as shots rained in with defenders throwing themselves into the path of the ball before it was eventually lifted high over the bar by Worley from just six yards.

As in the first half, the hosts had the lions share of play and kept The Bulls pinned back in their own half for long periods but apart from one shot which crashed off the crossbar and a weak effort from Constantine that Bartlett had ample time to collect, they didn’t really look like breaking their duck.

Chris Wilder threw on three replacements to freshen the attack but The Bulls were in no mood to concede as Kovacs, Townsend and Green all got in timely clearances before the visitors finished the game off in extra time with a classic breakaway goal. Fairhurst picked up the ball wide left on the halfway line and sprinted at the stretched home defence sidestepping a couple of challenges before slipping it through to Pell who was storming up the right flank. The Bristol youngster saw his first effort blocked by Clarke and his second attempt blazed across the goalmouth to where Fleetwood was waiting at the back post to gratefully tap home.

Hereford saw out the final couple of minutes to send the 602 Bulls fans from the very impressive total of 7807 away chuckling about a job well done.

Captain Kovacs gesturing to supporters after the final whistle with Bartlett lifting Pell behind him

FT Oxford 0 Bulls 2

Hereford: - Bartlett, Green, Kovacs, Townsend, Heath, Pell, Rose, Lunt, Colbeck, Fleetwood, Fairhurst. Subs unused: Hoult, Preston, Stratford, McQuilkin, Featherstone, Thomas, Baheng.

Oxford: - Clarke, Batt, Wright, Worley, Tonkin, Heslop, McLaren, Hall (Potter 70), Maclean (Midson 81), Constable, Craddock (Hackney 70). Subs unused: Sangare, Clist, Eastwood, Payne.

The opening goal apart, after fifteen to twenty minutes most Bull’s fans were probably thinking we’d be lucky to come away with anything this afternoon but as the game progressed it became apparent that for all their huffing and puffing, Oxford weren't actually creating clear chances. The back four looked mighty impressive and were well protected by a solid deep sitting midfield while Fairhurst and Fleetwood chased and harried up top. Some would argue we stole it, I would argue it was a performance that deserved the result. We were better at defending than they were at attacking. Job Done. See you next Saturday.