Monday, 4 April 2016

JPT Final Defeat Reaction

FULL TIME: Barnsley 3-2 Oxford United

I imagine that when your team loses a cup final you come out with an immeasurable sense of disappointment and sadness coursing through your veins, however I only felt pride walking out of Wembley Stadium yesterday.

Of course it's never nice to lose a game of football, especially one that I felt we played well in for large parts of the first half. However to reach the JPT final, having knocked out two higher league oppositions in the process - one of which being the old enemy - and then go toe to toe with one of the in-form teams in the Football League at one of the most famous sporting arenas in Europe is an admirable achievement from Oxford United.

We started the game really well and looked as if we were coping with the inevitable pressures that come when playing in a venue like Wembley far better than our Yorkshire counterparts. Danny Hylton was causing havoc up top and pulling Barnsley's defenders all over the place with a typically industrious and hard-working display. Barnsley showed glimpses of their quality in the first half with Winnall and Hammill combining to cause a couple dangerous moments but nothing that was too troublesome for Buchel and co.

We took a deserved lead through local lad Callum O'Dowda on 29 minutes. An accurate and well-flighted ball in from Alex MacDonald was nodded into the corner from the towering O'Dowda who'd snuck in at the far post. A joyous moment for nearly 34,000 travelling Oxford fans.

It soon turned sour in the second half as some strong words from Barnsley boss Paul Heckingbottom had clearly done the trick because within seven minutes of the restart, the Tykes were level. A hopeful cross into the box was diverted home by Dunkley under pressure from Winnall. It was a ball that should have just been mopped up easily but we switched off and as a result, Barnsley were back on level terms and had the wind in their sales. The difference in quality between the League One play-off chasers and ourselves started to become more and more apparent as the second half wore on and it seemed invetiable that Barnsley would score again.

That inevitability quickly became a reality as another defensive mishap allowed Barnsley to get their noses in front on 68 minutes. Hesitant defending from Oxford allowed Fletcher to flick a header on towards Ivan Toney, who had his shot blocked before the loose ball fell back to Ashley Fletcher who fired Barnsley into the lead for the first time.

United would have been back on level terms at 2-2 shortly after if it wasn't for an inspired piece of goalkeeping from Barnsley's Adam Davies to deny a close range effort from Liam Sercombe.

It looked as if it was all over for United six minutes later. I think defensively we could have done a bit more for the first two goals but there was nothing that anyone could have done about the third from Hammill. He carried the ball from the half way line, cut in and unleashed a delicious strike which curled into the top corner past a helpless Buchel. A wonderful piece of individual skill.

However, United carried on a similar trait that we've seen from them all season, reacting well to disappointment. Barnsley fans were still celebrating when Kemar Roofe dug out an excellent cross from the right which Hylton powered into the net. GAME ON!

Oxford pushed for an equaliser in the last ten minutes. We launched endless balls towards Waring and Bowery in a desperate attempt to salvage the final but it wasn't to be. Oxford would have to make do with the title of valiant losers on this occasion.

Post-match thoughts

A great effort. You couldn't have asked much more effort-wise from an Oxford team who desperately wanted to lift the paint pot aloft.

There were some negatives which as much as I'd like to, can't ignore in this blog post. For me, Michael Appleton should have made Jake Wright the first player to play at Wembley twice for Oxford United and allowed him to lead us out. There's no doubt that Dunkley has been superb for Oxford over the past few weeks but Wright's calmness in defence would have been a massive help for us in this particular game.

I was also slightly surprised to see MacDonald substituted so early, although I've heard rumours that he may have picked up a knock which would have been daft to risk.

There was no faulting the effort that Josh Ruffels put in but I couldn't help but feel there was a John Lundstram sized hole in the middle of the park. His long-range passing ability was definitely missed.

I could drive myself insane thinking about what we could have done differently but I think the real reason we lost is that Barnsley are better than us and it's as simple as that. We couldn't have given much more and despite the result, it was another day in this rollercoaster of a season that I felt immensely proud to support this great football club.