Sunday, 2 October 2016

Bolton Reaction

A brilliant second half performance provided Oxford United with their first away league victory of the season at Bolton.

FULL TIME: Bolton Wanderers 0-2 Oxford United

On the long trip to the Macron Stadium, I was feeling quite pessimistic (surprise, surprise). Despite a decent point on Saturday, a midweek defeat at Southend still left us with just one point on the road this season. However, as they say things can change very quickly in football...

It felt a little bit like deja vu watching the first half. We weren't playing badly but - just like on Saturday - the centre forward, who was Hemmings on this occasion, was left isolated at the top of the pitch. 

However, our problems in front of goal were nothing in comparison to Bolton's recent goalscoring woes. They'd only scored three goals in their previous seven games before yesterday and you could see why. They clearly lacked a finisher up front. Their best chance of the half came on 36 minutes. James Henry was played in after a slick passing move but the former Wolves man blazed over with a side-footed strike. 

Oxford had their fair share of the ball in the first half but didn't create too many clear cut opportunities. The best of the lot fell to Kane Hemmings, who was the only player who'd managed to find the net in an away league game prior to yesterday. A Chris Maguire free-kick on the stroke of half time was spilled by Mark Howard but he somehow managed to redeem himself by denying Hemmings' follow up effort. 

Marvin Johnson, who'd had a very quiet first half, was replaced by Alex MacDonald at the break and his industrious style was exactly what United needed. MacDonald went on with a point to prove after an indifferent start to the season. His extra energy in the final third swung the game in United's favour. 

In fact Michael Appleton got his tactics spot on in the second half, also introducing Wes Thomas and changing the formation to a traditional 4-4-2 which gave us more options in attack.

A criticism of having two up front that I've heard from some Oxford fans is that it leaves us too open defensively, however Charlie Raglan and co were having no issue dealing with Bolton's lifeless attack in the second half. 

The legs of Bolton's defenders were clearly tiring as the game grew on and they let their guard down on 75 minutes. Liam Sercombe's floating cross in from the left found Kane Hemmings in acres of space but he scuffed his shot into the grateful arms of Mark Howard.

United kept pushing for a winner and their perseverance paid off with a little under ten minutes remaining. MacDonald produced a superb ball which was perfect for an unmarked Thomas at the back post, who calmly slotted the ball away. 1-0 United.

This was a hammer-blow for Bolton who began to crumble. As the clock struck 90 minutes, United rubbed salt into Wanderers' wound by scoring a second. Moxey was caught dawdling on the ball, allowing Kane Hemmings to nick it off him and race towards goal. His shot towards the near post was parried by Howard but only as far as the incoming Maguire, who side-footed it into the net. 2-0. Game over.  

The final whistle was met with a chorus of boos from the Bolton faithful, who were understandably frustrated with their side's lacklustre performance.

I think it's fair to say that United deserved the three points. The introduction of MacDonald and Thomas was the difference in the second half. I hate to say I told you so but I have been saying for a few weeks now that we look far better going forward with two centre forwards on the pitch. It doesn't look like any of our strikers enjoy playing up front on their own and they all look far more comfortable with someone alongside them. 

Despite being a substitute, man of the match is going to Alex MacDonald this week. He brought an injection of energy to the frontline and caused Bolton's defence all sort of problems. He'll probably be used more sparingly this season with the additions of Marvin Johnson and Rob Hall in the wide areas but he's still an excellent option to bring off the bench, as he demonstrated yesterday.

The U's have climbed themselves up to 10th position, two points off the play-offs and things are looking rosy again. Next up in League One is Wimbledon at home on Sunday (urgh). We always beat them, don't we?

See you next week. Come on you yellows.