Last week I was suggesting that cup ties are decided by the quality of finishing, with the higher league sides often second best but prevailing because they take their chances. when I wrote that, Gresley were the victims and Wrexham were the beneficiaries. Well, now we know how it feels to be on the other end of the deal.
Wrexham were plainly the better side in the first half and you could probably say the same for much of the second half, except for its opening quarter of an hour. Actually, make that the decisive opening quarter of an hour: Oxford had the undisputed better of the match for about a sixth of its course, but unlike their opponents they made it count. That’s how you define a superior side.
Oxford were better than they were against Gateshead, when they really were fortunate to come through courtesy of a laughable penalty decision and, once more, the home side’s inability to turn domination into goals. However, certain traits of their performance in the north east were present again. Most notably, their midfield fell excessively deep, allowing Wrexham’s dominant trio of Clarke, Keates and Harris far too much time to operate. There was a feeling of inevitability about Clarke’s well taken goal: once more Keates was allowed time and space to deliver a killer ball, and if you let him have that too often he’ll punish you.
Johnny Hunt has been the focus of the media analysis of the match though, after he missed that glorious chance to put us two up just after the break. It’s ironic to see this after I overdosed on blogging about him last weekend, but too much shouldn’t be made of it: Popes pray, dictators cull,players miss chances. There were other key factors in the defeat anyway: our difficulty in handling Scott Davies’ long throws for one.
The second goal was a sucker punch, not only because it followed so swiftly on from James Constable’s opener, but because it came from an avenue we really ought to have dealt with better.
Another decisive factor was Constable though. His diagonal runs always offered Oxford an outlet as he ran into the space we leave behind our full backs when we push on. Where his strike partner Kitson was strangely nonchalant when not directly involved-the League Two Berbatov!-Constable was industrious and his excellent finish was the reward. He’s closing in on the club scoring record, and with such crisp shooting you can see why.
Andy Morrell did his best to make things happen, but the second half tide had turned crucially against his side until Oxford were forced to sit on their lead. The switch of Andy Boshop and Brett Ormerod at the start of the half didn’t really work as Ormerod wasn’t equipped to take advantage of diagonals from wide of centre positions like Bishop was- he needed the sort of service Constable was getting, something to run onto to. Morrell addressed this, and ended up trying to throw the kitchen sink at the end with a 4-4-2 which frequently featured an overlapping goalkeeper in injury time. But it wasn’t to be: there were plenty of positives to take out of the performance, but the outcome showed that no matter how well you play, football’s actually all about the sharp end.