Oxford United 1 Bradford City 0
The Bantams fell to their first defeat of the season with Chris Maguire’s injury time free kick proving enough to settle a very closely contested fixture. Billy Clarke missed from the penalty spot midway through the first half and Jordy Hiwula missed a gilt-edged chance in each half to leave the hosts very fortunate to be unscathed. Oxford looked a threat throughout the second half and Maguire clinched it in additional time; Romain Vincelot went down right at the death in the penalty area to leave the referee with a huge decision to make and he didn’t see it as a penalty before sounding the final whistle.
Oxford started the game on the front foot with City taking some time to get out of first gear; a Romain Vincelot slip in the opening minute or so almost allowed Chris Maguire a sight of goal and a few minutes later, he threatened once more. Phil Edwards produced a cross-field pass which found the former Sheffield Wednesday winger in the box and his dipping shot at goal had to be pushed away alertly by Colin Doyle.
Maguire was proving a real threat, beginning the game partnering former Bantams loanee Wes Thomas in a front two and after once more connecting with an Edwards delivery, he rose well to power a header towards goal which fortunately proved to be too close to the grasp of Doyle who held relatively comfortably.
The first real concern of the afternoon for Oxford came down City’s left hand side. James Meredith produced some real athleticism to get a run on Alex MacDonald before putting the ball through his legs and running around him; his dangerous low delivery towards Jordy Hiwula was diverted crucially by imposing central defender, Chey Dunkley.
A few minutes later and City were awarded a chance to open the scoring from the penalty spot; Nicky Law’s low cross was cushioned into the path of Timothee Dieng by Hiwula and the French midfielder was sent sprawling to the ground by Edwards. It looked a very dubious call by the referee and fortunately for the hosts, Billy Clarke saw an attempt rattle the crossbar.
On the half hour mark, City spurned a real chance to take the lead. Josh Cullen’s clipped ball into the box found it’s way into the path of Hiwula but he lashed the ball over the bar from 12 yards out; he probably had more time than he realised and at this point Stuart McCall’s men really should have had the ball in the net on at least one occasion.
Shortly afterwards, Wes Thomas had his first opportunity of the game. Joe Rothwell picked out Alex MacDonald in the box with an incisive pass through a crowd of players and his clever back heel found Thomas; about 8 yards out he looked to face goal and have a shot but his attempt was blocked importantly by Stephen Darby. It was to be Thomas’ last involvement as he walked off injured to be eventually replaced by Marvin Johnson.
The first chance of the second half belonged to the lively Maguire; he picked up a hopeful ball forward and moved into a pocket of space before seeing a low drive from 25 yards out go narrowly wide of the target.
Oxford started the half brightly as they did the first and after James Meredith made way for Matthew Kilgallon through injury, the latter let Alex MacDonald get goal side of him but he couldn’t make enough contact with the ball inside the six yard box to force the ball past Doyle. Despite that lapse in concentration, Kilgallon performed capably at left back in his first league appearance of the season.
City were proving guilty of spurning opportunities once they had came their way and Hiwula wasted another gilt-edged chance to give the visitors the lead. Mark Marshall burst forward on the counter attack and he clipped a ball forward into the box which was latched onto by Vincelot who had powered forward to join the attack; he drilled a cross to the far post where Hiwula made a bit of a mess of the opening - he looked certain to score.
After City’s penalty in the first half, Oxford wanted their own and when Maguire went down in the box under the close watch of Nathaniel Knight-Percival, the yellow shirts were appealing strongly. The referee, David Webb wasn’t interested and then a minute later Ryan Taylor saw a shot from 20 yards out held onto by Doyle with the home side looking to knock on the door.
The second half was eerily similar to the first in the sense that Oxford started it the brighter before City grew stronger as time went on, although not quite as strong as they grew in the latter stages of the first half. Joe Ruffels, forward from left back, hammered a volley a yard or so wide of the target after the ball had broken into his path after determined work by the home skipper, John Lundstram.
Marc McNulty was introduced as a second half sub along with Filipe Morais as Stuart McCall sensed an opportunity to go and win a very closely fought contest, but his first contribution was to lash a cross-shot comfortably over the bar after he’d been picked out by Nicky Law.
In truth for the majority of the second half, it was Oxford who looked the more threatening of the two teams and substitute Kane Hemmings sliced a shot wide from 12 yards out after Ryan Taylor’s downward header had dropped into his path and then Law had to make a crucial intervention to stop Dunkley’s header from Maguire’s corner, making it’s way into the path of Hemmings inside the six yard box.
The game really could have gone either way and with time running out Dieng headed wide at the far post after not quite getting his body shape correct when looking to attack a Filipe Morais cross into the mix after Law had once again carved Oxford open in the middle of the pitch.
You always felt there could be a sting in the tail and so it proved in the first minute of additional time. Vincelot was booked for pulling back Lundstram just outside the box and the impressive Maguire stepped up to curl the resulting free kick into the far corner of the goal past a rooted Colin Doyle.
In the very final seconds of the game, Vincelot went down in the box amongst a melee of players as he looked to face goal with the ball in his path but the referee waved away a whole-hearted appeal much to the frustration of the City players who questioned the decision just after the final whistle was sounded. Vincelot was particularly livid with the decision as the Bantams headed back north licking their wounds after suffering league defeat number one of the 2016/17 season.