For one elderly gentleman it was too much. Briefly turning his back to the action as Oxford’s players showcased the Blue Square Premier play-off trophy to their delirious supporters, his eyes welled up with tears.
Oxford, a club steeped in tradition but languishing in non-league football, were back in the big time. “The club shouldn’t be in this position,” insisted victorious manager Chris Wilder. “It can never be in this position again.”
Wilder’s argument drew on the club’s “history and tradition.” But what is more tangible is the present. And after this exhilarating performance brought to a close a rollercoaster season, few would begrudge Oxford their newly recovered league status. Certainly not York City manager Martin Foyle, who conceded that his side were “a bit behind Oxford in terms of quality and strength.”
The start was feisty and open, the teams well-matched. A freak goal nearly materialised in the fifth minute, when Chris Carruthers’ apparently harmless ball bounced awkwardly, leaving Oxford ‘keeper Clarke scrambling to claw it over the bar.
Oxford, though, inspired by man-of-the-match Adam Chapman, began to assert themselves. Chapman, twenty, is currently on bail after pleading guilty to causing death by dangerous driving. Wilder paid tribute to his mental strength, adding, “for a young lad to dictate the game like that at Wembley shows exceptional talent.” Indeed, always hungry for the ball, Chapman’s through balls to his team’s rapid front three caused York’s backline endless difficulties.
This exact formula led to Oxford’s opener. James Constable, charging to the left of the area, beat goalkeeper Ingham to the ball, and flicked it inside. Midson out-jumped Meredith to direct the ball to Matt Green on the edge of the area. Green controlled with his chest, swivelled and curled home on the half-volley. Ingham was stranded, but this was relevant only in that it spared him the effort of trying to save an unstoppable shot.
York’s response was immediate, as Rankine’s flick-on from a Purkiss throw caused havoc in Oxford’s six-yard area before the ball was turned away by crowd favourite Mark ‘the Beast’ Creighton.
The York pressure, though, was fleeting, and alleviated by Oxford’s clinical second. Constable latched onto a clearance and fed Green. Meredith intervened but could only direct his header back to Constable, who drove his twenty-sixth of the season low into the net.
Oxford now began to swagger, and a corner resulting from a scintillating move should have led to a third goal. But, with the net gaping, Midson somehow contrived to hit the post. York were thrown. Lawless’ challenge on Tonkin was reckless. Crosses from the right from Purkiss, Carruthers and Lawless were repeatedly repulsed by the towering Creighton.
Persistence with this tactic, though, yielded fruit in bizarre fashion. Under no pressure, the Oxford Supporters’ Player of the Year, Clarke, allowed Purkiss’ cross to slip out of his hands and over the line. Three minutes before half-time, York had been gifted a lifeline.
The second half was frantic, as York pushed forward. An equaliser should have come in the fifty-fourth minute but Rankine, capitalising on Wright’s error, dragged his shot wide. This lack of composure was typical of York’s attacking play; after Lawless, Gash and Barrett combined beautifully, the latter lashed his effort high and wide.
As Foyle threw on attacking players, Wilder switched to a more conservative 4-4-2. But his fresh substitutes always looked dangerous on the counter- attack, and a swift move between them ended the contest. Potter, picking the ball up in his own half, drove at the sole defender before sliding it to Deering. The latter’s return pass was beautifully weighted, and Potter calmly slotted it home in front of Oxford’s ecstatic support.
Oxford United are back. Back where they belong.
Ref: Michael Naylor
********** The challenge ahead
League Two is a different beast to the Conference and Oxford are going to have to be on top form to come out on top against these teams:
Bradford City: boasting one of the largest stadia in the division; playing in front of such a crowd will be tough for a team used to 6,000 spectators per game.
Morecambe: it looks unlikely that they’ll reach the play-off final this year after being thumped by Dagenham & Redbridge 6-0 but expect them to come back fighting next year.
Aldershot: another team who look unlikely to make it up through the playoffs, led by the wily Dillon they will prove tough opposition next season to the new boys.