Cheltenham Town v Oxford United match report and analysis
THIS was more like it from Cheltenham Town, despite them having to settle for the same result as the home match against Portsmouth a week earlier.
On that occasion they were fortunate to claim a point, but against unbeaten Oxford United Mark Yates’ side were desperately unlucky not to register a first home league win of the season.
Of far more significance than the result was the performance: Cheltenham looked like a strong, competitive and creative team for the first time this season over the course of 90 minutes.
There was still the now customary defensive aberration to dampen the mood, this time from the most unlikely of culprits in Steve Elliott, but there were far more positives than negatives to give Yates heart.
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The most pleasing aspects of an entertaining contest included the forward play of Terry Gornell and the recalled Byron Harrison and a much improved midfield display.
The front pair both scored and looked like a genuine strike partnership, causing all manner of problems for an Oxford defence shorn of injured skipper Jake Wright.
David Noble and Matt Richards showed their calibre in the centre of the pitch, with Russ Penn and Jermaine McGlashan either side.
Playing Penn anywhere other than the middle is not ideal, but his aggression and energy are valuable in any role and McGlashan is rediscovering form slowly but surely.
Debutant James Wilson had a sound game alongside Elliott at centre-half having arrived on loan from Bristol City for a month on the eve of the game.
There was very little wrong with the performance and it took Harrison only eight minutes to net his fourth goal of the campaign.
Gornell wrestled his way goal side of United’s defence and only a smart save from Ryan Clarke denied him, but the ball fell straight to Harrison who applied a simple finish.
It was Harrison’s first League goal for Cheltenham when he has been named in the starting line-up, with both previous goals coming after he joined the action from the bench.
The opening minutes saw one-way traffic towards Oxford’s goal and the excellent Richards brought the best out of Clarke, who reached to his left to parry.
A scramble ensued, with Harrison, Gornell and Noble wreaking havoc, but Oxford eventually cleared their lines for a corner.
Jermaine McGlashan went down in the box after 11 minutes, with Cheltenham appealing for a penalty, but referee David Phillips was not interested.
Oxford regained their composure and Johnny Mullins’ header was turned over acrobatically by Scott Brown in the 21st minute.
Centre-half Mullins wasted a good chance two minutes later, lifting an effort high over the bar when he was unmarked in the box.
But Oxford levelled in the 34th minute and it was the sort of goal that will give Yates nightmares.
Elliott tried to help a huge clearance from Clarke back to Brown with his head, but he missed it completely and Kitson was presented with one of the easiest goals he will ever score.
Cheltenham responded well to the setback in contrast to other matches this season, with Noble testing Clarke from outside the box before Keith Lowe crashed a header from Noble’s corner against the right post before half-time.
They continued in the same vein after the break and Gornell put Cheltenham 2-1 up in the 50th minute, following up after Sido Jombati’s low ball into the box was not dealt with by Oxford and Harrison’s effort was blocked.
Five minutes later Brown swatted away Andy Whing’s header, but he was beaten again in the 57th minute.
David Hunt’s corner was headed away by Elliott and Hunt’s second cross was nodded away by Gornell, but it fell straight to Mullins, who finished well from 12 yards inside the bottom left corner.
Noble tried his luck with a chip that dropped just over the bar, but Brown had to save at his near post from Asa Hall as both teams looked for a winner.
Penn tried to lob Clarke, who stretched to reach it and Cheltenham screamed for another penalty in the 84th minute when a shot from Gornell hit Mullins’ hand, but it would have been harsh on the defender.
Cheltenham were applauded off and if they continue to play with this vigour and key partnerships carry on developing, a swift climb up the table is probable.
Cheltenham Town: @S Brown; K Lowe, J Wilson, S Elliott, S Jombati; R Penn, D Noble (J Taylor 89), M Richards, J McGlashan; T Gornell, B Harrison. Subs not used: S Deering, C Roberts, Z Kotwica, A Vincent, S Gillespie
Oxford United: @R Clarke; D Hunt, J Mullins, M Raynes, T Newey; S Davies (D Smalley 59), A Whing, D Rose, A Hall; D Kitson, A Potter (R Williams 74). Subs not used: T Marsh, S Jalal, M Bevans, C O’Dowda, J Ruffels
Referee: @David Phillips
Attendance: @3,906 (1,346 away)
Star man: @David Noble