Both teams came into this game with excellent wins in midweek. The U’s held off a below-par Plymouth side at the Abbey to get a deserved 2-0 win, whilst the other U’s came away from Gresty Road with a crucial 1-0 win against Crewe which consolidated their place within the play-off places.
Before the match a touching tribute was made to the late Joey Beauchamp, Oxford’s greatest ever player. Wreaths were laid behind the goal by his young daughters, banners were unfurled and a minute’s applause was held in honour of him. A tear-jerking moment for everyone in attendance, and personally a moment that will stick with me for a very long time.
The game commenced with Oxford firmly on the front foot. Their patient passing game caused the U’s problems from the first whistle. Although against the run of the play, it was Cambridge who struck first. A scramble in the box after a whipped cross into the box fell to an unmarked Sam Smith who poked it past the Oxford keeper to make it 1-0. His 16th of the season, the ex-Oxford striker’s celebration caused a stir with the home fans on social media after the game.
The left side of the United XI looked shaky throughout the game and it was made evident when Ryan Williams was able to cut inside freely to whip a dangerous ball into the box midway through the first half. Calls for offside were made when Matty Taylor tapped home after evading Jubril Okedina, but as a common theme in the first half, the linesman kept his flag down and it was 1-1 to Oxford.
With two yellow cards to their name and a deserving goal, Cambridge went into halftime knowing that three points could be achievable but aware that Oxford were up for the fight in front of a packed crowd at the Kassam.
The second half started just as the first half did. Oxford firmly on the front foot, flooding the pitch with their possession-based play. But against the odds it was Cambridge who went ahead again. A delightful through ball by the energetic Wes Hoolahan fell into the path of Sam Smith who fired home, this time celebrating in front of the 646-strong Amber Army.
As the U’s looked to bury the game with a third, Oxford grabbed their equaliser with Cameron Brannagan notching yet another goal in what has been an incredible season for the former Liverpool man. Soon after, Sam Baldock put Oxford in front for the first time in the match finishing off an impressive team move.
With the game on a knife edge, Mark Bonner went for the jugular. Loanee Lorent Tolaj and the returning Shilow Tracey were brought on to influence proceedings but there was not enough time for them to impact the game. Deep into stoppage time, Brannagan popped up again to seal the three points for Oxford on what was an emotional day at the Kassam.
We can go away disappointed that United couldn’t quite get a point from this game after going ahead twice, but it just wasn’t meant to be. There’s more to life than a football match, this week has definitely proved it. RIP Joey Beauchamp.
MOTM: Sam Smith’s crucial two goals kept the U’s in the game, however Wes Hoolahan rolled back the years with an exceptional performance. Plaudits to Lankester and Digby too.
Soundtrack of the Match: For Those I Love – I Have A Love
United: Mitov; Williams, Okedina, Sherring, Dunk (Tolaj); Digby, May (O’Neil); Lankester (Tracey), Hoolahan, Brophy; Smith.