Oxford Utd 0 Harriers 1
Venue: The Kassam Stadium
away fans: 180
Russell scores winner at the Kassam
Simon Russell grabbed the winning goal just five minutes from time in this exciting game at Oxford. A game in which we missed a penalty and James Constable had two goals struck off through offside.
There was a surprise name on the team sheet before the game with Steve Taylor replacing the, so far, ever present Scott Bevan. It later transpired that Scott had picked up a calf injury in Saturdays game against Northwich and Mark Yates didn't want to worsen the injury with such an important Cup game coming up this Saturday.
The rest of the team remained un-changed with Jake Sedgemore on the bench as the spare keeper if needed. Also making it to the bench for the first time in a while was Michael McGrath.
The Harriers were the first to threaten in the very first minute when Iyseden Christie and Constable both went for the same ball following a Jonny Harkness free kick. The ball was cleared to safety by the former Rushden man, Phil Gilchrist.
Oxford are a team stuffed full with Rushden rejects with Billy Turley in goal, Robert Duffy up front and Andy Burgess on the bench.
The pressure in the early stages was all coming from the Harriers and another Harkness free kick made the home side panic as Simon Russell gave early warning of what was to come as he un-leashed a ferocious volley that hit a U's defender. The ball fell for Constable who sent a return shot just over the bar.
On twenty minutes Oxford had their first attempt on goal when Duffy tried to lob Steve Taylor but the rookie keeper managed to get himself to full stretch to push it around the post for a fruitless corner. Seconds later another shot came in, this time from Dan Rose, that went just outside the post.
On thirty four minutes the Harriers were awarded a penalty after Christie burst into the box and was bought down by Rufus Brevett. The referee pointed to the spot immediately and Christie stepped up to take it. Annoyingly Christie decided that this one would be a gentle roll along the floor in an attempt to send Turley to sleep but the much derided keeper saved it easily.
The mistake didn't stop Christie from playing though and a minute later he had set up Constable into a great position. He sent the ball into the net but the linesman deemed him to be, oh so slightly, offside and it didn't stand.
With the half drawing to a close Harkness found himself being admonished by the ref for a shirt pull on Yemi Odubade that stopped the Oxford man making a run down the flank. Harkness was booked for the offence and the whistle went for a break soon after.
HT: 0 - 0
Christie was the first out of the blocks at the start of the second half as he sent in a cross shot that had Turley scrabbling to push away and then almost straight away Russell sent in another warning shot after great interplay between himself, Russ Penn and Constable.
In the fifty fifth minute Constable scored again, and again the goal was ruled out for offside. Ironically the Oxford manager, Jim Smith, was sent to sit in the stands after complaining to the linesman about an offside decision against one of his own players. The officials didn't see the funny side of being offered a pair of glasses.
Immediately after that incident Oxford made a mass change to their line-up with Duffy, Rose and Martin Foster going off to be replaced by one time Harriers target Chris Hargreaves, Eddie Anaclet and Burgess.
Yates also bought on a sub with Brian Smikle coming on and Harkness going the other way.
James Constable was sent crashing to the ground with a leg injury and we were awarded a free kick. Instead of getting treatment for Constable first the referee told Jeff Kenna to take the free kick before the trainer could come on. Kenna saw Turley off his line and sent the kick over his head but Turley somehow managed to get back to it just in time.
With the fresh legs on the field Oxford looked a different side and we could have gone two goals down in as many minutes. First a Burgess corner was played to the far post where, as usual, there was acres of room for Odubade to amazingly head wide from such a short distance.
The next close call came from Odubade again when his shot was cleared off the line by Mark Creighton after Taylor fumbled and dropped the ball.
Iyseden Christie was replaced by Luke Reynolds on seventy two minutes, probably with the intention of saving Christie for the Saturday visit to Northwich.
With a couple of shots from Constable and Smikle and a failed penalty shout for Oxford the game was starting to look more and more like ending goal less. That was until Simon Russell had other thoughts.
With just five minutes of the game remaining Russell pulled a rabbit out of the hat to send the 180 Harriers fans at the Kassam delirious and the thousands at home listening on the radio into raptures. Gavin Hurren took a throw-in into the area that was cleared by an Oxford defender but only as far as Simon. With startling accuracy he sent in a volley that flew into the top corner and left Silly Billy rooted to the spot.
With all guns firing Oxford knew that they had to commit to attack to gain a point at least so Jake Sedgemore was sent on to bolster the Harriers defence for the remaining few minutes.
The only real threat to our points came from a Brevett strike that flew over the bar almost with the blast of the final whistle.
The result gives us another three points to keep us in touch with the play-offs but even though we are back to winning ways again it seems that we will have to rely on teams above us dropping points while we gain some.