The Giant Killers

Subtitle

 

All time greatest F A cup giant killings

Number 57

 

Oxford United 3-2 Swansea City

Third Round: Sunday January 10th 2016

Kassam Stadium, Oxford

Attendance: 11,673

Scorers: Jefferson Montero {23}, Liam Sercombe {45-pen}, Kemar Roofe {49, 59}, Bafetimbi Gomis {66}

 

Britain was gripped by widespread floods, the bodies of former Eastenders actress, Sian Blake and her children were found at her London home, Justin Beiber became the first chart act ever to occupy the top three spots in the charts with Love Yourself at number one. Both the latest Star Wars episode and James Bond film, Spectre were virtually ignored by Bafta while the latest Television dramatisation of War & Peace was earning mixed reviews.

Times were good at Oxford United. In the twenty-two years since they last claimed a top flight scalp in the cup, their fans witnessed their fall from second tier club to losing their league status altogether in 2006 after forty-four years of membership. Life as a fifth tier team lasted four years before regaining their place in the Football League in 2010. By this stage they also called the Kassam Stadium their home, having vacated their Manor Ground in 2001 and gone through a period of severe financial difficulty.

Their five seasons back as a League two, fourth tier side had been largely a mid-table affair, only occasionally threatening to move out of the division in either direction. When the club passed into new ownership in the summer of 2014, manager Gary Waddock was relieved of his duties having lost seven of the eight games in his care, which had cost the U’s a play-off place.

The new men at the helm turned to experienced lower division coach, Michael Appleton to rebuild the side. Appleton’s own playing career, which included time at the highest level with Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion, was ended by a botched knee operation in the mid-90s, for which he would later receive over £1 million pounds in compensation for lost earnings.

On his arrival at the Kassam, Appleton set about building a team around club captain, Jake Wright, who’d spent five years journeying around lower division clubs before joining Oxford in 2010. He plundered the league for experienced lower division players, Danny Hylton and Joe Skarz from Rotherham, Sam Slocombe from Scunthorpe, Liam Sercombe from Exeter and Ryan Taylor from Portsmouth. Patrick Hoban arrived from the semi pros of Dundalk in the Republic of Ireland while Alex MacDonald was the player who’d come closest to playing in the Premier League when on the books of Burnley in 2009. Even then he was well adrift of the first team and was loaned out to Scottish top flight sides, Falkirk and Inverness before arriving at Oxford. John Lundstram and Kemar Roofe could tell similar stories from their time at Everon and West Brom respectively. Both players were well enough thought of to have been loaned out several times into the lower divisions but both were unable to convince their top flight employers that they had a future at their clubs, neither ever managing to make their respective first teams before making moves to Oxford permanent. Youngster, Callum O’Dowda came up from the youth team earlier in the season while loan deals brought the former Scottish International, Chris Maguire from Rotherham along with Johnny Mullins. George Baldock was also on loan from MK Dons.

Appleton’s squad was developing into the best Oxford team since losing their third tier status fifteen years earlier, having topped the table briefly in November and losing just three of their twenty-five league games. They lay third in the division with a four-point cushion over the sides outside the automatic promotion places. The FA cup had so far been sticky for the men from the Kassam Stadium. Ties against fifth tier Braintree and Forest Green had both proved tense and difficult before Oxford made it through both, the former after a replay. The U’s also had the two legged southern section final of the Football league trophy, a competition for third and fourth tier sides, to look forward to, with a place in the national final at Wembley at stake. A cup tie with Premier League Swansea added to an already highly exciting season.

The Swans were having a very difficult season in the top flight and lay outside the relegation zone by just two points. Their poor form cost Gary Monk his job as manager in December and former Swans legend, Alan Curtis was placed in charge, at least until the end of the season. His mission was clear. Keep Swansea in the top flight.

With a punishing and much criticised January programme of fixtures, in which the FA inexplicably decided to stage a full programme of Premier League fixtures in midweek after the third round, Curtis had to be cautious with his team selection. Ten of the side that lost 1-2 at Manchester United the previous weekend were rested for the trip to Oxford but long gone were the days when this would have been seen as disrespecting the cup. Premier League teams had to have strength in depth and Swansea were no different.

Jack Cork was the player retained and was joined by Premier League regulars Marvin Emnes, Jordi Amat, former England man, Jonjo Shelvey, Ecuadorian, Jefferson Montero and former French International Bafetimbi Gomis. Kyle Bartley, Matt Grimes and Gambia International Modou Barrow were all regular squad men while the tradition of using the second choice keeper in cup ties ensured Swedish International, Kristoffer Nordfeldt stepped in for regular custodian Fabianski. The inclusion of three Under 21 Internationals, Liam Shephard of Wales, Franck Tabanou of France and Stephen Kingsley of Scotland could hardly be called much of a gamble.

A packed Kassam was cranked up to boiling point when Oxford made a bright start to the game and forced a nervous Swansea onto the back foot in the early stages. Ryan Taylor came closest to breaking the deadlock when his header forced Nordfeldt into a good reaction save.

Failure to take their chances early on looked to have cost Oxford dear midway through the first half when Jefferson Montero burst through their defence, laid the ball off to Emnes who had the audacity to back heel back to the Ecuadorian whose own flick into the net rounded off an exquisite goal to deflate the three sided stadium.

On a weekend devoid of giant killings, this tie looked to be developing into a very similar pattern with much to admire about an Oxford side who played good Football but seemed unable to truly trouble the Swansea rear-guard.

That was until the stroke of half time when Maguire’s corner was partially cleared to Sercombe on the edge of the box. His shot was charged down to Johnny Mullins who forced a good stop out of Nordfeldt. Swansea were in a state of panic at the back as the ball was teed up for MacDonald who crumpled under a reckless challenge from Bartley to give away a penalty. TV replays showed Bartley hadn’t made contact but it was still a wild lunge that MacDonald had hurdled. It was a penalty won rather than a penalty given away and Liam Sercombe made no mistake when blasting his kick straight down the middle of the car park end goal as Nordfeldt committed himself.

Oxford deserved to be level at the break and they got the dream start to the second half when Kemar Roofe’s long range drive put them in front with their first major foray forward in the second half.

Swansea had to come at the Us for the first time in the game, leaving them exposed at the back and devastatingly, it was from their own corner that the tie slipped away from them. The dangerous in swinger hung on the edge of the six-yard box as a host of white shirts went for it and were all instantly taken out of the game as the ball was cleared to Maguire. Oxford now broke with a two on two situation and Maguire placed his pass perfectly to Roofe who shrugged off the attentions of the two frantically tracking Swans defenders before placing a shot, which Nordfelt did well to effect a save only to see that his deflection of the ball wasn’t enough to stop it looping into his goal.

 

{Kemar Roofe is congratulated by team mates after his second goal of the game- Image: Adrian Dennis-Getty}

 

Swansea needed a swift response if they were to hold any hope of saving the tie and received a lifeline in controversial circumstances when Bafetimbi Gomis laid a give and go with Jack Cork and appeared suspiciously offside when he got the ball back and slotted it past Slocombe to halve the deficit with still twenty-four minutes left on the clock.

There was no surprise that the game became recklessly stretched at this stage as Swansea knocked hard on Slocombe’s door to equalise while remaining highly vulnerable to an Oxford counter attack that would surely kill the tie if they secured a fourth goal. Jefferson Montero came closest to clawing the Swans level when his close range effort was parried well by Slocombe while Nordfeldt had to remain alert at the other end when his hands were stung by O’Dowda’s rising long range effort.

Referee, Kevin Friend delivered the relief of the Oxford fans with their team keeping Swansea at arm’s length to finally give the third round the cup shock it had so craved all weekend. The major reward for manager, Michael Appleton was a promise of 50% of the gate receipts to build on the exciting young team he had at his disposal. A delighted Appleton praised his side for the manner in which they beat Swansea, also stating that “We’ve got three or four players here that could play at a higher level.”

His counterpart Alan Curtis felt his changed line up looked rusty but was quick to point out they were still easily strong enough to have beaten Oxford. He had few complaints, stating “They deserved to win. The league was always going to be a priority but we wanted a good cup run and to get some momentum going. It’s a huge setback for the club.”

Both sides left the field facing a game in midweek that summed up their seasons to date. Swansea faced a relegation six pointer with fellow strugglers, Sunderland while Oxford prepared for the first leg of the League Trophy semi-final.

The Us gave themselves a great chance of going to Wembley when coming away from Millwall with a two goal advantage in the first leg of that trophy semi final while the quirks of the draw put them up against Championship Blackburn in the fourth round. The site you're currently reading has stood as a sole champion of Oxford's defeat of Blackburn back in 1964 as the greatest cupset of them all so naturally this raised a lot of debate before the tie. If the Blackburn players, or indeed fans felt there was any score to settle, it was done emphatically in a comfortable three goal victory.  

Oxford: 1:Sam Slocombe, 2:George Baldock, 5:johnny Mullins, 6:Jake Wright, 3:Joe Skarz, 11:Alex MacDonald {replaced by 15:Callum O'Dowda-71}, 8:Liam Sercombe, 18:John Lundstram, 28:Chris Maguire, 20:Ryan Taylor {replaced by 10:Danny Hylton-80}, 4:Kemar Roofe {replaced by 9:Patrick Hoban-80}. Manager: Michael Appleton

Swansea: 13:Kristoffer Nordfelt, 32:Liam Shephard, 27:Kyle Bartley, 2:Jordi Amat, 14:Franck Tabanou {replaced by 35:Stephen Kingsley-60}, 24:Jack Cork, 21:Matt Grimes {replaced by 58:Modou Barrow-76}, 11:Marvin Emnes, 8:Jonjo Shelvey, 20:Jefferson Montero, 18:Bafetimbi Gomis. Manager:Alan Curtis

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