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Oxford United 1 Forest Green Rovers 0
Oxford United continued the fine start to their debut season at Combination level with a 1-0 home win over previously unbeaten Forest Green Rovers.
The victory, though narrow, was fully deserved as the U's went close on many occasions to adding to Catherine Beaver's 43rd minute header. As it was, they were forced to endure a nervy final few minutes with the hard working Rovers pressing for an equaliser.
The first half was an even affair with both teams moving the ball fluently to create openings. Forest Green looked dangerous every time they got the ball wide to either Ella Hitchcox on the right and Annie Martin on the left. Hitchcox drove testing crosses into the area whereas Martin tended to cut inside onto her right foot hitting three shots on goal, the last of which had home keeper Hannah Cox at full stretch as it just grazed the bar.
Meanwhile, Oxford's Natasha Caswell had the first of several near misses, seeing her shot deflected wide. Holly Pickett curled an effort just wide while Sian Riley-Phillips chipped just over Grace Purnell's bar, then shot low across the face of goal, all this inside the first twenty minutes of a lively encounter.
As the break approached, Caswell hit the woodwork twice in a minute, firstly the bar from 20 yards then the left hand post from closer range. Finally, the breakthrough came, from a left wing cross by Sahara Osborne-Ricketts which was met by the run of Beaver, nodding home from close range.
Oxford started the second half with their best spell of the match, carving out several chances. Beaver picked out Caswell for a diving header inches wide on 48 minutes, then Lauren Allison tricked her way clear, only to be thwarted by a fine Purnell save. Caswell sent a sliding effort into the side netting at the far post from a Riley-Phillips cross as the home team had the Forest Green defence at full stretch for fully 25 minutes.
The inability to find a second goal whilst on top meant that Oxford were vulnerable to a Rovers fightback. In the final twenty minutes, the visitors became more and more dangerous again. Charlotte King and Kirsty Richardson started to dominate midfield and find wide players to create pressure. The Oxford defence held firm, however, and it was not until the 90th minute that keeper Cox was forced to make a difficult save, leaping to turn away a looping shot for a corner.
Oxford are tucked into second place behind Keynsham Town with four wins in a row after losing away at the leaders on the opening day. They played fluent passing football going forward but were solid at the back, having been tested quite strongly at times in this match by their opponents, who will surely also be challenging at the top of the South West Combination table.
Oxford United: Hannah Cox, Hayley Bennett, Isi Mead, Stephanie Mobbs, Sahara Osborne-Ricketts, Nell Boxall, Lauren Allison, Catherine Beaver, Sian Riley-Phillips, Natasha Caswell, Holly Pickett. Subs: Nicole Miles, Ana Pilkington, Lindsay Pinker.
Forest Green Rovers: Grace Purnell, Abbie Sadler, Natalie Holbrook, Kirsty Richardson, Hayley Kent, Jodie Sheppard, Ella Hitchcox, Rosie Bidder, Charlotte King, Holly Provis, Annie Martin. Subs: Sam Hallsworth, Lorea Sarobe.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
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