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Match Reports

Report: Oxford 2 Rovers 4

Three early goals do the damage for Rovers at the Kassam Stadium

21 November 2017

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A first half Charlie Mulgrew brace helped Rovers to an impressive 4-2 win away to Oxford United.

The skipper opened the scoring from a corner on six minutes, before Marcus Antonsson followed up his brace against Bury with his fourth goal in three games after good work from Bradley Dack.

Dack then won a penalty, which was duly dispatched by Mulgrew at the midway point in the half.

Jack Payne's strike on the stroke of half time made it an edgy start to the second 45, but rising star Joe Nuttall killed off any hopes of an Oxford comeback with his fifth senior goal of the season on 71 minutes. 

Substitute Jonathan Obika grabbed a late consolation for the hosts, but Rovers held firm to secure a vital three points and make it back-to-back away wins.

Tony Mowbray made one change to the side that beat Bury on Saturday, with midfielder Corry Evans returning from suspension in place of Peter Whittingham, who dropped to the bench.

For the hosts, ex-Rovers 'keeper Simon Eastwood started against his former club. The 28-year old spent three years at Ewood Park, appearing just 20 times before making the move to Oxford in the summer of 2016.

In a lively start to the game, a ball to the back post just evaded Wes Thomas, whilst at the other end, Derrick Williams headed narrowly over the bar after Mulgrew's knockback.

Rovers were upping the ante and got their first goal after a sustained period of pressure.

After a number of corners, one finally proved decisive for Mowbray's men as another inswinger from Dack was flicked on by Antonsson and Mulgrew was there to tap home from close range and put the visitors ahead after just six minutes.

Rovers continued to dominate, with the closest Oxford came in the opening 15 minutes was James Henry's looping cross which was caught by David Raya on his goal-line.

Smelling blood, Rovers continued to up the gears and after a mistake from Aaron Martin, Dack nicked the ball off his toes and looked to poke home. Eastwood denied the in-form midfielder, but Antonsson latched onto the rebound and rolled the ball into the empty net.

Rovers were rampant and Mulgrew completed his brace from the spot after Dack was felled in the box by Dwight Tiendalli. The skipper rifled the ball past Eastwood, right into the bottom corner to put Rovers 3-0 up after only 22 minutes and make it a dream start.

The hosts looked for a response and Raya produced a smart stop to deny Payne from pulling a goal back for Pep Clotet's side.

With half-time approaching, the returning Evans fired from range just past Eastwood's post as Rovers looked to extend their advantage under the lights.

And with Rovers seemingly going into the break with their three-goal advantage intact, the hosts did pull a goal back when home dangerman Payne found a yard of space before rifling past Raya via the post from an acute angle to end what was a very entertaining opening 45 minutes.

Mowbray would have expected a strong second half showing from the hosts - particularly in the early stages - and that's what occured as the U's found the net with a header, but the referee awarded Rovers a free-kick for a foul on Raya.

Raya was called into action again just a few minutes later as he was forced to repel a cross from the left from Ricardinho, who almost deceived the Spaniard with a whipped cross.

Rovers were standing tall and strong defensively, but Payne did again test Raya from the edge of the box, but his right-footed strike was pretty comfortable for the Rovers number one on the hour mark.

Substitute Alex Mowatt was brought on for Clotet's men and was immediately involved in the action; his shot drifting wide of Raya's post as the hosts searched to find a way to get back into the game.

Rovers had their first chance of the second half midway through it as Elliott Bennett - on his 50th league start for the club - beat Ricardinho and dinked a ball up to Dack, who could only head over the bar from 10 yards out.

But soon after Rovers did get that fourth goal to kill off any hopes of an Oxford comeback. Again it came via Bennett, who had the beating of Ricardinho and found Nuttall, who scrambled home past the despairing dive of Eastwood.

That took the sting out of any Oxford hopes of taking something from the game, but Raya did have to get down well to react to Obika's prod goalwards.

Xemi Fernandez then smashed a free-kick over the bar with eight minutes to go, before Obika did find a way past Raya when he turned in the box, hit goalwards and saw his effort clip the post and find the back of the net.

But Rovers saw the game out comfortably to cement their place in the play-offs ahead of Saturday's clash with Bristol Rovers at Ewood Park.

OXFORD: Eastwood, Tiendalli, Martin, Ledson (Fernandez 65), Thomas (Obika 65), Payne, Ruffels, Henry (Mowatt 60), Rothwell, Ricardinho, Mousinho (c).
Subs not used: Shearer, Williamson, Carroll, Napa.

Goals: Payne (45), Obika (85).

ROVERS: Raya, Nyambe, Downing, Mulgrew (c), Williams, Smallwood, Evans (Harper 51), Bennett, Antonsson (Samuel 65), Dack (Graham 77), Nuttall.
Subs not used: Leutwiler, Ward, Caddis, Whittingham.

Goals: Mulgrew (6, 22 pen), Antonsson (17), Nuttall (71).

Booked: Mulgrew, Downing.

Attendance: 6,595 (752 away)

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