Saturday, 6 August 2011

Lewis grabs three points for The Millers

Rotherham United 1 Oxford United 0

Oxford United kicked off the new season with a disappointing defeat at the Don Valley Stadium to a Rotherham side who will be a tough proposition to any sides visiting Sheffield.

Those who have been to the Don Valley will understand that it is an unusual footballing experience. In what is primarily an athletics venue, football supporters are seated along the length of the 100m straight, with the remaining 300m of the track eerily unoccupied. In what is presumably an attempt to keep some of the clubs links with the town of Rotherham, rumour has it that away supporters are seated equidistantly between the centre circle and the club's former Millmoor home. Whatever the reasoning, the 729 Oxford fans found themselves a long way from the action.

Rotherham began the game on the front foot against an Oxford side that lined up in a 4-5-1 formation, designed to become a 4-3-3 when the opportunity arouse. The visitors, wearing their yellow home shirts, stemmed the early flow of Millers pressure and then went about making their own impact upon the game. The diagonal ball towards d├ębutante Liam Davis was testing Rotherham's full-backs, but no clear opportunities were created by either side in a frantic opening period.

The first clear opportunity fell to James Constable, but the former captain was unable to make firm contact on Damian Batt's whipped cross, glancing the ball comfortably wide of the left-hand upright. The same post was to come under far greater danger moments later as Oxford had a great opportunity to take the lead. Josh Payne curled a free-kick in from the right-hand side, meeting the stooping figure of Asa Hall. The midfielders header diverted the ball onto the woodwork, with Michael Duberry unable to hook the rebound goalwards as it came to him quickly.

This was as good as it got for Chris Willder's men in the first half as the home side began to dominate the possession. United's deep defensive line allowed little room for the mobile Adam Le Fondre and Chris Holroyd to manoeuvre and clear-cut opportunities from open play were at a premium. However, Rotherham's Ryan Cresswell is always a threat at set-pieces and his powerful header needed to be tipped over the bar by Ryan Clarke to keep the scores level at the break.

The traditional opening day away trip blueprint was being followed well by a disciplined Oxford side, but this was torn to shreds in the 48th minute by a moment of real quality from Lewis Grabban. Rotherham's front men exchanged quick passes on the edge of the visitors' area, before Grabban looped an unstoppable strike beyond Clarke into the top corner.

Now forced to chase the game, Oxford had a sustained spell of pressure on the hour mark. After a series of throw-ins and corners in the final third, a Davis cross was volleyed across the goalmouth by Constable. New signing Deane Smalley flung his body towards the ball, but was unable to make firm contact with the goal gaping.

The game remained a scrappy affair, with Oxford continuing the first half trend of squandering possession with frustrating frequency. Summer signing Peter Leven joined Alfie Potter and Jon-Paul Pittman on the field as Wilder attempted to increase his side's quality in the attacking third.

Gareth Evans fizzed a long range drive over Clarke's crossbar from 25 yards, before Oxford's fans were well-positioned (as much as this is possible at the Don Valley) to see a long Batt throw bounced agonisingly across the goalmouth without a yellow shirt being able to apply the finishing touches.

With Oxford struggling to create anything from open play, throw-ins and set-pieces were proving unusually threatening. Quick thinking from the touchline by Smalley released Leven, but the Scottish playmaker was unable to get any meaningful purchase on his shot as goalkeeper Conrad Logan advanced.

Rotherham had been efficiently running the clock down whenever possible (and that is quite often when you have a running track to fetch footballs from...), but almost doubled their advantage in stoppage time as Grabban raced clear, only to be denied by a magnificent one-handed save by Clarke low to his right.

There was still time for a penalty appeal as Duberry appeared to be barged in the back as a throw came into the area, but referee Dean Mohareb was unmoved.

Despite the late Oxford pressure, Rotherham held on to send the travelling faithful home ruing a below-par performance. Wilder's men will be looking to strike back at the first opportunity, as they welcome Cardiff City in the Carling Cup in midweek.

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