Let's see what the boys have in them.
“It is no use saying, ‘We are doing our best.’
You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.” – Winston Churchill
“You can still do this.”
The squad was expecting a roasting – and eventually, they got one – but Kyle’s message at half was that two goals were quite possible.
“Work for space, get possession, and press like you have never pressed before,” he told them. “There’s no sense in screaming, but also, if someone would like to remember the bloody match plan when Collins gets the ball, that would be magnificent.”
He neither planned nor made any substitutions, because he wanted these players to dig themselves out of the hole they had made.
But he had something else to tell them.
“If we die, we die together,” he said. “But before we are next in this room, I want every one of you to dedicate yourselves to making sure we don’t die today.”
With that, he left the talks to Fazackerley and a motivational speech to Wright, who was now in fine oratorical form.
Win or lose, he wanted the players together and fighting for each other. That was the way the second half began.
Two minutes after the restart, Whing found MacDonald down the right and the Scot smashed a drive into the side netting. Shrewsbury had not failed to note Oxford’s depleted midfield, and was giving him extra attention by trying to close him down.
Hoskins then ripped a shot off the crossbar, the long carom finding defender Connor Goldson, the Shrewsbury skipper putting the ball into touch. Skarz quickly took the throw, finding Hoban, who found Ssewankambo. His ball into the area reached Hoskins completely and gloriously unmarked to cut the arrears in half.
Or, not. The far side assistant had his flag up for offside and Hoskins was going wild.
Right along with the Oxford bench. It had been an extremely tight decision and Kyle wanted nothing more than to see a replay on the large screens at the stadium.
He waited. And waited. Finally, he realized it wasn’t going to happen. Kyle went to talk with Lee Mason again, but the referee had his hand up, palm facing forward, warning Kyle off him before he ever got there.
Angered, MacDonald won the ball back and dribbled through the Shrewsbury defense by himself, before hitting the foot of Burton’s left post with his shot.
Two shots off the woodwork and a disallowed goal. Quite a haul in five minutes.
Then it was Ssewankambo trying from distance, only to be denied by Burton’s full-length dive to his left. Oxford was now dominating the match and Kyle was up and on the touchline to shout encouragement to his men.
Then Oxford was caught on the counter and it was Ashdown saving the day with a great stop on Bennett, keeping the arrears at two goals even when all the Oxford faithful knew it should only be one.
Just before the hour, another chance came. Hoban, doing a fine job playing off Hoskins up front, laid the ball to the left for Meades. The replacement midfielder took three powerful strides and was off down the left, leaving defenders in his wake. His cross for MacDonald in the six-yard box found the winger in space and this time he left absolutely no doubt, sidefooting home the simplest of finishes to get Oxford officially on the board in 58 minutes.
That was much better stuff and Kyle knew his squad had Shrewsbury fully on the back foot. But Jermaine Grandison surged forward and worked a great 1-2 ball with O’Neill, getting his shot saved by Ashdown and finding the rebound at his feet.
That effort somehow went wide, and Oxford had dodged a significant bullet. Yet time was starting to become a factor. Ashdown robbed Collins in his effort for a hat trick moments later, and it was pretty apparent that if Oxford was going to find a way back, their goalkeeper needed to stay sharp.
As the match passed seventy minutes, Kyle realized that more firepower was needed. Meades was willing, but he wasn’t as able as some, and so he left in favor of Hylton. All three of Oxford’s senior strikers were now on the pitch at the same time and, needing a goal, that was where they all needed to be. For Oxford, it was “Triple-H” or bust.
Defender Cameron Gayle came on for Shrewsbury, as Mellon went to five at the back with fifteen minutes to play. It was the logical move, and Stephen Jordan replaced Mickey Demetriou three minutes later in a like-for-like move for fresh legs.
That said, it was Shrewsbury which got the next decent chance, with Collins hitting the side netting in 77 minutes, and Gayle trying to cross moments later and nearly beating Ashdown, who got back to tip the ball over the bar.
Potts had a raking chance in eighty minutes which came to nothing and finally, Kyle knew there was nothing else for it but to tell Ashdown to get forward if the opportunity arose.
Hoskins picked up a clear header in 84 minutes but found the keeper’s arms with it, and with Kyle considering moving to 4-2-4 for the first time in his tenure, Whing collided with Hill and couldn’t continue. He had to come off, and Kyle replaced him with Grimshaw, who was much more mobile and could get forward.
At the start of added time, everyone did get forward, including Ashdown, as Potts earned a corner on the right. It was a short ball, and on the return Potts moved forward, skipped past a challenge, got to the byline and got in a cross – but Burton grabbed it and got the ball into the Oxford half where Ashdown chased it down.
But there the ball stayed as Oxford’s dream died, one goal short.
Oxford United: Ashdown: Potts, Dunkley, Wright (captain), Skarz, Ssewankambo, Whing (injured, Grimshaw 87), MacDonald, Ashby (injured, Hoskins 11), Meades (Hylton 73), Hoban. Unused subs: Clarke, Mullins, Bevans, Rose.
Shrewsbury Town 2 (James Collins 19, 38)
Oxford United 1 (MacDonald 58)
A – 51,765, Wembley Stadium, London
Man of the Match: James Collins, Shrewsbury Town (MR 8.8)
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