Sunderland travelled home from Oxford having claimed all three points thanks to Willis's second-minute conversion of Maguire's left wing corner, but had to hold out for the following 94 minutes as Storm Dennis got behind the home side.
The weather worsened as we headed south but had only mustered a stiff breeze by the time we reached Bicester. Ah, Bister, where the Wetherspoon's has the most baffling toilets in their pub chain - in that they are on the ground floor, and you don't need a local Sherpa to get you there. Peterlee and Durham's finest talked old school away days and Dave Watson's sad condition, then picked the team. Which is easy these days and was confirmed after a grindingly slow last few miles to the Kassam. By half two, Dennis had arrived, flinging bucketloads of rain straight at the away section, where the wind seemed to come from behind us. Strange.
O'Nien Willis Wright Flan Hume
Maguire Wyke Gooch
…and we set things away, kicking away from the non-existent end and heading left as we looked on. We'd barely had time to see how things would pan out when we got it from the right across to Gooch, he played it into Hume's path, and his shot/cross was blocked for a corner. Maguire put it in, Willis rose with his marker, and the ball nestled in the far corner. Officially, it's gone down as an own goal, but I'd much prefer it credited to Willis - as would Mousinho, u expect. Whoever it was, it was a brilliant start to proceedings, and had the 1767 visiting fans in raptures. The lady next to us expressed her wish for us to stock seven in, as her son plays for Oxford but had been dropped to the bench. 'Cos the manager's an idiot, apparently.
"One'll do for me" said Ron, but I'd have much preferred another goal to guard against the wind getting too involved. We spent the next ten minutes all over the Yellows, and a little bit of luck and a bit less wind might well have seen us get the killer second. Maguire's free from the left, after Gooch was upended, caused havoc and took two attempts to clear, then we needed McLaughlin to do his job when Wright, chasing back, got his header all wrong and Big Jon had to be sharp to close the space and give their man nothing to shoot at.
Too close for comfort, Bailey Lad.
A couple of minutes later we needed a lovely challenge from Willis to break up an attack, then Wright conceded Oxford's first corner when he recovered well to get in a challenge after being left for (almost) dead, and McLaughlin rose comfortably to deal with it. After half an hour of pretty frantic stuff, we played some patient football, probably in attempt to catch out breath. There was still a fair amount of flying down the wings by O'Nien and Hume, with Maguire again the main instigator, but the home defence protected their keeper well. While they did look a bit Rochdale-esque in trying to play it out and thus avoid the wind, we couldn't get the telling challenge in to nick it off them. When they did try the ball over the top, it held up in the increasing wind, allowing our back three time to judge the flight and get in the way.
A single added minute was played, a result of Power (I think - somebody with orange boots, anyway) taking a knock as they cleared a corner.
No changes for the second half, except the weather, which got wetter and windier, with said wind frequently whipping up the tarpaulins which lay pitchside and flung a shower at the linesman and ballboys. Oxford took advantage of having Dennis on their backs to press forward, working the space for s decent shot from distance that McLaughlin did really well to palm over the bar.
After quarter of an hour of chasing shadows in the centre, Parky replaced Gooch with Scowen, which seemed a very sensible thing to do, and his presence alongside Power and our George gave Oxford less space in which to work. They took of their 23, who'd been a real pest in the cup game last autumn, and his replacement became the first player of the to sport gloves. Had it been in the Prem....
McLaughlin had to be on his toes as they tried the Sunday morning hoof, but he dealt with them and set O'Nien away. His cross was left by Wyke at the front post, evaded Power's efforts to get to it, and Hume's shot was blocked for a corner. If only he had a right foot, anyway, Maguire eventually persuaded the ball to stay still and slung it in, only for their keeper to dive and punch it out of the box - but not to a player in blue.
There was a decisive punch clear from a corner by McLaughlin, and we took it to halfway and set Wyke on a chase goalwards, but he couldn't hold off his marker and went down with Oxford hoofing it clear. It looked like we might get the second goal when O'Nien's shot cannoned goalwards off a defender, bit it was cleared, then Wyke headed just the wrong side of the front post.
Scowen and O'Nien linked well to win a series of throw-ins in front of the visiting fans, who drew a cheeky wink from Luke as we applauded this progress upfield. As we broke up another attack with about six to go, Wright was caught across the back of both ankles near the centre circle. He tried to carry in but limped off after several minutes if treatment. On came Oz. Big bloke, beard, orange boots, like for like replacement.
With the clock seemingly stuck, Maguire made for Lafferty, presumably so we could give the home defence a bit more to think about. Which they tried to do, but we still had defending to do. Five added minutes were announced, Willis produced some magnificent headed clearances, then their keeper went up for a fee, which we defended well. Scowen won generous applause from fans and colleagues alike when he was fouled as he cleared, the whistle went, and we'd won a real battle.
Man of the Match? Great game from McLaughlin, dealing with the elements that denied Gooch and Maguire their creativity, but for me it has to be Willis. One dodgy second-half pass aside, his defending, both in terms of organising and actually getting stuck in, was first class.