Wanderers 0-1 Oxford United
WANDERERS’ dismal home form continues as Oxford United’s Nicky Wroe fired a late winner to seal victory in a hard-fought derby clash that leaves Blues precariously close to dipping into the drop zone.
Steven Craig received Blues’ sixth red card of the season after getting his marching orders in the first half for a raised arm.
In front of 2000 visiting fans, Oxford made life difficult for Wanderers with a wave of attacks in a second half where Blues began to tire.
Some resolute defending kept the visitors at bay for most of the second period, but their resistance was shattered after Wroe’s piledriver from the edge of the box sealed victory with five minutes to play.
In the lead-up to the game, Ainsworth said a big derby fixture was just what his players needed to get their season back on track after going eight home games without a win.
And they certainly looked up for the fight, defending heroically for long periods.
But passions may just have run too high after Craig was given a straight red for raising his arm in a challenge with John Mullins.
And defeat leaves Blues with a solitary win in 13 games, with now fans looking over their shoulder nervously as the bottom looms large.
With joint top scorer Dean Morgan unable to shake off a hamstring problem, Craig continued up front alongside Matt McClure.
New loan signing Jordan Mustoe remained on the bench after only arriving from parent club Wigan on Friday.
But Blues were dealt a blow in the run-up to the game when Paris Cowan-Hall damaged a medial ligament in his left knee during training, with Nick Arnold deputising along the right flank.
Neither side carved out an opening in a cagey first few minutes, with long balls along the right wing from Wanderers going unmet in Cowan-Hall’s absence.
Oxford threatened early, albeit accidentally, when Michael Raynes’ hopeful flicked header from David Hunt’s long throw turned out to be closer than anyone expected and dropped just wide of Ingram’s far post ten minutes in.
James Constable followed up with a screaming 20-yard drive, which skimmed over the Wanderers bar.
Ingram looked to be fouled when he spilled the ball inside his box during a goalmouth scramble, with the ball nearly ending up in his own net before being bundled away by a panicky Blues back line.
A fiery encounter between Raynes and Craig led to the two locking heads, but referee Brendan Malone sent the duelling pair away with just a ticking off.
But the Scotsman was sent off only minutes later when he collided with Oxford’s Mullins with his arm raised, with the referee having no hesitation in giving him his marching orders with a straight red in the 19th minute.
It was the sixth time a Blue has seen red this season, and passions continued to run high throughout a bad-tempered first half.
Sam Wood produced the first meaningful opening for Wanderers when he found himself clear just outside the box, but his low shot lacked power and skidded into the arms of Ryan Clarke.
Gary Doherty was the next to be booked, but it was just a yellow after clattering Ryan Williams on the outside of the box.
As the half wore on, Oxford were allowed more and more space to play along their back four, with Blues struggling to construct anything meaningful in the final third with a conspicuous Craig-shaped hole up front.
Constable pounced for Oxford when he ran clear on the corner of Blues’ box, but his fizzing cross failed to meet a yellow shirt and Marvin McCoy stabbed it clear.
McCoy, brought in at right back, managed the visitors’ attacks with gusto, sticking close to his markers and preventing a series of crosses in dangerous areas.
Ingram kept Blues in it in first half stoppage time, reaching down to his right to palm away a low Constable header as United's Hunt finally managed to deliver the quality of cross he had been threatening for the first 45 minutes.
With each team shooting towards their own fans after the break, the volume increased as nearly 4000 Wanderers supporters urged their team to step up the intensity.
Hunt was booked for flooring Wood after a mazy, lung-busting run from the halfway line, but Blues failed to capitalise from the resulting free kick.
Stewart Lewis had the chance to give Blues fans something to cheer about when the ball fell to his feet from 20 yards, but the captain blasted too high.
Despite the odd flash of quick-footed passing in midfield, Wanderers looked increasingly unlikely to carve out a clear-cut chance.
With tiredness looking to be creeping as the hour mark passed, they resorted to long punted clearances, with no Blue shirts upfield to meet them.
And although the visitors didn’t take full advantage of repeatedly being handed back possession, the waves of attack looked to be wearing Blues down.
A Blues counter produced possibly their best effort of the afternoon on 69 minutes, when Doherty’s close range effort was parried away by keeper Clarke.
And Josh Scowen spearheaded a brief Wanderers’ revival, but when he found the ball a his feet with space to shoot, he skied his 25-yard effort.
But still the Oxford advance came with Leon Johnson rising heroically to keep out a close range Tom Newey header after 75 minutes.
Lewis put his body on the line four minutes later, lunging in John Terry-esque to keep out another Oxford attack.
United captain Jake Wright was booked for wiping out Scowen as the Blues man looked to break on the counter.
But the visitors’ marauding attacks eventually paid dividends, when Wroe’s screamer from 20 yards left the Wanderers defenders motionless.
But despite a spirited Blues performance, the lack of firepower up front following Craig’s dismissal made it hard for Ainsworth’s men to mount a powerful attacking display.
Wanderers: Ingram, McCoy, Wood, Johnson, Doherty, Arnold, Scowen, (Kretzschmar 85) Lewis (c), Bloomfield (Morias), McClure (Kuffour 70), Craig. Subs not used: Horlock, Stewart, Hause, Mustoe.
Attendance 5751 (1851 from Oxford)