Oxford United 2-1 Pilgrims
by Barbara Singleton
Frustratingly, it was a case of so near, yet so far for Boston United as they saw their three-match winning mini-sequence come to an end against promotion-chasing opposition. The Pilgrims, forced to ring three changes in key areas, were finally forced to admit second best to Oxford - but only after seeing a trio of near misses late on deprive them of the chance of prising out a crucial point. It was a result which left Boston still hovering above the relegation zone and one which brought a degree of frustration to manager Neil Thompson. He said: "I thought we had enough of the possession, but were perhaps not quite positive enough at vital times. From our point of view, their goals were poor when we offered them free delivery of a cross and then gave them too much space for the second. It wasn't as though they opened us up with fantastic football. In some respects I was disappointed we did not show as much as I expected we would." Boston went into the clash without defenders Paddy McCarthy (loan deal ended) and Stuart Balmer (groin injury) while left-sided players Jamie Gould (hamstring) and Mark Angel (suspension) were also notable absentees. However, despite having to reshuffle their pack, the Pilgrims still began with a degree of purpose. In fact, there were few early warning signs as to Oxford's quality but the home side soon got in the groove as Andy Scott blazed over Paul Bastock's bar after receiving Robinson's cross. James Hunt then fired over from Scott McNiven's corner before the hosts took the lead on 16 minutes when captain Andy CROSBY headed home from Bobby Ford's free-kick. Bastock subsequently did well to cut out Dave Savage's centre as Ford closed in at the back post. In response, Boston offered little initially, although Simon Weatherstone's header at the back post was well claimed by Andy Woodman after Liam George had crossed from the left. Then Richard Logan saw a goal-bound shot deflected away by defender Dave Waterman after Costello's run through the middle had created the opening. After the interval, Boston went 2-0 down in the 54th minute when FORD nodded home at the back post from Savage's quality centre.
Oxford continued to press and Savage provided another teasing centre moments later. But on this occasion Bastock did well to catch the driven cross from the right. Weatherstone looked to reply against his old side with a 45-yard shot, but the speculative effort went well wide. Oxford were then back on the offensive when Ford drove a 64th minute shot wide after good work by Scott. But Boston's attitude and determination deserved a goal and that's what they eventually got. Substitute Stuart DOUGLAS showed hunger to reach Bastock's long ball downfield. And after it bounced over Crosby, the Pilgrims' front man nipped in to fire past a stranded Woodman. Douglas - in tandem with fellow sub David Town - brought an added spark to the Boston front line, although the Pilgrims were somewhat fortunate not to lose Bastock in the 72nd minute. Costello's weak back- pass put the United keeper in all sorts of trouble and as he attempted to clear the ball from the onrushing Scott. The Pilgrims' custodian ended up by clattering the Oxford player to the floor. However, referee Tony Leake opted for a yellow card, presumably as Costello and Mark Greaves were providing goal-side cover. Bastock then made a fine save to stop Crosby's low drive from a partially cleared corner. Boston regained the ascendancy and Bennett's low drive was gathered by Woodman after Town's trickery had created the opening. Weatherstone then missed the chance of the game when he saw his fierce drive from 18 yards somehow end up wide with the goal at his mercy. Earlier in the move, Town had seen a shot blocked by Waterman. Boston continued to spurn chances and Paul Ellender's header from Bennett's free-kick was deflected wide by Bound. Back at the other end, Bastock produced a stunning save low down to thwart a Savage header to ensure Boston stayed in contention. And in reply in stoppage time, the Pilgrims almost grabbed a leveller. Bennett skimmed a header marginally wide from Weatherstone's corner. And then Douglas scooped a shot over after getting between Woodman and Waterman to shoot, causing a heated altercation between the Oxford pair moments before the final whistle sounded.
United team: (4-4-2) 1. Bastock, 2. Costello, 3. Hocking, 4. Greaves, 5. Chapman, 6. S Weatherstone, 7. Bennett, 8. Ellender (Redfearn 89), 9. George (Douglas 57), 10. Logan, 11. Duffield (Town 57). Subs (not used): R Weatherstone; Price (gk).