Boston United 1-3 Oxford United
by Barbara Singleton
Boston United paid the penalty for a slow start and some under-achievement in the first half. Oxford came to town with no more than an average record. Yet, by the 36th minute, they had all but sewn up the match. Visions of a repeat of the Cardiff City mauling just three days earlier sprang to mind, but creditably the Pilgrims made a much better fist of things after the break. Neil Redfearn's close-range strike on 55 minutes, which cut the deficit, livened things up sufficiently to get the home supporters bubbling. And for a while there were signs that the truly unlikely might just happen. But, thanks to a combination of Oxford defensive heroics and some off-target finishing, they were unable to muster anything more in the goals column. The second-half showing was certainly a huge improvement on a first half when the Pilgrims' cause wasn't helped when right-sided midfielder Mark Clifford pulled up with hamstring problems after just 12 minutes. Simon Rusk's introduction kept the basic shape of the side, but the overriding perception was that Boston possibly did not quite have the drive. The visitors operated well down the flank areas and all three of their goals came when prising open the United back line, getting round the final man and then delivering the decisive thrust. Half-time words clearly had some impact but effectively whatever Boston tried to salvage after the break was only going to be a face-saving exercise. But there does not have to be a sense of doom and gloom. Clubs promoted to the Football League previously have also had less-than-flourishing starts - Rushden last season were a prime example. What is probably affecting Boston more than some might care to believe is all the ongoing uncertainty about United's management position. Steve Evans remains suspended pending his adjourned hearing, which the FA seems unable to pin down to a specific date. Neil Thompson continues to do a manful job in taxing circumstances. But one suspects every tether has its end.
It must surely soon be time for the United hierarchy to make a decision on who is, or will be, boss. Sanity and stability could just start to be going out of the window. And, in such an important season as this, that cannot be an ideal situation. For the moment, immediate memories are of Saturday's fare when last season's leading scorer, Daryl Clare, found himself slapped on the transfer list for apparently declining to take his place among the chosen substitutes. His colleagues out on the pitch made sporadic efforts to conjure up an early breakthrough which came close to yielding dividends when a Weatherstone snap-shot forced Andy Woodman into a save. Later a scuffed drive wide of the target was the best the Pilgrims could offer in the opening 20 minutes. By the time Douglas got in on the act to test Woodman with another low drive, the visitors had already fired their first salvo - Paul POWELL selling a dummy to two United defenders, creating space down the left and delivering a venomous cross-shot which whistled past Paul Bastock. The hammer-blow became doubly severe in the 24th minute when Andy SCOTT dived to head home from six yards after James Hunt had carved open the Boston rearguard with a forceful run and cross. The match slipped further from Boston's grasp in the 36th minute when SCOTT grabbed his second headed finish, looping an unchallenged effort over a stranded Bastock following a raking cross from the right by Scott McNiven. Fortunes after the break were transformed, albeit too late from a Boston viewpoint. Redfearn's goal - neatly netted from a Thompson free-kick - was the trigger for some sustained home pressure. And only a desperate goal-line clearance by Matthew Bound defied Weatherstone's bid to spark further recovery ambitions. Later on efforts from Douglas and Steve Burton also went close. But Oxford, well-marshalled by Ady Viveash and Andy Crosby, managed to hold out without too much further discomfort, remarkably despite only having one lone off-target attempt of their own throughout the entire second period.
United team: 1. Bastock, 2. Clifford (Rusk 12), 3. Greaves, 4. Hocking, 5. Thompson (Burton 72), 6. Redfearn, 7. Warburton, 8. S Weatherstone, 9. Douglas, 10. Ellender (Elding 81), 11. Cook 63. Subs (not used): Gould, Conroy (gk).
This report originally appeared in the Lincolnshire Echo.