Visitors fly out of the traps
The game was slow to get started, the two sides feeling each other out, but it was the visitors who found their footing first. The first real chance of the game fell to the away side; Rhema Lord-Mears cutting in on the right and firing from 20 yards. Hannah Cox had her eyes on the shot all the way but took no chances with the awkward dip, turning the ball over the bar for the first corner of the game.
Sheffield enjoyed more possession in the early stages, a trend that would continue until the break.
Halfway through the first half the hosts had barely had a sight of goal, with them reduced to half-hearted counter-attacks that saw Jess Frampton willing to break with the ball but unable to really cause problems.
Conversely, the visitors were playing as if they were the ones at home, stringing passes together and forcing the U’s back, using the width to stretch their attacks, but unable to beat Cox in goal.
Sheffield were patient with their build-up, the squad working as one, the ball flowing from one blue shirt to another. They were often under pressure from the Oxford defence, but never rushed as they controlled the half.
To their credit, Oxford had numbers behind the ball, trying to cut the passing out, but were always forced to hit a long hopeful ball to an isolated Umotong.
A great piece of individual skill from Ellie Gilliatt on the half hour carved out a route to goal. Running at the defence and taking the team on single-handedly, she produced a cross that was headed out only as far as Sherry McCue on the edge of the area. McCue took the shot on the volley, but her powerful strike cannoned off of the upright.
By the time the referee blew for half time Sheffield had had 12 shots, five on target, seven off; Oxford had had three, one on and two off. The U’s looked lost, unable to put any passes together and barely able to get out of their own half, while the visitors were incredibly unfortunate to have made it to half time without scoring.
In the away dressing room Sheffield must have been wondering what they had to do to get the better of Cox in the home goal. It was another game where they were very much on top but had nothing to show for it at the break.
The U's ramp things up
After what must have been one hell of a team talk from Les Taylor, Oxford came out for the second half like a completely different team. Bright and quick, they penned Sheffield back and launched attack after attack. Umotong, who’d been largely frustrated in the first half, was causing all sorts of problems, running at the back line and bursting through time after time.
There was concern for the hosts 10 minutes into the half as Kat Nutman, perpetual string puller, was forced off through injury. Lauren Allison was her replacement, as Sophie Baker was also introduced into the game to replace Holly Pickett, with the team's creativity having taken a hit.
A rare chance for the visitors came shortly afterwards as Carla Ward, who’d been an absolute workhorse for her side, delivered a free kick with plenty of whip. Cox came out to meet it but could only punch it so far, with Lord-Mears knocking it back into the box, Jodie Michalska rising with Lauren Hayes, but seeing her header go wide of the target under pressure.
However, it was the hosts who were on top and this paid off 15 minutes into the half, Laura Nichol losing her marker in the box and unselfishly laying off for Umotong to knock in at the far post. It was a goal that didn’t seem anywhere near possible in the first half, but had been coming since the restart. Oxford were one up and Sheffield were shell-shocked.
No route for Sheffield as hosts grow at both ends
Hungry in attack and assured in defence, the backline confident in Cox behind them, Sheffield couldn’t find a way through the U's.
The first away substitute of the day saw Emma Johnson replaced the hard-working Ward, with Sheffield desperate just to get a hold of the ball and start putting passes together again, but Oxford were unrelenting. Another sub came as Chloe Dixon replaced Lord-Mears, who was a persistent threat in the first half but had been starved in the second.
The visitors were hoping fresh legs and fresh minds would give them a boost, but they were overloaded at the back and scrambling in defence. Oxford attacked and Sheffield sagged and shook at the back. On the odd occasion the away side had the ball, they couldn’t advance far past midfield, coming up against a resolute custard-coloured defence.
The last change of the day for Sheffield saw Zoe Johnson use her last option, all three outfielders on her bench having entered the fray when Emma Lipman took over from Lynn Goodman.
As the game entered its dying minutes, Sheffield were still scrapping for something, anything, frantically trying to find an opening. Oxford were happy to keep it in the corner meanwhile, wary of the team they’d seen in the first half. More time expended as Nichol departed, replaced by Charlie Deeley.
A couple of chances followed in stoppage time. First, Frampton was on hand to block Johnson’s attempt, the resulting corner bouncing back and forth but Dixon’s header easily dealt with at the back post. At the other end, Ella Franklin-Fraiture launched a free kick into the box, Umotong helping it along but Deeley rather scuffing her attempted shot.
A game of two halves
The game ended narrowly in favour of the hosts on a disappointing afternoon in Abingdon for Sheffield. They were well on top in the first half but, once again, had nothing to show for their possession and creativity.
For the hosts, this could be a real turning point in the season. An incredible turnaround at half time saw them come out fighting in the second period, and they got the reward for all their hard work.