London Bees recorded another home victory, beating Oxford United 3-1 at home.
After Ashleigh Goddard’s late first-half goal Oxford thought they’d secured a point when Ini Umotong netted with less than ten minutes left, but two stoppage time goals from Deanna Cooper and Jo Wilson saw the U’s leave empty-handed as the Bees continue to climb up the WSL2 table.
Counter-attack, the best form of defence
Neither side were able to hold onto the ball in the early exchanges, Oxford pressure leading to Bees pressure which looped back round to Oxford pressure, but as the game went on the U’s started to dominate the ball more and more.
Although dominant in possession, the visitors were lacking in a goal-threat, and just like Chelsea before them, they were seeing their best chances closed-down and blocked. The hosts, for the most part looked dangerous on the counter and resolute at the back but struggled to fully settle into the game and boss the ball as their opposition did.
A set-piece looked to be the way forward, the Bees testing out Hannah Cox a handful of times in the opening twenty minutes, the keeper sharp to make some good saves but not commanding her area and tangling with her defence more than once. Cox’s brightest moment came half-way through the first-half, jumping high to tip a header over the bar following a dangerous corner delivery from Nikki Watts, but the threat was there.
Chances for both
Oxford were wondering how they hadn't opened the scoring half an hour in, the usually well-organised home defence coming apart as red and black shirts flooded forward. With bodies flying everywhere Ini Umotong and Lauren Allison both saw shots blocked by diving defenders, before Imogen Riches claimed Umotong’s scuffed effort, leaving the prolific striker down needing treatment.
After play resumed it was business as usual, the Bees countering at the first opportunity. Ashleigh Goddard – who’d been a rock in midfield, halting Oxford’s progress at every turn – nodded the ball just wide following Rebecca Anderson’s cross.
The game, although not a classic was, for the most part, a fiery contest under the scorching summer sun, players challenging for the ball just on the wrong side of legal, players bruising and burning both feeling hard done-by by the referee as they picked themselves back up to go again.
As the half wound down towards the break it looked like the two sides would be going into the changing rooms level, however the hosts nicked a late goal after another cynical foul.
The free kick on the right side of the pitch was taken short to Paula Howells who whipped in a dangerous cross, Cox once again jumping for the ball and getting into a tangle with her own jumping defence, both 'keeper and defender falling over each other as the ball deflected goalwards, Goddard was on hand to nod the ball over the line to claim her third of the year.
Renewed away threat
The second-half followed the same pattern as the first with the visitors seeing more of the ball whilst the hosts still looked unsettled, however the U’s started to attack with more purpose, the home defence scattered giving their opposition more incentive to break into the box. Allison and Umotong linked more frequently as their passes split the fractured home defence. Five minutes into the second-half and the equaliser was coming.
Side-stepping around three defenders, Allison dispatched an unusually tame effort wide of the left post, Dave Edmondson furious with his defence, the U’s smelling blood. Seconds later Jess Frampton carried the ball forward before letting fly from 25 yards out, her looped effort grazing the bar on the way out. And still Oxford attacked, a well delivered free kick begging for a better contact as two Oxford players went for it, the decisive header just wide of the post.
Twenty minutes into the half and the Bees looked to be waking up, Sophie Fogarty with a shot straight into Cox’s hands followed by Jo Wilson, who had been mostly isolated, poking her effort wide. But the U’s were straight back at the Bees, Umotong hounding the defence, desperate to add to her tally for the season. Ella Franklin-Fraiture’s eyes lighting up at an opening, the midfielder dashing into the box with Riches rushing out to grab the ball, the keeper missed but managing to put Franklin-Fraiture off enough for the number ten to strike the ball into the side-netting.
The Bees’ best chance of the second-half came on the 80th minute, Evdokia Popadinova racing down the right with the ball, setting up Wilson to strike from just inside the area, with Cox on hand to palm the ball away.
Howells was first to it but charged down as she fired, leaving Oxford back on the attack catching the hosts scattered. Chelsea loanee, Laura Rafferty’s through-ball finding Allison unmarked as the attacker broke into the box, the home defence racing back, her square ball perfectly weighted for Umotong to volley into the net past the advancing keeper. The equaliser had long been coming but the prospect of drawing yet another game lit a fire under the home side flocked forwards, drawing save after save from Cox.
The pressure paying off when they were awarded a free-kick at the start of stoppage time, Watts’ teasing delivery requiring a half-clearance from Laura Nichol before both sets of players scrambled for the ball in the box, it fell to Deanna Cooper ten yards out and the defender thundered it into the roof of the net with the inside of her right foot.
Oxford immediately looked to get back on level terms with the hosts as the injury time clock ticked down, the U’s thought they’d found a reply when Rafferty met a free-kick but her curled effort curled all the way over the bar and landed on the roof of the net. Riches set her team going again with a quick goal kick, the ball finding Wilson as the striker sprinted past Rosie Lane with Cox dashing out of her goal Wilson rolled the ball past the keeper for an emphatic third.
Bees riding high
The result sees the Bees unbeaten in their last seven matches in all competitions, although the quality is clearly visible in the side they still continue to struggle with consistency as well as playing right from the whistle instead of having to warm and settle into games. At their best they could take on any team in the league but they’ll feel fortunate to come away with such a flattering scoreline after a poor second-half.