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Oxford Utd 3, Burton Albion 0
Two goals from Steve MacLean and one fromTom Craddock – from the penalty spot - brought the U’s a win which keeps alive their play-off hopes.
But it was the team’s other striker, James Constable, around whom so much of Oxford’s attacking threat came, and around whom all the incident occurred.
Relegation-threatened Burton had two players sent off in the second half and each time it was for fouling ‘Beano’.
Darren Moore was red-carded for bringing down United’s skipper on 56 minutes, and Tom Parkes followed him to the dressing room on 77 for a bad challenge on Constable, and his second yellow card of the match.
United, who were unchanged, got off to a dream start, just as they did last week against Crewe, with an early deflected goal.
It came in only the fifth minute after Harry Worley played the ball low into the box.
James Constable dummied, and Steve MacLean latched onto it, turned and saw his low shot deflect off a defender to trickle past wrong-footed keeper Adam Legzdins.
That was the first goal Oxford had scored against the Brewers in three games this season, and gave the players a big lift.
They had a scoring opportunity even before that when, moments into the match, Tom Craddock cut the ball back from the left and Constable, challenged hard as he went to shoot left-footed, was unable to make contact 12 yards out.
Burton’s giant centre half Darren Moore had had Constable in his pocket in the season’s opening league game at the Pirelli Stadium, but the U’s skipper has learned from that, and he moved the big man around much more.
It was still a very combative battle between the two of them, and referee Danny McDermid had to call them over in the first half to cool them down.
The ref dished out the yellow card three times in fairly quick succession, to Craddock for stupidly not retreating at a free-kick, to Albion’s Tom Parkes for tripping Constable, and to Jake Wright for a foul.
United were giving away a lot f free-kicks, which was of some concern.
The visitors took one quickly, on the half hour, and when the tall Calvin Zola knocked it back to fellow striker Sam Winnall, he drilled a first-time shot from 20 yards past Ryan Clarke’s left post.
United similarly went close with Heslop delivering a cross that Craddock headed just over.
Clarke made a good double stop four minutes before the break to deny Burton an equaliser.
He first got in the way of Tom Parkes’s header at a corner, and when Zola followed up with a hooked shot, it was a combination of the keeper, and his defenders, which prevented the ball going over the line.
Burton finished the first half strongly, closing down well and pressing hard for an equaliser.
And at the very start of the second half, they must have fancied their chances of getting it when Wright accidentally handled on the edge of the area.
United had an eight-man wall, but Aaron Webster’s chipped free-kick shot was tame in the extreme, and Clarke caught it easily.
Josh Payne had replaced the injured Paul McLaren at half-time, and he took over set piece duty from the left.
Typically, it was Constable whose determination and hard work helped seal victory for the U’s.
On 57 minutes, he battled his way past Moore, who could only wrestle him to the ground.
The ref pointed to the spot, and had no option but to send Moore off.
And although MacLean picked the loose ball up to show he wanted to take the spot kick, Wright had a word to ensure it was regular taker Craddock.
The former Luton forward then drilled in the penalty, low to the keeper’s right, as he dived the other way.
Against ten men now, and Oxford began to revel in the extra space, with some eye-catching moves.
One, involving Craddock and Constable switching play quickly from left to right, should have brought a third goal from MacLean, but Ledzdins saved.
Worley went close with a glancing header from a Payne free-kick, and MacLean glanced a header across the face of the goal from a free-kick on the other side.
Burton’s now overworked keeper saved again from MacLean.
And in the final minute, MacLean tapped in No 3 after Craddock squared the ball to him and laid it on a plate.