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Bury 3, Oxford Utd 0 (02/04)
On-loan striker Ryan Doble is muscled out of it by a combination of Bury defenders Efe Sodje and Tom Lees
Oxford United’s play-off hopes suffered a body blow at Gigg Lane when they were comprehensively outplayed by managerless Bury.
The Shakers punished some poor defensive play with three very well-taken goals to boost their own belief that they can win promotion.
Nicky Ajose struck twice, and the division’s top scorer, Ryan Lowe, once, taking his tally to 25 for the season.
The U’s never really got going, and at the back Harry Worley had an afternoon he will want to forget.
It had been a turbulent week at Bury, with manager Alan Knill leaving, and taking his coaching staff with him to Scunthorpe, but the players showed there was still plenty of team spirit in their pre-match huddle, and the home crowd also got right behind them as kick-off approached.
But it really was a dreadful start for the U’s as they conceded after 60 seconds.
Worley stood off Ajose, rather than go in hard with a header, and he was punished for it as Ajose then hit a dipping volleyed shot over Ryan Clarke and into the goal from 16 yards.
Fine finish though it was, this was a very preventable goal from Oxford’s point of view.
To their credit, though, they soon got back on the front foot.
And after James Constable won the ball impressively on the right and back-heeled to set up a promising raid, Tom Craddock headed Steve MacLean’s cross over the bar.
MacLean blotted his copybook somewhat by giving the ball away moments later in a dangerous position, but Bury could not capitalise.
Damien Mozika was a strong and impressive figure for the home team in the middle of the park, winning 50-50 tackles and driving Bury forward.
In the opposite camp, though, Ryan Burge, in his first away match for the U’s, several times showed good footwork to weedle his way out of tight situations.
Worley was yellow-carded for bringing down Ajose after a quick turn by the striker.
Bury had a number in their team who were prepared to take opponents on. Sometimes this meant they would lose possession, but on occasions when it was successful, it really lifted the crowd.
At the other end, though, Oxford struggle to put moves together to trouble an underworked keeper.
Craddock and Constable worked a one-two in the penalty area just before the break that almost came off but there had been precious little else.
Craddock went off for stitches after being elbowed by Efe Sodje, which earned the centre back a booking, and he emerged for the second half with his head bandaged.
Asa Hall replaced Josh Payne for the second 45 minutes and 20-year-old striker Ryan Doble came on for his debut in the 58th minute and he automatically took over in the centre forward role, with Constable behind him.
However, before Doble had really had a chance to run at the Bury defence, they had scored a second.
Lowe, on the left edge of United’s area, went past Damian Batt and then drilled a low shot under Ryan Clarke for another well-taken goal.
Now two down, Oxford needed a quick response to have any chance of getting something from the game.
Doble timed a run well through the middle but was crowded out before he could shoot, and a few minutes later Steve MacLean struck a firm shot that came back off the chest of keeper Cameron Belford, before being hacked away for a corner.
That was United’s first shot on target, and had come in the 66th minute.
Bury again showed them how to be clinical in front of goal, with a third goal on 70 minutes.
The lively Ajose jinked inside and out, again on the left of the box, and shot low between Clarke and his near post to make it 3-0.
Oxford Utd: Clarke, Batt, Worley, Wright, Tonkin, Heslop (Hackney 67), Payne (Hall h-t), Burge, MacLean, Constable, Craddock (Doble Craddock 58).
Att: 3,515 (407 from Oxford)