Oxford United 3 Exeter City 0
Exeter was the tale of two halves, the first half was all about Chey Dunkley. I think the referee called it about right, the two challenges in question amounted to more than a yellow card, but they were less than a full red. I’m not a fan of players being sent off for ‘technical’ fouls rather than malicious challenges or things that deny clear advantages. To lose a player for more than a half would have been a disproportionate punishment for the challenges. There will be those who will argue that the letter rather than the spirit of the law should be followed, which is fair enough. It’s an argument that will never be resolved as it’s usually dependent on whether you’re the beneficiary or the victim of the situation.
Dunkley has been one of our outstanding players in recent weeks, but he is a player that is susceptible to pressure; some of his early performances were shaky to say the least but once he was in the groove, he looked a real asset and a threat to the Wright/Mullins partnership. On Saturday the wind, coupled with the pace of the Exeter attack put him in all sorts of trouble. Although I don’t think he deserved to be sent off, he was just a minor infringement from a red card; it was the right thing to do to replace him at half time.
It wasn’t Dunkley’s replacement that changed the game in the second half. We had been, just about, the better team throughout, although the overall performance was similar to most of this season, lots of possession, not enough penetration. But, it began to feel like when I compare my bike speed against others on Strava. While they may only be a few seconds faster than me over a mile, over 20 miles, they’re out of sight. Straight after half-time it looked like the elastic snapped; we were faster to everything. The goal came at the right time, I suspect another 10 minutes and it would have been a familiar scene, with us looking to snatch a single goal as Exeter regressed to defend a point.
But the goal stretched the play and everything fell into place. I was in the North Stand with a friend who occasionally joins me for the Boxing Day game. As I always do, I took him through each player he was likely to see. This is typically a summary based on 20 games of performances and, in reality, very few of the players I describe show anything like what they can. But for the first time everyone played to their potential; Roofe’s trickery, Lundstram’s passing, Sercombe’s surging, Baldock’s endless overlapping. The results were obvious.