MILLWALL will have it all to do at Kassam Stadium in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy area final second leg as a double from Kemar Roofe handed Oxford United a huge advantage at The Den on Thursday night.
Roofe put Oxford ahead after a quarter of an hour when his cross from the left deflected off David Forde and snuck in at the near post.
The attacker, who scored twice against Swansea to knock them out of the FA Cup last Sunday, put Oxford 2-0 up when he headed past Forde from close range.
Millwall went close to scoring in the first half but Lee Gregory shot over when well placed and Benjamin Buchel saved Steve Morison’s header.
Mark Beevers should have halved the deficit only to head wide from Shane Ferguson’s free-kick from the centre of the box.
The Lions went more direct as the half went on, but Buchel saved twice from Morison and coped with a number of balls into the box to ensure his side have a significant lead to take into the second leg.
Oxford show more vibrancy
There was a 20-second cameo at the end of the first that illustrated one of the differences between the sides. Joe Martin got the ball on the left near the midfield line. He held his hands out to convey a lack of options before Ferguson showed to play the ball back to Beevers. He passed it to Byron Webster who gave it immediately back, but Patrick Hoban’s quick pressing forced the defender to go long looking for Morison. Referee Stuart Atwell’s whistle went as Oxford were about to win the ball back but that was typical of the opening 45 minutes.
Oxford seemed to have a clearer purpose about what they were trying to do. Michael Appleton’s side moved the ball quickly into wide areas where there was space, principally down the right where George Baldock and Alex MacDonald provided a real attacking threat.
Where Oxford’s midfield pressed, Millwall’s tended to fall back too close to their defence. It was from such a pattern Oxford went 2-0 ahead, John Lundstram having too much space to shoot and when the ball crashed back off the crossbar Roofe headed in his second of the game.
He had given his side the lead in much more fortuitous circumstances when his cross from the left in the 15th minute seemed to deceive Forde who could only help it in.
Millwall had their chances in the opening period, but Gregory wasted the best of them when a poor touch after he had got in behind the Oxford defence allowed Buchel to bravely smother the ball. Gregory lifted another shot well over the bar to the increasing annoyance of the home crowd who booed the players off at the break.
It was difficult to argue Oxford didn’t deserve that half-time cushion.
Roofe and Liam Sercombe had scored 28 out of Oxford’s 59 goals this season before this fixture. Watching both the wonder is how they are playing in League Two and the same could be said of 21-year-old central midfielder Lundstram who was a deep creative fulcrum as well as a destroyer. The former Everton player was able to operate in space in front of his defence allowing the energetic Sercombe get forward.
Lundstram was busier defensively in the second period as Millwall pressed more urgently than they had done in the first half. The home side forced a number of corners and free-kicks but they couldn’t capitalise. Beevers will feel he should have done better when he found himself totally free 10 yards out after Ferguson had crossed, but he headed well wide.
Buchel in the Oxford goal had an eventful night and was put under physical pressure a number of times by Morison. That was the nature of Millwall’s game and it was telling that Atwell awarded a number of free-kicks to the keeper.
Buchel made another vital intervention in the 80th minute when after Beevers appeared to block Chris Maguire’s shot with his arms Millwall countered. The ball eventually fell to Morison in the box but his shot from 12 yards was straight at Buchel.
Millwall certainly had their chances.
Second leg prospects
In a word – bleak. Oxford had already beaten Swansea, Brentford and Swindon in cups this season and added Millwall to that list relatively comfortably.
Millwall will hope that a deal can be worked out with Newcastle and Ferguson before the return leg at Kassam Stadium in February. Even if they do it’s difficult to see them retrieving this tie.
Oxford have now lost just four times in 35 games in all competitions and it was evident why. As well as having those players that can play in tight situations, they have pace and the physical nous to augment their passing style.
They also expected the direct play they would face, and centre-backs Jake Wright and Johnny Mullins gave little away aerially all night.
Oxford will take all of that into the second leg and if they are as commanding and confident as this it will be Appleton preparing his side for a Wembley date in April.