City were denied a place in the 2nd round of the EFL Cup, as goals from Marcus Browne and Gavin Whyte saw the Sky Blues fall 2-0 to Oxford United at the Kassam Stadium.
Manager Mark Robins made three changes from last weekend’s draw at Wimbledon with Max Biamou returning to the first XI, and full-backs Jack Grimmer and Junior Brown being handed their first starts of the season.
A side featuring five of the Sky Blues’ summer signings, Robins clearly wished for his squad to continue developing their burgeoning understanding but faced a tough test in Oxford.
A feeling out process took hold for the game’s opening 20 minutes, though City did threaten down the flanks. Last-ditch clearances from the U’s backline were what prevented both Max Biamou and Amadou Bakayoko from clear runs in on goal, following lofted balls from deep. Tom Bayliss also pounced upon a loose ball, producing a trademark surging run towards the byline, before his cutback for Biamou went out of play.
Oxford, though, troubled the City backline with deliveries of their own. The U’s centre-back partnership of Mousinho and Dickie produced goal-bound headers in quick succession, as the game approached the half-hour mark.
The Sky Blues’ tactic of attacking the space in the channels seemed destined to reap rewards, when Max Biamou sprang Oxford’s offside trap to run through on goal once more. However, debutant goalkeeper Jonathan Mitchell, a recent arrival from Derby County, was equal to the Frenchman’s effort and parried it to safety.
Less than five minutes later, and it was another aerial battle that saw City fall behind. Marcus Browne, another making his full debut, met James Henry’s right-wing cross to put Karl Robinson’s side ahead on 38 minutes.
A late surge from Mark Robins’ men before the interval, teasing the Oxford defence with driven crosses into the area, showed the Sky Blues were far from deflated, and set up an intriguing 2nd half in this even contest.
Despite a positive end to the first-half, it was Oxford that started the brighter. The constant threat of Jon Obika led the line, as Gavin Whyte dragged his shot wide on 48 minutes. The Northern Irishman was making his first start having joined in the summer and soon doubled his new side’s lead five minutes after the restart. Henry was again the provider as Whyte slid his right-footed shot into the far corner of O’Brien’s goal.
Inspired by the support of the 1,003 travelling City fans, the Sky Blues were quick to respond and soon had the ball in the net – only to see the offside flag raised. Driving down the left-flank, a floated ball from Bayliss was met with a cute header from half-time sub Jordan Ponticelli, only for celebrations to be cut short.
City’s captain Tom Davies was another to respond to the supporters’ rallying cries, as he rose to meet Bayliss’ corner, only for Mitchell to deny the 26-year-old. A similar theme, as Max Biamou saw his looping header also collected by the Derby loanee.
Set pieces and crosses into the box seemed the Sky Blues’ most obvious route to a comeback with both Jonson Clarke-Harris and Tom Davies getting on the end of corners to trouble Mitchell, as Robins’ side continued to hunt for an opening.
With all three substitutes made with ten minutes remaining, City were determined to turn the match into a classic cup-tie. Tom Bayliss produced a stinging shot form outside the box and Biamou was inches away from halving the deficit, in the latter stages of the game. As Mitchell clawed at a Jordan Shipley cross, Biamou’s drive towards the vacant goal was blocked on the line by the Oxford defence.
However, as City were firmly in attack, Oxford proved they were still a threat, with Sam Smith forcing O’Brien to make the finest stop of the game, as he tipped over the 20-year old’s shot, destined for the top corner.
Max Biamou was denied a late consolation in injury time as the linesman once again raised his flag as the ball hit the Oxford net, but the Sky Blues showcased a certain determination in added time that will likely see City earn last-minute rewards throughout the course of the season.
Goals: Marcus Browne, Gavin Whyte.
Yellows: Cameron Norman,
Sky Blues XI: Liam O’Brien (GK), Jack Grimmer, Tom Davies (C), Dominic Hyam, Junior Brown, Tom Bayliss, Abu Ogogo, Dujon Sterling (Clarke-Harris [67’]), Jordy Hiwula (Shipley [78’]), Amadou Bakayoko (Ponticelli [45’]), Maxime Biamou.
Subs: Lee Burge (GK), Brandon Mason, Jordan Willis, Jordan Shipley, Michael Doyle, Jonson Clarke-Harris, Jordan Ponticelli.
Oxford United XI: Jonathan Mitchell (GK), Cameron Norman, Luke Garbutt, Rob Dickie, Cameron Brannagan, Marcus Browne (Smith [63’], John Mousinho (C), Gavin Whyte (Mackie [75’]), James Henry (Lopes [75’], Jon Obika, Shandon Baptiste.
Subs: Scott Shearer (GK), Sam Smith, Josh Ruffels, Jamie Mackie, Charlie Raglan, Tony McMahon, Fabio Lopes.