MATCH REPORT: Oxford 1 Fleetwood 3
Fleetwood brushed off the anger of the home support at the Kassam Stadium to clinch a clinical 3-1 win.
FIn recent weeks Town had lost their ruthless touch in front of goal but with seventh-placed Millwall closing the gap and Bolton screaming ahead in second-spot Uwe Rosler’s side did the talking on the best place - the pitch.
A risky 4-1-4-1 formation paid dividends as it helped a resurgent Amari’i Bell have a hand in both of the opening two goals.
Bell was brought down by rookie right-back Canice Carroll in the fourth minute with Bobby Grant sliding home the subsequent spot-kick.
Oxford fought back just minutes later with Curtis Nelson rifling home after a scramble in Town’s box.
The home fans became more and more irate as the game wore on with referee Graham Horwood the target of much of their frustration despite seemingly giving questionable decisions in favour of both teams.
Unlike recent games Town were clinical and the all important second came from an unlikely source Ash Eastham.
Bell showed his skill to win the ball back in the corner before pulling the ball back to Grant who whipped it in to Eastham to score his first ever goal for the club.
David Ball put the icing on the cake after some neat work by substitute George Glendon as he fired home five minutes from time to clinch another vital three points.
Those points built a six point cushion from seventh-placed Millwall and cut the gap on Bolton to seven to leave Town in a fine position with five games to go.
It was another display of that top-six mentality that Rosler was so keen to install when he arrived in August.
Town boss Rosler made one change from the side that lost 1-0 to Swindon on Saturday.
Godswill Ekpolo came back into the side in place of Glendon who moved to the bench as Rosler switched from 3-5-2 to a 4-1-4-1 with Conor McLaughlin sitting in front of the back four and Bell and Ash Hunter in wide midfield positions.
It was a torrid start for debutant Carroll who felled Bell in the box with Grant stepping up to send Simon Eastwood the wrong way and smash the ball home in the fifth minute.
But despite ending their goal drought, Town’s lead was shortlived with Nelson, who looked to be in an offside position, firing in after a scramble from a U’s corner.
After that sparkling opening it was a fairly even half with neither side creating much as Town adapted to a new formation that allowed Bell to shine on the left wing.
Oxford nearly took the lead just before the end of the half as Sercombe and Maguire outfoxed Town left-back Ben Davies in the box but Maguire could only curl Sercombe’s cut-back over the bar.
Rosler threw on Glendon at half-time for Godswill with McLaughlin moving back into his usual right back role.
It was a feisty start to the second 45 with Bolger lucky to receive just a yellow for a rash late challenge on Carroll.
Fleetwood should have re-taken the lead just minutes after the re-start as Hunter’s cross in from the right was met by Bell in the six-yard box but the left-footer could only scoop the ball straight into the arms of Eastwood.
Both teams cancelled each other out as the half wore on with no notable chances before Town pounced with 15 minutes left on the clock.
Bell won the ball back deep in Oxford’s half by the left corner flag and rolled the ball back to Grant who whipped in a first-time cross from the edge of the box that was powerfully nodded in by Eastham.
With Oxford throwing bodies forward to try and keep their hopes of a play-off spot alive Town were clinical once again.
Glendon lead the attack after nicking the ball off Marvin Johnson and splitting Oxford’s defence to tee-up Ball who rifled home his 13th of the term.
The home fans chanted 3-1 to the referee after another Ball special but in terms of the Fleetwood cause it was not down to the man in black but instead thankfully after three games of toothless finishing their clinical touch in front of goal was back with a vengeance to keep the heat on Bolton and the rest of the play-off chasing pack.