Billericay slipped to a second home defeat in five days this time at the hands of Oxford City. Taking an early lead through a fine strike from Luke Wanadio, the Blues faltered as the visitors upped the tempo after the break. Second half goals from Zac McEachran and a brace from James Roberts sealed the come-back to leave the Blues under pressure at 17th in the table.
Oxford, quick to shut down danger, and maintaining a relentless high press, secured first sight of goal as a poor clearance from goalkeeper, Dion-Curtis Henry, let in striker, James Roberts. He scurried eagerly into the penalty area but could only fire high over the bar on 11 minutes.
Billericay winger, Shamir Fenelon, re-called to the side as a starter, still has something to prove after his arrival from Maidenhead United at the start of the season. He was initially prominent down the right side in a bright beginning. Linking up with Jake Robinson, after a Billy Knott through ball had created an opening, his shot was heading for its target but for the intervention of Ben Dudzinski in the Oxford goal.
Endeavour in forward areas was counter-balanced by moments of hesitation in defensive situations. This was apparent on a number of occasions during the match as communication in the defence appeared to be lacking at times. As Oxford applied the pressure, a handled back-pass yielded an indirect free-kick perilously close to goal. Roberts attempted to smash home through the bodies but once more sent his effort skywards.
As the Blues settled into the game, becoming more accustomed to the high intensity Oxford style, Knott moved the ball around from central areas, bringing attacking players into the game. With Fenelon set free once more down the right wing, the former Crawley Town forward sent in a promising cross that Robinson reached in front of his marker but could only angle wide.
Growing in confidence, the home side took the lead on twenty-five minutes through a fine move. Up until then, distribution from the back by Michael Chambers had been ambitious but awry. On this occasion, striding forward from defence, he earned himself a merited assist. Threading a perfect through ball into the path of the advancing Wanadio, the winger arrowed a strike from just outside the penalty area into the far corner.
Oxford, through their playmaker, the talented McEachran sought to reduce the arrears promptly. A curling thirty second minute strike from range looked destined for the top corner until Henry pulled off a stunning stop to divert for a corner. Within four minutes, Henry was in action once more as he pushed away a potential own goal from a Louis Ramsay deflection and Chambers hacked clear.
A darting presence on the left side, Oxford’s Nana Owusu was heavily involved in two significant actions three minutes before the break. First, Joe Felix’s cross-field ball was intercepted by Reece Fleet and funnelled out quickly to the winger. Driving forward, Owusu’s effort from 15 yards drew another save from Henry. Moments later, the winger once more in possession in a dangerous area, drove against the post.
If the Blues had suspected that the tide was turning against them, it was confirmed in first half injury time. Chief tormentor, McEachran, a constant threat, found Owusu in space in the penalty area. Cutting the ball across to the far post, Elliott Benyon was on hand to sweep home. To Billericay’s relief, it was adjudged offside but provided warning of what was to come later in the match.
After the break, the game turned into one way traffic with the home side appearing weakened by a double substitution in the fifty third minute. Off went midfielder Knott and Fenelon to be replaced by Kyel Reid, brought into an advanced midfield role, and Reuben Soares Junior on the left wing. The departure of Knott, in particular, seemed to open up space in midfield, which benefited Oxford.
Within sixty seconds, MacEachran, who seems to reserve his best strikes for Billericay, repeated his trick of scoring against the Essex side from long-range. It can be left to the Oxford faithful to debate whether this equaliser in the fifty fourth minute at New Lodge exceeded the quality of that half-volley at Marsh Lane back in September 2019. It was certainly up there for comparison. Picking up possession on the left, after a Benyon drive was only half-cleared by Wilson, his drive from twenty-five yards flew past Henry into the bottom corner.
With Oxford looking clearly in charge and holding the upper hand through superior movement and energy, it was likely to be a case of whether the Blues could weather the storm. Aaron Drewe, a wing-back on loan from QPR U-23’s, has already impressed many with his performances this season. Regularly driving forward, he linked well with Owusu before slipping McEachran in to fire wide.
Billericay’s advances forward were few and far between as Oxford surrounded any Essex attackers quickly and recycled the ball through the gaps in midfield. Wanadio, shortly to start a three-match suspension after his ending off at the weekend in the home defeat to Concord, made the most impact. One incursion on the left saw him arrow a cross in that Robinson was unable to convert.
Roberts, on ten goals in all competitions, became increasingly frustrated as he sensed a goal that would not come. Having missed two reasonable chances in the first half, he erred twice more in the space of three minutes as he first drove a McEachran cross wide under pressure from Wilson at the back post and then failed to hit the target after a ball was blocked and fell to him in the area.
In the end, Roberts’s persistence told and he put Oxford in front on 72nd minute. He would have to achieve it from a less familiar route. Profiting from a Reece Fleet cross from the left, Roberts recorded his first headed goal of the season. Sending a looping effort over Henry from close range, he can be thankful for an astonishing lack of marking that secured him a free header in the middle of the six-yard box.
As Billericay tired, and Oxford continued to push forward, Roberts once more fired wide after combining with Drewe. He would not be denied another goal with this effort in the 81st minute firmly in line with expectations. Already the scorer of three goals from outside the box in the League this season, Roberts took down a long ball from Dudzinski, out-muscled Wilson, and fired another strike from range firmly past Henry for Oxford’s deserved third.
Results are concerning with the question of who succeeds O’Hara urgently needing to be resolved. Dan Brown has improved the organisation of the side but will not be the man in long term charge. With the side failing to make much impression on the table for well over a season, performances still underwhelming, and a number of players with futures elsewhere, a new broom sweeping through the team cannot come fast enough. Admittedly, these are not normal times but this is not good enough.
Billericay Town FC
1 Deon-Curtis Henry; 2 Louis Ramsay; 4. Joe Felix; 5. Ronnie Henry; 6. Michael Chambers; 7. Frankie Sutherland; 8. Billy Knott (16. Kyel Reid, ’53); 9. Jake Robinson; 10. Shamir Fenelon (12. Ruben Soares Junior, ’53) 11. Luke Wanadio (Gabby Ipanga Mbambo, ’84); 15. Lawrie Wilson.
Goals: ’25 Wanadio
Oxford City FC
1 Ben Dudzinski; 2. Aaron Drewe; 3. Louis Hall; 5. Dan Matsuzaka; 6. Joe Oastler; 7. James Roberts (12. Jacob Bancroft, ‘90+2); 8. Reece Fleet; 9. Elliott Benyon; 10. Zac McEachran (16. Alfie Potter, ’82); 11. Nana Owusu (15. Lewis Coyle, ’87); 17. Luis Martinez.
Goals: ’54 MacEachran; ’72 & ‘81 Roberts.