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VERDICT: Oxford United 2 Bury 1
PROMOTION is not won or lost in the opening games of a season, but early results can create a momentum that is very difficult to reverse.
Bury succumbed to a second defeat of the League Two campaign – following their opening day 2-0 loss at home to Chesterfield – when Johnny Mullins’ late strike for Oxford cancelled out Tom Soares’s second-half leveller.
Mullins’ killer goal undermined all of the hard work Bury put in to get back into the game following a shaky opening half.
The home side’s wingers, Sean Rigg and Alfie Potter, unsettled Bury’s back four from the off with their movement, dovetailing nicely with strikers Dean Smalley and Dave Kitson.
Rigg cut through the heart of the Bury defence in only the fifth minute with a clever through ball that found the run of Potter, who tested Rob Lainton with a low shot.
Lainton was called upon again five minutes later, palming away a Rigg drive after good work from Potter on the right and a cheeky step-over by Kitson opened up space for the winger to shoot. John Rooney – brought in for Ashley Grimes – notched up Bury’s first shot on goal.
And Craig Jones was always an outlet on the right, but three consecutive corners, each hit long to Richard Hinds on the back post, was the most concerted pressure the visitors could muster.
The breakthrough for Oxford finally came in the 34th minute following a needless challenge by Cameron on Smalley.
Danny Rose stepped up to curl the resulting free-kick up and over the wall from 25-yards, his accuracy rendering Lainton’s full-length dive to his left a token effort.
For all their early attacking play, Oxford never looked like running away with the game like they did in their 4-1 win at Portsmouth on the opening day.
In fact, they went into their shell after the goal, and could easily have gone into the break all square if the linesman had not ruled out Hinds’ volley for off-side.
Bury continued their improvement in the second half, with Rooney twice getting off shots on goal.
With a few tasty challenges flying in, referee James Linington finally snapped, showing his first yellow of the match to Bury old boy Tom Newey following a block on striker Shaun Harrad.
That cued a late flurry of bookings, with Soares up next following a studs-up challenge on Kitson.
Harrad was quickly replaced by Anton Forrester as the Shakers striker looked the next likely candidate for Linington’s attention.
But a change in shape, with new boy Jordan Sinnott sent on for Rooney and Soares shifted infield from the left wing, did the trick as the former Stoke midfielder reveled in his more central position.
The Bury vice captain started and finished the move for the equaliser - Euan Holden doing well to take his knockdown to the byline before finding Soares with a pull-back that he duly rammed into the roof of the net from close range.
The 70th-minute leveller, however, only served to wake Oxford from their slumber.
Minutes later, Kitson had a header acrobatically clawed off the line by Lainton.
And the pressure finally told as Smalley yet again drew a silly foul from Cameron near the corner flag.
The 21-year-old defender picked up a yellow card for his unnecessary block, and the red mist descended as Mullins’s first-time shot on the run from David Hunt’s low free-kick found its way through a ruck of bodies for the winner.
As the United players celebrated, Cameron was shown a second yellow card for dissent and Bury’s chances of a second comeback went with him.
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