Football: FA Cup Fifth Round: Oxford pay for last-chance lapse

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The Independent Online
Oxford United. .1

Beauchamp 5

Chelsea. . . . .2

Spencer 22, Burley 30

Attendance: 10,787

A PENALTY miss six minutes from time by the Oxford captain, Mike Ford, halted the revenge of the Endsleigh League rump at last. Chelsea, not yet out of the trough into which their League form has slipped again, could easily have gone the way of so many Premiership comrades - like Leeds United, who came to the Manor Ground in the last round and found themselves two down in half an hour.

The return of Dennis Wise stiffened them in midfield without adding to their creativity, a quality which, with Gavin Peacock also stifled, was for the most part lacking.

Such was the desperation of the final few minutes that it was Peacock, on his own goal-line, who conceded the penalty by handling Matt Elliott's flick-on from a corner; handled unnecessarily to judge from the ear bashing that Wise gave him and the fact that the referee, Alan Wilkie, did not send him off. All was forgiven - in the blue corner at least - when Ford hit the bar.

For 20 minutes we might have been watching a video recording of the tie against Leeds. Oxford pounded down the slope, confounding the visitors with their triangular passing movements and taking the lead even earlier. Chelsea's defenders, comprised of five different nationalities, were clearly not talking the same language as Chris Allen's pass through the centre caught half of them moving out while the rest retreated, leaving Joey Beauchamp free to score easily.

Scarcely had Ford headed against his own bar than Les Robinson opened up Chelsea again down the right and Dimitri Kharin had to make an instinctive save from Alex Dyer's header.

Allen, set clear by Jakob Kjeldbjerg's error, shot hurriedly at the goalkeeper, but midway through the first half the script changed. First Mark Stein set up his equally diminutive striking partner John Spencer for a third goal in successive games. Then as if to emphasise the point made by Oxford's assistant manager Malcolm Crosby that they are a better side going forward than defending, Craig Burley was allowed to play a one-two with Stein in an unpromising position and beat the goalkeeper, Phil Whitehead, from 20 yards. 'Good strikes, but they shouldn't have got into those positions,' Denis Smith, the Oxford manager, said.

Everything that happened thereafter confirmed that this would not be another underdogs' day. Both Oxford full- backs were forced to limp off; immediately before half-time, John Byrne was left free in front of goal but shot feebly. The start of the second half was delayed after Chelsea supporters had infiltrated the home end and when it got underway Nick Cusack and poor Ford missed acceptable chances.

Even after the penalty, the former Sunderland hero Byrne, invited to guide Allen's far post cross into the net, nodded it wide. Either side could still be relegated: only one of them can win the Cup.