Football: Moody gives Oxford cause for optimism

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Oxford United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Notts County . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

OXFORD UNITED dropped out of the First Division yesterday but went trying to play the right way and took some consolation by elevating their farewell performance and an anti-climactic final afternoon with two goals of a high calibre.

They were not enough to save them because their rivals in distress, West Bromwich and Birmingham, were able to match them in victory. Still it was a commendable achievement because Notts County, chasing the remote prospect of a play-off place, were much more than bystanders at a wake.

Paul Moody, the last of the quartet of new signings that the Oxford manager, Denis Smith, hoped would arrest the slide towards the inevitable has more than played his part in the survival mission, contributing eight goals in his 15 appearances following a pounds 60,000 move from Southampton to finish, remarkably, as the club's leading marksman in the League.

Displaying a precise touch for so big a man, Moody yesterday engineered both Oxford's goals. The first stirred belief that the unlikely might just happen; the second supplied only the satisfaction that they had done all they could. By then it was a sure thing that a decade in which this university city had enjoyed football from the top two divisions was at an end.

The hosts could easily have been behind before they went in front, Mark Draper and Gary McSwegan shooting with power but just clearing the crossbar.

On the half-hour Mickey Lewis aimed a lofted pass towards Moody, who controlled it on his chest and executed a swift turn to leave Michael Johnson trailing. Having worked his space so skilfully the centre-forward then delivered the ball cunningly into the area for John Byrne to slide in and score.

Phil Whitehead preserved that advantage with a fine anticipatory save from Kevin Wilson's awkward shooter. The goalkeeper displayed exemplary reactions to deny Gary Lund later by which time Oxford had been hauled back only to reclaim their lead. Four minutes into the second half Oxford were finally condemned for their defensive misgivings that had encouraged the visitors all afternoon. Mike Ford missed a long ball and although Andy Legg badly miscued, Draper was on hand to seize his 17th goal of the season.

Sixteen minutes from time Moody scooped a teasing ball over the head of the County defender Meindert Dijkstra. Exuding the skill and balance that seems certain to earn him a summer transfer to higher things, Joey Beauchamp evaded the challenge and curled his shot into the top corner.

'It's a tremendous blow because we have come so close,' commented Smith, who believes that with the new players he has already singled out Oxford can make a swift return. 'Our problem has not been against the better sides like County but against the likes of Peterborough and Watford who both beat us twice.'

Oxford United (4-4-2): Whitehead; Robinson, Elliott, M Ford, Smart; Beauchamp, B Ford, Lewis, Allen (Collins, 73); Byrne, Moody. Substitutes not used: Wanless, Reece (gk).

Notts County (4-4-2): Cherry; Palmer (Yates, 21), Murphy (Matthews, 62), Johnson, Dijkstra; Wilson, Draper, McSwegan, Legg; Agana, Lund. Substitute not used: Catlin (gk).

Referee: R Groves (Weston-super-Mare).

(Photograph omitted)