Alex Mowatt’s late 20-yard strike fired Oxford United into round three of the Checkatrade Trophy in a closely contested 2-1 win at Gillingham on Tuesday.
United progressed following an entertaining tie at Priestfield – but they did it the hard way.
Having fallen behind to an early Mark Byrne penalty, the U’s had to hit back through Jack Payne before Mowatt rifled them into the next round in the 92nd minute.
And the men in yellow rode their luck as Gills striker Josh Parker saw an effort crack against the underside of the bar and bounce away, only for the officials to incorrectly rule that the ball had not fully crossed the line.
But how United ground out a result was a source of optimism for U’s manager Pep Clotet.
“The fact we went through in the cup like that is a massive boost for the players and credit to them because they did the job brilliantly,” the Spaniard said.
“We prepared a game plan but Gillingham put a lot of intensity into their pressing. That made it uncomfortable for us in the beginning but afterwards we played to our strengths. We managed to beat Gillingham at pressing then they only had the counter attack against us in the second half.
“We attacked a bit more smartly in the second half and that paid off with the result.”
Mowatt’s strike, his second of his loan stint from Barnsley, means Oxford are three wins from a third Wembley appearance in as many years.
His goal was a moment of quality, something recognised by his boss.
Clotet said of his match winner: “When he gets the ball near the box and he gets a clear chance to shoot he is a very good player who shows a lot of quality. I’m very happy for him.”
The draw for the round of 16 will take place live on talkSPORT at 12.30pm tomorrow (Friday).
Fixtures are scheduled to take place week commencing January 8.
Oxford host Doncaster Rovers at the Kassam on Saturday.