THREE Englishmen claimed the goals but Sheffield United’s latest FA Cup success was definitely made in Scotland.
Danny Wilson’s decision to place his faith largely in Caledonian talent has been questioned in some quarters so it was fitting that Oxford, one of the country’s most distinguished seats of learning, provided the venue where his wisdom was confirmed.
Ryan Flynn and Kevin McDonald both excelled during a third-round tie which, as the United manager later acknowledged, was far more competitive than the score-line suggests.
But it was their compatriot, Jamie Murphy, signed from Motherwell only 48 hours before this tie, who emerged as the driving force behind a performance which struck the perfect balance between defensive discipline and attacking intent.
Murphy used his United debut to underline exactly why Wilson invested so much time and energy luring him south of the border with a thrusting run midway through the opening period responsible for creating the opening which allowed Tony McMahon to break Oxford’s stoic resistance.
Nick Blackman, who netted his 14th of the campaign after Dave Kitson’s strike had seen the visitors seize control, worked alongside Murphy during a loan spell at Fir Park and insisted afterwards that United have unearthed a real gem.
“Jamie was easily one of the best players up there,” Blackman said. “And that was the case even a few years ago so he’ll be even better now.
“I was really pleased when I heard he was coming here because I know how good he can be having seen him in action at close quarters.
“Jamie set up quite a few of my goals when I was at Motherwell and I know exactly what he’s good at and what he does.
“We worked really well together and hopefully we can resurrect that partnership again now.”
Murphy’s diminutive frame and frail appearance is certain to see him targeted by opponents when United resume their bid for promotion from League One.
Blackman, though, warned that his teammate should have no problems adapting to the rigours of third tier competition.
“It’s even more physical in Scotland than down here, to be honest,” he said. “You have to be able to handle that side of things if you want to do well.
“I didn’t speak with Jamie when we initially got linked with him. I read it and saw the stories but it was a personal decision for him.
“I’m delighted he’s here, though, and I collared him in the dressing room straight away on his first day and we had a chat about quite a few things.
“I’m really looking forward to working with him again because he’ll give us another really good option.
“Pace is always going to cause people problems and we’ve got a fair bit of that now.”
Oxford were beaten in the first round of the tournament by United last term. On that occasion, boss Chris Wilder, a lifelong supporter of the South
Yorkshire club, made no attempt to conceal his disappointment at the manner of their defeat. Fourteen months on, Oxford once again failed to progress but did not disappoint in attitude and application.
Indeed, Justin Richards and substitute Sean Rigg were both guilty of spurning good opportunities while the outcome remained in the balance.
Thirty-five places separate United and Oxford, League Two’s 13th-placed side, in the footballing pyramid. But, during the early exchanges, the hosts bridged the divide until United’s superior finishing told.
McMahon, fast developing a reputation as a free-kick specialist, added another superb set-piece to his collection after Murphy, who later saw a shot smothered at close range, was felled by Jake Wright.
Kitson pounced when Blackman helped on Flynn’s centre to double United’s advantage before the United winger converted in eye-catching fashion late on.
Oxford, playing with the purpose of a team previously unbeaten in 10 outings, forged several chances of their own after United’s Matt Hill had been taken to hospital suffering from concussion and a suspected broken jaw.
Tom Craddock drew a smart near-post save from George Long before Richard inexplicably lashed wide and Alfie Potter also tested the United youngster’s reactions.
Blackman said: “We are determined to go as far as we can and I think we showed that with how we went about our business.”