Harriers 1 Oxford 3

by Mat Kendrick

at Aggborough

UNTIL Stuart Watkiss can present a watertight case for the Kidderminster Harriers defence, the Aggborough jury will be out on whether they can get away with their footballing crimes.

And unless Watkiss can stop them committing unforgivable offences in and around their own box, Harriers will be sent down sooner rather than later.

After hinting that they were reformed characters under the new manager Kidderminster are slowly but surely slipping into their bad old ways.

Having beaten Oxford at the Kassam Stadium less than a month ago, Harriers should have been confident of doing their first double of the season. But the only notable double they produced on Saturday were the two shoddy examples of defending which, Watkiss refused to make excuses for and which virtually handed the visitors victory before half-time.

The first goal came on 22 minutes when Harriers failed to pick up the run of Chris Hackett from Lee Bradbury's ball and he eased through to plant a clinical finish past John Danby.

And as if that wasn't bad enough, one of their most experienced players pressed the self destruct button by gifting Oxford their all-important second seven minutes before the break.

With hundreds of games at a higher level behind them, senior pros like Bennett should know better than to dwell on the ball near their only penalty spot.

But managers can't legislate against the kind of casualness that saw former Wolves and Walsall midfielder Bennett robbed of possession by Tommy Mooney before a grateful Craig Davies fired in.

By then Harriers had already been found guilty of failing to take their chances at the other end with Blair Sturrock this week's culprit.

With his father, Sheffield Wednesday manager Paul, watching from the stands, the former Plymouth striker got in two good positions for headers.

His first after a neat link up with Gary Birch down the left was pushed round the post by Chris Tardiff, while his second was scrambled onto the upright after lacking the pace to beat the keeper from John McGrath's up and under.

Danby, who had breathed a sigh of relief when an unmarked Matt Robinson lifted a shot over at 0-0, was called into action just before the break to palm a fierce drive from Davies behind for a corner.

The second half was much more like it from a Harriers point of view but it was too little too late and even then it took an own goal to lift the Aggborough crowd.

Birch had gone close a couple of times with a weak header from a Dean Keates cross and a dragged shot wide, while Tom Bennett fired over from distance and Sturrock flashed an effort wide.

But where they failed, Oxford defender Jon Ashton succeeded in finding the target by inadvertently toe-poking into his own net after Birch had headed down another dangerous set piece from Billy Jones.

That gave Harriers renewed hope and for what seemed like the umpteenth home game this season, they attempted to undo their first half short-comings with a late bid to get back into the game.

Kidderminster spurned a golden chance to equalise when Johnny Mullins just failed to get a touch after Chris Beardsley's cross was headed on by Birch, while the former Walsall frontman capped another disappointing display by volleying just wide.

Not for the first time this term, Harriers' late search for a leveller was abruptly ended in the last minute when the away side broke away to score.

Substitute Steve Basham capitalised on a slip by Keates and although Danby delayed his shot, the striker kept his composure to stroke in Oxford's third.

With Kidderminster now at least two wins behind the safety line, the phrase "crucial six-pointer" doesn't do justice to next weekend's massive clash at relegation rivals Cambridge.

HARRIERS: Danby 7, Mullins 6, JONES 7, Hatswell 6, Weaver 6, Russell 6, Bennett 5 (Foster 76, 6), Keates 6, McGrath 7, Birch 6, Sturrock 6 (Beardsley 62, 6). Subs not used: Lewis, Sall, Gleeson.

OXFORD: Tardiff, Mackay, Robinson, Roget, Ashton, Hackett (Brooks 69), Mooney, Bradbury (Cominelli 77), Corbo, Quinn, Davies (Basham 85). Subs not used: Cox, Molyneaux.

REFEREE: Scott Mathieson (Cheshire).

ATTENDANCE: 3,143 (away 1,000).