REECE Fleet’s late winner decided a thrilling final as Oxford City defended the Oxfordshire Senior Cup with a 4-3 win over a spirited Banbury United.

A shock looked on the cards as the Vanarama National League South side trailed 3-1 with 24 minutes to go.

But City dug deep at Court Place Farm to deny Banbury a first county cup triumph since 2015.

Ricky Johnson fired the Puritans into an eighth-minute lead, but the striker went on to play no further part as he was injured in the process.

The loss of their captain did not seem to affect the Puritans, who effectively frustrated a below-par City side for the remainder of the first half.

Their lead was wiped out within a minute of the second period, thanks to Zac McEachran’s cool finish.

But Banbury retook the lead through the lively Amer Awadh, before substitute Greg Kaziboni’s superb lob made it 3-1 on 64 minutes.

City immediately reduced the arrears through an Eddie Odhiambo own goal.

Mark Jones’ side continued to dictate play and broke Banbury hearts when Kabongo Tshimanga levelled from the penalty spot with seven minutes to go.

Both sides searched for a winner and it went City’s way when Fleet curled home on 90 minutes.

Banbury made a confident start on the home side's artificial pitch, with Awadh and Giorgio Rasulo looking inventive in possession.

And the Evo-Stik South League side opened the scoring on eight minutes with their high press forcing an error.

Jack Self under hit a back pass and Johnson reacted quickly to beat goalkeeper Craig King to the ball and rifle into the bottom corner.

The Banbury skipper was hurt in the process as City’s No 1 attempted to stop the striker and was unable to continue.

Oxford Mail:

  • Ricky Johnson fires Banbury into an early lead Picture: Steve Daniels

Much was made of the final not being played at a neutral venue, but the Puritans seemed to take no time at all to adjust and, with a lead to protect, their plan to make life difficult for Mark Jones’ side was clear to see.

However, they were fired a warning shot on 17 minutes when a neat move released Tshimanga, who side-footed just wide from the left-hand side of the area.

City were already looking frustrated, emphasised by Fleet’s booking for a heavy and late challenge on Edmund Hotter.

The hosts were struggling to play with any purpose and Banbury were presented with another opportunity on 20 minutes, but King saved comfortably from Awadh, who had broken forward after cutting out a loose pass from Ryan Case.

The Puritans had another let off on 25 minutes, though, as a mix-up between Lee Henderson and Harry Whitehead presented Tshimanga with a chance.

But the usually prolific striker rushed his strike and dragged a left-footed effort wide.

City were beginning to create opportunities, though, and Whitehead made a vital block to deny Kyran Wiltshire after McEachran’s piercing run had sucked in the defence.

Joe Oastler then saw his header beaten away by Banbury goalkeeper Jack Harding at his near post, before the centre back rifled another effort over the bar as the visitors struggled to clear their lines.

Although the Puritans lost the physical presence of Johnson early on, his replacement Kaziboni was also proving a handful.

However, he was rather starved off possession as City knocked the ball around in an attempt to break down a well-disciplined Banbury side.

An error from Awadh presented the hosts with their next opportunity on 43 minutes as the winger inadvertently started a counter after cutting out a loose pass.

It sent Tshimanga racing forward but, after combining with Bobson Bawling, he was denied by Harding, who preserved Banbury’s lead going into the break.

City needed to up their game in the second half and within a minute of the restart they were level.

McEachran started and finished a fine move, which saw the midfielder link up with Tshimanga before fooling Harding and Henderson with a fine dummy and coolly firing into the bottom corner.

Oxford Mail:

  • Zac McEachran equalises for Oxford City at the start of the second half Picture: Steve Daniels

Banbury responded well to conceding and were back in front on 54 minutes when Awadh latched on to a George Nash pass and fired left-footed past King.

City continued to try to play their way through the Puritans and Tshimanga fired straight at Harding, who was forced to make an even better save moments later to keep out McEachran’s low effort.

Banbury continued to pose a threat through Awadh, who won a free-kick 25 yards out, leading to Hotter stabbing over from Rasulo’s delivery.

The Puritans were good value for their lead, which they extended in fine fashion on 64 minutes when Kaziboni majestically lobbed King from 25 yards out.

It was a terrific finish and one worthy of winning any game, but City responded immediately.

Bawling worked his magic on the left and Jack Self’s shot was turned into his own net by the unfortunate Odhiambo.

Banbury knew their one-goal cushion was far from safe, but they were dangerous on the break as Awadh had City captain Oastler back-pedalling towards his own area before driving a shot over the bar.

The hosts continued to dictate play and Harding denied Bawling after the winger linked up well with Fleet.

City continued to dig deep and were presented with a golden opportunity to equalise on 83 minutes after Josh Ashby was tripped in the area.

Top-scorer Tshimanga stepped up and beat Harding to score his 37th goal in all competitions and set up a thrilling finish.

Both sides went in search of a winner and it came City’s way in the last minute.

Banbury could only head a corner to the edge of the box, where Fleet showed neat control and curled a fine effort into the top corner.

Oxford Mail:

  • Reece Fleet (8) is congratulated by his Oxford City teammates after scoring the winner Picture: Steve Daniels

There was still time for City to lose goalkeeper King to injury, but it did not matter as they had completed their comeback.

Oxford City: King (Caro 90), Jones, Oastler, Case, Self, Ashby, Fleet, Wiltshire, McEachran (Fasanmade 70), Bawling, Tshimanga. Subs not used: O’Donoghue, Carter.

Banbury Utd: Harding, Hawtin, Whitehead, Henderson, Odhiambo, Richards, Rasulo, Hottor, Nash, Awadh (MacDonald 90), Johnson (Kaziboni 13). Subs not used: Barnett, Heapy.

Attendance: 296.