THE WAY that Oxford United have started the season, anyone who runs into Chris Wilder's team in the foreseeable future is liable to have their work cut out.
So perhaps the biggest disappointment for Torquay United was not so much that they lost to the early League Two leaders at Plainmoor, but that they never really gave themselves a chance to beat them. Especially in an eventful second half.
As Wilder admitted afterwards, the U's were quite relieved to make it to half-time with the score still at 0-0.
Alan Knill's men may not have played brilliantly – they gave the ball away straight from the kick-off and some of their passing was erratic – but they worked hard to overcome a jittery start and gradually used the wind in their favour to get on top.
Bookings for recalled winger Courtney Cameron and goalkeeper Martin Rice, angry that he'd been penalised for carrying the ball over the bye-line, were evidence of United's early frustration.
With Tom Cruise deputising for suspended right-back Dale Tonge – he did a decent job in the circumstances – United also had a plethora of left-footers going forward, and it made then a little predictable at times.
But just before half-time they did have the visitors under real pressure, with Billy Bodin, Kevin Nicholson and Cameron all going close to a breakthrough.
Nicholson sustained a nasty gash on his cheek in the 44th minute. It required five stitches during the interval, but it didn't stop him finishing the match.
Even without their injured centre-forward Dave Kitson, Oxford looked dangerous in counter-attacks, with Alfie Potter an obvious threat, but United had reasons to be optimistic at half-time, especially if they could find another gear.
Instead, they found themselves a goal behind within two minutes of the restart, and 2-0 down after just over an hour.
They were unhappy, with some justification, that what looked like a foul on Aaron Downes wasn't picked up in the build-up to the first goal in the 49th minute.
But they could hardly complain when, from the corner that followed, their marking wasn't good enough to stop Deane Smalley forcing in David Hunt's flag-kick to the near-post…0-1.
United reacted well.
Callum Ball smashed a left-foot volley against Ryan Clarke's bar, Ben Harding had a 22-yard free-kick tipped round by the U's goalie and Krystian Peace's goalbound header was blocked from the corner.
Potter also had to go off with blood pouring from a cut nose after a challenge with Downes – more work for the doctor. Potter did not return.
And in the 62nd minute referee Graham Salisbury made one of several contentious decisions to disallow an 'equaliser' by Ball. United protested rightly that Oxford's 'wall' was not back ten yards. Any advantage should have been with the attacking team, but it was only as Ball's free-kick still beat the lot of them that Mr. Salisbury blew up and ordered a retake.
Lee Mansell curled the second one over the bar, but what followed was even more damaging for United.
Clarke's goal-kick evaded everyone, with a bounce included, until it fell kindly into the path of Oxford sub James Constable, on for Potter. With his very first touch, Constable hit a 16-yard dipping volley over Rice…0-2.
Knill sent on Damon Lathrope for Harding and Jordan Chapell for Cameron, and in the 70th minute Chapell, with his first touch too, made ground to finish a quickly-taken Ball throw and Karl Hawley's cross from the left…1-2.
There was plenty of time for United to save themselves.
But in the 77th minute Oxford punished them again on the counter attack.
Constable turned provider this time and Asa Hall, whose first shot was well parried by Rice, made no mistake from the rebound…1-3.
There was no coming back from that.
Knill said: "I thought it was a good test for us, to see where we are, and we came up a little short in the second half.
"We had no luck with any of the decisions, and I don't think the referee had the greatest of games, but you can't defend like we defended at times.
"I'm not saying we were completely happy, but in the first half we were a match for Oxford. In the second we kind of undid ourselves."
Wilder, who is now in his sixth season at the Kassam Stadium, said: "We are a big club in this league, especially when we start the season as we have, but you could see the tempo and energy that Torquay showed against us, especially in the first half, and we'll face that all the time.
"The conditions weren't great for both sides, but they could quite easily have been in front at half-time.
"We scored at great times, and we picked them off on the counter attack well ."