Oxford United and Exeter shared the points in a dramatic late ending at the Kassam Stadium. A goal from leading scorer Danny Hylton
was cancelled out by an Arron Davies strike just before the break, before Alex Nicholls and James Roberts
exchanged goals in the final three minutes to leave it a breathless 2-2.
It was a new-look United with Josh Ashby
and Patrick Hoban
making their long-awaited full debuts. Hoban led the line and was a constant threat as well as linking things together neatly up top, while Ashby looked like he had played hundreds of games as he settled quickly to his task in midfield. With Josh Ruffels
alongside him, Sam Long
at right back, Callum O'Dowda
on the left wing and Max Crocombe
, Sam Humphreys and James Roberts
on the bench, there were no fewer than seven local lads in the line-up, a hugely encouraging sign.
That dash of youthful exuberance ensured a fast start from the U's, who dominated the first half of the game and deservedly took the lead after 18 minutes. Ashby started the move; Rose, buzzing around and at the heart of everything, worked the ball out to the left for O'Dowda in space. His cross was ideal for Hylton, arriving at the back post to thump a side-footed shot past the helpless James Hamon for a well-worked and well-taken 14th of the season.
United might have doubled their lead but Johnny Mullins
lent back and slammed his 28th-minute shot just over the bar, but with O'Dowda whipping crosses in and Hoban attacking everything they were stretching the Grecians' back line and playing some excellent football.
Exeter hadn't had a shot but in the 37th minute scored with their first effort. Having played some neat passing football previously they launched a simple free kick from half way into the United box. It was headed back by Graham Cummins straight to Davies, who rifled the ball into the bottom right corner to level the scores at half time.
Having drawn level, Paul Tisdale's side were more adventurous in the second half and enjoyed their best spell of the match immediately after the break. Alex Nicholls went close with a shot from the edge of the area and the game became more open as both teams continued to probe for openings. That doesn't always translate into shooting chances and neither keeper was truly tested as their defences stood firm. Ruffels blasted well wide from the edge of the box but clear chances were rare as the defences tightened up at both ends.
Hylton, outstanding, never lost belief and ran himself into the ground to try and make something happen but in the 89th minute there was late drama as Exeter looked to have stolen the points. Clarke made a good save with his legs to keep out Tom Nicholls' effort but the danger wasn't over. The corner wasn't cleared, the ball was returned and looped up and Alex Nicholls got his head on it to loop it up and over the stranded Clarke and his desperately covering defence.
To lose a fourth straight home game would have been unthinkable but Roberts was once again the man for the moment. Last minute, edge of box, dipping, deadly effort and the ball in the far corner to earn his side a point. Five goals for the young striker and reward for that trust in youth in the line up.
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Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Steve Daniels
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