Oxford United had to settle for a point after 90 minutes of high tension at Newport this evening. Ahead through an early Jordan Bowery
goal, the U's led for barely two minutes before Medy Elito struck to earn Newport the one point they needed to guarantee their Football League place for next season. Chase as they might, United couldn't find a winner despite a huge second-half effort as they tried to turn a useful draw into a far more valuable three points.
Unusually, both sides needed to make changes in the warm up. The home side lost Alex Rodman, with Yan Klukowski coming into the side for a 20 minute cameo before a knee injury forced him off. More significantly, United lost top scorer Kemar Roofe
, who had been suffering from an ankle injury and was deemed unfit to play just before kick-off after aggravating the problem in the warm up. Bowery got the late shout, partnering James Roberts
on his first start in over a year.
It meant a change of role for Danny Hylton
, who moved out to play wide on the right at first but continually swapped with Bowery. Hylton had drifted inside in the eighth minute to reach a superb pass from Roberts and squeeze the ball past home keeper Joe Day, only to see it come back off the right-hand post from the first chance of the match.
It was a temporary reprieve for the home side because on 12 minutes United were in front. A long ball forward from Chey Dunkley
should have been cleared but Chris Maguire
is a clever player and put his body in front of a defender with a sly nudge to ease him out of the way. That ensured that the ball ran neatly inside for Bowery, who had the simple task of rolling the ball home for his seventh goal of the season.
Newport, fresh from six league defeats, were struggling but United failed to consolidate that early lead and just two minutes later were pegged back. A long throw was only cleared as far as Medy Elito, who let fly from 20 yards and found the bottom left corner of the net to make it 1-1. You could almost see the body language change throughout the home side as they began to believe and enjoy a much better spell, getting the ball into United’s box at every opportunity and testing the U’s defence, with skipper Jake Wright
having to rally his troops on his return.
Roberts dragged a 31st minute shot wide from just outside the box, Maguire sent a similar effort wide of the other upright on 38 but Day hadn’t truly been tested in the first 45 minutes and United raised their tempo from the start of the second period. They were desperately unlucky when the towering Dunkley chested goalwards and saw his effort hacked clear right on the line, but in their haste to get forward they were also open to the counter and there were a couple of madcap scrambles just before the hour mark which a more confident side than Newport might have punished.
If you took away the tension it was probably a good game to watch, but the final 25 minutes were all about finding a way through and forcing three points rather then just one. Bowery, Roberts, Hylton and Maguire prowled as a front four, with Liam Sercombe
charging forward to join them and sub Josh Ashby
playing slightly deeper and trying to thread the passes through for his hard-running team mates. Roberts poked wide on 68, Maguire had a deflected effort that flew into the gloves of the grateful Day after 70 and the superb 1,040 travelling fans sang their hearts out to draw their side towards them.
It was breathless end-to-end stuff. Newport battled for everything and caused plenty of problems with Buchel making one magnificent save at full length to touch a Mark Byrne effort round the post. At any other stage of the season you take a point away from home and go again but there was no doubting the urgency from the red-shirted U's in the closing stages as they did everything they could to cling on to second place in the table.
They remain in the automatic places and now just three games remain. United welcome Hartlepool United to the Kassam Stadium in Saturday. BE THERE.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Darrell Fisher