Two goals from Danny Hylton
were only enough to earn Oxford United a draw as they returned to league action against Mansfield Town at the Kassam Stadium tonight. Hylton's first goals since November looked enough for the U's to overturn a Matt Green opener for the Stags until sub Jack Thomas nodded home a last-minute equaliser to leave it 2-2 and honours even.
After the excitement of getting through to Wembley in their last home game, United were sluggish in the first half hour and were thankful to skipper Jake Wright
for heading a Matt Blair effort off the line after just eight minutes as the visitors started strongly. Chris Clements saw a free kick deflect off the wall and away for a corner after 18 minutes as Adam Murray’s Stags pressed and on 22 the visitors were in front.
A corner from Malv Benning was half cleared but returned from the edge of the area, a horrible high looping ball that Sam Slocombe
failed to clear under pressure, leaving Green to nod home for his tenth goal of the season. It might have been worse when Ryan Tafazolli headed another Benning set piece wide via a United shin on 27, but a procession of set pieces aimed at former United triallist Tafazolli kept Mansfield in the United half while the extra man in their 4-3-3 shape meant that the U’s struggled to find their usual rhythm.
It needed a goal to lift things and on 31 United levelled things up with their first real effort of the game. It came down the right where Jonjoe Kenny galloped forward and skipped past his man before clipping the ball across. Hylton was in plenty of space but still did well to generate power and head the ball past two Mansfield men on the line for his seventh of the season.
Now United had a base to work from and started to pen Mansfield back. The visitors went to a 4-1-4-1 shape and invited the U’s to find a way through, something they patiently tried to do, moving the ball from flank to flank and trying to lure one of those Mansfield men out of position. It was fascinating to watch and 1-1 at the break was probably fair enough, although it took a magnificent save from the flying Slocombe on 42 to reach a James Baxendale effort that was heading for the top corner.
United will have had a rocket at half time and came back with far more tempo and intent. Liam Sercombe
, who so often acts as a metronome for the U’s, cracked in a shot from the edge of the box on 48 that Stags’ keeper Scott Shearer saved well, and Chris Maguire
sent in a 25-yard effort that went close on 50. Roofe had a shot deflected on to the roof of the net on 62 and gradually United were turning the screw and Mansfield were dropping deeper and deeper as the U's dominated possession.
A second goal was on the cards and on 69 it was Hylton once more who found a way through. Sub Zeli Ismail paved the way by beating his man and delivering a cross from the right that got a touch as it flew across the six-yard line. Hylton, taking the ball on the half volley, smashed it home off the underside of the bar to make it 2-1 and make it eight for the season.
It could have been three on 75 when the impressive Maguire beat the wall with a free kick but saw the ball bounce back from the top of the left-hand post. Roofe almost headed another Ismail cross home on 85 then forced Shearer into another save on 86, but United were made to rue those misses on 90 when Green chased a lost cause and earned a corner which was never cleared properly. Thomas had one effort saved but the rebound came his way and his return header looped over Slocombe and the covering defenders to drop just inside the far post.
Hylton somehow steered an effort wide from seven yards out in injury time but although the U's stay in the top three they will look back at one point that could so easily have been three.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Daniels and Darrell Fisher, stats by Opta
Fifty/50 winning number wins £
See highlights and reaction in Yellow Player HD