Oxford United picked up their first point on the road this season with a tough, battling 0-0 draw at MK Dons. In a fascinating tactical battle the U's defended resolutely when required and carved out enough presentable chances to have won, but two good sides were ultimately left with a point apiece as defences came out on top.
United were unchanged both in team selection and support, with close to 4,000 crossing the border into Buckinghamshire hoping to see a repeat of the heroics of the previous week against Swindon. The energy and commitment were the same, but this time there was to be no way of turning that into goals.
The Dons had two early chances when the pace of Kieran Agard got him in behind the United defence, Chey Dunkley
having to slide to clear the second after Agard had clipped it past the onrushing Simon Eastwood
. However the best early chance came for Wes Thomas
when a magnificent ball from Chris Maguire
allowed Liam Sercombe
to volley across from the left. Thomas, at full stretch, couldn't beat keeper David Martin as he flew from his line. Thomas's afternoon ended there and then as he limped off to be replaced by Ryan Taylor
after jarring an ankle in the collision.
The most intriguing battle was down United's left flank where Marvin Johnson and former United loanee George Baldock were matching each other stride for stride, Johnson whipping in a number of early crosses and Baldock looking to get forward from right back at every opportunity. When the U's switched wingers after half an hour it didn't offer Baldock much respite as he found Maguire directly up against him, the Scottish international drifting inside and firing just wide on 33.
The non-stop Joe Rothwell
exchanged passes with Taylor and fired in a low shot on 34 that Martin smothered on his line, but it had been an even first half with the Dons enjoying greater possession and creating a number of dangerous positions, so parity at half time was probably fair on both sides.
The second half started with the home side having their best spell so far, Ben Reeves flicking a header into the arms of Eastwood on 49 minutes and most of the game being played in the United half until the 56th minute when Martin touched a back pass and conceded an indirect free kick inside his area. The Dons lined an entire team up as a wall and Maguire was unable to force the free kick through the sea of white shirts.
Now a tight game had started to open up and flow more freely from end to end. Dunkley and Charlie Raglan both made key blocks and tackles, Lundstram smashed one wide from 25 yards at the other end and there was no question of either side settling for the one point when all three were on offer. Johnson sent in another effort on 73 that Martin saw late as it flashed through the legs before him but the best chance came to Sercombe who was presented with a run at goal by the home defence with 12 minutes to go but saw his rising effort tipped over the bar by Martin. When the home side have their keeper named as Man of the Match it usually tells you plenty about how the game itself has gone, although it was Eastwood who made the match-defining save as he came out quickly to save superbly at the feet of Agard deep into injury time.
This time last year there were two divisions between these clubs, today there was nothing to choose between two well-drilled teams who play bright attacking football. The U's take their point, collect their third clean sheet in a row, and move on.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Darrell Fisher
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