Oxford United made it seven games unbeaten against their nearest rivals with a 0-0 draw at the County Ground in the Checkatrade Trophy. Alternatively, they lost on penalties if you prefer! A man down after Alex MacDonald
's first-half red card, United were all square after 90 minutes but missed out on a bonus point after a penalty shoot out saw Swindon win 3-1 and get two points to United's one.
As anticipated, there were opportunities for some of the United players who haven’t been in the starting line up to impress. Arsenal loanee Dan Crowley
, playing in the number 10 role, did just that, starting with a good run and shot after 10 minutes, with Ryan Taylor
playing in front of him and holding the ball up well to allow the midfield of Tyler Roberts
, Joe Rothwell
, Josh Ruffels
and MacDonald to join him.
MacDonald had a 12th-minute free kick patted down by Robins keeper Will Henry, while the one anxious moment at the other end came when an Ellis Iandolo effort whizzed a few yards wide after 14 minutes. Otherwise the new-look back four of Phil Edwards
, Aaron Martin
, Sam Long
and Joe Skarz
were largely untroubled as Swindon contented themselves with neat possession football in the first 20 minutes without any great incision.
The Robins were playing an extraordinarily high back line and United continually looked to be about to run in behind, with Rothwell always playing with his head up and trying to time the through ball.
Eastwood made the first of several good saves from a Tom Smith 20-yarder on 20 minutes and was saved from having to save from Norris on 24 when Edwards stepped across the flying striker’s path and conceded a free kick and a yellow card rather than risk anything greater.
The best chance of the first half came on 27 though, when Rothwell won the ball back after a loose pass from a Swindon defender. He fed Crowley who slipped MacDonald into the box but an uncharacteristic heavy touch allowed Henry to close the gap and get enough on the shot to take the pace off and allow the ball to be cleared.
Sadly, in the opinion of ref Paul Tierney MacDonald’s next heavy touch was on Anton Rodgers’ ankle. The United winger’s evening ended on 37 as he was judged to have left his studs in when challenging in midfield, leaving the U’s to compete with ten men. That’s about standard for this ferocious fixture: five red cards in the last five meetings, seven in the last eight.
It changed the balance of the game and Eastwood needed to make another excellent save on 45 as Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill took aim for the far corner from 20 yards out. The second half became a game of cat and mouse as the ten men sat deep and invited Swindon forward, looking to spring out on the counter.
It meant that Eastwood had to be at his best to keep out shots from Iandolo and Ormonde-Ottewill but both were from 20 yards out as the Yellows' back four continued to make good blocks and tackles to hold their line stubbornly.
They had to ride their luck at times, notably when ref Tierney waved play on as the ball brushed Long's arm before Eastwood made another outstanding save from sub Johnny Goddard after 70 minutes. They were still in it though and sub Marvin Johnson came as close as anyone to winning the game (and goal of the season) when he ran from inside his own half, beat two defenders but couldn't beat Henry with a low skidding shot that the keeper saved down to his left.
It was a great effort from the ten men. Taylor ran himself ragged for the cause, playing centre-forward AND left midfield depending who had the ball. The non-stop Rothwell somehow found the energy with five minutes left to sprint clear and cut the ball back for Johnson only for Henry to deny him once again, but in the end the defences had deserved their clean sheets.
As is the rule in this competition, there needed to be winner even if it was a draw. And so to penalties.
Goddard scored for the home side, Sercombe saw his effort saved. 1-0
Murray went to Eastwood's left but the keeper made a fine save, Taylor levelled with an excellent spot kick. 1-1
Norris couldn't beat Eastwood, Thomas saw his saved. Still 1-1
Conor Thomas made it 2-1 as Ruffels went down the middle and couldn't beat Henry
Furlong rolled home, 3-1 and extra point gained.
A DRAW, one point and United move on to Chelsea.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher and Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA