Oxford United's unbeaten league run stretched to 11 games but they had to settle for a point this afternoon after drawing a blank against Shrewsbury at the Kassam Stadium. A patched-up United side, playing at home for the first time in 39 days, worked hard but for once couldn't find a goal against a disciplined and determined Shrewsbury side.
With Alex Gorrin suspended and Jamie Hanson likely to be out for six weeks after pulling a hamstring at Exeter in midweek, United were forced to fit square pegs into round holes; top scorer James Henry became the holding man in a midfield trio with Anthony Forde and Mark Sykes. Further forward Rob Hall and Tariqe Fosu played either side of Matty Taylor, meaning that technically five of the team in front of debutant keeper Jordan Archer were wingers - six if you include the marauding Chris Cadden.
Henry demonstrated his defensive qualities by nodding an Aaron Pierre shot off the line after nine minutes but the changes to the personnel seemed to take time to settle down and Shrewsbury, playing in all-purple, started the stronger, with United unable to find their rhythm in a disjointed first half.
Archer looked solid on his debut and was forced into a first save after 11 minutes to keep Dave Edwards out, repeating that a minute later as the visitors lived up to boss Sam Ricketts’ prediction that they would not come just to defend against a U’s side who have put so many sides to the sword at the Kassam Stadium this season.
There were glimpses of the usual U’s: two dangerous crosses from Sykes, a touch or two from Hall, but a further injury to Forde just before the break - it looked like a rib injury after he threw himself into a challenge - meant one final disruption at the end of a half that was solid if unspectacular.
Forde's departure meant a change of shape once more, with Elliott Moore slotting immediately into the back four and captain Mousinho patrolling just in front of them or quite often behind as part of a three (a permanent shape once Sam Long came on for the hobbling Henry), and on the hour the introduction of Jamie Mackie added a new energy as United, better after the break, started to apply pressure.
Taylor and Mackie were involved in one almighty scramble without truly getting a sight at goal but the ball was much more in the Shrewsbury half as Archer became the third keeper in three games to keep a clean sheet for the U's.
The reliable Ruffels came as close as anyone to breaking the deadlock when he ghosted in at the back post with nine minutes left but couldn't guide a Cadden cross past the sprawling O'Leary. Fosu then smashed a volley into the body of a stunned defender right in front of goal and the Shrews had been stubborn opponents. Given the circumstances perhaps a point was good for both sides although United will have been disappointed not to hit the heights of previous home performances.
And on we go.
See you at MK.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels and Tom Melvin, stats by OPTA