Oxford's unbeaten league run reached four games as their unbeaten away record stretched into another month following a 0-0 draw at Exeter this evening. United had to fight hard to ensure they went through January unbeaten in the league but a performance based on determination, character and team spirit gave them a point against the Grecians. Those are qualities that caretaker boss Mickey Lewis personified as a player and he will be pleased to have come through his first game in charge without defeat.
With Ryan Williams, Dave Kitson and Jake Wright all unavailable through injury, United lined up in a flexible formation which had Sean Rigg on the right and Josh Ruffels on the left looking to join James Constable and Deane Smalley up front. Michael Raynes returned alongside Johnny Mullins at the back, with the magnificent Mullins taking the captain’s armband as expected.
Exeter, without a home win since 5th October, were far from cautious in the opening exchanges against a side with the best away record in the league. Tom Nicholls had a second-minute shot go wide before Arron Davies blasted in a 25-yard effort which the ever-reliable Ryan Clarke somehow got a hand to, pushing it up onto the bar and away from danger.
The same player volleyed over from the edge of the box on 11 minutes as the Grecians continued to press, although the fact that all three were from distance rather than by breaking down the defence indicates that United were coping with the early danger. They then had five minutes where they created four great chances. They might have taken the lead on 12 minutes as Constable flicked on for Smalley who ran at the keeper but couldn’t steer his shot past Artur Krysiak. Mullins saw a shot saved from the corner, Wroe pinged one past the right-hand post from the rebound and then Newey headed a Rose corner into the arms of a relieved Krysiak.
It was an enjoyable game and Mullins headed a Hunt free kick at the keeper again on 25 as United continued to play their part. However level pegging was a fair half-time result after both sides had started to tighten up after that open first half hour.
United were forced into a reshuffle at the break with Michael Raynes unable to continue. That meant a first league appearance for Matt Bevans at right back with Hunt switching to centre half. Bevans looked composed on the ball and strong in the tackle and fitted in well while Hunt once again showed what a good defender he is, whatever position is required.
There was one early scare when the dangerous Davies skipped past Clarke but couldn’t find his man in the six-yard box, but for the majority of the game the ball was being played in the other half of the pitch where Wroe saw a shot deflected wide and Smalley’s hard running was stretching the game. Exeter constantly crashed against the rock-like Mullins, who headed kicked and cleared absolutely anything that came his way, showing immense pride in that armband and the clean sheet. One tackle by Mullins where he gained five yards to catch Gow and sweep up danger was brilliant.
When called upon Clarke made another outstanding save from Davies, tumbling to his right to push a low shot round the post and in injury time the keeper somehow parried a header from Coles from six yards out then dived on the rebound to ensure the clean sheet was intact.
After the events following Saturday's win over Torquay this was always going to be a challenge but United march on and remain perfectly placed right in the play-off and promotion pack.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Darrell Fisher, Stats by OPTA
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