Oxford United continue to make progress as they stretched their unbeaten run to five games with a 0-0 draw against a stubborn Stevenage at the Kassam Stadium this afternoon. The U's once again played plenty of bright attractive football but couldn't quite find the finish despite dominating much of the game.
With an unchanged line up United started where they had left off in the previous game against Accrington, pouring forward towards the Oxford Mail end roared on by their fans. Danny Hylton had a fifth-minute shot saved by keeper Chris Day and then his follow-up efforts smothered but with Joe Riley marauding down the right and Brian Howard knitting things together it was a very encouraging start.
Callum O'Dowda's 17 minute shot was deflected wide after he had burst inside past his full back (something Oxford fans are going to see plenty of), Hylton had a 20th-minute shot similarly deflected wide after a well-worked free kick and the first quarter of the game had belonged to the home side. Hylton hammered a header wide on the half hour, O'Dowda sent another effort wide on 37, Hylton volleyed into the side netting on 45 and perhaps the only criticism at half time was that plenty of possession and shooting opportunities had forced Day into only the one save despite bags of decent football.
Hylton jinked into a dangerous position immediately after the break and yet another deflection took the ball over the fence as Stevenage continued to throw their bodies in the way of everything, Dean Wells exemplifying their determination. One United move started with keeper George Long playing a one-two inside his six-yard box and starting a flowing break that ended with Hylton's shot going out for yet another corner – Newey's header flashing over the top from the set piece.
Michael Collins and Josh Ruffels were giving United an excellent base to build from in midfield, Ruffels also finding time to bomb forward and smash another shot into the arms of Day on 66. Credit to Stevenage who fought for everything and might have pulled off a classic smash and grab when Dean Parrett's dipping shot on 79 minutes almost caught out Long, who kept it out rather awkwardly. but far more of the game had been played at the other end and their chances had been limited.
Every game hinges on one or two key moments and in this game they came on 84 and 85 minutes. First the excellent Johnny Mullins rose at the far post and headed across goal. Fellow defender Tom Newey helped it goalwards but saw his effort blocked, only for Hylton to drag his follow up effort agonisingly wide of the left-hand post. Moments later and Tyrone Barnett, who worked tirelessly all afternoon up front, set up Hylton who rounded the keeper twice but couldn't get either a shot away or a pass across to three waiting colleagues to his left.
Key incidents but United will play a lot worse than this and win games. A first home win on Tuesday, a first clean sheet here; small but important signs that progress is being made. The invention and belief are there and the fans applauded their team off, appreciative of a good performance just lacking that finishing touch.
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Steve Daniels Stats by OPTA
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