Oxford United and Crawley Town picked up a point each on the opening day of the season with an entertaining 1-1 draw at the Kassam Stadium today. Trailing to a Gwion Edwards header, the U's hit back quickly through last season's top scorer Danny Hylton to secure a draw and get their first point on the board.
The game started at a ferocious pace with the superb new playing surface and bright sunshine setting a perfect scene for the opening day. There were a couple of early ‘let them know you’re here’ challenges, one or two dangerous crosses just beyond flying forwards’ foreheads and some enterprising flicks and moves that almost set players free. A booking apiece in the first 15 minutes illustrated the commitment while Alex MacDonald and Kemar Roofe both had shots from the edge of the box blocked as the U’s dominated in terms of both possession and territory in the opening 20 minutes.
Roofe sent in a low shot on 30 to force visiting keeper Freddie Woodman into a save by his left-hand post that rolled back the years to when his father Andy was in goal for the U’s, but new U’s keeper Sam Slocombe was virtually a spectator in the first half of his debut as the U’s pushed Crawley deeper and deeper. That perhaps doesn’t give the credit to the two men in front of him; Jake Wright and Johnny Mullins were their usual mean selves and mopped up any danger long before it got as far as the man behind them.
However, having soaked up a little pressure in the first 45 minutes Mark Yates’s side began the second period with far more attacking intent and on 57 were ahead. Roarie Deacon paved the way by getting to the by-line and crossing. The ball was flicked further on by Jimmy Smith and Edwards stooped to head home from inside the six-yard box to make it 1-0 with practically Crawley’s first effort on target.
It was unjust on the U’s but the response was swift and the record set straight by Hylton, so good they are building a hotel in his honour at one end of the ground. Danny Rose, industrious and inventive all afternoon, carved out the opportunity with a clever ball that was perfectly weighted for Hylton to run on to, in behind the Crawley back line. Woodman came out but Hylton was too quick and thundered a low effort beyond the keeper to open his account for the season and make it 1-1 on 65 minutes.
It was a much more open game now and it took a superb recovery challenge from Mullins to stop sub Matt Harold, who appeared to have only Slocombe to beat until Mullins somehow hooked the ball away. That would have been harsh on the Yellows, who saw a Roofe shot clawed away by Woodman on 85 and the keeper then make a good save to deny the irrepressible Mullins, whose header was heading for the roof of the net.
First days are all about putting down a marker and showing promise for the season ahead. The U's played some good football on this occasion and were perhaps a little unlucky not to get their first win. However, they showed character to come back, no little endeavour and skill, and with over 6,000 home fans there to give them fantastic support there remains plenty of hope for what lies ahead.
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Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Darrell Fisher, Stats by Opta
See Highlights and reaction in Yellow Player