Oxford United were held to a draw at home this afternoon as Carlisle United came from a goal behind to claim a point at the Kassam Stadium. In front thanks to an Alex MacDonald goal, the U's were pegged back by an own goal just before the break, leaving them still on an unbeaten run of 11 games but no longer top of the table.
The blustery conditions made it hard for both sides, with passes going astray in the opening quarter of an hour before an astonishing triple save from Benji Buchel brought the game to life. Charlie Wyke twisted past two challenges and fired in a shot from 12 yards that the Liechtenstein goalkeeper pushed away. Anthony Sweeney steered the rebound goalwards but Buchel was back on his feet and quickly sprawling to make a second save. United failed to clear their lines and let Jabo Ibehre have a third attempt but once again the brave Buchel was down to save and keep it at 0-0.
From the resulting corner United were away on a counter attack until a foul from Luke Joyce brought the first yellow card of the afternoon and ended a move that had four yellow shirts bearing down on one last defender. Cynical, but goal saving.
Joe Skarz had United’s best early effort with a hooked shot from 20 yards pushed round the post by keeper Mark Gillespie after 24 minutes and Chey Dunkley saw a 26th-minute header held by Gillespie from a Chris Maguire corner but Carlisle were giving as good as they got and forced Buchel into another fine save on the half hour when Anthony Sweeney ended a good move with a low shot that Buchel got down well to save.
Those saves were key and allowed United to take the lead on 33 minutes. A sweeping pass from John Lundstram set the Yellows away. Maguire and O’Dowda worked the ball further forward and allowed the ever-willing George Baldock to drive in from the right and beat two players as he went across the edge of the box. A desperate lunge from David Atkinson stopped Baldock’s progress but MacDonald was on to the loose ball in a flash and drove it across Gillespie and into the far corner for the opener.
Scoring first at home has often let United dictate play this season but Carlisle had other ideas. Had the Yellows stood firm until the break then who knows, but in injury time were pegged back by a goal of their own making. Invited to clear two or three times, instead United allowed Wyke to barrel towards goal and force Skarz to try and hook clear. Unfortunately all he could do was thump the ball against the retreating Dunkley, with the ball flying past the helpless Buchel to leave it 1-1 at the break.
Wyke should really have made it 2-1 to the visitors two minutes into the second half, leaning back to fire his shot over the top from eight yards after an excellent run from the impressive Alex Gilliead, before United saw MacDonald finish a great pass from Maguire with a driven cross that flashed past everyone on 52.
Carlisle were as dangerous as any side that have visited the Kassam Stadium this season and it needed O’Dowda to chest one effort off the line before Sweeney was left all on his Todd but could only head into the side netting on 56.
United were lacking their usual cohesion and the Cumbrians grew in confidence as crosses went close and efforts missed the goal by a yard or two. The one thing this side have shown this season is that they have an unbelievable resilience and having defended for their lives they were inches from regaining the lead on 73 when Maguire whipped a wonderful free kick past the wall only for the ball to strike the left-hand post and bounce safely away. It was to be as close as we came to a winner until the last minute of injury time when Roofe rose to head Maguire's cross past the keeper but on to the bar, with Gillespie quick to get down on the rebound as Roofe closed in.
That effort lifted United who began to show greater urgency in turning one point into three for the last 20 minutes but Carlisle defended well and few could begrudge them their point after the week that the town has had.
The U's have enjoyed two excellent cup wins this week and still have much to look forward to as we head for Christmas. This was one of those days where things didn't quite go to plan, but even so they remain unbeaten, they are in the automatic promotion places and another point is on the board. We move on to next weekend and a short trip up the M40 to Wycombe Wanderers. See you there.
Fifty/50 winning number 424697 wins £1652, with the same amount going to the Cumbrian Flood Appeal.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Daniels. Stats by OPTA
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