Oxford United and Luton Town shared the points at the Kassam Stadium in a thoroughly entertaining 1-1 draw. First-half goals from Jayden Stockley for the Hatters and Johnny Mullins for the U's meant it was honours even, despite an open game full of good football.
There were home debuts for Joe Skarz and Richard Brindley, plus a first start for Alex MacDonald on the right wing of a 4-4-2 shape that saw Josh Ruffels and Michael Collins as the midfield pairing.
The Hatters, backed by over 2,000 travelling fans, drew the first save of the match when Ryan Clarke made an excellent stop to deny Stockley from close range but territorially the U's were on top in the first half with the hard-running Hylton linking well with Patrick Hoban up front and moving the Luton back line around well. Hoban's battle with Luton skipper Steve McNulty simmered away all match but United's Irishman led the line superbly and improves with every game.
In the only fixture played in all five of the top divisions, there was plenty of good football to admire; one sweeping move on 28 saw Hylton almost set O'Dowda free until McNulty slid in and then Hoban was denied by keeper Mark Tyler on 30 after an astute flick from Hylton set him loose on goal.
At the other end, a brilliant block from the industrious MacDonald repelled one effort from the visitors but on 36 minutes the Hatters broke the deadlock against the run of play through a stabbed effort from Stockley. Shaun Whalley paved the way with a low shot from 20 yards out. It would have bobbled into Clarke's gloves but instead the alert Stockley turned it into a cross and poked the ball just inside the right-hand post to make it 1-0.
The U's roared back to finish the half on top and on 43 were deservedly level when Mullins smashed home the equaliser. O'Dowda had forced the pace once more and United were enjoying a good spell of pressure, when Collins drove the ball across the box. Mullins gathered it in, adjusted his feet and thumped his shot into the bottom-right corner of the net with Tyler well beaten. Two goals in two games for Mullins and parity at the break for the U's.
The second half began in a similar fashion, with MacDonald doing well to reach a header but helping it over the bar on 51, Ruffels volleyed an O'Dowda corner over the bar on 55 and MacDonald almost scored with a low bobbling effort on 58 that slipped through Tyler's gloves but, luckily for the Luton keeper, also slipped past his right-hand post.
The momentum was all with United and on 59 Mullins had the goal a his mercy as he rose to meet a tempting O'Dowda cross. This time Mullins couldn't convert and his downwards header drifted past the far post. Hoban then had the ball in the net but his celebrations were cut short by a linesman's flag but the game was a breathless rush from end to end as both sides strived for three points rather than settle for one.
James Roberts, on as a sub for the impressive MacDonald, barrelled through three weak challenges but for once couldn't find a finish, but Luton had weathered the storm on a freezing cold February afternoon and the final 15 minutes were more cagey as defences tightened up. United's back line had looked strong all afternoon, while Ruffels and Collins were both superb in front of them. There was just time for Clarke to save an Alex Wall free kick in the 89th minute but United had earned at least their point.
Three games unbeaten for the U's, who more than matched a side who have been in the play-off places for much of the season so far.
Fifty 50 winning number 378264 wins £1105.50
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Steve Daniels
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