Oxford United and Braintree Town will do battle again after a 1-1 draw at the Amlin Stadium this afternoon. Having taken the lead through a Ryan Taylor header, United were pegged back by a goal from home captain Kenny Davis, and having finished the game with ten men after Johnny Mullins' red card, the U's had to hang on in the closing stages to take the Iron back to the Kassam Stadium.
There were five changes to the starting XI but the U’s began with their usual rhythm and pushed the bright orange shirts of the Iron back in the opening exchanges. Cameron Gayle, making his debut, showed a willingness to get forward from left back, and was used as an emergency centre-half after Mullins' dismissal, while the recalled Danny Rose in midfield saw plenty of the ball alongside John Lundstram.
It took 15 minutes for the opening goal from Taylor. Callum O’Dowda had been causing problems on both flanks and when he found space on the left he delivered the perfect cross for Taylor to end a fine move with a thumping header beyond the exposed Will Norris. Three goals in two games for the former Pompey forward.
He really should have scored again a minute later when Norris pushed O’Dowda’s shot into his path but Taylor thumped the ball over the bar with the goal seemingly at his mercy the first of several missed opportunities that were to cost the U's.
Braintree, in great form in the Conference, regrouped after conceding the early goal and started to play some decent football, with skipper Davis at the heart of most things as they came back into the game.
A Dan Sparkes free kick on 29 tested Benji Buchel’s handling for the first time and the game became end to end in traditional FA Cup style. The home side’s top scorer Michael Cheek smacked a header narrowly wide from a 41st minute corner and with just a 1-0 lead at the break United were far from safe.
They should have extended their lead four minutes into the second half when a Taylor back-heel presented strike partner Patrick Hoban with only Norris to beat from eight yards out. Hoban went for the near post but Norris showed why he has just been voted National League Player of the month with a quick reflex save to his left.
The keeper made another good save from Hoban a minute later as the Irishman bore down on goal for a second time, and Hoban then looped a header onto the roof of the net but while it remained 1-0 there was still plenty of danger. Mullins made a block, Skarz made another, and then on 63 the missed chances proved costly as Braintree broke forward. Chez Isaac caused confusion and when the ball broke to Davis 20 yards out his aim was deadly with a powerful sidefooted effort that arrowed into the bottom left corner of the net.
Having dominated much of the game, United were left with ten men after 71 when skipper Mullins was left one on one with Cheek, who knocked the ball beyond him and was tripped. Mullins, on a yellow card already, was sent off and with Joe Skarz already standing in at centre-half due to injuries and suspensions, United were left with an unfamiliar back line of Baldock, Lundstram, Skarz and Gayle.
Danny Hylton and Liam Sercombe added urgency in the last 15 minutes and the ten men, rather than the Iron, did all of the late pressing. Sercombe stabbed an effort past Norris but on to the inside of the post, Hoban and Gayle powered headers just wide, Braintree dropped deeper and deeper and it was proper cup football. Buchel made a superb save from the last kick of the game and that kept the U's in this season's FA Cup.
Credit to Braintree, who deserved their draw and will be just as tough when they visit the Kassam Stadium a week on Tuesday. For now both teams will have to be content with a place in the hat when the draw is made on Monday evening.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, Stats by Opta
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