Oxford United extended their unbeaten run the hard way with a 2-2 draw at Leyton Orient this afternoon. Cruising at half time after Kemar Roofe and John Lundstram had opened up a 2-0 lead, United were pegged back by a Jay Simpson goal and then a last-minute equaliser from Scott Kashket for a rejuvenated Orient side in the second half after Jordan Graham was sent off after an hour.
There was just the one change to the side that beat Wimbledon last week, Callum O’Dowda replacing Danny Hylton and Roofe reverting to a central role alongside Ryan Taylor up front.
It was a bruising start with some hefty challenges in a packed midfield. What space there was came on the flanks where Graham and Callum O’Dowda both whipped in dangerous crosses in the opening 15 minutes, Taylor almost touching a Graham delivery home on 12 as the U’s pressed.
Graham was causing the home defence all manner of problems and on 16 it was the Wolves loanee who created the opener. Granted acres of space on the right his cross to the far post allowed O’Dowda to put pressure on the covering defender and when the loose ball wasn’t cleared there was an inevitability about Roofe being the man on the spot to steer it home from six yards out. 1-0 and a deserved lead.
Little had been seen of the home side in the opening quarter of the game while United saw a Mullins shot on 22 swerve into the arms of home keeper Alex Cisak as they looked to double their advantage. It didn’t take too long.
32 minutes on the clock and Taylor made a nuisance of himself on halfway and allowed Sercombe to gallop beyond him in typical fashion. The Orient backline came across and left a ridiculous amount of space on the edge of the box for Lundstram to move in to. When nobody came to close him down he accepted the invitation to shoot and the ball flew past Cisak via a huge deflection from the unfortunate Connor Essam.
Orient started the season with five straight victories but had won just once since then and the frustration among the home fans was tangible as a long stream of supporters headed for a half time break ten minutes before the official interval. They missed the one chance their side created in the first 45 minutes when Slocombe saved from John Marquis at the back post, but it served as a reminder that the game was far from dead despite a healthy two goal advantage at the halfway mark.`
Orient emphasised that when the skull-capped head of skipper Mathieu Baudry met a deep cross and headed a good chance over at the start of the second half, and the O’s built up a head of steam for the first time, culminating in a five-minute spell around the hour mark where they forced their way right back into the game. First Simpson made it 2-1 with a simple finish from six yards out after a deep cross was headed back across goal. Then United were down to ten as Graham, already on a yellow for a foul, tapped the ball away and left ref Ross Joyce with little choice other than a second yellow and red, to leave a previously dominant U’s to scrap out the last half hour with ten men.
There was plenty of pressure. Slocombe fielded crosses and caught flick ons as the home side peppered the box with crosses and throws, mostly aimed at the head of target man Ollie Palmer.
At the other end the tireless Liam Sercombe almost made it 3-1 with an astonishing run from deep inside his own half on 80 minutes that ended with a toe-poked effort that was blocked by one-time Oxford loanee Cisak. The keeper then made an even better save at full stretch to keep Sercombe's vicious volley out on 82 and keep his side in it before a tense last few minutes as Orient threw caution to the wind and United defended for their lives. Those two saves proved vital.
Skarz, Mullins and Wright all made brave blocks; one from Skarz certainly preventing a goal at the back post. Simpson volleyed a great chance over with three minutes left but just as the U's thought they had weathered the storm they saw their win snatched away in the last minute. Another long ball in, the ball recycled to the edge of the box and Kashket hammered home to make it honours even.
A game of two halves. A point at Orient and another game to add to the unbeaten run should be big positives, but United will feel that it should have been more.
Report by Chris Williams, photos by Darrell Fisher, Stats by OPTA
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