Oxford United 1 Oldham Athletic 1
Rob Hall's return continues to gather pace after the forward struck his first goal since his return to Oxford United to earn his side a point against ten-man Oldham. Hall's spectacular effort cancelled out an early Christmas gift for Cameron Burgess as United made it six games unbeaten with a 1-1 draw at Grenoble Road.
On a dark and rainy December afternoon the two sides traded early chances, Ryan McLaughlin heading Oldham’s first over the top and Chris Maguire testing the handling of visiting keeper Connor Ripley with a third-minute free kick from the edge of the box. Ripley, believe it or not a former United loanee, then sprawled to make a decent save when Maguire picked his way through three of four challenges and got a low shot away.
It was the Latics who took the early lead in the tenth minute when an ‘up and at em’ free kick for once evaded Simon Eastwood when he came to punch clear. The ball flew into a ruck of bodies at the back post and dropped obligingly for Burgess, who was five yards out in the middle of the goal and simply could not miss.
United came back strongly and Kane Hemmings toed a Maguire cross just over the top before Hall was only inches away from connecting from a good Johnson cross as the U's continued to enjoy the majority of the possession.
Chris Maguire was his usual energetic self and tested Ripley with a curling free-kick in injury time but as much as United had dominated the play most of attacks were breaking down in the final third of the pitch. Oldham could have doubled their lead had Ollie Banks been on target when well placed shortly before half time.
Oldham were happy to slow it down, as was their prerogative having taken the lead away from home, but United had more purpose in the second half and were well on top.
Hall sent an effort wide as the action unfolded, but was not to be denied for long before he announced his return to full fitness with an outstanding goal. It came after neat approach play, with the ball worked from back to front through midfield. The initial attack was repulsed but Hall had found space 20 yards from goal in a central position and when the ball came his way he controlled, looked up and fired a swerving effort into the top left corner with Ripley helpless. It has been a long way back and Hall celebrated with physio Andrew Proctor; a fully fit Rob Hall will be a major asset in the second half of the season.
Oldham had been solid and hard to break down but before the hour were down to ten men when Ousmane Fane, already on a yellow, felled the flying Johnson and was shown a second card and dismissed, inviting unrelenting pressure for the final half hour. Maguire would have scored the goal of the century when he danced through four defenders like slalom poles and hammered a shot towards the near post, forcing Ripley into emergency action, Johnson was off target with a curling effort soon after and then forced another good save from the overworked Ripley.
The keeper's best save was either to deny Dunkley, whose dipping header was going under the bar until the former Middlesbrough keeper tipped it over, or a 90th-minute parry when Johnson again let fly from inside the penalty area.
Head Coach Michael Appleton, usually unflappable on the sidelines, missed the last ten minutes after being sent to the stand after becoming involved in a war of words with the Oldham coaching staff; he was followed swiftly by one of the Oldham backroom team to leave both benches a man light.
He missed ten minutes of absolute one-way traffic as Oldham dropped deeper and deeper, but United could make no further progress and so had to settle for a point. Good, hard League 1 football with plenty of edge and no quarter given.
Report by Chris Williams pictures by Steve Daniels, Stats by OPTA
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