Walsall 1 Oxford United 1
Oxford United came from behind to draw at Walsall this afternoon when Chris Maguire's deflected second-half goal earned them a 1-1 draw at the Banks's Stadium. Trailing to an excellent Andreas Makris goal, the U's hit back to claim a point with a spirited second-half performance.
On a gloriously sunny afternoon it was the home side who forced the early pace. Scott Laird had the ball in the net in the fourth minute, Walsall even playing the goal celebration music before they noticed the flag was up for offside, and Kieron Morris then cracked a seventh-minute effort against the post from 18 yards out. There was an outstanding challenge from Canice Carroll - excellent on his second start - to stop a further attack after nine minutes and then having weathered the storm United started to come into their own.
Comfortable on the ball and zipping it about nicely on the pristine playing surface, the U’s started to get the ball down and play through midfield with some clever interplay trying to free front two Conor McAleny and Marvin Johnson. Joe Rothwell’s 21st-minute effort was a little too careful and easily saved by home keeper Neil Etheridge and the former Man United man’s 24th-minute drive was the opposite, flying well wide after another neat flurry of passes had opened up space for him on the edge of the box.
Simon Eastwood made a good save on 25 when Morris again set his sights from 18 yards but the second quarter of the game was more notable for a flurry of yellow cards than goalmouth action as the teams traded fouls and Walsall’s back line took turns to welcome Johnson to the forward line by booting him in the air.
The second half was much more open and just two minutes after the break it was the home side who took the lead. A header back at the far post bounced up for Makris who let fly from 20 yards. The ball flew over Eastwood, clipped the underside of the bar, and it was advantage to the Saddlers.
United reacted well and raised their game to try and get back into things. They might have been level just a minute after the goal as Maguire nipped in behind the home defence and cut the ball back. The ball was deflected by a defender and struck the right hand post and when McAleny reacted the shot was smuggled off the line and away from danger.
Two minutes later and United should have had a penalty as Johnson roared on to a Maguire through ball and knocked it between two defenders. They converged, Johnson was clipped, but no penalty was awarded. There were loud shouts soon after as Carroll again went down in the box, McAleny had a header saved just before the hour and Walsall were playing on the counter attack for much of the second period.
The outstanding Maguire had done everything possible to drive the team forward and with 15 minutes left it was his drive that made it 1-1. 25 yards out and with the ball stationary, Walsall might have closed the Scot down quicker but chose to stand off. Maguire let fly for the left corner, the ball hit the hapless James O'Connor to take it into the other side of the goal and Etheridge was powerless as it rolled home in front of the delighted 1,146 away fans.
Now very much the dominant side, United saw the recalled Charlie Raglan head one chance over and then have a shot well saved by Etheridge. The result may have been largely irrelevant but they gave it absolutely everything, with their travelling army in full voice and Walsall camped deep in their own half. In all likelihood the teams will meet in League 1 again next season - this was a must win game if the U's were to reach those elusive play-off places - but whatever the circumstances, all you can ask if for maximum effort. United had given that all over the park.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, Stats by OPTA
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