Oxford United extended their unbeaten run to four games as they ground out a 0-0 draw at a frozen Spotland this afternoon. A hard-fought 90 minutes saw the U's battle hard to keep their impressive away form going but for once they could find no route to goal as they drew 0-0 for the first time this season.
With fewer than ten sleeps till Christmas, United almost presented Dale with an early gift, Simon Eastwood flying to his left to push a fifth-minute back-post header from Steven Davies round the post. They then settled down and started to play some nice attacking football - only a great tackle prevented James Henry getting a shot away a minute later as the game opened brightly.
Eastwood pulled off another decent save when Callum Camps let fly from 25 yards after a pleasingly similar 25 minutes but the biggest danger appeared to be from set pieces, where United gave away too many too cheaply in the early stages to give Rochdale the chance to deliver the ball from dangerous areas - Eastwood again pushing away a Camps free kick on the half hour.
That said, United’s back line were solid enough, Canice Carroll doing well at left back as a replacement for Ricardinho, who missed the game after the birth of his son this week. With the midfield working hard and Jack Payne knitting things together in typical industrious style, the U’s were resilient without being quite at their fluent best as they reached the half-time break on level terms.
The U’s have scored more than twice as many goals in the second half as in the first half of games this season and Xemi Fernandez went close with the first effort of the second half, placing a low drive just wide after a terrific run across the face of the Dale defence. Eastwood again came to the rescue though on 50 when Joseph Bunney caught United on the hop and burrowed through the defence, coming within a hare’s breadth of finding the opener with a low volley which Eastwood somehow kept out.
Top scorer Wes Thomas pinged a low effort through a sea of legs on 55 to force home keeper Lillis into a smart save but it took a terrific block from skipper John Mousinho to keep it at 0-0 soon after and then a leaping header from Mike Williamson to nod a Matthew Done effort off the line as we reached the hour mark.
Joe Rothwell and Gino van Kessel were thrown on to try and turn a draw into a win, and given United's penchant for late drama there was always hope, but both teams started to tighten up in defence in the last ten minutes and this time there was no grand finale despite late pressure from the visitors.
A draw, another point away from home and United reach Christmas in good shape on the heels of the leaders. A lot can happen over the next couple of weeks: join us next Saturday when the U's welcome Wigan Athletic to Grenoble Road.
Away: Number TBC, but brilliant
Report by Chris Williams*, pictures by Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA
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* yes, I KNOW it should be hair. Merry Christmas.