United draw with the Cobblers. Full-time report
Oxford United and Northampton Town picked up a point apiece this afternoon as a typically close game between the two sides ended 0-0 at Sixfields. United's point was earned in part by a penalty save from Simon Eastwood in the second half, although opposite number Adam Smith made just as important a save to deny Kane Hemmings a late winner for the U's.
Both sides gave the ball away cheaply in a frustrating first half with too many loose passes and unforced errors. The United back line dealt well with a Northampton attack determined to get the ball in behind them at every opportunity but, as with the return game in Oxford earlier in the season, there was no great rhythm to the play before the break. The ever-dangerous Marc Richards flicked a header just off target after 14 minutes, Conor McAleny didn’t catch a 25-yard effort that dribbled wide on 22 at the other end and Zander Diamond powered a header over the bar on 25 as the sides sparred in the spring sunshine.
The closest the U’s came to a goal in the first half was another effort from McAleny that curled just the wrong side of the post after half an hour but there was more excitement in the first two minutes of the second half than most of the first 45 minutes as dangerous crosses flashed across the face of both goals with nobody able to apply a finishing touch.
The game was much more exciting in the second 45 minutes and Liam Sercombe drifted in from his right-wing berth to meet a cross and drive it into the arms of keeper Adam Smith before the Cobblers had a golden opportunity to take the lead. Richards fell over the arms of Eastwood to earn his side a penalty but Matt Taylor, once a goalkeeper in the Oxford United youth set up, could find no way past Eastwood, who somehow got a glove to the penalty kick and pushed it up and on to the bar and post before it span to safety.
Driven forward by skipper John Lundtsram and the excellent Josh Ruffels in midfield, United pushed towards their own fans behind the goal and fired in low crosses from both flanks that were only lacking a decisive touch at the near post. Joe Rothwell's partnership with Marvin Johnson down the left and the marauding runs of the outstanding Phil Edwards on the right gave the U's a threat on both flanks and it was Rothwell who almost took all three points back down the A43 with a wonderful curling effort on 80 minutes that beat Smith but came back off the bar.
There was a concern when Ruffels limped off towards the end - not good in the week before Wembley - but Sercombe, always a goal threat, had two efforts from the edge of the box that were well struck but straight at Smith as the Yellows pressed for a winner. The golden opportunity came to sub Hemmings on 85 when he met a Johnson cross and smashed the ball hard and low to the keeper's left only to see Smith stick out a boot and somehow keep his clean sheet intact.
A good honest draw and an entertaining second half. At this stage a draw may not suit United's late push towards the play-offs but they had worked their socks off once again and nobody could question their commitment.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA
See the highlights and reaction in Yellow Player HD