Oxford United and Rotherham were left with a point apiece this afternoon after anoth terrific game at Grenoble Road that ebbed and flowed before ending 3-3. Trailing to a Joe Newell strike the U's roared back through Jack Payne, Josh Ruffels and Curtis Nelson to lead 3-1 but were then pegged back as Ryan Williams and Kieffer Moore ground them down to give the Millers a draw.
Military Day actually started with a bit of a stand-off in the first fifteen minutes before coming to life. United perhaps shaded the opening stages, James Henry and Ruffels both getting into the box but unable to pick out a final pass. Rotherham, after a slightly surprising defeat against AFC Wimbledon in midweek, made four changes to the team while there was one enforced change for the U’s with Christian Ribeiro picking up a knock as well as scoring against Charlton in midweek. Canice Carroll came in to the side and took his chance well, competitive as ever at right back in an otherwise unchanged eleven.
However it was Carroll’s defensive header after 20 minutes that gave the Millers the chance to open the scoring. Attacking a cross well, Carroll powerfully headed clear but unfortunately the ball flew straight to the lurking Newell on the edge of the area and his volley showed great technique and class as it arrowed past the helpless Eastwood.
It didn’t cost United too dearly. Barely a minute later they were level as Payne fired home an equally emphatic finish. A quick one two with Ruffels allowed the on-loan Huddersfield forward to run at the Rotherham backline, drifting from right to left. The Millers backed off and Payne accepted the invite by cracking the ball just inside the left hand post to make it 1-1. Once again the U’s had benefited from staying calm after going behind, sticking to their guns for a top goal in front of the top brass.
Neck and neck once again, the U’s started to press forward. Wes Thomas smashed a shot over the fence, a Ricardinho cross flashed past a static back line and then Ruffels marked his new contract with a cracker. After committing his future to the club 24 hours earlier the midfielder picked up the ball from the hard-working Henry and swivelled inside before firing a low left-footed effort almost through the dive of keeper Marek Rodak for another excellent goal.
United were now firing on all cylinders and should have been 3-1 ahead when Ricardinho’s wizardy won them a penalty. First he nutmegged a defender to play a one-two with an outrageous piece of skill, then he skipped past a defender before clipping a cross that struck Will Vaulks on the arm. Ryan Ledson took the penalty but Rodak read his mind and got down smartly to save the penalty.
Still the U’s poured forward. Payne had a shot saved, Henry was a foot away from a fine Ruffels cross and after 40 minutes they were deservedly 3-1 ahead. This one was less spectacular. A right wing corner dropped inside the six yard box and as eight pairs of legs tried to hack the ball home/away, depending on their allegiance, Nelson pushed out a boot to stab the ball home for his first goal of the season. Please insert your own Nelson/Military Day gags here ________________________________________________________________________
Back came the away side and before half time it was 3-2, again from a corner. Again it wasn’t properly cleared and up popped former United winger Williams to give Eastwood no chance from close range. Five goals and a breathless 45 minutes between two good sides.
It carried on in much the same fashion after the break. Payne had an effort go close, henry had two half chances and at times some of the passing and movement from the Yellows was a pleasure to behold. Rotherham are a little more direct, but no less dangerous and it was entertaining fare for the 7,471 people there to see it.
Top scorer Moore was well shackled by Nelson and John Mousinho but escaped their attention to fire a warning after 67 minutes to latch on to a long ball and clip the ball over Eastwood, only for the ball to clip the top of the bar as the Millers tried their best to restore parity.
Most of the play was at the other end at that stage and Ledson and Ruffels largely had control of the midfield, Thomas was perpetual motion up front and Payne knitted the whole thing together with an impish performance in the number 10 role. However they hadn't tested Rodak enough despite Carroll bracketing the goal with a pair of headers and on 78 minutes were punished as the dangerous Williams raced clear down the left and delivered a pinpoint cross to the backpost for top scorer Moore who was never going to miss, eight yards out and with the goal at his mercy.
It was anyone's game after that. Subs Jon Obika and Joe Rothwell cut the away defence open but Rothwell's shot was brilliantly saved by Rodak and Rotherham saw it through to earn a point.
Good game, two good sides and United stay unbeaten on a five game run.
Report by Chris Williams, pics by Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA
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