A James Henry header moved Oxford United a huge step closer to eague 1 safety at Doncaster this afternoon. Sub Henry headed home a Ryan Ledson cross to move the U's on to 53 points for the season and surely ensure that these two sides meet again next time around?
In brilliant sunshine and backed by over 1,000 shirt-sleeved, singing supporters, United gave it their all once again, bringing Jon Obika, Wes Thomas, John Mousinho, Joe Rothwell, Ryan Ledson and Josh Ruffels back into the team that lost to a late goal at leaders Wigan on Tuesday night but keeping the same intensity and determination.
As in that game Simon Eastwood was key, making save after save with the first an early save from the lively Alfie May and then fielding a well struck shot from John Marquis as United withstood early pressure. There were half chances for Thomas and Rothwell but too many times the first half approach play was bitty and broken; Baudry and Butler the two home centre halves mopping things up and proving a formidable red and white hooped barrier.
It was an intriguing first 45 minutes with Rothwell testing the keeper for the first time with a left-footed effort on 31 that was comfortable for Marko Marosi in the Rovers goal but there were few real goalscoring opportunities in the opening half.
There were two in the first five minutes of the second half, Obika and the dangerous Marquis trading low headers from set pieces, but United needed a spark and the introduction of Henry after 55 minutes added a goal threat from midfield as they tried to force the pace. It proved an inspired substitution.
Again Eastwood came to the rescue with an outstanding save from Matty Blair on the hour but then came the breakthrough. It was a fast, flowing move that ended with Ledson straining every sinew to get on the ball down the left side of midfield. Without missing a beat he swung in a cross and Henry threw himeself forward to head past Marosi and cause bedlam in the away end.
Now the intensity rose a notch as the home side threw men forward and United's nerves started jangling.
Eastwood reached back to tip a Marquis effort over the bar on 76, Curtis Nelson came on to plug holes and allow John Mousinho to try and shield the back four, and every single one of the players ran themselves into the ground, seeing out the final minutes sensibly and fully deserving the ovation their fans gave them at the final whistle.
A massive result but in truth United's performances in recent weeks have shown a shared belief and an intensity that have maybe deserved a point or two more. Nothing is decided yet but this was a brave and determined display that took nerve to pull off.
See you for another big game at home to Rochdale next week...
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA