A Josh Ruffels goal with the very last kick of the game gave Oxford United a 2-2 draw at Doncaster this afternoon. Trailing to a disputed penalty from Ben Whiteman, United looked to have salvaged a point when Gavin Whyte levelled, only for sub Alfie May to score in the 90th minute before Ruffels curled in an amazing equaliser to rescue a point.
As has been the case so often this season, United started very well and dominated the first 15 minutes in particular. Gavin Whyte had an early effort pushed round the post by keeper Ian Lawlor, John Mousinho had a header cleared off the line before two almighty scrambles, and with Cameron Brannagan knitting things together in the middle and James Henry ghosting forward to blast over after 16 minutes, United were hugely impressive without finding the opener they deserved. Then, with a sickening inevitability, after 20 minutes United were punished for not making the most of that early dominance.
They argued about the decision when a corner came in and Rob Dickie bundled into home skipper Andy Butler around the penalty spot and both went down, but ref Alan Young wasn’t listening to the appeals and ruled it was Dickie doing the fouling; Whiteman hammered the spot kick home, giving Eastwood no chance, and the home side were in front with their first chance of the game.
They got their tails up then, Ruffels having to clear one chance and Tom Anderson lifting another over the bar, but United stayed strong and began to get on the ball once again as the game became increasingly end to end. It also became increasingly bad-tempered with niggly challenges and a late flurry of yellow cards as United began to get frustrated.
They had a lot of the ball after the interval, but Doncaster are in fine form and defended well, the one chance coming when Henry got a low shot away but Mackie was offside when he touched it goalwards. But on the hour the pressure finally told when Whyte levelled.
It was quick thinking from Henry initially, demanding that Hanson roll a free kick to him in a dangerous amount of space 30 yards from goal. Seeing Whyte at full speed, Henry rolled the ball inside the stranded full back for the Northern Irish winger, who thrashed the ball low and true across Ian Lawlor for a well-taken goal that deservedly levelled things.
Nelson, superb throughout, might well have won it in the 72nd minute but a defender came from nowhere to slide in and take his goalbound effort wide after yet another superb cross from the tireless Ruffels on the left. The heroic Henry saw a shot headed clear as United piled on the pressure and there were moments of sheer class from him all afternoon, but in the very last minute of the 90 United's hard work looked to have been undone when the ball was cut back, blocked first time but ran for May, who buried it past Eastwood from six yards to make it 2-1.
United dont know when they are beaten. With 96 minutes gone, Ruffels picked up the ball on the edge of the box and curled it right-footed in off the post for a fully deserved equaliser for this battling United side.
Brilliant. One defeat in 16. See you on Boxing Day at home to Southend...
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels and Darrell Fisher