Oxford United's revival continued with another hard-earned point at Bristol Rovers this afternoon. Having created the better chances before the break, United had to defend well to keep a clean sheet that made it three games unbeaten, including two tough draws away from home.
United, forced into two changes after last week’s win, brought in Gavin Whyte for Ricky Holmes on the wing and Shandon Baptiste for the suspended Cameron Brannagan in midfield. Both did well, with Whyte’s pace a constant threat to the Rovers backline and Baptiste working tirelessly in a midfield trio, alongside John Mousinho and James Henry, until injury forced his withdrawal before half time.
Neither side really tested the keeper in the first half hour, although a Marcus Browne effort and a couple of dangerous deliveries from Tony McMahon caused problems for the home defence and both Rob Dickie and Whyte had efforts blocked around the edge of the area, but the game was held up repeatedly by fouls and free kicks that ruined the flow and made it hard for either team to truly pick up tempo.
However, Unted then had a very good spell before the break,and after 40 minutes one of McMahon's trademark free kicks reached the head of Curtis Nelson only for the ball to bounce back off the post: the best chance ot the first half. Samir Carruthers then came on for the unfortunate Baptiste, who seemed to dislocate his shoulder when being held back in the burst of pace that produced that free kick.
There was still time for Henry to test Jack Bonham with a low shot that produced a good save on 45 minutes, but United had created the better chances and Rovers were increasingly having to hang on before the break, despite a late free kick which at last gave Eastwood a chance to field the ball.
The Gas made two subs at half time and came out with far more attacking intent, Eastwood pushing a Kyle Bennett drive round the post and Tom Nichols pushing a tentative effort wide before Eastwood somehow made an unbelievable save to deny the same player, flicking his shot from close range up on to the bar with his right leg when it seemed he was beaten. His eager teammates then smothered two follow-ups to keep their clean sheet intact.
Eastwood saved at the feet of Nichols once more, but the whole team had fought hard to keep their clean sheet, with the keeper's excellence just higlighting the spirit and tenacity that was needed throughout the second half.
A draw at Southend, a win over Plymouth and now another point on the road. All steps in the right direction and United now move on to Charlton away on Tuesday, looking to keep this little run going at the Valley.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA
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