Oxford United picked up a point with a determined display at Southend this afternoon. A 'back to basics' attitude ended a losing streak and ensured that they got at least one point from all their hard work.
United shuffled the pack after recent results and moved skipper John Mousinho in at the base of a midfield diamond, brought Josh Ruffels into the side at left back and asked Jamie Mackie to lead the line.
Mousinho, ruthlessly efficient and fiercely determined, typified the spirit and made an early block before keeper Jonathan Mitchell saved well from Tom Hopper in the seventh minute as United withstood early pressure. Things settled after that and Gavin Whyte had one dangerous run halted by a good sliding tackle on the slick Roots Hall pitch and then a left-footed effort go well wide as United started to look dangerous on the break.
United's best chance in the first half saw Rob Dickie head well wide of the mark from a free kick but there was an almighty let off after 28 minutes when Simon Cox found too much space on the right of the box and hammered in a powerful shot which bounced harmlessly away off both bar and post. Ben Coker rattled a shot against the scoreboard on 35 but United had defended stoutly and deserved their clean sheet at the break for resilience alone. Maybe the luck is starting to turn their way for once?
They then raised their game in the second half without truly creating many chances, their magnificent supporters doing their best to roar them forward as the rain fell steadily and both sides started to tighten up and guard against making any costly mistakes.
Mackie, who worked selflessly all afternoon, glanced a Mousinho cross wide after 71 minutes and most of the play was in the Southend half as United started to dominate; Mitchell didn't have a shot to save in the second 45 minutes, with Yearwood dragging the best opportunity for the home side well wide after 79 minutes.
The best chance of the half seemingly fell for Holmes who should have scored against his hometown club when he got above his man at the back post, but he couldn't guide a perfect Tony McMahon cross on target. There was one more still to come when Mousinho met another McMahon free kick but saw his header brilliantly saved by Mark Oxley to ensure that neither side found a breakthrough.
A deserved point and a draw earned through grit and determination. There was simply no way United were going back round the M25 empty handed this time from a ground where they rarely do well.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA