Oxford United's unbeaten run was extended to six games with a 0-0 draw with Wimbledon this afternoon. Visiting keeper Aaron Ramsdale made a string of fine saves to keep the Dons fighting at the foot of the table as United edged ever further away from trouble on 53 points.
Wimbledon, with all to play for, pushed United back in the first few minutes and James Hanson headed a good chance over the bar with their first opportunity - their best of the afternoon as it turned out - but in doing so they were also committing men forward and gradually United began to take control.
Both Josh Ruffels and Luke Garbutt sent headers close and Mark Sykes dribbled through before sending a rising effort off target after 17 minutes as the game began to be played increasingly in the Wimbledon half.
With United zipping the ball around in the sunshine and Wimbledon struggling to break out, United had three outstanding chances to take the lead before the break. Sykes showed plenty of flashes of skill and Whyte was always the most likely danger; his run after 35 minutes should have led to the opener but Garbutt’s powerfully struck effort from ten yards out was somehow pushed away by an extraordinary save from the flying Ramsdale.
Jerome Sinclair then just overran a clever through pass from the always-involved Cameron Brannagan, who came as close as anyone when he cracked in a shot after 40 minutes that rolled wide off the base of the right-hand post.
The second half continued in much the same vein, with Sinclair just unable to adjust his feet to connect with a Garbutt cross and then Ramsdale again rescuing his side with a second good save, this time from Brannagan as United poured men forward. Sandwiched between those two chances was a good looking but off-target drive from Hanson, with Simon Eastwood untroubled by a single effort on target in the entire 90 minutes.
United, on the other hand, were always on the prowl and much the more likely team to find a breakthrough. Sinclair flicked a header just over from a Whyte cross and Nelson joined the attack to head similarly too high after the bandaged Sam Long had outmuscled a defender to deliver the cross.
Dickie had also gone close with a 25-yard effort and United's strength in depth was shown when subs James Henry, Jordan Graham and Jamie Mackie came on for the last 20 minutes; not a bad trio to be bringing on to find a goal, plus TWO headbands on the pitch at the same time. Excellent.
Mackie immediately forced the over-worked Ramsdale into another good save; the on-loan Bournemouth keeper kept his side in the game single-handedly at times as they dropped deeper and deeper to hold on to their point. There was a goalbound Mackie effort that hit the back of a retreating defender and sparked an almighty scramble before the ball was hacked clear.
Sykes missed his kick in front of goal, Whyte blazed wide with two minutes left and United had done everything right bar scoring a goal, despite six minutes of Ruffs Time being added on. No late drama, just good honest football between two hard-working teams who will, in the cold light of day, probably be happy enough with a point.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA