A second half comeback saw Oxford United fight back from two goals down to claim a point at Fleetwood this afternoon. Trailing to goals from Wes Burns and Paddy Madden at the break, United levelled thanks to strikes from James Henry and Jamie Mackie to leave Highbury with a rare point at an unlucky hunting ground
On a grey, bitterly cold January afternoon on the Fylde peninsula United showed unbelievable character to come back from two goals down on a ground they have never won on.
They were behind after just eight minutes when a simple ball through the centre of the defence allowed former United loanee Burns to run clear and slide a simple finish beyond the stranded Simon Eastwood to make it 1-0.
United responded and Jordan Graham started to make inroads down the right of a three man front line which saw Gavin Whyte in the centre and Marcus Browne on the left in the first half. Whyte had a shot flick wide off a defender’s heel, Graham floated in a string of corners, but home keeper Alex Cairns was untested in the first half despite United seeing plenty of the ball.
Fleetwood on the other hand have a proven goalscorer and on 26 minutes that was the difference as Madden doubled their advantage. United were on the attack but when the home side stole the ball they broke forward at speed, leaving United outnumbered and back-pedalling. Madden fed the ball to his right and then found acres of space inside the box when the return ball picked him out for a fine finish into the roof of the net to make it 2-0.
Madden has scored more goals in his career than the entire United team added together and provided a cutting edge that United struggled to hone for themselves despite having a lot of the ball and playing some neat enough football before the break. Marcus Browne kept his work rate high but lifted a 35th minute well over the bar, Whyte had two efforts blocked but the most dangerous effort of the first half was a miscued cross from Jamie Hanson that was dipping just under the bar until keeper Cairns tipped it over.
United needed a focal point up front and the arrival of Mackie gave them a little bit of know how. Eight minutes in to the second half and Whyte drove at the home defence before flicking the ball to the right wing where Mackie was lurking. His low cross picked out Henry and a simple finish from six yards meant that United were back in the game at 2-1.
Eastwood kept his side's hopes alive with two smart saves just before the hour but then United were level. Sub Sam Long went on a decoy run round Whyte who centred for the alert Mackie to slide in before the hesitant keeper to stab home a priceless equaliser.
With their tails up United chased the win now, Henry playing much futher forward and Graham and Whyte operating as much more conventional wingers outside him and Mackie. The excellent Graham saw a free kick flash in to the side netting on 74, Whyte had a low drive saved by Cairns, Graham continued to torment his defender and in the end United were unfortunate not to convert their second half performance in to a win.
A game of two halves, but plenty of encouragament for the magnificent travelling Yellow Army and plenty of fight and character from a very dtermined United
Report by Chris Williams. Pictures by Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA