Oxford United fought hard for a point at Rochdale tonight as two relegation-haunted teams had to settle for a draw. There were chances at both ends but a combination of some tremendous tackling and wayward shooting led to a scoreless 90 minutes that will arguably suit the U's better against the side immediately below them in the table.
In game of few chances, James Henry had the first, forcing a good save out of keeper Andy Lonergan after five minutes after Ahmed Kashi had spread the play nicely from his midfield anchor role. With Jordan Williams, named after two F1 teams, driving a similar effort wide of Simon Eastwood’s goal after ten with Dale’s first chance.
With plenty riding on the result, it was understandably tense in the first 15 minutes with both sides quick to close the other down and little room for anyone to take a touch. United then started to hit their stride: Henry fizzed a cross just in front of the sliding Marcus Browne on 22 minutes, Sam Long sent a, um, long-range effort just wide with his left foot and captain Jamie Mackie forced Lonergan into emergency action at the foot of his left-hand post as United began to create chances.
Browne almost guided a Henry cross on target on 38 after a flowing move from the U’s, but it was in the last couple of minutes that the best chances of the half came along. First, Eastwood made a fantastic double save on 42 to deny first Ian Henderson and then Brad Inman from the follow up. Then his opposite number outdid him with the faintest touch with his fingertips to push a goalbound Curtis Nelson header on to the bar. Nelson then made the first of three goalsaving tackles in the match to stop Inman inside the area and that was it for a first half that had warmed up nicely while the temperature plummeted and heavy rain began to fall.
The second half started brightly enough without either keeper being fully tested, although there were some thunderous challenges being made all over the park and it took all of the admirable Nelson's timing to once again slide in and push the ball back to Eastwood as Henderson looked to steal in behind the United defence.
The first real sight of goal after the break didn't come for the U's until the 70th minute, when Whyte snatched at the chance and sent the ball well wide from a position on the right of the area where he has netted from before, signalling the introduction of Jordan Graham and Jerome Sinclair up front to try and turn a useful point into an invaluable three.
Sinclair almost did that on 78 with a magnificent first touch and a well-struck effort that Lonergan was happy to see come straight at him, although once again it took a heroic intervention from Man of the Match Nelson to get back and somehow poke the ball off the toe of Henderson, who had a five yard head start in he race for goal.
Henry fired inches wide on 81 and there was no question of United settling for the point, even if it does keep a two-point cushion between the U's and Dale. A point on the road and the fight continues. Next up is another big game when we welcome Bradford City to the Kassam Stadium. Get behind the U's against the Bantams.
Report by Chris Williams, stats by OPTA, photos to follow