Oxford United picked up a point at rejuvenated Bolton this evening after a 0-0 draw. The U's needed to defend stoutly for long periods - despite the home side searching for their first win of the season - but came away with a draw and a second clean sheet in a row, as well as coming as close as anyone to winning the game when James Henry hit the post in the second half.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times to be playing a revived Bolton side and the opening minutes saw the home side have the better of things. Thibaud Verlinden might have done better with a header, Ali Crawford cracked a free kick straight at Simon Eastwood and when Will Buckley ran clear after 17 minutes he had the goal at his mercy but contrived to lift the ball over the advancing Eastwood but also smack it against the woodwork when he really should have scored.
Verlinden forced Eastwood into a good save two minutes later and the U’s hadn’t had a sniff of goal by that stage despite some clear rustiness in a Bolton backline which has been thrown together in recent weeks and will obviously take time to settle. The chances kept totting up for the Trotters though: Jason Lowe missed with a low(e) drive on 21 and United were being hussled out of it in midfield and just couldn’t find a way to bring wide men James Henry and Tariqe Fosu into the game.
That meant the full backs Chris Cadden and Josh Ruffels were penned back for 25 minutes but gradually United started to build: Henry had a tame shot, Woodburn forced a corner, Matty Taylor started to find space in between the lines and having withstood a barrage in the opening quarter, United were much better in the period leading up to half time, with Fosu firing a free kick over the top and Woodburn meekly heading at the keeper when well placed after 35 minutes.
Bolton’s early tempo faded like the early Autumn sunshine and United were the side pressing for the first goal immediately before the break - Taylor was denied by the evergreen Jake Wright and an outrageous flick from Rob Dickie was gathered by a relieved Matthews in the home goal just before the break.
With the game being played at a fierce tempo, the hope was that United's fitness would shine through but the first 15 minutes of the second half were level pegging before the game started to become stretched. Sub Anthony Forde saw a shot flick wide for a corner and Dickie headed a cross from the sub over the top as United tried to find the opener, all the time aware of the danger of leaving the back door open at the other end.
Former Wanderer Henry came as close as anyone to ending the stalemate with a low drive on 74 which flicked a leg and crashed against the base of the right-hand post with the keeper beaten, but Eastwood was again busy with a good save to push Lowe's (high) drive this time over the bar as time started to run out.
Forget what has happened before, Bolton will kick on from here and it was good to hear their fans in full voice after all they have been through. United head south with a point and were not at their best, but four points in four days and on we go to Lincoln.
See you there.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA