Oxford United fought their was to a point today as they drew 0-0 at Blackpool. The U's drew for the third game in a row as the sides had to settle for a scoreless draw despite chances at both ends.
United have perhaps sacrificed some of their opennness for a touch of stubborneness and reverted to the team that drew with leaders Hull in the last league game and were again hard to break down. A side that hadn't kept a clean sheet in the league all season has now battled its way to two in the last three games.
Liam Kelly and Marcus McGuane were both off target with early efforts and free kicks from James Henry and Jordan Obita caused problems for a defence that hadn’t conceded in six-and-a-half hours in all competitions, but neither side truly tested the goalkeepers throughout, the woodwork having more work to do in the stalemate than the gloves.
The two sides cancelled each other out for much of the game, but Blackpool’s outlet was pace out wide from the lively CJ Hamilton. After 38 minutes that should have led to the opener but only ended with Sullay Kaikai kicking his shot against his standing leg and the ball trickling apologetically forward for United to clear.
That signalled a good end to the half for the home side - United were to match that in the second - and on 40 Hamilton hammered the best effort of the half against the base on the left-hand post with Stevens beaten. Left-back James Husband slid another effort wide as Stevens rushed out to meet him in injury time, but United had worked hard and were still in the game at the break.
Their plans needed to change just two minutes into the second half when the commanding Rob Atkinson landed awkwardly after challenging Gary Madine and, having hobbled through a few more minutes, needed to admit defeat and allow John Mousinho to replace him.
It didn't change the mentality as Mousinho organised those around him and there were two important challenges from the excellent Sam Long. United had another let off when Hamilton latched on to a loose ball on 65 and saw his 25-yard drive flick off the covering Mousinho and on to the bar with Stevens wrong-footed.
It wasn't one way traffic: sub Dan Agyei's acrobatics a minute later didn't quite pay off inside the Blackpool area, but United were conceding ground and having to work hard to keep the home side out. They did that manfully and might have nicked it with their two best chances right at the end of the game.
First, a clever ball from sub Rob Hall freed fellow sub Olamide Shodipo, only for his shot to fly straight into the gloves of keeper Chris Maxwell. Hall has the ability to open defences and in injury time his free kick almost won it for the U's when Mousinho threw himself forward and forced Maxwell to claw the ball away from his goalbound effort and ensure the game ended honours even.
A point on the road and another clean sheet. Take the positives and move on to Northampton at home on Tuesday.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA