Oxford United were pegged back by the Gills this afternoon as an Ollie Lee penalty cancelled out an excellent Tariqe Fosu opener.
That was possibly slightly harsh on the U's who also hit the woodwork in a fiery encounter at Priestfield, but a point at a Gillingham side now unbeaten in eight games may prove valuable when the final table comes around.
The home side saw new signing Jordan Roberts slide an early effort wide as they started well but they found United’s back line hard to break down and on 16 minutes the U’s were in front from the latest contender in the Fosu Goal of the Season. Shandon Baptiste challenged in the air and forced a defensive header that only reached Josh Ruffels, who fed Fosu. He bamboozled a defender, found half a yard of space and fired it ferociously into the far right of the net for yet another spectacular goal.
Even without Cameron Brannagan and Matty Taylor, both troubled by knee injuries, United had a good rhythm and tempo to their play and Nathan Holland headed a difficult chance wide soon after the goal as they enjoyed the bulk of the play, with the home side more direct and wary of over committing men against an away side who are excellent on the break.
There were long-range efforts from debutant Roberts and midfielder Stuart O’Keefe but not too much else to worry Simon Eastwood, while at the other end Mark Sykes was eased away from a clear header as Fosu crossed into a fantastic area just after the half hour, all of it played in front of late panto entertainment as Fosu and Mackie’s game management was questioned by a frustrated home crowd. I think they were reminding Jamie he was in Kent.
Meanwhile, back at the game, Sam Long flashed a header inches wide from a Baptiste cross just before the break and the first 15 minutes of the second half were ill-tempered but well-matched until on the hour Lee drew the home side level. It came after Brandon Hanlan had drawn a dangling leg from the otherwise excellent Alex Gorrin as he drove between two defenders inside the box. Ref Neil Hair took his time then pointed to the spot and Lee thumped it past Eastwood with a perfectly placed spot kick.
Gillingham had their tails up now and Dickie had to clear off the line from Hanlan as United stood firm but tormentor-in-chief Mackie was replaced by Dan Agyei and United now had extra pace, which almost paid off when Holland turned superbly on half way and then got onto the return pass from Fosu but saw his goalbound effort deflected over the bar by a sliding defender.
From the corner another goalbound effort, this time a header from the always dangerous Ruffels, flicked off another defender and crashed against the bar with keeper Bonham on a different page and with his feet planted*.
United had been stung by the equaliser and began to gamble on grabbing all three points rather than settle for one. The influential Sykes saw a cross blocked with men waiting and Marcus Browne was given 15 minutes to conjure a win as the U's switched to a 4-2-3-1 shape for the closing stages. He almost managed it with a low drive which Bonham grabbed at the second attempt but there had also been crucial defensive headers from full-backs Ruffels and Long to preserve the point at the other end.
A second draw in a row then. A point at Priestfield is always a decent return and United had worked extremely hard for that point. Indeed, Dickie headed a chance to trade that point up when he headed over with the last action of the game, but nobody is hiding from the fact a league win would be welcome.
Before that happens, we have a welcome distraction when we are joined by half of Oxfordshire as we head to the other end of the country to take on Newcastle in the FA Cup.
See you there.
Report by Chris William, pictures by Darrell Fisher
*Jones was too tricky