Oxford United were held at home for the second time in a row as an early effort from Matty Taylor was cancelled out by a strike from former U's man Alex MacDonald at the Kassam Stadium this afternoon.
United failed to capitalise on a flying start despite enjoying the lion's share of the possession and creating enough chances to win the game.
It started perfectly. What do you need when your top scorer hasn’t scored for a while and you have a midfielder making his home debut and looking to impress? How about after four minutes the midfielder spots that striker’s run and floats the ball over the top for him to run clear and slot with ease past the stranded away keeper. Kane to Taylor and Jamie Cumming’s first touch was to pick the ball out of his net. Super Matt finish and, yes, Herbie went bananas.
Taylor almost doubled the lead on eight minutes when he flicked a Steve Seddon cross against the post, and the early goal had settled any nerves after last week’s defeat at Cheltenham. United looked composed and in control, but the one thing they hadn’t done was kill off the opposition when they were in control of the game.
On the half hour that was punished when the returning MacDonald was given too much space 25 yards from goal and cracked a skimming right-footer into the bottom left corner, giving Jack Stevens no chance and making it 1-1. Credit to him, he waved away celebrations and almost apologised for having the audacity to score against his former club. We ALMOST forgive him.
The early advantage could have become irrelevant when the excellent Danny Lloyd’s cross/shot floated over the stranded Stevens and clipped the top of the bar five minutes before half time, or when Stevens made a good save from the same player in injury time, but midway against the men from the Medway will have seen Karl Robinson demanding more tempo after the break.
It worked and Steve Seddon and Cameron Brannagan both had efforts at goal inside the first five minutes of the second half, with Alex Gorrin lifting a header over the bar on 50 when he should really have put his side in front again. With Brannagan to the fore and Man of the Match Kane always creative, the U’s regained the initiative.
The industrious Gorrin was sacrificed for the more attack-minded Billy Bodin with 20 minutes to go, but Gillingham were excellent in defence and a smilar pattern to the first half began to emerge as United's frustration grew despite having an amazing 72 per cent of the possession.
They still did enough to win. There was an extraordinary incident where Taylor got in behind the defence and blasted a shot against the keeper who somehow got up and punched the ball over the bar as it looped towards the unguarded net.
Cummings touched another goalbound effort from Elliott Moore over the bar, sub Mark Sykes saw a shot blocked by a defender's heel, Seddon drove wide on 81 and Bodin looked to have given them the three points but a prone defender got enough on the ball to lift it over the bar once more on 86 minutes. Sykes was baulked in the box but appeals were waved away and in the end United just couldn't turn their hard work and effort into a win.
On paper three wins and two draws in an unbeaten home run is decent, but United will see this as an opportunity missed.
And yet... A win at home to Accrington on Tuesday night, four points from two home games, and things look different.
See you there.
Fifty/50 winning number: 613 wins £729
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Daniels and Steve Edmunds, stats by OPTA