Gatlin O'Donkor's first senior goal earned Oxford United a point tonight as they drew 1-1 with Fleetwood Town at the Kassam Stadium.
18-year-old O'Donkor poked home from close range immediately after emerging as a second half substutute, cancelling out a Carlos Mendes Gomes goal that had given Scott Brown's Cod Army a second-minute lead.
In a 'game of two halves', the first one couldn’t have started much worse for Karl Robinson's side.
Fleetwood should have been in front within ten seconds only for Danny Andrew to fire wide from close range, but it took barely 60 seconds more for the goal to come, when Mendes Gomes lent back to bicycle-kick the ball past Simon Eastwood and make it 1-0 from close range.
It could have been worse had Eastwood not got down to push a Shaun Rooney effort round the post after quarter of an hour, but United looked strangely disjointed in a frustrating first half in which a disciplined away side held them at arm’s length, challenging them to break down two highly disciplined lines of red-and-white shirts.
Cameron Brannagan, manfully trying to lift his team, raised hopes with a dipping effort from 25 yards that visiting keeper Jay Lynch pushed away, but otherwise half time couldn’t come quick enough for the U’s, who needed a regroup and a rethink.
What they needed was a spark and a quick goal and O'Donkor instantly provided both.
A Bate corner, O'Donkor first steered it onto the bar and then was alert and strong enough to pounce on the rebound to stab the ball home. His last two performances have been outstanding and the first goal is only going to push him further onwards.
It certainly lifted the U's. Bate dragged a shot wide on 55, Elliott Moore thumped a header wide after an hour, and Stuart Findlay sent another into the gloves of Lynch soon after as the game became very one way.
Fleewood then created two chances against the run of play, first when Andrew clipped a great chance over the fence with the goal at his mercy and then when Eastwood rushed out to block a Mendes Gomes effort with his chest.
United survived those scares and then went in search of a winner. Steve Seddon - a warrior on the wrong flank - defied the laws of physics to head a corner five yards over from one yard out. O'Donkor smashed in two piledrivers which were blocked by brave defenders. Eight minutes of added time brought another save from Lynch as Brannagan let fly, plus three other shots from distance that didn't truly threaten to win the game.
The U's will look back on this as a missed opportunity after their second-half performance but also know that it was a less impressive first 45 minutes that cost them greater reward.
Still, a point, three games unbeaten, and steady progress as we take a break and enter the FA Cup at Woking on Sunday.
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Report by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Daniels and Steve Edmunds