Saturday, 27 August 2011

Visitors take a point as United fail to call the Shots

Oxford United were left frustrated as 10-man Aldershot Town fought back from a goal down to take a share of the spoils at Grenoble Road. James Constable's looping volley had put the home side ahead, but The Shots hit back through Luke Guttridge to send United's fans home disappointed.

Chris Wilder's side were given a rousing reception as they took to home soil for the first time since victory at Swindon and responded with a bright start. Peter Leven's outswinging corner was headed wide by Constable, before Lewis Guy raced in behind Aldershot's back-line. Anthony Straker was always the wrong side of the on-loan MK Dons striker and only succeeded in bundling Guy over narrowly outside the area. Referee Andrew Madley showed no hesitation in showing the full-back the red card, Aldershot's second in two visits to United. Peter Leven lifted the resultant free-kick narrowly wide of the upright.

Ten minutes later, Constable made United's man advantage count. Leven's floated cross was punched clear by Aldershot goalkeeper Jamie Young, only for the County Ground hero to hook a volley straight back over Young's head to the joy of the fans in the Oxford Mail stand (Aldershot had won the toss and opted to switch ends). One up after 20 minutes and a man to the good, everything seemed to be in place for a comfortable afternoon's work.

United almost doubled their lead shortly before the interval after confusion in the Aldershot penalty area. Liam Davis was unable to take the ball in his stride, before Guy's right-footed effort whistled past the angle of post and bar. Despite dominating possession throughout the half, Oxford's half-time lead was a slender one.

Alfie Potter replaced Simon Heslop at the interval, with Lewis Guy being handed a free-role behind the front three. However, it was Aldershot who began the half on the front foot. In a first warning for Oxford, Peter Vincenti was inches away from diverting the ball home as a header flashed past the post. As the pressure built, the home side struggled to get the ball clear and were eventually punished. Guttridge's initial effort was blocked by August player of the month Michael Duberry. However, the midfielder drilled his second effort low past Clarke into the Oxford net to level the scores.

Rather than sit back on their equaliser, the visitors continued to push forward at every opportunity. United were surrendering possession far too easily for the liking of anyone in yellow and were struggling to to build any meaningful pressure. A frustrating final period of the game culminated with Andy Whing firing over the bar after Jake Wright had failed to connect properly with a Duberry knock-down. The home support knew that this was the final opportunity to steal the points and as referee Madley blew the final whistle, there were plenty of unoccupied blue seats.

This was a thoroughly frustrating afternoon for all concerned with Oxford United. Much like at Swindon, the team were far from their fluent best, with only one shot on target all afternoon. However, this time they were made to pay for not putting the game to bed. This was worryingly similar to the Bradford fixture a fortnight earlier, with two points very much dropped, having been ahead at the interval.

Chris Wilder made only one change from the Swindon game, with Deane Smalley replacing Alfie Potter in the starting eleven. As mentioned, Potter's absence was limited to 45 minutes, as the winger came into the action at the break. Damien Batt replaced Paul McLaren on hour mark, with Andy Whing moving into central midfield. Jon-Paul Pittman entered the fray on 74 minutes, with Wilder desperately hunting for a winner.

Referee Andrew Madley found himself in the thick of the action early on, correctly dismissing Straker for preventing a goalscoring opportunity. Substitutes Batt and Potter both found their way into Mr Madley's notebook for late challenges in the second half. The game was watched by 6,673, with 435 making the journey from Hampshire

The point takes United to 9th in the table, five points off the top and a single point outside the play-off positions. Aldershot Town's battling performance lifts them to 20th position, one place above Swindon Town, who were beaten 2-1 at Shrewsbury. Rotherham lead the pack, beating Gillingham 3-0, despite the departure of Adam Le Fondre. Surprise package Morecambe were victorious at Northampton and lie in 2nd place. Crawley remain third despite Cheltenham's 3-1 victory over the Football League new boys. Plymouth find themselves at the foot of the table, having been beaten 1-0 by Oxford's next opponents, Crewe Alexandra. Hereford remain in the relegation places despite picking up a solid draw at Bristol Rovers.

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