Saturday, 6 October 2012

MATCH REPORT: Oxford United 0-0 Gillingham

By Olly Howells,

After finally ending the horror run of September with a win against Wimbledon, Oxford headed into the game against Gillingham looking to build on that result, and that’s exactly what happened, with the U’s being the first side to take points from Gillingham on the road all season.

New loan signing Johnny Mullins jumped straight into the starting line-up to replace the injured Michael Raynes, and you could’ve been forgiven for thinking his partnership with Jake Wright had been formed over years of playing together, with arguably the best performance from the U’s back line all season, and certainly the most assured. Ryan Clarke was also back to his outstanding best, pulling off a string of fine saves throughout the match, and the back five were rewarded with their first clean sheet in nine league games.

The game started in explosive fashion, with Ryan Clarke forced to make his first two saves of the match inside the first two minutes. Clarke did magnificently to stop Danny Kedwell’s strike, and then made an astounding save from the rebound, tipping the ball past the post, despite having his entire body weight flying in the opposite direction. It’s not often a goalkeeper will receive a standing ovation for a save, but the East Stand leapt to its feet in approval at some of the best goalkeeping Ryan Clarke will ever produce. This was the most exciting the first half hour got, as both teams had several attacks, but no serious goal threats materialised, and any that did were quelled with relative ease by Clarke and Gills keeper Stuart Nelson. United had one more threatening attack before half time, in which a deep ball from Sean Rigg allowed Alfie Potter a header at goal, which beat Nelson, but could not beat the crossbar.

Having spent over £100,000 in health and conditioning over the summer, Oxford had more bad injury news minutes before half time, Damian Batt limping off to be replaced by Daniel Boateng, leaving Jake Wright commanding three relatively new boys for the yellows at the back, and they had Ryan Clarke to thank for heading into the break at 0-0, after another stunning save prevented Deon Burton from breaking the deadlock. Then, unbelievably, Oxford required another substitution, Deane Smalley with the injury this time.

Just after half time, Clarke was again the hero, parrying another Deon Burton effort past the post, when the goal seemed inevitable. Minutes later, Oxford substitute Tommy Craddock was set through on goal, only for Clarke’s opposite number to show everyone else this wasn’t a one-man show, with a fine save of his own. James Constable entered the fray with roughly ten minutes left on the clock, and almost had an immediate impact, his lay-back for Craddock valiantly blocked by Gillingham’s Tom Flanagan. The resulting corner came as close as they can, but Mullins was denied a goal to round off his impressive debut by a goal line clearance, though in truth goal line clearances don’t come much simpler than that.

In the end, a draw was a fair result, with Gillingham, cheered on by over 1,000 travelling fans, having the best of the play in the first half, but United definitely edging the second half on the whole. This was a good point for Oxford to pick up, especially on the back of the horrendous September that has just past. Whether United can now back up this result with another solid result at second place Port Vale, however, will mark the character of this side.

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