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Accrington Stanley 0, Oxford Utd 0
Oxford United defender Jimmy Sangare shows great committment to win a high ball at Accrington on Saturday
Accrington Stanley 0, Oxford Utd 0 Oxford United ended play-off chasing Stanley’s run of eight successive home wins on their first visit to Accrington.
Chris Wilder’s players put in plenty of effort and hard work, but to say it was not a pretty game is an understatement.
On a poor-quality pitch, there was precious little creativity and very few chances in either goalmouth.
There was a great deal of anticipation about these clubs’ two meetings this season. Because of their overlapping history, they were like soulmates.
But they have ended up playing 180 minutes without a goal to either side, the first game at the Kassam Stadium back in August also ending 0-0.
Oxford were the happier of the two after Saturday’s match. Getting 0-0 draws in difficult away games is something that has been lacking this season.
And for Accrington, only managing a point at home was a blow to their play-off hopes.
It was like going back to the Conference for Oxford United with the Crown Ground, as Stanley fans refer to it, small, basic and in need of some renovation.
The bumpy pitch too was in a bit of a sorry state near the halfway line with nine or ten grooved lines well worn and rough which made that area very uneven.
United manager Chris Wilder brought in Jimmy Sangare, for the suspended Harry Worley, as expected, and also gave a start to on-loan Southampton striker Ryan Doble.
It was almost a disastrous star for the U’s when Ryan Clarke dropped a routine catch in the fourth minute.
The right-wing cross looked to be no danger, but Clarke fumbled it and Accrington captain Andy procter touched it to one side of the prostrate keeper and prepared to knock the ball into an empty goal.
But he had not accounted for Sangare, who came in with a brilliant goal-saving tacle to whip the ball away and out for a corner.
It was en exceptional piece of defending from the Frenchman.
Simon Heslop was yellow-carded for a late tackle on Joe Jacobsen, and a few minutes later, Damian Batt joined him in the referee’s notebook for going up with an elbow as he jumped.
Before that, both Batt and Sangare had won just about everything in the air.
There were few clear-cut chances in the first half as Doble struggled to make much impact, and the Stanley strikers likewise.
Clarke uncharacteristically made another error, when he tried to throw the ball out from his six-yard box, and got caught in two minds.
In the end, the ball travelled just a few yards, but he, and United, got away with it as the home side could not take advantage.
Asa Hall took over from Heslop, just before half-time, and within two minutes of arriving on the pitch, he almost put the visitors ahead.
Following good work by Batt, the midfielder struck a good volley that deflected wide.
And from the corner, flighted over by McLaren, Doble planted a downward header a yard past the post.
It remained scrappy in the second half when Accrington pressed even more.
Ian Caney got goalside of Craney to fire in a close-range shot, but Clarke was right behind it.
James Constable came on just after the hour mark, and it was not Doble who he replaced, but Alfie Potter.
The centre forward produced one sharp turn in the box to get a shot away, but it was blocked en route to goal.
In the closing moments, Sean Hessey was booked for a foul on consable, but McLaren could do nothing with the free-kick, which was blocked by a resolute wall.
The ball broke to Jimmy Ryan, and he tried to lob Clarke from well inside his own area, David Beckham-like.
However, the Oxford keeper backpeddled and saved without too much difficulty.
In the final minute, Batt came in with an exceptional challenge to prevent Andy Gornell from snatching a winner.
And so it finished all-square, United’s second successive draw against one of the leading teams.
As a contest, though, it is not one that will live long in the memory.
Oxford Utd: Clarke, Batt, Sangare, Wright, Tonkin, Heslop (Hall 41), McLaren Burge, Potter (Constable 61), Doble (MacLean 75), Craddock. Subs not used: Kinniburgh, Eastwood, Purkiss, Hanson.