Oxford United 0 Rushden & Diamonds 0

Both sides put in a committed performance in an often dull game at the Kassam Stadium.Little entertainment was found in the first half, which was marred by an injury to Gary Mills, before a slightly more entertaining second period, but in truth neither side ever looked like going on to win all three points.

Ernie Tippett made three changes to the starting line-up from the team that lost to Southend United.Andy Burgess missed the game due to an ankle injury and Rob Gier was suspended for his sending off against Southend whilst Marcus Kelly was placed on the bench.Craig Dove started for only the third time this season along with Billy Turley, Stuart Gray, Kevin Braniff, Sean Connelly, Graham Allen and Gary Mills, all of which had shaken off recent injuries.Oxford meanwhile were without former Diamonds man Leo Roget, due to injury.

Oxford made a bright start to the game with plenty of neat forward play.Julian Alsop ran onto a long punt up-field before playing the ball to Matt Robinson who supplied the cross from the Oxford left, only for it to elude Steve Basham in the fifth minute.A clash in the area following another Oxford attack left Alsop and Turley needing treatment, but both were able to remain on the pitch.At the other end a Braniff strike from outside the area got a deflection for a corner with ten minutes gone.

A spell of good play from both teams failed to result from anything promising in front of goal with Alex Hay and Alsop both caught offside, before a lengthy stoppage.Jamie Hand was booked for a tackle from behind on Mills, which left the player needing a stretcher as he left the field with what looked like a serious injury, with John Dempster his replacement.

Mooney blasted over from 16 yards following a long ball up-field after 29 minutes and Diamonds saw Gray’s pass through to Peter Hawkins set up a neat passage of play but Braniff’s shot went wide of Chris Tardiff’s far right post, just two minutes later.Rob Wolleaston, who impressed in the centre of Oxford’s midfield, made a great run forward before laying the ball off to Mooney who again shot over before Braniff also saw a shot go wide, this time from the Diamonds left from some distance.

The assistant referee signalled five additional minutes of time at the end of a disappointing first half, due to Mills’ injury, in which Wolleaston shot tamely at Turley from the centre, just outside the box, and Connelly fired ten yards wide to the left of the Oxford goal from distance.

Braniff shot well, but only at the keeper, from an angle inside the first three minutes of the second half for Diamonds whilst Basham forced Turley to make a smart save for a corner, after his shot from just outside the area, as both sides looked to up the tempo.Turley then saved from Alsop’s cross and Mooney’s 40 yard strike as Oxford took hold of the game temporarily, before another comfortable save to deny Jon Ashton’s header for the hosts.Alsop was then booked following a scuffle in the Diamonds box.

Dove’s snap shot on the turn after a ball from David Bell failed to test Tardiff after 59 minutes before Mooney was spoken to by the referee for a supposed challenge on Allen, and Braniff came off worse following a late challenge at the other end and later had to be replaced by Jason Taylor, after 69 minutes.Julian Alsop was then substituted for the hosts, making way for youngster Craig Davies.

Diamonds made a lucky escape when it seemed Basham had scored following a corner from substitute Tom Winters after 79 minutes, but the referee instead gave Diamonds a free-kick due to a foul on Turley by Mooney, who was booked for the challenge.Mooney again was in the spotlight as his header from Davies cross was saved well by Turley, low down to his right, with eight minutes remaining.

Hay broke free from Lee Molyneaux as Diamonds looked to press on the break, but his effort went over the bar as time ticked away. Gray then saw his header from Bell’s corner go over, although the referee blew up for a foul just moments later.

In the end both sides had to be content with just a point, although the hosts are likely to have been a little more disappointed than the visitors, for whom this represented a good, solid and well earned away point against a side hotly tipped to challenge for promotion.

 

TEAMS:

Oxford United: Tardiff, Mackay, Robinson (sub Winters 57), Ashton, Mooney, Basham, Wolleaston, Alsop (sub Davies 72), Parker, Molyneaux (sub Woozley 87), Hand.Subs not used: Cox, Wanless.

Rushden and Diamonds:Turley, Connelly, Hawkins, Mills (sub Dempster), Allen, Hay, Gray, Bell, Braniff (sub Taylor 69), Gulliver, Dove.Subs not used: Sambrook, Worgan, Kelly.

Referee: Russell Booth

Bookings: Braniff, Hand, Alsop, Mooney

Attendance: 4756 (283 away)

Diamonds Man of the Match: Peter Hawkins.

Report by Richard Beeby.

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