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Exeter City held by Oxford in entertaining clash

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Photo: oufc.co.uk
Photo: oufc.co.uk

Sports Team reporter Alex Bonner was at St. James Park on Tuesday evening to witness a goalless, but nonetheless intriguing draw between Exeter City and Oxford United.

Exeter City were held to a goalless draw by promotion chasers Oxford United, with a crowd of 2,798 witnessing proceedings. Despite the absence of any scoring, the match was a thoroughly entertaining affair, both sides having  excellent chances to score throughout the game’s duration.

Exeter, who have failed to win at home since October’s Devon Derby, have now dropped to 15th in the League 2 table, 13 points clear of the play-off positions. Oxford, entering this particular clash in far better form, conversely have retained their position in the play-offs as a result of their point against the Grecians.

The early phases of the first half saw few chances for either side, with Exeter starting in a more positive fashion than their opponents. With the game’s early transition period coming to a close, Exeter came extremely close to gaining the lead, with a shot from Aaron Davies striking the upper echelon of Oxford’s crossbar in the ninth minute.

This seemed to give Exeter momentum, and they began to control proceedings; Exeter’s energetic fullback Danny Butterfield made most of his time on the ball to deliver some dangerous crosses, with Oxford’s keeper Ryan Clarke performing well to keep Exeter at bay during the game’s early phases.

Oxford, despite succumbing to some early City pressure, began to reassert themselves in the first half’s latter phases. An Oxford break saw fullback David Hunt have a close attempt on goal, with the shot missing City’s post by a whisker. United continued to pressurise the Exeter defence thereafter, Exeter keeper Artur Krysiak regularly tested during this phase of play.

Despite Oxford’s attempts to re-assert themselves upon their opposition, Exeter’s defence remained resilient, with centre-back Craig Woodman performing particularly well. Exeter, capitalising on a loose Oxford pass, broke with immense speed to come close in the dying minutes of the first half. Oxford, gaining a last minute corner, also came close, with Krysiak displaying some acrobatic goalkeeping to keep the match goalless at half-time.

The second half started in similar fashion to the first, with some scrappy play dictating proceedings. Oxford, capitalising on a poor pass by Danny Coles, had a chance to gain the lead, but the chance was subsequently wasted by forward Sean Rigg.

With both teams making some mistakes in the early phases of the second half, goal scoring chances became frequent for both teams. Exeter, having performed some strong link up play courtesy of midfielder Jimmy Keohane, had a chance to take a lead, Oxford keeper Ryan Clarke again making a good save to keep the scores level.

Having won a dubious free kick in a dangerous area, Oxford again came close to taking the lead from the set piece. Exeter, utilising both of their fullbacks well, continued to deliver cross after cross to Exeter forward Aaron Davies, but City failed to make full use of such opportunities, with Oxford centre-back Danny Rose dealing with each cross with supreme confidence.

Exeter, having suffered some recent injury problems, implemented a precautionary substitution with the replacement of Mathew Gill with Matt Grimes in the 58th minute. This change certainly altered proceedings, with Grimes adding additional flair and pace to the Exeter team.

To Oxford’s credit, they continued to defend well against a stronger looking Exeter team, who began to rely on the long ball – much to the dismay of the home fans – with one notable chance created from this passage of play. Oxford, having dealt with a succession of Exeter corners, relied on a more attractive style of football to create another notable opportunity in the 75th minute.

Exeter ended the game well and dominated the last 10 minutes of play. Having won three corners in as many minutes, City had a splendid opportunity to take the lead in the dying minutes of the match, with Oxford keeper Ryan Clarke performing a brilliant save to prevent Tom Nichols from scoring.

Exeter, despite gaining a well earned point against tough opposition, will need to pick up a much needed win at Burton on 1 February to regain some much needed form.

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