Vanarama National League South
Tuesday 14 February 2017 - Marsh Lane - kick off 7.45pm
||O'Leary, Rigg (Diallo 87), Welch-Hayes, Batten, Andresson, Artus (Morgan HT), Watkins, Murphy, McCootie, Hemmings, McCoulsky. subs not used: Marshall, Hunter, Simpson.
|man of the match:
||Welch-Hayes (14), Andresson (90)
|league position: 9th
||next match: St Albans City (A)
Report taken from
Andy Watkins was the recipient of hugs aplenty as his 11th goal in 12 games sealed a Valentine's Day draw at Oxford City.
The hosts appeared on course for their first league win since New Year's Day thanks to Reece Fleet's second half strike, but Watkins' 90th minute leveller broke their hearts and earned a deserved point.
There was no love lost between the sides, facing each other for the fourth time in five months, in a scrappy match littered with free-kicks and mistakes prevalent on a tricky surface.
Frankie Artus forced home keeper Craig Hill into his first save on 11 minutes, his downward header from Billy Murphy's corner comfortably gathered.
The Romans were almost caught cold soon after when a quickly taken free-kick resulted in Fleet shooting over from 15 yards.
Shawn McCoulsky, under the watchful eye of Bristol City director of youth recruitment Brian Tinnion, squandered a glorious opportunity just before the 20-minute mark.
Nick McCootie's persistence on the left wing resulted in a cross onto the head of the unmarked forward, but he failed to get enough purchase and allowed Hill to easily catch.
What followed was a spell of each side having a competition in how to cheaply lose possession, with neither City showing any sign of the quality required to make a breakthrough.
Oxford started showing glimpses of improvement going forward with Wilson Carvalho's teasing cross from the right scrambled clear before Kaiman Anderson could pounce.
At the other end, the hosts nearly gifted Bath an opener just before the break.
A cleverly worked corner between Murphy and Watkins saw the former drill in a cross which Jean Niate somehow sliced over his own crossbar.
The same defender was at the thick of things soon after when Watkins went sprawling under his challenge in the penalty box, but referee Adam Ricketts indicated that the Frenchman had played the ball.
Half-time saw Marvin Morgan, dropped for the first time this season, introduced in place of hamstring victim Artus.
Mark Jones' men created the first chance after the interval, with captain Lee Henderson heading Scott Davies' free-kick wide from six yards, before City saw two openings produce the best out of Hill in the Oxford goal.
Murphy's delivery following his initial corner was met by McCoulsky, whose goalbound header was brilliantly tipped behind by the home custodian.
A minute later he arguably bettered this, denying a contender for goal of the season. From the resulting flag-kick, Murphy's cross was only cleared as far as Watkins who, 18 yards out, audaciously sent a bicycle kick back towards goal which dipped unnervingly towards the bottom corner.
Hill, perhaps unsighted, managed to readjust and flick the ball behind for another corner.
This prompted a positive response from Oxford, but their finishing left a lot to be desired.
On 63 minutes they were gifted an opening goal. Davies' free-kick saw O'Leary bizarrely attempt to punch clear rather than catch when under no pressure, and this proved a fatal error as it landed straight to Fleet, who first-time guided the ball back into the empty net from just inside the penalty area.
It was the first goal Gary Owers' men had conceded for 344 minutes and the rare O'Leary gaffe appeared to knock his confidence temporarily with a few sliced clearances following.
Oxford brought on Sammy Khawaja and Jefferson Louis, he of 33 different clubs during a 20-year career.
The latter was adjudged to have handled when charging down Jack Batten's clearance, which prevented a clear run on goal.
O'Leary's evening nearly went from bad to worse when Carvalho's speculative shot took a wicked bounce off the hard surface and deflected wide via the number one's shoulder.
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Naby Diallo was introduced for George Rigg as the visitors switched to 3-4-3 in a bid to rescue a point.
The hosts were once again indebted to the sharp instincts of Hill, playing only his third match for the club. This time he palmed behind Miles Welch-Hayes' powerful header, denying the Oxford United loanee a goal against their rival club.
But instead it was Watkins who finally found a way past the stopper as the 90th minute approached.
Murphy's driven corner was met at the front post by City's leading marksman, who shuffled the ball over the line under the body of Hill, much to the delight of his team-mates and the band of travelling supporters behind the goal.
Davies tried to restore Oxford's lead by shooting straight from the restart but it flew safely wide, and O'Leary was alert to pat Batten's inadvertent header behind as each side claimed a deserved point.
It's one which still leaves Owers' charges some distance shy of the play-offs, but the way it was earned will have no doubt warmed the hearts of the management and supporters.