We departed for the Kassam Stadium at 11.30am hoping to return to Sussex with the three points. I’ve always enjoyed my trips watching us play at Oxford, a nice big ground with a large playing surface meant I was practically pining that we would play with width during the journey up there which seemed to take longer than normal. After parking, the four of us quickly scuttled in between the home supporters to join the large away following in the bowling alley’s bar and after a quick pint of cider decided to get a bite to eat and the (Scandalously) over-priced match-day tickets. On queueing for my chips, word was quickly going round that Matt Tubbs, our top scorer was out of the game due to a groin injury meaning that John Akinde was given a start.
Similarly to the Gillingham game, Steve Evans decided to use the diamond formation (A midfield formation that never actually works as we lack width). Once again, Kyle McFadzean was sitting behind Sergio Torres and Josh Simpson in midfield with Hope Akpan being used as the driving attacking midfielder. Tubbs and injured ex-Oxford midfielder Dannie Bulman, along with defender Glenn Wilson soon joined the 600-strong Crawley fans in the stand.
We started well. In a first half that seemed to fly by saw the visitors have the majority of the possession and chances with the misfiring Akinde although probably playing his best 45 minutes in a Red Devils shirt, being the culprit of the majority of efforts that either sailed wide or whistled over the bar. Also in the first half, the (poor) referee Brendan Malone booked Torres, Dean Howell and Akinde in quick succession for their first fouls. Yellows’ right back Damian Batt was already booked before he felled Torres however, Malone, (wrongly) just decided to have a word for the marauding defender. The view from the Reds supporters at half time was that “Oxford are poor”, “We’re playing well and just need the rub of the green” and “They’re there for the taking” following a largely dominant first forty five by the away side.
Second half began and we continued our high tempo. Effort of the season let alone effort of the match was from Torres, who’s bicycle kick from about 20 yards was tipped over the bar from U’s ‘keeper Ryan Clarke. Jon-Paul Pittman, who iliterally three weeks before was playing for us on loan from Oxford was then introduced to the fray by boss Chris Wilder with the in-effective Tom Craddock being replaced. It wasn’t long before Pittman came back to haunt us as, after Reds’ goalkeeper Scott Shearer decided to take a touch after a back pass, smashed the ball straight into Pittman who simply slotted into the empty net from an acute angle.
From here, Oxford looked to make the game safe; Alfie Potter had a chance when through on goal and, despite under pressure from David Hunt got his shot away but Shearer held on. It was starting to turn into end-to-end stuff in Oxfordshire as Tyrone Barnett had a good chance but despite being in a good position found the top corner… of the stand (honestly was row Z stuff). Crawley’s Claude Davis was up top with Barnett by this stage leaving Crawley with just three at the back as Evans’ side looked to snatch an equaliser and Oxford’s James Constable was next to test Shearer but saw his left footed drive palmed out for a corner.
Minutes later Crawley had another chance; Scott Neilson, who had replaced Akinde midway through the second half saw his low cross find Barnett sliding in, however somehow the former Macclesfield striker saw his shot saved by the legs of Clarke.With thirty seconds or normal time remaining and four minutes of added time looming the visitors from Sussex grabbed an equaliser as McFadzean’s hooked ball looped over centre back Michael Duberry allowing Barnett to let the ball bounce before slamming the ball past Clarke and into the top corner of the net with his left foot sending the 621 away fans loopy.
To conclude… the case of swings and roundabouts strikes again as although we were dominant for the majority of the game we were 1-0 down, kept battling and grabbed a late equaliser – the least we deserved. Dissapointed with Oxford to be honest. Expected more from a club that is sitting just one position outside the play-offs. For us, it could be a vital point come the end of the season and we look forward to the tie at home to Bristol City in The FA Cup on Saturday.