Nine men give the leaders real fright
Stevenage Boro 2 Oxford United 2 MARCUS CRAWLEY reports from Broadhall Way THIS was a quite extraordinary 90 minutes of football against the league leaders. Boro fully deserved their point after playing for nearly 70 minutes with 10 men and the final half
Stevenage Boro 2 Oxford United 2
MARCUS CRAWLEY reports from Broadhall Way
THIS was a quite extraordinary 90 minutes of football against the league leaders.
Boro fully deserved their point after playing for nearly 70 minutes with 10 men and the final half hour with just nine.
In fact, they still created the better chances against a side which look destined for a swift return to League Two.
With regular right-back Barry Fuller unfit, Boro boss Mark Stimson handed a full debut to Hasim Deen.
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This lasted just over 20 minutes as the on-loan youngster became the first casualty of referee Cann before being joined by defensive colleague Luke Oliver after the break.
Both decisions were correct although Boro might feel aggrieved that only Matt Day from Oxford went into the referee's book during the course of the afternoon.
An uneventful first 15 minutes gave no indication of the drama about to unfold.
Then the home side went ahead with a goal of the highest quality.
George Boyd's sublime skill on the touchline in front of the dug-outs released the outstanding Adam Miller who in turn found Steve Guppy.
You would have bet your house on the former England man scoring but instead Billy Turley made a fine stop to send the ball looping high into the air.
Steve Morison, a current England man with the National Game XI and a scorer along with Boyd in the 4-1 midweek win over the Dutch, needed no second invitation.
He volleyed it first time past defenders on the line without a hint of hesitation.
This sparked the contest into life and Rob Duffy, a misfit at Boro at the end of last season, forced Alan Julian into a good save despite the attentions of a couple of defenders.
Chris Hargreaves made a reckless and dangerous challenge on Miller and this was followed a minute later by Oliver's similarly bad tackle from behind on Duffy which sparked a 21-man confrontation.
After temperatures cooled, Deen was shown a red card for raising his hands, Oliver saw yellow and yet no Oxford player was reprimanded.
A Day header went close to equalising but it was Boro who grabbed the next goal via another quality finish by Morison.
Oxford captain Phil Gilchrist could not deal with a ball over the top and only headed it into the path of Morison who sent a superb lob over the stranded Turley.
Gilchrist was close to atoning for his error soon after at the other end following a corner but Boro were still on top.
Morison was only denied a hat-trick by Turley's legs after more slack defensive play coupled with great work from strike partner Boyd.
And on-loan Brad Johnson fired high over the top as the Oxford defence dithered again over a Mark Beard cross.
Two down at the break, Oxford boss Jim Smith made a double switch, one enforced as Chris Tardiff replaced Turley in goal and the other tactical as Yemi Odubade came on for Chris Willmott.
The pace of Odubade injected some much-needed life into the Oxford attack and the visitors forced four corners in the opening minutes of the half.
Julian produced a brilliant tip over to deny Hargreaves after the loose ball fell to him from a corner.
There was no reprieve for Boro on 54 minutes when Odubade turned Oliver inside out and squared for Duffy to net against his former club.
Within a couple of minutes, Boro had a goal ruled out for offside when Morison turned the ball home after Tardiff parried Boyd's shot.
It was then Oxford's turn to attack with Oliver exposed against the pace of Odubade. There was no question he fouled him and that it merited a booking and consequently an early bath.
Now down to nine, Boro were further hurt as the resulting free-kick was swung in and Hargreaves headed beyond Julian.
The points now looked destined to be heading Oxford's way but Boro had other ideas.
They had the three best opportunities in the remaining time, Morison first heading just wide from a Guppy free-kick.
After Santos Gaia replaced Guppy to supplement the numbers at the back, Morison could have completed a deserved hat-trick as Tardiff produced fine saves from his goalbound shot and header.
Boss Stimson said: "You ask your players for honesty - I learned that under Jim (Smith) as a player - and I got that from all of them in this match.
"We could have been three-up by the break with a bit more luck but it wasn't to be on the day.
"Despite Luke being sent off and Oxford immediately making it 2-2, we still caused them problems.
"Hasim shouldn't have got involved and you have got to stay away and let the situation sort itself out.
"With Luke's red card and especially with his first booking, we've got to learn some decisions will go against you and you must not react. Luke was playing well up until then and is always a threat from set pieces.