Oxford United 0-0 Pilgrims
by Barbara Singleton
It wasnt pretty, but a battling display by Boston United earned a creditable point away to promotion-chasing Oxford. Admittedly the Pilgrims didnt threaten too often in terms of creating clear-cut opportunities. But impressively they produced a grafting display to thwart opposition who desperately needed victory to fuel their ambitions in the upper reaches of the table. The match, which eventually produced Bostons first goalless draw in 40 league outings, never reached any great heights - probably the legacy of a tame and low-key start to proceedings. However, Boston had a half-chance in the fifth minute as the result of a free-kick after David Noble had been fouled. Noble picked himself up to take the set piece, but his 25-yard effort from an angle out on the right lacked sufficient power to unduly trouble Andy Woodman. Oxford tried to hit back and produced some neat football at times, however the Pilgrims central defensive duo of Stuart Balmer and Paul Ellender remained solid in dispensing a couple of important clearances. Back at the other end, Boston won another free-kick in the 12th minute and Ellender powered a header just wide from Tom Bennetts delivery. The home side, aware of the important nature of the fixture to their fading promotion hopes, tried to lift the tempo with phases of good passing play in which Dean Whitehead and Courtney Pitt were prominent. From one build-up Chris Hackett saw a half-hit effort held by Paul Bastock and then, on 20 minutes, the ball found Oxfords Richard Walker, but his shot from eight yards was deflected wide of Bastocks goal. In the 25th minute, the lively Pitt made another surging run into the Boston danger area but just missed out on a telling finish after a neat inter-change with Walker. Boston hit back and won a couple of corners on the half-hour and although Noble flighted in some useful kicks, Woodman and his defensive colleagues stood firm.
Oxford hit back and won a free-kick in a dangerous position in the 32nd minute, but Bastock easily held David Browns cross. Boston went close in the 36th minute when - following a free-kick - Noble hooked over a cross and Ellender saw a header well saved by Woodman. Just before the break Oxford won another free-kick in a position of relative danger. But Hacketts effort flew past the Boston wall, but well off-target. The second half was only two minutes old when Oxford created what looked to be a good chance, but Hackett blazed wildly off target when a shooting chance opened up. Oxford then stepped up the pressure and went close in the 54th minute when Steve Basham headed over from the second of two corners by Whitehead, the first of which had seen Bennett rescue a flailing Bastock with a timely clearance. Oxford generally continued to hold the upper hand, but without being able to conjure up any genuine suggestion they would break the deadlock, thanks to a combination of resolute Boston defensive work and woeful finishing by the home team. Boston were less active as an attacking force, but they still forced Oxford back on the defensive on a couple of occasions. With the game entering its final quarter both sides made substitutions with former Pilgrim Mark Rawle coming on for the home side and Lee Thompson replacing Cropper. Rawle almost carved out a chance for his team in the 81st minute but was foiled by a good blocking tackle from Stuart Balmer. And then Bastock took a good catch from another cross by the same player. As the game entered its final six minutes, Whitehead sent in a good cross towards leading scorer Basham who generally had a quiet game. But Lee Beevers made a decisive intervention with a good headed clearance. In the dying throes, Ellender made two important challenges to thwart, in turn, Rawle and Lee Steele as the Pilgrims gallantly stood firm to register a deserved share of the spoils.
United team (4-4-2): Bastock; Beevers, Ellender, Balmer (Hocking 83), Chapman; Melton, Holland, Bennett, Noble; Jones (Angel 89), Cropper (Thompson 71). Subs (not used): Hurst, Croudson (gk).