For the second time this season, Exeter City and Oxford United played out a goalless stalemate as defences came out on top in a 0-0 at St James Park.
Chances came and went at both ends – no better than a late header from Danny Coles
in front of the Big Bank which was unfathomably saved – but neither team could burst the net.
For City, it was a much-needed clean-sheet but disappointingly it ended all-square with some inspirational goalkeeping from Ryan Clarke and some wayward shooting.
The big news for the Grecians ahead of their Tuesday evening kick-off against Oxford United was the inclusion of Matt Oakley
on the bench, on the mend after a long-standing injury.
missed out on the starting line-up after sustaining injury against AFC Wimbledon, while teenager Matt Jay was once again in the squad, taking a seat amongst the subs.
Oxford, meanwhile, were beginning their post-Chris Wilder era after he brought his five-year U’s career to an end on Sunday in order to take the reins at Northampton Town.
City were the livelier from the off and the game wasn’t two minutes old before Tom Nichols
smashed an effort from outside the area which deflected a matter of inches wide of the post off the shins of Johnny Mullins.
shot wildly on his left when the ball broke to him 30 yards out, before Arron Davies
hit a superb looping shot on the half-volley which Ryan Clarke did brilliantly to touch onto the crossbar.
The U’s had spent the first quarter of an hour defending deep and trying to clear their lines, but one moment of inspiration by Deane Smalley sparked the visitors into life. He burst down the left to latch onto a Nicky Wroe pass and it needed a sprawling save with Krysiak’s legs to keep parity.
A moment later Krysiak again showcased his elasticity with a flying save to deny Wroe, who had whipped a shot goalwards from 25 yards out.
Exeter survived the scare though and began to pose a threat again. Keohane in particular had been excellent with his dribbling and ball retention, and was unlucky to find no-one with a cutback after wriggling free on the byline.
The first-half was twice brought to a temporary halt with a blood injury to Oxford’s Danny Rose and when City midfielder Gill had a knock. Both were fine to continue, though it coincided with a stodgy period of play as both teams seemed to lose a bit of fluidity.
There were opportunities for both sides which went begging before the break – Joshua Ruffels had a shot saved low after swiveling well, before Keohane had a shot blocked out and Sercombe’s follow-up was comfortably held by Clarke.
Half-time: Exeter City 0 Oxford United 0
Kicking towards the Big Bank in the second period, the City supporters were trying to suck the ball into the net – but the ball just wouldn’t go in five minutes after the restart. Keohane fed Davies who wriggled away from goalkeeper Clarke, crossed low, but after bobbling off some shins it found the way back into the grateful arms of the stopper.
Grimes was introduced just before the hour mark in a straight swap for veteran Gill, who had taken a knock in the first period. Soon after, the teenager was called into action to block out a full-blooded strike from Wroe.
Keohane’s running on the ball was incisive, and an off-the-ball run into the channel was equally problematic for the Yellows’ defence – he escaped the offside trap to receive from Davies and crossed left-footed towards Nichols, but a defender arrived first to head behind.
As the game drifted into the final ten minutes, City had a number of chances to finally break the deadlock only to be denied by saves and wasteful shooting. Grimes thundered a shot wide after some good ball retention by the Grecians collectively, before sub Alan Gow
flashed a cross across the six-yard box with no-one arriving to tuck in.
And then a round-the-corner ball by Gow for Keohane saw the Irishman dart goalwards, pull a pass to Davies on the left in the six-yard box, only for Clarke to pull out a fine save low to his right after it was deflected on target inside the near post.
The chance of the match came in the final minute of stoppage time as Butterfield swung in a cross from deep to find the head of defensive partner Danny Coles
, but Clarke was positioned perfectly to claw out and then deny Davies on the follow-up to preserve a goalless scoreline at the final whistle.
Full-time: Exeter City 0 Oxford United 0
Exeter City: Krysiak; Butterfield, Baldwin (Gow 72), Coles, Woodman; Sercombe, Gill (Grimes 57), Bennett, Davies; Keohane; Nichols.
Subs: Pym, Oakley, Moore-Taylor, Parkin, Jay.
Oxford United: Clarke; Hunt, Raynes (Bevans 46), Mullins, Newey; Wroe, Rose, Ruffels; Smalley, Constable, Rigg (Davies 90).
Subs: Henly, Marsh, Long, Lynn, O’Dowda.
Attendance: 2,798 (218 away).
Referee: C. Sarginson