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Grimsby 1 Oxford 1
By: Gareth Edwards
THE Mariners turned in a mixed performance on the opening day of the new season, with a 1-1 draw against Oxford Utd at Blundell Park. It was as much as they deserved, with neither side really gaining ascendancy throughout the hard fought game.
Town lined up in Russell Slade's favoured 3-4-1-2 formation, with home debuts for Steve Mildenhall, Tom Newey, Paul Bolland and for the returning Gary Croft, who played in midfield. Oxford had former Mariner Chris Hargreaves in their side, along with dangerous strike duo Steve Basham and Lee Bradbury.
Town kicked off towards the Pontoon but the early exchanges were won by Oxford. They mounted several early attacks which were repelled by various Town defenders. Tom Newey lead Town's first attack, on the left, but his cross was cleared easily. Oxford appealed for a penalty at the other end for a McDermott handball, but this was immediately declined by the referee. Town were under great pressure, with Simon Ramsden in particular having to make some timely interceptions to prevent Oxford breaking through.
The game was becoming increasingly fractured, with the referee's whistle preventing any fluidity in the game. Reddy then inspired the crowd back into full voice after a solo run created Town's first chance. The Irishman beat 3 defenders with sheer pace, but could not finish it off for what would have been a memorable goal, firing his shot straight at Billy Turley in the Oxford goal. Unfortunately, no other Town player could match his drive and determination going forward and Town were once again forced onto the back foot. The ball was constantly in and around the Town penalty area, but somehow the defence held firm. Rob Jones produced an inspired block to prevent what looked to be a certain goal and again this looked to spur on the team. With 27 minutes gone, Town won their first corner, but Newey's poor delivery killed the momentum.
Some battling in midfield brought the game back as a contest and it was Town who were to have the majority of the play until half time. Reddy again almost found a way through, only to be halted by a cynical challenge from Ashton. Despite this denying a possible goal-scoring opportunity, he only received a booking. Tom Newey almost made up for this with a well-struck free-kick but Turley again matched this with a great save. Several corners followed but again poor deliveries meant Town's heavy cavalry in Jones and Crane could not capitalise and this proved to be the end of a rather disappointing half.
The second half proved to be more open and as each team tired, more chances materialised. Steve Basham failed to capitalise on Crane's dozing off at the far post and missed a guilt-edged chance to take the lead, firing over. Gritton headed an equally good chance wide at the other end after some neat build-up play on the right by Bolland and Parkinson. Bolland began to take the game by the scruff to the neck in midfield and almost set Reddy up with the opener but the striker failed to hit the target. Lee Bradbury was throwing himself about the pitch for Oxford and he forced a smart save from Mildenhall before being booked after an altercation with Jones. Mildenhall then made another stop, holding onto Basham's cross-come-shot.
Town hit back and slightly against the run of play, took the lead through a well-delivered Tom Newey corner which was met with a volley by, of all people, Tony Crane. Oxford made a change up front, replacing Basham in search of an equaliser. All of the Town team looked to fight to maintain their lead, with Bolland and Croft dominating the midfield and Ramsden, Crane and Jones dealing with the aerial threat at the back. Oxford made yet another change with time ticking and an equaliser began to look likely. Crane headed away a dangerous Oxford corner bravely and took a knock in the process.
Slade brought on Gary Jones up front in favour of the tiring Gritton. It did not change Town's fortunes however and they eventually caved in to the ever-increasing Oxford pressure. Tom Newey was forced to bring down Chris Hackett in desperation and was booked for his troubles. The killer blow then followed when Chris Hargreaves headed in from the resulting free-kick, with the Town defenders standing like statues, watching on.
Oxford went home happy with a point and there were various grumbles from the Town fans at full time, many seeing this as two points thrown away rather than a point gained. With Kamudimba and Ciaran Toner on the mend, this will give Russell Slade options in midfield and plenty to think about over the coming weeks.
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