OXFORD United chose their home match with York City to mark ‘Military Day’ at the Kassam Stadium.
But it was a regimented performance from the visitors, in particular a well-drilled defensive display, that ensured members of the Navy, Army, RAF, the Royal British Legion and the Chelsea Pensioners witnessed a goal-less encounter.
However, unlike the melodic Abingdon Military Wives Choir at half-time, the Minstermen were not always in tune with one another during their raids into opposition territory.
Several promising counter-attacks from Gary Mills’ team floundered due to unfortunate decision-making but, if more care can be taken with that final pass, then Saturday’s efforts suggested City’s sorry recent run in front of goal can be rectified.
The Minstermen have now gone seven games without scoring from open play but, had the likes of Matty Blair, John McGrath and Ashley Chambers showed just a little bit more composure in the final third of the pitch at Oxford, then the team might have taken full advantage of the devastating pace on the break they still possess.
At the other end of the pitch, the dependable Daniel Parslow was selected at left-back – his fourth different position in as many matches – in preference to an out-of-sorts Jamal Fyfield and along, with returning right-back Lanre Oyebanjo, ensured Oxford’s threat from the flanks was minimal.
Teenage defender Jack O’Connell, meanwhile, produced another mature display alongside combative captain Chris Smith, although both picked up strategic first-half bookings when home strikers Tom Craddock and James Constable briefly threatened to escape their attentions.
Otherwise, the U’s pair were equally well shackled.
The home side only managed three shots from inside the 18-yard box all afternoon with Adam Chapman curling their first effort wide from a fifth-minute free-kick.
City’s first opportunity saw recalled striker Jason Walker volley over from 25 yards on 18 minutes after Oxford defender Michael Raynes had stretched every sinew to prevent Blair racing on to a searching Scott Kerr pass.
Damien Batt’s low drive, from a short Chapman free-kick, also failed to unduly extend Michael Ingham in the away goal.
But, moments later, the Minstermen ’keeper made a smart save low to his left to push Josh Parker’s firmly-struck edge-of-the-box shot behind for a corner.
The visitors’ best chance was created by Alex Rodman on 27 minutes when he stood up a right-wing cross for Blair but last season’s 20-goal leading marksman headed straight into Luke McCormick’s hands six yards out.
Blair might also have released Chambers for an unopposed run on goal before running into two yellow shirts.
On-loan midfielder McGrath, meanwhile, elected to pass to an offside Blair when the home defence had parted in front of him just across the halfway line.
For Oxford, left-back Liam Davis shot wide from 20 yards and Craddock missed the target with a header following Lewis Montrose’s cross.
Constable also shot over from a promising position 15 yards from goal in between Kerr and Blair efforts for City.
A 25-yard attempt from Kerr bounced wide while Blair’s hooked shot from the edge of the penalty area was comfortably gathered by McCormick.
City started the second period well with McGrath lifting a 30-yard strike too high and Chambers firing wide from a difficult angle having failed to pick out Blair’s brilliant run beyond the Oxford back four.
Chambers then went close with a dipping 20-yard shot on 55 minutes but that proved the visitors’ last goal attempt of the game.
The home side mustered little more with Sean Rigg calling Ingham into action at his near post and Raynes’ edge-of-the-box strike lacking the power to beat the City shot-stopper.
By that point, Lee Bullock had been brought on for a useful cameo as a buffer in front of the visitors’ back four and, after Parker scuffed a long-range attempt wide, the Minstermen settled for their seventh 0-0 draw of the season.
Michael Ingham 8
Displayed impressive reflexes to deny Parker and dealt well with Oxford’s numerous corners.
Lanre Oyebanjo 8
Generally solid other than the odd slip as he changed position yet again.
Chris Smith 8
Showed determination from walking on to the pitch to the final whistle.
Jack O’Connell 8
Rarely put a foot wrong and concentration levels stayed high throughout the match.
Dan Parslow 8
STAR MAN – Home winger Parker eventually swapped flanks after getting no change from City’s Mr Versatile.
Scott Kerr 6
Worked diligently but his passes did not always reach their intended destination on a difficult pitch.
John McGrath 7
Competed well throughout and did not give any ground in midfield.
Matty Blair 7
Made a series of powerful bursts forward from the middle of the park, as well as helping out defensively.
Alex Rodman 6
Created best chance of the game for Blair and needs to show that quality throughout 90 minutes.
Jason Walker 6
Had a few problems holding the ball up and did not get many sights of the home goal.
Ashley Chambers 6
Went close in the second half and gave signs that his pace can hurt teams again.
Subs: Lee Bullock (for Chambers, 81), Michael Rankine (for Walker, 90). Subs not used: Paul Musselwhite, David McDaid, Michael Potts, Patrick McLaughlin, Tom Allan.
Luke McCormick, Damian Batt, Michael Raynes, Jake Wright, Liam Davis, Josh Parker, Adam Chapman, Lewis Montrose, Sean Rigg (Deane Smalley, 66), James Constable, Tom Craddock (Alfie Potter, 54). Subs not used: Michael Duberry, Simon Heslop, Andy Whing, Luke O’Brien, Max Crocombe. Star man – Chapman, was comfortable in possession.
Referee: Tony Harrington (Cleveland).
Rating: 7/10 – kept up with play well and decisive.
Booked: O’Connell 21, Smith 29, Batt 78.
Sent off: None.
Attendance: 5,808 (319 from City).
Shots on target: Oxford 4, City 2.
Shots off target: Oxford 6, City 5.
Corners: Oxford 9, City 2.
Fouls conceded: Oxford 17, City 10.
Offsides: Oxford 0, City 4.