U’s miss chance to go into commanding play-off position after draw with Stevenage

Sam Long’s own goal just after half an hour put Stevenage in front, however a penalty Cameron Brannagan just before the hour mark brought United level in their final home game of the regular campaign.

Des Buckingham made two changes to the side which lost 1-0 at home to Lincoln City, as Brannagan and Marcus Browne replaced Josh McEachran and Owen Dale respectively.

It meant a first start for Browne since the 3-1 win at Barnsley back in August, when he suffered his initial hamstring injury this season.

McEachran and fellow midfielder Marcus McGuane suffered knocks in training on Thursday, and both failed late fitness tests.

Chances were at a premium in the opening stages of the first half, with Josh Murphy drilling in a 25-yard effort, which Craig MacGillivray got down to, while Long headed wide at the back post from an inswinging Brannagan corner.

Murphy then struck wide with a shot from outside the penalty box, shortly after the midway point of the first half, before United were denied a penalty moments later.

Ruben Rodrigues slid a ball through for Browne in the right channel of the area, with MacGillivray charging out of his goal and seemingly making contact with Browne before the ball.

Referee Tom Nield was unmoved though, and pointed for a corner, which came to nothing.

Stevenage then took the lead just after half an hour had been played.

Nick Freeman found himself in space on the left byline, and played a ball toward the near post, where Long got in front of Kane Hemmings and was unfortunate to see the ball bounce off him and past Jamie Cumming.

While the penalty may have been one for interpretation, Nield then made a strange decision when he pulled play back after Greg Leigh received the ball in space on the halfway line, with the referee unhappy that a balloon was on the field, despite United having the initiative anyway.

As half-time approached, Mark Harris nodded wide from Murphy’s right-wing cross, while Brannagan drilled a low free kick from the left, which MacGillivray did well to get down to and push behind.

From the resulting corner, Browne was presented with space in the middle of the box, but fired his volley wide.

The U’s came out on the attack early in the second period, with another penalty call waved away after appeals for a handball by Stevenage skipper Carl Piergianni, while MacGillivray could only parry a fizzing Fin Stevens strike.

Rodrigues then poked an effort at MacGillivray, after a driving run infield from Leigh found Harris, who teed up United’s Portuguese playmaker.

Rodrigues then won the penalty which got the U’s level, when he was tripped in the right channel of the area, with Brannagan stepping up to coolly send MacGillivray the wrong way from 12 yards.

United then went in search of the goal to put them in front, with Rodrigues leaning back when he fired over Murphy’s cross from the right.

Buckingham made his first switch by bringing on Dale for Browne with 64 minutes on the clock, and eight minutes later, Billy Bodin and James Henry replaced Rodrigues and Tyler Goodrham in the advanced midfield positions.

Brannagan then drew a foul 20 yards out, but blazed the free kick over, as tension started to creep in at Grenoble Road.

A counter-attack saw Dale release Murphy through the middle, however the winger was forced slightly wide, and MacGillivray spread himself well to make the save.

At the other end, Hemmings got in down the right, rounded Cumming, but was then denied by Long who cleared the ball close to the goal line.

The final opportunities of the match came in the final minutes of stoppage time, when Murphy showed a rapid burst of pace to charge down the left and whip in a cross which Harris headed over the bar, while Leigh headed wide at the back post from a Murphy corner.

Oxford United (4-3-3): Cumming; Stevens, Long, Brown, Leigh; Rodrigues (Bodin 72), Brannagan, Goodrham (Henry 72); Browne (Dale 64), Harris, Murphy.

Unused subs: Eastwood, Thorniley, Bennett, Smyth.

Booked: None.

Stevenage (4-3-3): MacGillivray; Smith, Vancooten, Piergianni, Guinness-Walker; Freeman (List 80), L. Thompson, White (N. Thompson 90+2); Hemmings, Reid (B. Thompson 60), Roberts (Sweeney 90+2).

Unused subs: Mitchell, Pressley, Evans.

Booked: Vancooten, Guiness-Walker, Smith.

Referee: Tom Nield (West Yorkshire)

Attendance: TBC (TBC visitors).

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