OXFORD UNITED 1, BURTON ALBION 1
BURTON Albion moved into an automatic promotion place in League Two as Jacques Maghoma’s 10th goal of the season earned them a precious away point at Oxford United last night.
The midfielder struck with just under 20 minutes left at the Kassam Stadium to level U’s hitman James Constable’s opener.
The Brewers then held on for one of their best results away from the Pirelli Stadium this season.
Albion boss Gary Rowett has targeted an improvement on the road to go with his side’s superb home form, and he got just what he wanted.
It was not a night where it was easy to play good football on a heavy pitch cut up by the rugby players of London Welsh.
The wind whipped in through the open end of the stadium and brought with it an icy downpour which made life difficult for both sides.
Following an even first half, it looked ominous for the Brewers when Constable – back from a four-game ban – netted just after the break.
But a few tactical changes helped Albion, with defender Zander Diamond moving up front, and playing a role in Maghoma’s equaliser.
The point takes Burton up to third in the table and with a trip to basement outfit AFC Wimbledon coming up on Saturday, this draw could mark a watershed in their season.
Rowett made one change to his starting line-up, springing a surprise by dropping Billy Kee to the bench and giving Matt Paterson his first start since November up front.
Nathan Stanton was replaced on the bench by Marcus Holness after picking up a knock.
The two sides cancelled each other out in the early stages of the match, with no real chances coming along in the first half-hour.
Constable picked up on Robbie Weir’s loose defensive header on six minutes but his low cross-shot was too far ahead of strike partner Tom Craddock.
Lee Bell had Burton’s first opportunity on 11 minutes, but will be disappointed with his 35-yard free kick which sailed well over the bar after a foul on Calvin Zola by former Chelsea and Leeds United defender Michael Duberry, who hobbled off soon afterwards.
Weir was next to have a go for the Brewers but fired wide from 25 yards after a surging run.
Oxford then stepped up a gear as the rain poured down and Damian Batt thought he had given his side the lead on 35 minutes.
He surged forward from right-back and met Adam Chapman’s cross with a fierce volley, only for Stuart Tomlinson to produce a fine reaction save from point-blank range.
A minute later, Craddock turned Ian Sharps inside out before firing a shot which deflected off the big Albion centre-half and flew across goal from a tight angle.
Bell almost caught Max Crocombe out with a corner three minutes from the break, the U’s keeper flapping at the ball as it sailed just over.
Maghoma went even closer to breaking the deadlock in a strong finish to the half as he surged past Batt and Raynes before attempting to pick his spot from 18 yards, and Crocombe panicked for a second as the ball curled wide.
The Brewers were then caught cold just minutes after the restart as Constable took advantage of some slack marking at a corner to get in and nod home substitute Tony Capaldi’s delivery.
It was a surprise, as a couple of moments apart, the Albion defence had been fairly comfortable.
The U’s continued to dominate but failed to create any serious openings.
If Burton were going to get back into the game, they needed to change things and Rowett pulled off a tiring Zola and replaced him with Kee.
He then made a surprise swap with 20 minutes left, replacing Paterson with Holness and throwing Diamond up front.
And it worked a treat a minute later.
Diamond held the ball up and found Bell, whose accurate cross was knocked down by Kee for Maghoma, and he took a touch before finishing superbly from 15 yards.
Craddock skied one over on 77 minutes but Albion never really came under sustained pressure.
They continued to show plenty of attacking prowess on the break as Kee twice went close with powerful efforts that went just over.
Diamond almost won it in stoppage time but his deft lob from 18 yards dropped agonisingly wide with Crocombe a mere spectator.