Stalemate at the Kassam.......
Rotherham United equalled a club-record run of 16 games unbeaten in all competitions, as they earned a hard-fought point at play-off chasing Oxford United, but it could have been so much more.
In cold and windswept conditions at the Kassam Stadium, Rotherham were denied by the woodwork on two first-half occasions, as Michael Smith and Freddie Ladapo crashed headers against the post and bar.
The second half was much more in the balance, but both sides cancelled each other out, as the spoils were shared.
The Millers made the trip to Oxfordshire in good heart following their impressive midweek victory over Ipswich Town.
Boss Paul Warne made three changes to his starting line-up. Wes Harding was drafted into the back three while Michael Ihiekwe took the skipper’s armband. Mickel Miller and Ollie Rathbone were recalled in the midfield areas, as Jamie Lindsay and Shane Ferguson had to settle for substitute berths.
The Covid-19 hit hosts were missing several first-team regulars and former Rotherham players Anthony Forde and Ryan Williams were not named in the home squad.
In a frenetic opening, both sides failed to settle and Ladapo and Miller were fortunate to escape sanction for clumsy challenges before Viktor Johansson was called upon to punch away James Henry’s free-kick.
The Millers had the first opening when Dan Barlaser capitalised on some sloppy home defending to present Smith with a chance to strike but Sam Long put his body on the line to block his effort at close quarters.
Warne’s side then came within a coat of paint of the opener when Miller got the better of his marker to deliver a delicious centre which was met by the head of Smith, who looked to guide his header into the bottom corner of the goal, but unfortunately for all those of a Rotherham United persuasion, the ball struck the inside of the post and dribbled across the goalmouth, before Oxford hacked the ball clear.
Rotherham were taking charge of the Kassam Stadium affair and Ladapo clipped a point-blank effort into the grateful hands of Connal Trueman before Luke McNally denied the Millers frontman with a superb last-ditch tackle following good build-up play by Miller and Smith.
Rathbone became the next to threaten with a vicious dipping effort, which narrowly cleared the home crossbar, after Barlaser and Chiedozie Ogbene had combined smartly.
Despite the early Millers dominance, Oxford almost fluked an opener, in their first effort of note, when Marcus McGuane’s deflected effort caught the wind, and had Johansson backtracking nervously, as it bounced wickedly, and just went over the Millers bar.
From the resultant corner, Cameron Brannagan blazed an effort over before Johansson was somewhat fortunate to divert Herbie Kane’s through ball to safety with Henry lurking for the bits and pieces.
Oxford were having their best spell of the half but normal service was resumed when the Rotherham front pair combined superbly when Smith clipped an inviting ball into the danger area and Ladapo outjumped McNally to power a point-blank header goalwards, but a combination of post and bar kept the ball out – with the woodwork once again coming to the home side’s rescue.
There was a moment of controversy when Miller took a tumble under the challenge of Henry in the box, but the referee waved away Rotherham appeals, and Barlaser was yellow-carded for his vehement protests.
Minutes later, Barlaser and Miller caught the hosts napping from a quick corner and the latter floated a delicate centre which saw Smith again show his aerial prowess, but the Millers leading scorer, bizarrely headed away from goal, despite being just yards away from goal.
Karl Robinson’s men had another stroke of luck, near the break, when Trueman’s attempted clearance was charged down by Ladapo, but luckily for the Oxford ‘keeper, the ball looped narrowly over the home goal.
Half-time: Oxford United 0 Rotherham United 0
Following the interval, Miller was in the thick of the action, by seeing yellow for a late clip on McGuane, before turning provider with a tantalising centre but man-of-the-moment Ben Wiles, elected to volley than go with his head, and he blazed a shot over.
Minutes later, Barlaser latched onto a weak Oxford clearance to curl a delightful effort, from just outside the box, which fizzed just inches wide of the target.
Just before the hour mark, Jamie Hanson escaped punishment for a full-blooded challenge on Miller, which left the visiting winger needing treatment, and the referee bringing both captains together, following the ensuing melee involving both sets of players.
The incident momentarily sparked Oxford’s players and fans into life and Nathan Holland stung the palms of Johansson with a fierce effort which the Swedish stopper did well to keep out.
Rathbone became the next to see yellow for a late foul on Gavin Whyte and Steve Seddon soon joined him in the book for a hefty challenge on Ogbene. Wiles was also cautioned for appearing to halt an Oxford counter-attack illegally.
The hosts had a couple of chances when firstly Herbie Kane fired a free-kick just over before Seddon had Johansson at full stretch, with a stinging drive from distance.
Both teams traded chances when Smith fired a cross-cum-shot over Trueman, but wide of the goal, before sub Richard Wood, in typical style, bravely put his head in the way of Henry’s goalbound shot.
Late on, Barlaser floated a corner which held up in the wind and almost caught out Trueman, as a well-stationed Oxford defender headed clear from underneath his own crossbar before Warne's men withstood a late Oxford rally, to take a point back up to South Yorkshire.
Full-time: Oxford United 0 Rotherham United 0
Oxford United 0
Rotherham United 0
Teams: Oxford- Trueman, Long, Brannagan, McNally, Henry, McGuane (Agyei 70), Hanson, Whyte, Kane, Holland (Cooper 86), Seddon. Unused- Brearey, Winnall, Bodin, Golding.
Rotherham- Johansson, Harding, Barlaser, Wiles, Ladapo (Kayode 82), Ogbene (Wood 75), Miller, Rathbone (Lindsay 67), Ihiekwe, Edmonds-Green, Smith. Unused- Vickers, Grigg, Ferguson, Odoffin.
Referee- S Purkiss
Attendance- 7620 (1001)