Bolton recover their poise

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The Independent Online
Oxford United 0 Bolton Wanderers 0

Bolton, whose most recent League form has given hints of a mini-crisis, retained their nerve last night to extend their Nationwide First Division lead to five points.

Having lost heavily and then squandered a 2-0 lead in their last two League matches, the visitors had arrived at the Manor Ground in less than ideal shape. And Oxford's record of only one home defeat in the last year hardly augured well for Colin Todd's side.

But the leaders recovered after a shaky start to complete a satisfactory job. At no stage, however, did they resemble a side which had scored 40 goals in their previous 18 League matches.

Oxford, hoping to present their manager, Denis Smith, with a suitable 49th birthday present, eventually managed a cake without any icing. Last night's defeat for their rivals Swindon kept them safely in the play-off zone.

Todd maintained afterwards that his side had sought a win - "there were no negative thoughts in our mind''. He was, however, clearly satisfied with his side's first clean sheet away in the League. Smith, for his part, had divined greater caution in his opponents' strategy. "It was a compliment to us that they defended in such depth.''

A largely featureless second half ended with a frisson as Oxford's substitute, Paul Moody, drove the ball into the side netting from close range. It was the closest either side came to a goal.

The home side were seeking their sixth successive win. Bolton, with the rain driving into their faces, appeared to be doing their best to accommodate them in the opening minutes as they made a series of errors in defence.

After just three minutes a bizarre and misjudged pass infield from the visiting right-back Gudni Bergsson gave Nigel Jemson, Oxford's leading scorer this season with 12 goals, a clear opportunity for number 13. But Gerry Taggart rose to the challenge with a saving tackle.

Oxford hardly looked more secure themselves and, after five minutes, their centre-back Matt Elliott was booked for a clumsy foul on Bolton's Nathan Blake.

Despite the defensive uncertainty at either end, the first attempt on target did not arrive until the 11th minute when Mike Ford got his head to a long ball from David Smith.

Oxford began to gain some impetus and after 28 minutes Bolton's keeper Keith Branagan did well to block an acutely angled shot from Joey Beauchamp.

Jemson, put in on goal by his forward partner Martin Aldridge, wasted his opportunity by trying to return the ball rather than shooting.

Oxford United (4-4-2): Whitehead; Purse, Elliott, Gilchrist, Ford; Gray, Smith, Angel (Massey, 82), Beauchamp; Jemson (Moody, 73), Aldridge (Rush, h-t). Substitute not used: Moody.

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Branagan; Bergsson, Fairclough, Taggart, Phillips; Johansen (Lee, 56), Todd, Sheridan, Sellars; Blake, McGinlay. Substitutes not used: Taylor, Green.

Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).