Brentford ready to accelerate challenge

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The Independent Online
Oxford United 1

Brentford 1

Tension, temper, tears. The sun is out and the season is closing in. Those Second Division managers with only a play-off place to aim for are feeling the heat and talking themselves into trouble.

At Bournemouth this weekend Martin O'Neill was said to have manhandled the referee and made derogatory remarks after Wycombe's defeat and is to be reported to the Football Association. Already on file at Lancaster Gate is the name of Denis Smith, the Oxford United manager, who at Crewe the previous Saturday, had to be escorted from the dug-out and was later accused of using foul language and physical threats towards the match official.

Smith should hear today if he is to be charged by the FA. For the Manor Ground meeting with the Second Division leaders, he chose to remain seated in the stands rather than risk the pitch-side sweat-box where it is far more easy to give vent to your emotions.

It was probably just as well given the decision of Andy D'Urso to dismiss Paul Wanless 18 minutes after his introduction, a fairly rumbustious period in which three defenders were themselves cautioned for fouls on the aggressive Oxford substitute.

The sending-off looked a straightforward matter. Anyone booked for failing to retreat the 10 yards for a free-kick and who then launches himself into a late and dangerous tackle must be clueless as well as Wanless. True to form, though, managers always seem to see these things differently.

Even David Webb, whose Brentford team failed to take advantage of the extra man and therefore saw themselves pushed off the top and out of the solitary promotion place. "It looked a bit harsh," the Brentford boss ventured. "I could not make that one out at all."

Neither could the Oxford supporters who, while directing most of their anger at the Billericay official, also found time to boo Carl Hutchins. The full-back is black, dreadlocked and not at all like Paul Abrahams, the victim of Wanless's impetuous touchline lunge.

Webb chuckled at that. "Carl's probably the most unusual looking fella on the pitch and somehow the crowd seemed to feel he was at fault. They must have thought he had hurriedly put on a wig to disguise himself."

We were grateful for having something to smile about. The preceding 90 minutes had been a dour struggle, bricks and stones with hardly an attractive pebble in sight, defences to the fore with few possessing the wit to break them down.

Brentford, extending their run to just a single defeat in 23 games, will be happier with the draw, having gone behind to a soft set-piece. They also know they should have won it, Martin Grainger cracking the bar with a free-kick and Robert Taylor missing completely with a heading opportunity from a corner in injury time.

Webb's men now have three games against sides in the relegation zone to accelerate their challenge, while next up for Oxford is the short journey along the M40 to face Wycombe. O'Neill versus Smith? The referee would be well advised to pack his earplugs.

Goals: Dyer (25) 1-0; Taylor (44) 1-1.

Oxford United (4-5-1): Whitehead; Robinson, Elliott, Gilchrist, Rogan; Massey (Ford, 80), D Smith (Wanless, 65), Lewis, Dyer, Allen; Moody. Substitute not used: Deegan (gk).

Brentford (4-1-3-2): Dearden; Hutchins, Bates, Ashby, Grainger; Statham; Abrahams, P Smith (Mundee, 82), Stephenson; Forster, Taylor. Substitutes not used: Fernandes (gk), McGhee.

Referee: A D'Urso (Billericay).

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