ANYONE who headed for the exit gates early will still be kicking themselves at missing a stunning bolt from the blue from Matt Richards that was enough to preserve Shrewsbury Town’s proud unbeaten home record.
Almost a year to the day since Town last tasted defeat in front of their home supporters, a 3-0 mauling at the hands of Bury, Oxford looked set to succeed where 24 visiting teams before them had failed by claiming an away victory at the Greenhous Meadow.
But this Shrewsbury side clearly do not know the meaning of defeat and a long range missile from the classy Richards four minutes into stoppage time capped a thrilling fightback from 2-0 down at the break to rescue a spirited point.
Given the night’s events, it felt more like a victory than a draw as Town displayed plenty of grit and determination to claw their way back into a game which was slipping away from them at the halfway stage.
A clinical double strike from on-loan Southampton man Lee Holmes had carved out a clear advantage for Oxford, but Mark Wright’s 10th goal of the season early in the second half, a glorious volley, rekindled Town’s hopes.
From then on it was one way traffic as Town chased a leveller with Richards finally obliging in spectacular fashion with time almost up.
“I was disappointed for the first 45 minutes as we just never got started,” said manager Graham Turner.
“I know it was difficult when you concede a goal after less than a minute but we never competed.
“We played with such a one-paced dimension about us but second half we came out and had a go. It was a terrific second half performance finished off with two very good goals.
“We are better than we were in the first half but that was almost our downfall. We’ve shown a lot of character in the second half and salvaged a point.”
There were just 52 seconds on the clock when Holmes ran from deep and arrowed a 20 yard shot to the bottom corner of the net.
Former Town loan man Asa Hall then thumped a shot against the woodwork before Oxford doubled their advantage in the 38th minute from a classic counter attack.
Wright’s near post corner was volleyed clear by Hall and Oli Johnson got the better of Connor McLaughlin to set up Holmes for a cool finish over Neal.
Turner was insistent the goal should have been ruled out for offside but it was allowed to stand and Town were staring down the barrel.
Whatever Turner said to his players at the break quickly had the desired effect and nine minutes after the restart they were back in the hunt.
Marvin Morgan whipped in a cross from the right after a fluent move and Wright effortlessly crashed a brilliant volley to the top corner of the net.
It was the cue for Town to pile on the pressure and Turner’s use of his subs also proved key with Nicky Wroe, in particular, catching the eye as he drove Shrewsbury forward from midfield.
Wroe’s introduction saw Richards switch to left back but he still managed to break forward with seconds remaining to pick his spot with a scorching shot from well outside the box to tie it up at 2-2.
It was a goal which will live long in the memory.
“Matt’s strike right at the death was a terrific finish,” added Turner. “I hadn’t realised it had gone in but it absolutely flew in, a terrific goal.”
TOWN: Neal; Regan (Wroe 68), Sharps, Grandison, McLaughlin; Taylor (Sawyers 74), D McAllister, Richards, Wright; Morgan (Gornell 79), Collins. Unused subs: Cansdell-Sherriff, Smith.
Referee: Steve Rushton (Staffordshire). Attendance: 5,205 (352 from Oxford).
CHRONICLE STAR MEN: 1 Richards, 2 McAllister, 3 Grandison.