O’TOOLE FIXES IT FOR THE PIRATES
JOHN-JOE O’Toole headed his 12th goal of the season to salvage a point for struggling Bristol Rovers and earn high praise from boss John Ward in the process.
The free-scoring midfielder had been asked to adopt a deeper role after the 67th minute introduction of new signing Steven Gillespie as an attacking substitute.
But that didn’t stop O’Toole getting forward in the 84th minute to head home Lee Brown’s cross from a free-kick on the corner of the box.
Ward purred: “The supporters voted JohnJoe man-of-the-match and I thank them for that because he was asked to play several different positions over the 90 minutes.
“I hope that was appreciated. I wanted Steven Gillespie to get into forward positions, which meant John-Joe had to curb his attacking instincts.
“But he makes a habit of getting into good scoring positions and we managed to find him with a quality delivery.
“Our heads could have dropped in tough conditions against a very good side, but we are strong as a group and that mentality will see us through.”
Oxford caretaker-boss Mickey Lewis was frustrated that his side could not hold onto a tenth-minute lead gained when Deane Smalley chested a Dave Kitson cross into James Constable’s patch.
The striker netted with a deft volley out of the top drawer and it was a goal fit to win any game.
Lewis said:“We looked pretty comfortable for most of the game and had good chances to increase the lead, so I’m disappointed in that respect.
“James hadn’t scored for a few games, but we know he is a quality finisher and he got on the end of a very good move.
“We should have seen the game out, but we started giving away too many free-kicks and putting ourselves under pressure.
“In the end we could have lost it. A point away at Bristol Rovers is still pleasing because they have some very good players and an excellent manager.”
Josh Ruffels wasted the best chance to double Oxford’s lead when he blazed over on 57 minutes after the dangerous Constable had laid on a clear opening.
Tom Lockyer forced a good second-half save from goalkeeper Ryan Clarke in a game of few clear cut opportunities for either side.
Rovers had the ball in the net on 31 minutes when Kaid Mohamed’s header was deflected in by O’Toole, whose celebrations were cut short by a linesman’s flag for offside.
And the home side nearly won it at the death when a low injury-time shot from Brown grazed a post.
Both teams had to contend with a fierce wind and a tricky playing surface, which made ball control and accurate passing very difficult.
And it was probably fitting that both sides left with something to show for their efforts.
JOHN-JOY: Bristol Rovers’ John-Joe O’Toole after he scores, inset, the equaliser
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