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Plymouth Argyle 1 (Williams 2) Oxford United 1 (Hall 36)
OXFORD United dropped out of the play-off positions as a draw at Plymouth Argyle extended their winless run to five games.
The visitors fell behind inside 90 seconds to Robbie Williams’ deflected free-kick, but drew level before the break courtesy of a wonder strike from Asa Hall.
Adam Chapman hit the woodwork from a set piece early in the second half, with what turned out to be the closest moment either side came to finding a winner.
The point was enough for Plymouth, who stayed up as a result, but it was costly for United, whose long stay in the top seven was ended as Crewe Alexandra leapfrogged them thanks to a win against Cheltenham Town.
Peter Leven made a surprise return to United’s starting line-up in the only change from the goalless draw against Gillingham a week earlier.
The Scot’s early recovery from a knee injury saw him come in for Damian Batt, with Andy Whing switching to right back.
Plymouth came into the contest knowing a win would definitelty see them safe from relegation with two games to spare and they made a flying start.
Just 84 seconds were on the clock when Williams’ free-kick deflected off the United wall past a helpless Wayne Brown.
Argyle could easily have doubled their lead on six minutes, when a terrific swerving half volley from Luke Young was turned round the post by Brown at full stretch.
The home side were first to every ball and with the exception of a deflected shot from Dean Morgan, United struggled to make an impact in the final third.
Brown was called upon midway through the half to make another smart stop from Young after Warren Feeney’s cross from the left was not dealt with by the visitors’ back four.
United’s travelling support had little to shout about, but out of nowhere Hall turned the game nine minutes before the break.
Given space 30 yards out, the midfielder took aim and smashed a shot which flew over Argyle goalkeeper Jake Cole and dipped into the net.
The goal transformed the U’s, who suddenly looked much brighter in possession.
Neat play between Morgan and the impressive Liam Davis saw the latter drill a low cross into the box for Chapman, whose shot was blocked.
The second half began in the same way as the first, with Plymouth threatening from a set piece.
Paul Wotton lined up a free-kick, which was again deflected, but this time it flew off a Plymouth body and wide of the post.
At the other end Chapman came within a whisker of making it 2-1 from another free-kick on 52 minutes.
The midfielder’s inswinging delivery from the left flank was aimed at Michael Duberry, but it was missed by everyone and curled onto the inside of the post, bouncing to safety.
It was the final clear chance for some time, as the sides became bogged down in midfield.
James Constable and Oli Johnson were thrown on off the United bench, but the former’s contribution was short-lived.
Within 13 minutes of coming on the U’s top scorer came off with an injury, replaced by Simon Heslop for his first appearance since January.
It left the visitors with Johnson and Morgan playing as an unlikely front two for the closing stages.
Heslop almost made an immediate impact, just failing to contact with a wicked low cross from Whing which Plymouth scrambled to clear.
Williams had another free-kick well saved by Brown three minutes from time, but the home fans were celebrating at the final whistle as results elsewhere ensured their safety.
For United, their play-off fate is no longer in their hands with two games remaining.
Attendance: 8,668 (827 visitors) Oxford Utd: Brown, Whing, Duberry, Wright, Davis, Chapman, Leven, Hall, Montano (Johnson 67), Rendell (Constable 62, Heslop 75), Morgan.
Substitutes: Crocombe, Capaldi.