A tremendous 30-yard strike by Richard Hodgson with just three minutes left rescued a deserved point for Darlington at Oxford United last night.

Quakers looked as if they were on the verge of only their second League defeat under caretaker manager Mick Tait, until Hodgson hit what will be one of the candidates for Darlington's goal of the season to send the visiting fans home happy.

And Tait was pleased with the way that his side fought back after going a goal down early in the second half.

"I had been giving Richard a bit of stick about his shooting and I've been teasing him that he can't score from outside the six-yard area, but he's proved me wrong on that,'' he admitted.

"His goal just goes to show what you can do if you have a go at goal from a distance.

"Our problem tonight was that we were trying to walk the ball into the net too much.

"I'm happy because Oxford is a hard place to come to and get a point, but we could have got all three because we had the chances.

"We tried to get rid of our Farnborough memories by passing the ball around and I think we caused a few problems."

Tait made four changes to the team which lost against Farnborough 11 days ago, among them Neil Maddison who made his first appearance in midfield since the defeat by Boston in October.

Goalkeeper Andy Collett also returned to the side after a rib injury and he was in action in the opening minutes when he failed to collect a long throw from the right by Roy Hunter and Oxford midfielder Dave Savage had a shot from outside the area which was cleared by Simon Betts.

Quakers were wobbling in the opening exchanges and free-kicks from Dean Whitehead caused a measure of panic in the visiting defence before the ball was finally cleared.

But Quakers had the first real chance of the game after ten minutes when Hodgson chipped the ball forward into the path of Richard Offiong.

Offiong shrugged off a challenge on his way into the area, but under pressure from former Darlington skipper Andy Crosby he put his shot wide.

Oxford replied with two good chances. First Matt Robinson crossed for Steve Basham to send a weak left-foot volley straight at Collett, then Jefferson Louis was left completely unmarked to meet a cross from Savage, but his header went into Collett's hands.

Quakers, thanks to some neat passing movements, gained in confidence and composure and nearly went ahead on the half-hour when Ashley Nicholls made a powerful 30-yard run, but his shot, aimed towards the top corner, was pushed away at full stretch by Andy Woodman.

And a better chance arrived five minutes later when Offiong's speed took him past two defenders to the byline where he pulled the ball back to Hodgson who stabbed the ball wide.

Quakers went a goal down after 48 minutes. Nicholls lost the ball in midfield allowing Basham to pick the ball up, race to the edge of the box and beat Collett with a low shot into the bottom right-hand corner.

And the home side nearly added a second when Louis broke down the left, but he over ran the ball allowing Collett to make an easy save at his feet.

Quakers had another let-off when a shot by Matthew Robinson was blocked on the edge of the area and Dave Savage hurled the loose ball over the top.

Quakers tried to fight back, but their finishing inside the area was woeful.

Maddison, who was disappointed when he was later taken off, set up Wainwright in a good position, but the midfielder screwed his shot wide, then Nicholls set up Hodgson on the other flank, but again the target was missed.

But with the introduction of substitute Danny Mellanby for Maddison, Quakers perked up.

Pearson had a long range shot which Woodman fumbled, but nobody in a grey shirt could react quickly enough.

But just as it seemed as if time was running out, Quakers levelled with three minutes left.

Skipper Liddle, who had an outstanding game at the back, played the ball into the path of Hodgson who ran on a few yards and then unleashed a ferocious left-foot shot which sailed into the top right-hand corner of the net and left keeper Woodman helpless.

Result: Oxford United 1 Darlington 1.

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