OXFORD United’s winless streak was extended to four games as they were kept out by a stubborn Gillingham side in a tense afternoon at the Kassam Stadium.
The U’s created the lion’s share of the chances, but were unable to find a way past the visitors, whose play-off hopes were seriously dented by the result.
Dean Morgan, Asa Hall and Oli Johnson were all denied by last-ditch clearances, while Hall also saw a shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga.
The U's also had a strong claim for a penalty turned down in stoppage time when Johnson was sent sprawling, butthe referee waved away the protests.
Wayne Brown made his league debut for United as goalkeeper Ryan Clarke failed to recover from a muscle injury around his ribs in Monday’s 2-2 draw with Torquay United.
The hosts made two other changes, with Michael Duberry replacing Harry Worley after serving a suspension, while Scott Rendell was preferred to James Constable up front.
With plenty at stake for both play-off hopefuls it was a cagey start, with the best early opening a Rendell shot which was deflected wide by Gills skipper Andy Frampton.
The visitors named an attacking line-up but took 15 minutes to threaten Brown’s goal. A ball across the penalty area found top scorer Danny Kedwell in space, but he was superbly closed down by Liam Davis, who made a well-timed block.
Gillingham were forced to make an early change shortly afterwards, with Gavin Tomlin unable to recover from a tackle with Andy Whing.
The dangerous forward was replaced by Danny Spiller as the Gills switched from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2.
The best moment of the half came on 21 minutes, when the U’s had two great chances to take the lead.
A cross from the right found Hall, whose well-struck shot was kept out by Gazzaniga at full stretch and when Rendell teed up Morgan for the rebound, which was blocked on the line by Connor Essam.
A moment of magic from Jo Kuffour opened the U’s up at the other end after half an hour, skipping past two challenges before Davis made another outstanding intervention to snuff out the danger.
The Kassam Stadium had to wait until almost the hour mark for the next clear chance, when the U’s were again denied by a goal-line clearance.
The ball looped up to Hall at a corner and the midfielder struck a sweet left-footed volley which beat Gazzaniga but not Matt Fish on the line.
United steadily built up a head of steam as the Gills were pushed back, unable to mount anything more than sporadic attacks.
Johnson and Constable were brought on and the pair combined on 72 minutes to open the visitors up.
Constable got in down the inside right channel, brushing past Frampton and squaring for Johnson, whose goal-bound shot was again blocked, this time by Essam.
Tension grew as the minutes ticked by, with both sides knowing a draw did little to help either’s play-off challenge.
Brown made one smart stop to keep out a shot at the near post from Chris Whelpdale in the 89th minute.
The home fans were incensed in stoppage time when Johnson was booked for diving in the penalty area when it looked like he had earned a spot kick.
It was the final chance but the point was enough to keep the U’s in the top seven as Crewe Alexandra drew 2-2 at Macclesfield Town.
Attendance: 7,322 (641 visitors) Oxford Utd: Brown, Batt, Duberry, Wright, Davis, Chapman (Constable 70), Whing, Hall, Montano (Johnson 59), Rendell, Morgan (Tonkin 82).
Substitutes: Crocombe, Wilson.
Booked: Wright, Johnson.
Gillingham: Gazzaniga, Fish, Essam, Frampton, Martin, Whelpdale, Montrose, Kedwell, Tomlin (Spiller 15, Lee 89), Vine (Oli 73), Kuffour.
Substitutes: Evans, King.
Booked: Kedwell, Kuffour, Montrose.