A MAKESHIFT Oxford United clung on to their top-three spot in Sky Bet League Two on goal difference with a gritty draw on a tense evening at Newport County.

Jordan Bowery put the visitors in front with a low shot after only 12 minutes, but it was quickly cancelled out by Medy Elito’s crisp strike.

Both sides had their moments to win the game, with the goalkeepers making an excellent save apiece in the second half.

It was not a pretty game, mainly due to the awful Rodney Parade pitch which caused mistakes galore in possession.

Injury-hit United did not get the win they hoped, but Bristol Rovers’ goalless draw at Stevenage meant Michael Appleton’s men stayed in the automatic promotion places.

While it could hardly be tighter, the U’s fate is still in their own hands heading into the final three games.

There was drama even before kick-off, as United were forced into a late change.

Top scorer Kemar Roofe was named in the XI, but suffered a recurrence of his ankle injury in the warm-up and was replaced by Bowery.

Skipper Jake Wright returned as Johnny Mullins made way in the wake of Saturday’s 3-2 defeat to Luton Town, while James Roberts replaced George Waring for his first U’s start in 15 months.

The teenager took just eight minutes to make an impact, sliding a pass for Danny Hylton to round goalkeeper Joe Day before shooting against the upright from an acute angle.

County’s poor pitch meant United had to tailor their game plan accordingly and from an uncharacteristic lump forward the visitors opened the scoring.

Dunkley’s hopeful ball became dangerous when Chris Maguire held off Danny Holmes in the box and set up Bowery to sweep a low finish in from near the penalty spot for his seventh of the season – and United’s 100th of the campaign.

It was a superb start to calm the nerves, but the visitors hardly touched the ball between going ahead and conceding an equaliser.

Less than two minutes later a long Mark Byrne throw was only half-cleared to Elito, who hammered a sweet strike into the far corner from 20 yards.

It was only struggling County’s third effort in eight games and their fans responded with chants of “we scored a goal.”

Newport had also made a change before kick-off. Jan Klukowski replaced Alex Rodman, but his eventful evening only lasted 19 minutes as a knee injury forced the midfielder to make way for Tommy O’Sullivean.

There was little in the contest up to half-time, with the playing surface making it difficult for either side to build a period of sustained pressure.

United’s full backs took it in turns to cross for Bowery, who was unable to meet either delivery cleanly.

Chris Maguire also shot wide from 30 yards after Liam Sercombe’s back heel.

Benji Buchel only had one testing save to make, but United’s goalkeeper was well positioned after his punch eventually fell to O’Sullivan.

Unlike on Saturday, the U’s reached half-time without any problems, but the visitors had to make a change at the break as Josh Ruffels came on for Jordan Evans.

Another injury was the last thing the makeshift visitors needed, but seven minutes after the restart they almost went ahead again.

Dunkley’s chest met Maguire’s wicked free-kick and the ball was heading in, only for Day to make a wonder save diving to his right.

The tension grew the longer the game went on and United lived dangerously around the hour mark.

After Buchel just judged his dive right to intercept and avoid a penalty on Elito, a slip from Dunkley almost led to catastrophe.

The centre back’s error sent John-Lewis scampering clear. He was blocked by Wright and Lundstram conceded a corner, from which United scrambled off the line after Buchel missed his punch.

The goalkeeper more than made up for the error seven minutes from time.

Byrne must have thought he had scored after unleashing a fierce shot from 25 yards, but Buchel got fingertips on the ball to divert it on to the post.

County looked the more likely to grab a winner in the closing stages, but United ensured they left Wales with a point.

Newport Co (4-4-2): Day, Holmes, Jones, Hughes, Davies, Klukowski (O’Sullivan 19), Byrne, Elito, Barrow, John-Lewis, Boden.

Unused subs: Green, Coulibaly, Morgan, Owen-Evans, Partridge, Angel.

Booked: Holmes, O’Sullivan.

Oxford Utd (4-4-2): Buchel, Kenny, Dunkley, Wright, Evans, Hylton, Sercombe, Lundstram, Maguire, Bowery, Roberts.

Subs used: Ruffels (Evans HT), Ashby (Lundstram 60), Waring (Bowery 78).

Unused subs: Slocombe, Mullins, Giles.

Booked: None.

Referee: Gavin Ward (Surrey).

Attendance: 2,847 (1,040 visitors).