WES Thomas’s eighth goal of the season earned a rare point for Oxford United at Roots Hall.

The U’s top-scorer coolly finished from Ricardinho’s through ball to equalise just two minutes after Simon Cox had put Southend United in front.

Neither side looked particularly convincing defensively, so it was a surprise there were no goals after the 21st minute.

Both sides hit the crossbar, while United’s strong start to the second half was followed by the Shrimpers having two goals disallowed for offside.

While it was not quite the result the U’s would have wanted before leaving for their warm-weather training camp in Spain tomorrow, a point was welcome against a side who had beaten them in 11 of the last 15 meetings.

Mike Williamson replaced Aaron Martin in one of two changes from the 4-2 midweek defeat to Blackburn Rovers.

The other saw Ryan Ledson make way for Xemi, who was quickly involved two minutes into his first league start.

He teed up James Henry, whose first effort was parried by goalkeeper Mark Oxley, before finding the side netting with the follow-up.

But before the game was ten minutes old, Joe Rothwell was forced off with a hamstring injury – the last thing United needed after a bruising couple of weeks.

Alex Mowatt was pressed into action and came close to netting with virtually his first touch.

Anton Ferdinand’s tackle on Wes Thomas saw the ball run loose to Henry and from his cross Mowatt blasted a shot against the crossbar, but the offside flag was up.

Both sides named back fours containing players aged 30 or over and they both looked vulnerable to balls played in behind them.

That was shown in the space of two minutes, where goals came at each end.

Southend struck first. A terrific pass from Josh Wright over Dwight Tiendalli found Stephen McLaughlin’s run and his fierce low cross was turned in by Cox.

The lead did not last long, as the hosts took their turn to be exposed.

Ricardinho’s ball forward found Thomas, who held off the floundering Ferdinand to get into the box, before slotting past Oxley from 12 yards.

Southend looked vulnerable, particularly down their left flank, where Henry had the better of Michael Timlin.

But clear chances proved hard to come by and the U’s rode their luck at times defensively.

Marc-Antoine Fortune headed wide, before Wright’s looping volley hit the top of Simon Eastwood’s crossbar from 25 yards.

Back came United, who hit the woodwork themselves with the last kick of the first half.

Payne got into the box and when he was tackled, Josh Ruffels pounced on the loose ball to lash a shot which hit the crossbar and rebounded clear.

United had the clearest chances early in the second half.

Within four minutes of the restart, Henry found space out wide and his deep cross found Payne, whose goal-bound shot was blocked by Jason Demetriou.

Southend were wobbling again two minutes later when Payne’s pass found Henry. Although the midfielder was blocked off as he shot, the ball fell for Thomas to poke wide.

Henry also curled a shot just wide if the far post in a good spell.

Southend’s Michael Turner had a goal ruled out for offside, but they came back into the game and began to get on top as the half wore on.

Wright should have scored when the ball came his way 20 minutes from time, only for the midfielder to skew a shot wide from just six yards.

Substitute Nile Ranger became the second Southend player since the break to have a goal disallowed for offside as the hosts built up a head of steam in the closing stages.

Ranger headed the final chance at Eastwood in stoppage-time to confirm the spoils would be shared.

Southend Utd (4-4-2): Oxley, Demetriou, Ferdinand, Turner, Timlin, Kightly (McGlashan 69), Wright, Leonard, McLaughlin, Cox (Ba 72), Fortune (Ranger 69).

Unused subs: Bishop, Hendrie, White, Yearwood.

Booked: Timlin.

Oxford Utd (4-4-1-1): Eastwood, Tiendalli, Williamson, Mousinho, Ricardinho, Henry (Ledson 80), Xemi, Ruffels, Rothwell (Mowatt 9), Payne, Thomas.

Unused subs: Shearer, Carroll, Martin, Napa, Obika.

Booked: Xemi, Mowatt.

Referee: Dean Whitestone (Bedfordshire).

Attendance: 6,797 (566 visitors).