OXFORD United stayed in the Sky Bet League One relegation zone after a stalemate with fellow strugglers Rochdale on a nervy night at Spotland.

In difficult conditions they showed plenty of defensive grit, but despite fielding a more attacking line-up from the start the visitors could not find a way through the EFL’s leakiest defence.

Curtis Nelson, who made three last-ditch interventions to preserve a clean sheet, came closest to scoring for United but saw his header turned on to the crossbar in the first half.

Gavin Whyte fired wide to waste their clearest opening after the break, while United were again frustratingly unable to make the most of numerous set pieces around the Dale box.

The point did at least close the gap on several sides just above them who lost, but goal difference keeps them in the danger zone ahead of another crunch game on Saturday at home to Bradford City.

Also read: It's a point gained for Oxford United, says Curtis Nelson

Robinson had hinted he would freshen up his side in the wake of Saturday’s defeat and he changed half his outfield line-up.

One of those promoted was Whyte, fresh from a Northern Ireland call-up earlier in the day, and he set up a great chance in only the fifth minute.

The winger slipped in James Henry, who kept his shot low from 12 yards but goalkeeper Andy Lonergan made a good block.

It was a promising start for a side who had struggled in the final third at Gillingham, but it was the only opening for much of a nervy first half.

With both teams starting the night in the bottom four, the stakes were high and it was clear neither side wanted to take any risks in their own half on a poor playing surface.

The changes gave United more energy, though, with Marcus Browne – another of those to come into the team – causing problems on the left.

On 32 minutes he beat Jimmy Keohane, on as a substitute after Ryan McLaughlin was forced off, and was poised to burst into the box when he was brought down by Jimmy McNulty.

The defender was booked, but United could not profit from the resulting free-kick.

In pictures: Oxford United's draw at Rochdale

A tight, nervy game sprung into life late in the first half.

Whyte’s quick thinking over a free-kick put Henry away down the right and from his low cross Browne’s shot grazed the near post.

Rochdale responded with their best chance of the half, created by top-scorer Ian Henderson’s clever run. He stayed onside and crossed for Bradden Inman, who was twice superbly denied by goalkeeper Simon Eastwood.

Reprieved, United went up the other end to win a corner, where Nelson’s header was tipped on to the crossbar by Lonergan.

Having come so close to being the hero, the centre back risked being the villain in stoppage-time.

After United wasted multiple chances to clear their lines, Inman showed a turn of speed to get into the box.

Nelson dived in riskily and the Dale forward went to ground, but referee Anthony Backhouse adjudged it to be a clean tackle.

The centre back had to be certain again 20 minutes into the second half, when he got a toe on a through ball to deny a clear chance for Henderson.

Conditions grew tougher as the game grew on, with gusty wind making life difficult.

It could not explain Whyte’s errant finish in the 70th minute, the winger finding the side netting from Henry’s pass when he simply had to hit the target.

As time ebbed away the game got stretched, both sides knowing how important one goal could be.

With ten minutes left Henderson looked poised to break the deadlock when a long ball sent him clear, but Nelson recovered to poke the ball past Eastwood – and the far post.

United, who brought on Jordan Graham and Jerome Sinclair, exerted pressure late on with a series of set pieces without any joy as they had to settle for a share of the spoils.

Rochdale (4-3-3): Lonergan, McLaughlin, Nthle, McNulty, Bunney, Camps, Hamilton, Rathbone, Inman (Done 89), Henderson, Williams (Wilbraham, 73).

Unused subs: Delaney, Andrew, Keohane, Adshead, Wade.

Booked: McNulty.

Oxford Utd (4-3-3): Eastwood, Long, Nelson, Dickie, Ruffels, Kashi, Brannagan, Henry, Whyte, Mackie (Sinclair 77), Browne (Graham 72).

Unused subs: Stevens, Mousinho, Garbutt, Hanson, Sykes.

Booked: Dickie.

Referee: Anthony Backhouse (Cumbria).

Attendance: 2,331 (251 visitors).