Sunday, 9 October 2016

Wimbledon Reaction- Delight for the Dons

AFC Wimbledon recorded their first ever win against Oxford United, with the U's producing their worst performance of the season at Grenoble Road this afternoon. 

FULL TIME: Oxford United 1-3 AFC Wimbledon

What a difference eight days can make, eh?

After last season's televised triumphs over Bristol Rovers, Millwall and Swansea I thought that perhaps the infamous TV curse might have been broken. However, it was back with a vengeance today as Oxford United were taken to the cleaners by AFC Wimbledon live on Sky Sports. 

The game seemed relatively tight up until Wimbledon's first goal. United gifted the Wombles the opportunity to show the TV cameras how good their set pieces were on 19 minutes, after giving a very cheap corner away. Darius Charles climbed highest at the far post and nodded it back across goal, leaving Tom Elliot with the simple task of guiding it into the net. 

Wimbledon's opener appeared to knock the stuffing out of United, who simply went to pieces. The Wombles must have thought Christmas had come early, with Oxford gifting them the ball time after time. Lundstram, Sercombe and Raglan being the main culprits. 

There was very little that Oxford could have done about the second goal. Although, there was plenty the officials could have done about it. Dean Parrett charged across the edge of the box but his touch was far too heavy, leaving Wes Thomas with the chance to gather the ball and clear. However, Parrett hadn't given it up and flung himself into a challenge which took Thomas out. Everyone froze, expecting the referee to blow up for a free kick. Well, everyone but Darius Charles who curled the ball into the top corner giving Wimbledon a 2-0 lead. 

It was a shambolic decision from the referee. In fact, this was just one in a string of bad calls from Mr Deadman. Maguire's stonewall penalty claim being turned down just after the half hour mark was another one leaving the Oxford faithful dumbfounded.

United just needed to get into the dressing room and regroup but before they had the chance to do that, Wimbledon scored a third leaving the U's with an even bigger mountain to climb. Sercombe gave it away in the middle of the park, giving Reeves the opportunity to play in Barcham who calmly slotted the ball past Eastwood. 3-0 Wimbledon. Game over?

As I sat watching the latest crap half-time entertainment idea, I realised something. I was wrong. I've been spouting on here for weeks that 4-4-2 is the way to go but my traditional views on football tactics are totally wrong judging by that first half. Perhaps three in midfield is the way to go after all...

You don't have to be a genius to guess what Michael Appleton's message to those Oxford United players at half-time was. Go out there and restore some pride. 

It appeared that Appleton's words might have done the trick as United started the second half brighter than they finished the first. An early goal was what we needed and we got it just three minutes after the restart. 

Chris Maguire jinked into the box before fizzing a ball across the goal which was poked home by Darius Charles for the OG. Hope for Appleton's army. 

However that's really as good as it got in the second half for United. We controlled the second half in terms of possession but failed to give James Shea much more to think about in the Wimbledon goal. 

An almighty penalty box scramble gave United their best chance to reduce the deficit to one. A couple of headers were cleared off the line before Kane Hemmings acrobatically fired over. 

The introduction of Dan Crowley made us worse if anything. For a player that is supposed to be extremely talented, I'm yet to see any evidence of it at all. 

Unfortunately our performance wasn't the only thing that left me with my head in my hands. Mr Reliable Joe Skarz picked up a nasty looking injury in the latter stages of the game. With our limited options at left back, this is the last thing we needed. 

A disappointing afternoon for Oxford United who have some soul-searching to do. The referee certainly played a part in the outcome but he is not the sole reason we lost that game of football. He was bad but we were worse. 

The poor performers who stood out above the rest were Kane Hemmings, Liam Sercombe and Alex MacDonald. 

Sercombe and MacDonald gave 100% as ever but that's not always enough. Both were consistently wasteful with the ball. MacDonald disappointed me especially because he was magnificent at Bolton but lacked quality today, in my opinion. 

The worst player on the pitch though was Hemmings who had an absolute shocker. Considering we were playing direct for most of the game, the fact he didn't win a header all afternoon is pathetic. You could argue that winning aerial battles isn't really his game but he's got to make more of a nuisance of himself. He gave the Wimbledon centre-backs a day off today and that isn't acceptable.  

It hurts like hell. We just have to make sure things are put right against Bradford on Saturday. I'm confident we have enough quality in the squad, it's just a shame we didn't see any of it today.

See you on Saturday.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Bolton Reaction

A brilliant second half performance provided Oxford United with their first away league victory of the season at Bolton.

FULL TIME: Bolton Wanderers 0-2 Oxford United

On the long trip to the Macron Stadium, I was feeling quite pessimistic (surprise, surprise). Despite a decent point on Saturday, a midweek defeat at Southend still left us with just one point on the road this season. However, as they say things can change very quickly in football...

It felt a little bit like deja vu watching the first half. We weren't playing badly but - just like on Saturday - the centre forward, who was Hemmings on this occasion, was left isolated at the top of the pitch. 

However, our problems in front of goal were nothing in comparison to Bolton's recent goalscoring woes. They'd only scored three goals in their previous seven games before yesterday and you could see why. They clearly lacked a finisher up front. Their best chance of the half came on 36 minutes. James Henry was played in after a slick passing move but the former Wolves man blazed over with a side-footed strike. 

Oxford had their fair share of the ball in the first half but didn't create too many clear cut opportunities. The best of the lot fell to Kane Hemmings, who was the only player who'd managed to find the net in an away league game prior to yesterday. A Chris Maguire free-kick on the stroke of half time was spilled by Mark Howard but he somehow managed to redeem himself by denying Hemmings' follow up effort. 

Marvin Johnson, who'd had a very quiet first half, was replaced by Alex MacDonald at the break and his industrious style was exactly what United needed. MacDonald went on with a point to prove after an indifferent start to the season. His extra energy in the final third swung the game in United's favour. 

In fact Michael Appleton got his tactics spot on in the second half, also introducing Wes Thomas and changing the formation to a traditional 4-4-2 which gave us more options in attack.

A criticism of having two up front that I've heard from some Oxford fans is that it leaves us too open defensively, however Charlie Raglan and co were having no issue dealing with Bolton's lifeless attack in the second half. 

The legs of Bolton's defenders were clearly tiring as the game grew on and they let their guard down on 75 minutes. Liam Sercombe's floating cross in from the left found Kane Hemmings in acres of space but he scuffed his shot into the grateful arms of Mark Howard.

United kept pushing for a winner and their perseverance paid off with a little under ten minutes remaining. MacDonald produced a superb ball which was perfect for an unmarked Thomas at the back post, who calmly slotted the ball away. 1-0 United.

This was a hammer-blow for Bolton who began to crumble. As the clock struck 90 minutes, United rubbed salt into Wanderers' wound by scoring a second. Moxey was caught dawdling on the ball, allowing Kane Hemmings to nick it off him and race towards goal. His shot towards the near post was parried by Howard but only as far as the incoming Maguire, who side-footed it into the net. 2-0. Game over.  

The final whistle was met with a chorus of boos from the Bolton faithful, who were understandably frustrated with their side's lacklustre performance.

I think it's fair to say that United deserved the three points. The introduction of MacDonald and Thomas was the difference in the second half. I hate to say I told you so but I have been saying for a few weeks now that we look far better going forward with two centre forwards on the pitch. It doesn't look like any of our strikers enjoy playing up front on their own and they all look far more comfortable with someone alongside them. 

Despite being a substitute, man of the match is going to Alex MacDonald this week. He brought an injection of energy to the frontline and caused Bolton's defence all sort of problems. He'll probably be used more sparingly this season with the additions of Marvin Johnson and Rob Hall in the wide areas but he's still an excellent option to bring off the bench, as he demonstrated yesterday.

The U's have climbed themselves up to 10th position, two points off the play-offs and things are looking rosy again. Next up in League One is Wimbledon at home on Sunday (urgh). We always beat them, don't we?

See you next week. Come on you yellows. 

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Charlton Reaction- Points Shared

Newly promoted Oxford and recently relegated Charlton fought out a 1-1 draw at Grenoble Road yesterday. 

FULL TIME: Oxford United 1-1 Charlton Athletic

Oxford United have finally turned their notoriously dodgy home form around this season, winning three and drawing one of their opening four home matches before yesterday. So I think we could be forgiven for going into this game feeling optimistic, despite Charlton's frightening looking squad. 

The first chance of the afternoon fell to Oxford defender Chey Dunkley on four minutes. Chris Maguire whipped a pacy cross into the box which fell to Dunkley with the goal at his mercy but Declan Rudd denied his header with a plunging save to his left.

Lundstram was spraying passes around, Rothwell looked great on ball and our defence was looking solid, Skarz in particular impressing. However we lacked any sort of punch up front. I like Ryan Taylor but unfortunately you're not going to see the best of him as a lone striker. He is far more effective with a strike partner alongside him in a 4-4-2 formation. Taylor's isolation up front resulted in United only mustering a few chances in the first half. Luckily Charlton were facing a similar problem with Magennis looking slightly lost at the other end. 

United recruited many players in the summer but the best of the lot so far has been the man between sticks, Simon Eastwood. He made a great save to deny tricky winger Ade Lookman on the stroke of half time. Lookman, who was subject to a £6m bid in the summer, snuck in behind the defence but Eastwood got out very quickly to deny the advancing youngster. Eastwood's string of excellent performances is firmly cementing his place as a fan's favourite at Grenoble Road. 

You often see tight games decided by big decisions and on 54 minutes it looked like this game might be decided by a contentious penalty decision. A looping cross was swung in from the left, which looked as if it'd comfortably dealt with by Phil Edwards but as he prepared to clear, the ball struck his arm. There was no doubt that the ball hit his arm, however Edwards definitely received a sneeky shove in the back from one on their forwards just before the incident. Despite this the penalty was awarded and Eastwood couldn't keep Jackson's spot kick out. 1-0 Charlton. 

A useful trait that Appleton's Oxford team possessed last season was an ability to bounce back from disappointments and it doesn't appear as if much has changed this season. Right from the kick-off, United looked determined to get themselves back into it and secure at least a point from the game. 

United's gutsy response earned themselves a deserved reward a smidge over ten minutes after Charlton went ahead. Marvin Johnson released lively substitute Kane Hemmings with a through ball and he raced towards goal. Although you couldn't have blamed the former Dundee man for having a go himself, he unselfishly teed it up for Maguire coming on from the right who arrowed the ball into the corner. 1-1. GET IN! 

This second half was far more intriguing than the first with both sides looking more dangerous going forward. The introduction of former Northampton player Ricky Holmes certainly added an extra spark to Charlton's play in the final third.

The best chance either side had to nick all three points fell to the Addicks. A superb ball in from the right was perfect for Josh Magennis, who powered a header towards goal but Eastwood managed to get a strong glove to it to deny the Northern Ireland international. Yet another fantastic save from the 27 year old shot stopper. 

I think it's fair to say that United ended the game in control, despite not really creating a proper clear cut chance. The only real opening transpired with just a few minutes left on the brand-spanking new scoreboard. Liam Sercombe made a surging run forward with Hemmings offering support on the right but Sercombe held onto it too long and by the time he released it to Hemmings, the former Dundee striker had strayed into an offside position. 

Fair result? I'd say so. Perhaps on another day we could have nicked all three but then again it could so easily have been a defeat had it not been for Simon Eastwood. Taking two points from two clubs who were playing in the Championship last season isn't bad going in my eyes and this will be a brilliant point if we can back it up with a win on Tuesday. 

Man of the Match goes to Simon Eastwood. He made some crucial saves and I believe if either of our keepers from last season was in goal, we would have lost. He's not just saving shots, he's saving points for Oxford this season and we'd definitely be much further down the table without him. 

Honourable mentions must go to Joe Skarz and John Lundstram as well, who both had excellent games. I was pleased with Lundstram in particular because he's had a rough start to the season but is starting to look like his old self again.

Despite all this, I'm sorry to say that I'm still not sold on this 4-2-3-1 formation that Appleton is going with at the moment. As I mentioned earlier, Taylor was totally isolated up front in the first half and this isn't a problem that just happened yesterday. It might actually be down to Liam Sercombe's unsuitability in the no10 role, a position that I think Chris Maguire would probably be more suited to. Whatever the issue is, I'd feel far more comfortable if we played a traditional 4-4-2. We actually switched to that later in the second half yesterday with Maguire moving into the middle alongside Hemmings and Rothwell going wide. In my opinion we looked far more threatening. 

Our next opponents Southend are a wounded animal after a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Northampton, which is just the latest in a string of below par displays from Phil Brown's team this season. Despite a less than impressive record at Roots Hall in recent years, we have a great chance to go and pick up our first away league win of the season.

See you at Roots Hall on Tuesday. Come on you yellows!

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Wycombe Reaction- Oxford United Promoted to League One

Savour these moments. They don't come around very often. Make sure you make the most of every second. 

FULL TIME: Oxford Utd 3-0 Wycombe
Oxford United are promoted to Sky Bet League One

Win and we're promoted. Simple as that. Only Wycombe stood in our way now. Gareth Ainsworth's team came with a clear game plan. Spoil the party. They were time-wasting from the first minute and doing so with little shame. Time after time Jombati would effortlessly jog in slow motion to pick the ball up for a thrown in. It was like he was buffering. They never wanted to score, they knew a draw would probably see us slip into the play-offs and they were desperate for that to happen. Maybe it's because Ainsworth doesn't have much to work with in terms of quality on the pitch that he has to resort to these anti-football tactics but it just doesn't sit right with me at all. I'm glad I don't have to watch it every week. 

Oxford did really well to keep a cool head as Wycombe continued to frustrate us. A few shots flashed past the left post as United pressed for the crucial opening goal. Wycombe's full backs were clearly struggling to deal with Chris Maguire's trickery as he showcased why he has been playing at a higher-level for most of his career. He was just head and shoulders above the rest and it looked like he could be the game-changer. He drilled a good shot in just past the half hour mark before traditionally putting a free-kick narrowly wide a few moments later. 

I'm not going to lie, the half time interval was horrible. I couldn't even enjoy the fat bloke doing keepie uppies. I was ridiculously stressed. I just had a terrible, terrible feeling it was going to be one of those days. Memories of Yeovil away at Christmas where we did everything but score began flashing between my eyes. I'm sorry, I couldn't help it.

My stress soon vanished. The banner at the back of the East Stand reads 'Time For Heroes' and that's exactly what Chey Dunkley made himself on 54 minutes. An accurate, pacey corner was whipped in by Maguire and the towering, man mountain of Dunkley powered the ball home with a bullet header. 1-0. Scenes. 

Oxford didn't stop there as Wycombe began to crumble. Their dreams of frustrating us to a 0-0 draw were gone. Sercombe made a surging run forward, which we've become so accustom to over the season, before hitting a shot that was deflected agonisingly wide of the post. Not long after, Roofe struck a shot on the half volley which took a smart save from Allsop to deny him. Pressure was mounting and a second goal imminent. 

That second goal arrived 18 minutes from time. Hylton dinked a ball into the box which Roofe raced onto, he collided with Pierre, went down...PENALTY! It looked incredibly soft but I don't care. Maguire stepped up and fired it down the middle and into the net. He deserved that goal. 2-0 to Oxford and the promotion party began. 

Time began to wind down and League One was getting closer and closer. Oxford had to finish it in style though. An aimless ball to the corner was chased down by the energetic O'Dowda who was clearly after some glory. He cut inside, beat Jombati who tried to bring him down but O'Dowda kept going and fired the ball into the net to send the Oxford fans wild. I'm not one for tears. However I'm not ashamed to admit I shed a tear or two when the local lad smashed in the third to seal the perfect end to a wonderful season. 

The full time whistle blew. The fans spilled onto the pitch. We are going up. 

What a season this has been. We've beaten Brentford, Swindon, Swansea, Millwall, reached a JPT final and got promoted on the final day to top it off. Credit to Michael Appleton who has proven many fans - myself included - wrong this season. He's not only built a successful side but a side that plays an attractive, expansive brand of football. A combination that is not easy to get right, especially in the lower-leagues. He even managed to wind up a few Northampton fans after the game as well for good measure! 

Enjoy the summer everyone. See you at Scunthorpe next season.