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.

Monday, 4 April 2016

JPT Final Defeat Reaction

FULL TIME: Barnsley 3-2 Oxford United

I imagine that when your team loses a cup final you come out with an immeasurable sense of disappointment and sadness coursing through your veins, however I only felt pride walking out of Wembley Stadium yesterday.

Of course it's never nice to lose a game of football, especially one that I felt we played well in for large parts of the first half. However to reach the JPT final, having knocked out two higher league oppositions in the process - one of which being the old enemy - and then go toe to toe with one of the in-form teams in the Football League at one of the most famous sporting arenas in Europe is an admirable achievement from Oxford United.

We started the game really well and looked as if we were coping with the inevitable pressures that come when playing in a venue like Wembley far better than our Yorkshire counterparts. Danny Hylton was causing havoc up top and pulling Barnsley's defenders all over the place with a typically industrious and hard-working display. Barnsley showed glimpses of their quality in the first half with Winnall and Hammill combining to cause a couple dangerous moments but nothing that was too troublesome for Buchel and co.

We took a deserved lead through local lad Callum O'Dowda on 29 minutes. An accurate and well-flighted ball in from Alex MacDonald was nodded into the corner from the towering O'Dowda who'd snuck in at the far post. A joyous moment for nearly 34,000 travelling Oxford fans.

It soon turned sour in the second half as some strong words from Barnsley boss Paul Heckingbottom had clearly done the trick because within seven minutes of the restart, the Tykes were level. A hopeful cross into the box was diverted home by Dunkley under pressure from Winnall. It was a ball that should have just been mopped up easily but we switched off and as a result, Barnsley were back on level terms and had the wind in their sales. The difference in quality between the League One play-off chasers and ourselves started to become more and more apparent as the second half wore on and it seemed invetiable that Barnsley would score again.

That inevitability quickly became a reality as another defensive mishap allowed Barnsley to get their noses in front on 68 minutes. Hesitant defending from Oxford allowed Fletcher to flick a header on towards Ivan Toney, who had his shot blocked before the loose ball fell back to Ashley Fletcher who fired Barnsley into the lead for the first time.

United would have been back on level terms at 2-2 shortly after if it wasn't for an inspired piece of goalkeeping from Barnsley's Adam Davies to deny a close range effort from Liam Sercombe.

It looked as if it was all over for United six minutes later. I think defensively we could have done a bit more for the first two goals but there was nothing that anyone could have done about the third from Hammill. He carried the ball from the half way line, cut in and unleashed a delicious strike which curled into the top corner past a helpless Buchel. A wonderful piece of individual skill.

However, United carried on a similar trait that we've seen from them all season, reacting well to disappointment. Barnsley fans were still celebrating when Kemar Roofe dug out an excellent cross from the right which Hylton powered into the net. GAME ON!

Oxford pushed for an equaliser in the last ten minutes. We launched endless balls towards Waring and Bowery in a desperate attempt to salvage the final but it wasn't to be. Oxford would have to make do with the title of valiant losers on this occasion.

Post-match thoughts

A great effort. You couldn't have asked much more effort-wise from an Oxford team who desperately wanted to lift the paint pot aloft.

There were some negatives which as much as I'd like to, can't ignore in this blog post. For me, Michael Appleton should have made Jake Wright the first player to play at Wembley twice for Oxford United and allowed him to lead us out. There's no doubt that Dunkley has been superb for Oxford over the past few weeks but Wright's calmness in defence would have been a massive help for us in this particular game.

I was also slightly surprised to see MacDonald substituted so early, although I've heard rumours that he may have picked up a knock which would have been daft to risk.

There was no faulting the effort that Josh Ruffels put in but I couldn't help but feel there was a John Lundstram sized hole in the middle of the park. His long-range passing ability was definitely missed.

I could drive myself insane thinking about what we could have done differently but I think the real reason we lost is that Barnsley are better than us and it's as simple as that. We couldn't have given much more and despite the result, it was another day in this rollercoaster of a season that I felt immensely proud to support this great football club.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Plymouth Preview

Oxford United travel to Home Park on Saturday to face divisional rivals Plymouth Argyle in a fourth tier promotion battle, which will undoubtedly be classed as the game of the weekend in League Two.

Head To Head
Oxford's first ever match against Plymouth was a 2-1 defeat in 1975 but have turned that around since and in recent years United have have an exceptional record against Argyle, with the U's managing to secure seven victories in their last ten meetings, drawing two and losing just one. A record that Michael Appleton will be hoping that Oxford can continue in this crucial match. We even managed to overcome Plymouth in the extremely brief Gary Waddock era, with James Constable scoring a thunderbolt to secure Waddock's first...and last win as U's boss in 2014.

Plymouth Overview
Derek Adams has taken Plymouth up a few levels since ditching Scotland for Devon in the summer of 2015. He's recruited smartly, adding Jake Jervis, Gregg Wylde and Ryan Brunt to an already strong squad which as a result has seen them spend the majority of the season in the automatic promotion places, compared to last season which was very much a scrap to finish in the top seven under John Sheridan. 

It has been summer recruit Brunt who has fired them to success this season, scoring nine league goals which has even surpassed talisman Reuben Reid, who has again spent long periods on the treatment table this season. Unfortunately for Argyle, Brunt will not only miss the game on Saturday but looks likely to miss the remainder of the season through injury as well. A huge blow to Plymouth's promotion push. However, even with the absence of Brunt, Plymouth will be a force to be reckoned with and it'll be another tough task for Michael Appleton's men to come away from Home Park with a win, something only five other teams have done this season. 

How Are Oxford Going To Line Up?
It's not been often that I've said this this season but I have absolutely no idea. Usually you've been able to guess what Michael Appleton will do but he has got a big selection headache to deal with ahead of this promotion dual in Devon. I expect to see Chey Dunkley remain in the team regardless of the availability of Jake Wright, after a superb defensive display against York on Tuesday. Kemar Roofe, who made a goal scoring return to the side from the bench midweek, is expected to start and after an energetic cameo on Tuesday it's a change I'd encourage. Alex MacDonald has been excellent this season but may find himself dropping to the bench. Chris Maguire will probably remain among the substitutes after Jordan Bowery continued his good form and netted his sixth U's goal against York, whilst Danny Hylton has impressed with a string of typically industrious performances over the last few weeks which should see him keep his place as well. There is a concern over the fitness of Joe Skarz, who has been ever present for Oxford this season and would be a major blow if he was to not be available. From what I've heard it was a precautionary substitution and I'm hoping that is true and he's available to slot into left back on Saturday. John Lundstram will be hoping to be back in frame after being ruled out of the last two matches through injury, if he's fully fit then I'd expect him to come back in but Josh Ruffels has proved to be more than adequate cover against Wimbledon and York.

It's going to be very, very tight. Two teams that have occupied automatic promotion spots for much of the campaign and two sides who now expect to see out the job and win promotion to League One. United beat Plymouth 1-0 at the Kassam earlier in the season but trying to beat them on their own patch will be a much harder task. I'll go for a narrow 1-0 win for Oxford.


Sunday, 10 January 2016

Swansea Reaction- WE'RE GONNA WIN ALL 3!!!

Oxford overcame top flight Swansea City in the game of the weekend in the FA Cup. 


It's very rare that you have to rub your eyes in disbelief and mutter "is this really happening?" at a football match. Today was one of those days. It's also quite rare, especially over the last few years, to be proud as punch to support Oxford United Football Club. Today was definitely one of those days. 

WOW. I could just leave it at that couldn't I? 

If someone had walked into the ground knowing that one team was in the Premier League and one was in League Two but not knowing which was which, I'm sure their guess would be that United were the top flight side. It was fantastic to see Oxford stick to their philosophy of passing football that has been so successful in the league this season and not be tempted to change our style. Swansea are famous for their passing style of play but weren't on the same planet as Oxford as we played the Premier League side off the park in the first half.

Unfortunately, completely against the run of play, Swansea City took the lead through Jefferson Montero. They'd looked pretty poor up until the goal but they showed their Premier League class on 23 minutes through the Ecuadorian international. Montero darted into box, exchanged passes with Marvin Emnes and astutely flicked it into the net. 

Swansea very nearly doubled their lead soon after, which would have been incredibly harsh on a composed Oxford team. A curling free kick from Jonjo Shelvey hit the side netting, which the Swansea contingent thought had hit the back of the net, to the delight of the Oxford home support. 

United controlled the rest of the first half and finally got their reward on the stroke of half time. Alex MacDonald danced into the box before an out of control Bartley took out the left winger, resulting in a penalty kick which Sercombe dispatched.

Many Oxford fans would have been delighted with a replay but the players had their sights firmly set on victory. 

United got their noses in front 49 minutes through magic man Kemar Roofe. In a similar goal to the one he bagged in the last round against Forest Green; Roofe cut in from the left and curled a brilliant effort into the far corner, sending the Oxford fans into delirium. 

It just got better for Oxford though as Roofe extended our advantage 7 minutes later. Chris Maguire burst forward on the counter-attack before playing an inch perfect to Roofe who raced through on goal before striking the ball against the goalkeeper, causing it to loop up in the air and drop into the net. Oxford were in dreamland.

Swansea did manage to pull another goal back with a very well-worked move. Gomis threaded the ball to Jack Cork, continued his run, received the return ball from Cork and finished it well. There was a hint of offside but having seen the replay, it looks like the linesman was right to give the centre forward the benefit of the doubt. 

Oxford managed to see the game out expertly and comfortably. I kept expecting a late Swansea onslaught to begin but it never did. A tremendous result, performance and day for everyone connected with this football club. It's one I'll certainly never forget. 

It's impossible to give a man of the match today, every Oxford player gets a 10/10 rating. Lundstram was extraordinary, Sercombe was tremendous, Roofe was staggeringly brilliant and Baldock was just fantastic as ever. So because I can't decide on which player to give it to, I'll give it to the fans who were also absolutely outstanding.