Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Oxford United's 2014 In One Blog

There have been many things to talk about this year, some memorable and some we are all desperately trying to forget. As 2015 is almost upon us, I'm going to have a look back at the highs and lows of 2014.

January 2014
On the 26th January, BBC Sport reported that Oxford United had accepted the resignation of manager Chris Wilder, with him expected to leave for fellow League Two club Northampton Town. The following day Chris Wilder was unveiled as Northampton's new head coach. After 268 games in charge of Oxford, Wilder's final match as manager was a 1-0 win over Torquay United at the Kassam Stadium, Deane Smalley with the winning goal. Our first match post Chris Wilder era was a 0-0 bore draw at Exeter, led by caretaker manager Mickey Lewis.

February 2014
Calls for a swift appointment by Oxford fans were well and truly blown away by owner Ian Lenagan, stating in an interview that the process could take up to a month, Mickey Lewis would remain in charge until then. Our first victory under Lewis was a 2-1 home win over AFC Wimbledon, Oxford secured back to back home wins for the first time in a staggering 18 months. Lewis had certainly now put his name firmly in the hat to become permanent manager of the club, with chants of 'Mad Dog's Yellow Army' ringing round the Kassam Stadium.

March 2014
Oxford started March off badly, losing 3-0 away at Rochdale. Scott Hogan bagging himself a hat-trick, followed by a 2-1 defeat to Burton Albion. Oxford were in free fall and in desperate need of clarity over the manager situation, crys for a new manager rung around the Proact Stadium's away end during a 3-0 loss to Chesterfield. Oxford fans sighed a sigh of relief when on Friday 21st March, hours before a game against Hartlepool, Ian Lenagan confirmed a manager was lined up and set to be revealed the following day. The man to set up and take over was ex Aldershot and Wycombe boss Gary Waddock. Unfortunately his first game in charge was a humiliating 3-0 defeat to Southend, shown live on Sky TV. A lot of work for Waddock still to do it appeared.

April 2014
Oxford United tumbled out of the play off places for the first time all season after another loss, this time at the hands of Fleetwood Town. However, a week later the Yellows were back in with a shout after a 2-0 win over fellow promotion hopefuls Plymouth Argyle, James Constable scoring a cracker in the process. Where Oxford going to finish in the coveted play off places? No, a defeat to Accrington Stanley ended all chance.

May 2014
May saw the return of former boss Chris Wilder in the final game of the season. Oxford had the chance to send Northampton down into the Conference in the process. It looked as if it might happen as well, Ryan Williams scoring on 7 minutes. However, Oxford capitulated and Northampton ended up winning 3-1. Oxford finished the 13-14 season in 8th place, just one below the play off positions.

June 2014
Oxford started to add the their squad ahead of the new season in June, ex Aldershot and Rotherham forward Danny Hylton joining on a free transfer. Rumours of an incoming takeover were also coming to light.

July 2014
July brought a new era at the club, Darryl Eales replacing Ian Lenagan as owner and Mark Ashton was named the new CEO of the club. It did also see the end of Gary Waddock as Oxford's manager after less than four months in charge, Michael Appleton replaced him as head coach with immediate effect. Waddock is now statistically United's worst ever permanent manager. Oxford continued to make additions in the transfer market Michael Collins, Junior Brown, Joe Riley and Carlton Morris all signed by the new manager.

August 2014
Oxford simply couldn't have made a worst start to the 2014-2015 season, losing their first four league games and sitting bottom of the Football League on August 23rd. There were things to cheer about in the Capital One Cup though, knocking out League One Bristol City. As well as this as memorable display against top flight West Brom, outplaying the Premier League team before eventually losing on penalties. Oxford did pick up their first point of the season, drawing 3-3 against Dagenham in an exciting encounter.

September 2014
Oxford appeared to be making progress, picking up respectable points at Southend and Exeter. They then finally won their first game of the campaign, a 3-1 win over Accrington Stanley. Hylton, Collins and Barnett with the goals. However Oxford ended the month in defeat, a dismal display teamed with a poor 2-0 result at Luton.

October 2014

Oxford fans could barely believe what they were seeing in the away game to Cambridge United on October 11th; one of the worst defensive displays by Oxford in living memory. Cambridge battering United from minute one. Oxford eventually lost the game 5-1, with Cambridge fans going home slightly disappointed they didn't score more. Oxford finished the month off with another defeat, this time to strugglers Carlisle. Oxford losing the game by 2 goals to 1. 

November 2014
Oxford started the month of November with another home defeat, this time to neighbours Wycombe Wanderers. Oxford lost the game 2-1, with Danny Hylton left devastated after missing a last gasp penalty. Oxford continued to impress in cup competitions though, winning 3-1 against Grimsby in the FA Cup. Young prospect James Roberts scoring a brace as Oxford put themselves in the hat for the second round. Oxford secured a big result in the league as well, a 1-0 victory over York City with James Roberts scoring again. The last game of November was a 1-1 draw against Cheltenham Town, Oxford dominating the game but just not being able to the find the winning goal. Young winger Callum O'Dowda missing the biggest chance of the lot to take home all three points.

December 2014
In traditionally the merriest month of the year, Oxford continued their inconsistent form. They managed an impressive 2-1 home win against promotion chasing Bury, but were then knocked out of the FA Cup by relegation battling Tranmere Rovers. In their final game before Christmas, Oxford drew 1-1 against bottom club Hartlepool United. Danny Hylton grabbing his 13th goal of the season and stays on top the the goalscoring charts in League Two. Merry Christmas everyone!

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Away Day Diaries- Victoria Park

Travel- Long, long, long. Really really long. However the club offered free coach travel and have to take a lot of plaudits for that.

Food- Typical fast food restaurants outside the ground and your average burger van in it. Not that great standard rushed and someone was going a bit irate on the coach that they were charging £2.00 for a bovril. 

Ground- Compact, old fashioned stadium that generates a lot of noise because the fans are so close to the pitch. The best sort of ground are the ones where they maybe only be 3 or 4,000 but it feels like a hell of a lot more. You got that feel in the game today.

Stadium Name- Nice to see there still stadiums out there that are sponsored or named after rich, arrogant owners. The name Victoria Park does really show football hasn't been completely taken over by the rich and clueless of the football owner, or annoying the fans with terrible sponsorships.

Mascot- Comical name in 'H'angus' referring to the myth that people from Hartlepool once hung some monkeys. Bizarre story.

The Football Itself- Average and mediocre with positive signs.

Hartlepool Reaction- Moore Inspires Pools Point

There was a share of the spoils in Ronnie Moore's bow as Hartlepool United manager, Danny Hylton denying the Pools all 3 points.

There was an early start for the Oxford players this morning as they made the long trip to the north east, it looked like half of them were still sleepy though as Oxford produced a sluggish first half. Big, lumbering centre forward Marlon Harewood bullied Whing, Holmes- Dennis and Wright as he dominated the aerial battles. I think all Oxford fans will be worried about the early injury to centre back John Mullins, no news on yet on that front but we are all hoping for the best.

Two debutants played today for Oxford United, John Campbell and Chey Dunkley both played their first games. How would I rate them though? Not great. Campbell offered very little in the way of attacking prowess and didn't test the goalkeeper in 55 minutes he was on the pitch. Chey Dunkley was assuredly a big presence and there was a number of times for set pieces where he won headers. However he could have done a lot better for the Hartlepool goal, I do think he will improve though as he gets up to speed with League 2 football.

A criticism that I have made of the manager Michael Appleton on social media and on this blog is his substitutions, however his decision to bring on Jon Meades was a good one. He was calm on the ball, excellent in possession and looked good coming forward from the left back position. If I was to be a bit cynical, I may question why he hasn't been playing more and I would now call for him to come into midfield to replace Danny Rose.

Was the performance worth the preposterous amount of time on the coach? No but we certainly saw some positive signs and if we can turn these draws into wins over the Christmas period then we could see ourselves in a solid mid table position with an outside shot of the play offs, we have got a lot of improving still to do though.

See you at the Kassam Stadium on Boxing Day for the clash with Shrewsbury!

My Man of The Match: Danny Hylton

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Tranmere Reaction- Dominate, Decline, Defeat

Oxford were knocked out of the FA Cup last night at the hands of Micky Adams' Tranmere Rovers side, midfielder Max Power scoring the winning goal.

Another year, another miserable FA Cup showing from Oxford United. How do we begin to dissect and comprehend the gutless surrender of a third round tie with Swansea last night? Dominate, decline, defeat. They just seem to be the three words that could summarise so many games this season for Oxford, we start well but then completely capitulate and invite pressure. My main worry is this is happening too often this season, we are surrendering far too many points and although the Tranmere game wasn't a league game it wasn't a good sign. Towards the end of last night's game it looked like we had totally acquiesced and conceded defeat before the final whistle blew, which is completely unacceptable and vexing for any supporter.

The thing I find very peculiar about Michael Appleton at the moment is the lack of substitutions and stubbornness with his tactics. He didn't make a single change last night, now he may argue his options were limited. However I feel like the introduction of Andy Whing, Brian Howard or maybe even Josh Ashby could have made an impact on the game in a positive manner. Especially due to the fact that so many fatigued players and tired legs towards the end of the game, how does he expect to pile pressure on the opposition and get an equaliser when a lot of them were running on empty? I found myself confounded at that questionable Michael Appleton decision.

The other decision that I was confused by was the decision to rather only have 6 players on the bench than include 27 year old former Stockport defender Michael Raynes in the match day squad. I have always liked Michael Raynes but the realisation will definitely now have dawned on him that it is highly doubtful he will still be at the club come the end of January. I understand why he doesn't rate Raynes particularly highly, he wants to implement a passing style of play on the team. I will admit that Raynes is more of an old style hoof it long type of centre half. What I cannot understand though is with an already limited squad due to injuries and ineligibilities why he wasn't even among the subs. Really baffling.

I know many Oxford fans losing patience with the manager at the moment and I am really not at all surprised by this. His decision making is way under par by the evidence we have seen so far this season. Also, his signings haven't been great considering a few of them got recalled by parent clubs or clearly not in first team plans and soon to be departing. The best signing this season by a considerable margin has been Danny Hylton, of course brought to the club by Gary Waddock not Michael Appleton.

The general consensus on the match last night is that there definitely were positive signs in the fact that we controlled the opening half an hour of the game. However, we lost and football is a results business. A pat on the back and a 'you were unlucky' is not going to win you anything, we need to make sure we pick up points over Christmas or risk being dragged back into the relegation mire. Hartlepool on Saturday could prove to be an absolutely pivotal game in our season.  See you there!