Saturday, 19 December 2015

Wycombe Reaction- I'm not happy...

Oxford lost at Wycombe. Yeah....

FULL TIME: Wycombe 2-1 Oxford

It's very rare that I've had to trudge home with a glum look on my face after a rubbish day at the football. I became almost overly used to it in the last two or three seasons but the tremendous start that we've made to this campaign has almost made me forget what it feels like. I remember feels crap.

You could tell from the first few minutes that this was going to be a tough game for United. Wycombe were, well doing what Wycombe do and punting the ball into our box and as we all know, Oxford are hopeless at defending long balls into the box. Our midfield that earlier in the season would have been running the show and dictating the game were completely non-existent. Liam Sercombe looked like a lost boy, Danny Hylton literally didn't look like a footballer and I genuinely forgot Kemar Roofe was on the pitch for the opening half an hour. It was difficult to watch.

For some bizarre reason, it looked as if we were going to try and beat Wycombe at their own game in the first half and knock the ball long. If Michael Appleton told them to do this, that is quite possibly the worst tactical decision I have ever seen.

Danny Hylton was deep inside Pierre's back pocket. He bullied a weak and lacklustre Hylton for the entire half. I am surprised he didn't nick his dinner money as well.

Despite Wycombe's dominance and our incompetence, the Chairboys didn't manage to create many clear-cut chances in the first half. The only real effort that Buchel had to worry about came on 27 minutes. A swinging corner caused havoc in our defence and Garry Thompson was unlucky not to score with a decent header that Buchel could only parry away.

It felt like an achievement to go in at half time level considering how woeful we had been, a much better performance in the second half was required...

To be fair, we got a better performance in the second half. We actually looked like a team rather than a bunch of strangers who'd met in the car park 20 minutes before the game, which was nice. Sercombe looked more energetic, Lundstram was more pin-point with his passing and Danny Hylton actually looked like he had played football before. With the game deadlocked at 0-0, United still had a chance of winning the match....

Sadly just as we looked like were getting back into the game, disaster struck. A fantastic corner into our box from Jacobson wasn't dealt with and Thompson thumped his header into the net to make it 1-0 to Wycombe. However, a good trait from Oxford this season is not panicking when going a goal down and immediately after conceding we got back on the gas pedal in search of an equalising goal, which was good to see. 

The introduction of Pat Hoban on 55 minutes certianly made an impact as United appeared to lack a physical presence up front. In fact, Hoban's physical presence was integral in United's equalising goal. A surging run and accurate cross from Baldock found it's way to the feet of Hoban, with his back to goal and two defenders swarming around him. He didn't panic, held them off and prodded the ball to the incoming Sercombe who ended his mini goal drought by firing the ball into the roof of the net. The momentum was now with United and it looked as if we could push on and win the game.

However, more atrocious defending from set pieces cost us dearly. With 76 minutes on the clock, Joe Jacobson whipped in a well-flighted free-kick which was flicked past Buchel by the unmarked McCarthy. 2-1 Wycombe. *sigh*

Oxford were now trailing again with our 11 match unbeaten run hanging by a thread, what does Appleton do? Bring on Ryan Taylor who has had one day of training in six weeks. Brilliant. Appleton has been bang on with a lot of his decisions this season but he got this one horribly wrong in my eyes. I just don't understand why he didn't bring O'Dowda on, his pace would have frightened the life out of Wycombe's lumbering defenders. 

Liam Sercombe had a terrific chance in the dying embers of the game to salvage a point for Oxford. Sercombe excellently controlled a flick-on and charged into the box, unfortunately his finish didn't have enough power behind it to beat ex Oxford City keeper Matt Ingram.

This really wasn't vintage Oxford, in fact that first half performance was as bad as I've seen for an awfully long time. United have not been at their best for the last few games now which makes we worry that our typical mid-season wobble is under way. 

It was a very frustrating day for Oxford but at least we've discovered a fresh incentive for promotion. Not having to go to Adams Park.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Why Chris Maguire Is A Great Signing

Oxford United have confirmed the signing of Rotherham United forward Chris Maguire. 

He can bring goals to a side with below par finishing
Numbers and graphs can never prove anything but this is quite interesting. Oxford are very low in the 'percentage of shots scored' table, pretty much meaning that we are wasteful in front of goal. Thankfully, we create a lot of chances so it doesn't matter as much but think about the position in the league we'd be in if that percentage was higher. We miss far too many chances, that cause for us to draw or lose games that we should have won. It's not a huge deal at the moment with us sitting 2nd in the league but something needed to be done about it to stop it becoming a problem, whether that be extra shooting practice or a new striker. I'm pleased Michael Appleton has opted for the latter. 

He's a player that brings experience from higher divisions at plenty of Championship clubs and someone who can start converting more of our chances. If he gets off the mark quickly and starts banging in the goals, he can be the difference between play-offs and automatic promotion for Oxford this season.

Good work ethic
He has been heavily praised in the past for this terrific work ethic on the training pitch. During his stint at Derby County, first team coach Andy Garner expressed his delight at his great attitude and his willingness to work his way into the team when he was left on the bench. This is an attitude that all of the players in our current squad possess, so will fit in perfectly. Michael Appleton himself heaped praise on him, during Maguire's loan spell with Portsmouth in 2012.

Can play more than one position
Chris Maguire has shown over the years that he doesn't limit himself to just one position, he can comfortably play in several. His best position is up front at the top of the pitch but can play just behind a number 9 in a number 10 role and also do a job out wide as well.

Can score goals like this...

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Braintree Reaction- Blown Away

On a windy evening at the Kassam Stadium, United knocked out a brave Braintree team to earn themselves a second round tie against Forest Green Rovers.

FULL TIME: Oxford 3-1 Braintree

Pre-Match Thoughts
As soon as I saw the windy weather forecast for last night, I knew this game would become much tougher than it appeared on paper. As expected, the winds howled as I strode into the Kassam Stadium, making it a troublesome task to actually stay standing up. 

It was good to see Michael Appleton show Braintree Town a lot of respect by fielding a strong side including players that many assumed would be rested such as George Baldock, Kemar Roofe and Liam Sercombe. I was a bit disappointed not to see Cameron Gayle in the team last night, although mainly for the missed headline opportunities.

The Match
It became apparent in the early stages that this was going to be a farce of a game. The heavy winds refused to die down, making it a game of how to beat the wind rather than how to beat Braintree.

United had a lot of the ball but were failing to make it count. George Baldock and Callum O'Dowda looked threatening on the right but were unable to create any clear cut chances as a well organised Braintree stood firm. Alex MacDonald's thunderbolt free kick which cannoned off the crossbar, was the closet either team came to breaking the deadlock in the opening half hour. 

Despite the lack of chances United seemed comfortable, until a moment of lunacy from Skarz gifted Braintree a chance to open the scoring from the spot. Michael Cheek waltzed into the box unopposed until Skarz clumsily knocked him to the floor, giving the referee no choice but to point to the spot. The calm and collected Kenny Davis confidently slotted it into the net to give the underdogs the lead on 33 minutes.

The impressive thing about United this season though is their tendency to keep calm and not panic and yet again they weren't fazed by a moment of disappointment as they came back fighting. On 42 minutes, George Baldock looped a ball over the top to the rampant Sercombe who hammered it home to level things up. That is Liam Sercombe's ninth goal of the season in all competitions, an amazing feet for a midfield player who only got 23 in eight years at Exeter. 

Sercombe's strike clearly gave Oxford the confidence boost they needed as they came out for the second half much more like their usual selves. In particular Roofe who looked like a man on a mission after the break and the wing wizard managed to magic up a second goal on 64 minutes. Roofe darted into the box at pace, leaving two defenders in his dust before pulling it back to the grateful Hoban who prodded it in.  

It turned into a proper cup tie, with Braintree refusing to go down without a fight but United's fitness levels began to show and it wasn't long before we wrapped it up. Kemar Roofe, again the catalyst of United's attacking threat, dinked the ball to O'Dowda who was barged to the floor, resulting in another penalty which Hoban dispatched. I, much like everyone else in the ground, was convinced it was a penalty at the time. However after having looked at the highlights this morning, I'm now not so sure. 

There was even more time for a whistle-happy ref to award another soft penalty, however this time to the visitors. Braintree's Sean Marks, who had received a mere nudge in the back, went down like he'd been shot and another penalty was given. However justice prevailed as Kenny Davis' poor penalty was easily stopped by Buchel. 

Post-Match Thoughts
I can sum it up in two words. Job done.

The best player on park was George Baldock. He was a constant threat from the first minute and Braintree will be glad to see the back of him. Honourable mentions also go to Kemar Roofe and Callum O'Dowda who really upped their game after the break.  

Pat Hoban got two goals so I have to congratulate for that but I still think he's got a hell of a lot to prove. People forget that he offered no threat at all in the first half and missed a few good chances in the second. The thing I find most baffling is that people who didn't go the game last night were gutted not to see Hoban score, like it’s some sort of annual must-see event. Is it just me that thinks our centre forward scoring goals should be a regular occurrence? 

I now look forward to the second round against Forest Green, which provides an intriguing
match-up between of the best two teams in League Two and one of the best two teams in the Conference. 


Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Should Johnny Mullins Be Dropped?

After a dismal defensive display against Barnet led to Oxford losing their first home match this season, should centre back Johnny Mullins be replaced by Chey Dunkley?

A mad six minutes? A one-off? Just a bad day at the office? Or was Saturday's defensive debacle something that needs to be taken more seriously?

I can't remember Mullins and Wright having a worse game than Saturday's display in an Oxford United shirt, it even led to our captain Wright being hauled off after less than an hour.

To concede three goals in six minutes at home to lowly Barnet is indefensible, surely something has to be done about it if we are to win promotion. However is the answer to bring in back up defender Chey Dunkley? 

One of Oxford's main issues this season has been an inefficiency to deal with long, diagonal balls into the penalty area. It was the reason we dropped two points at Leyton Orient and was the reason we lost to Barnet at the weekend. In my opinion this is down to the height of our centre backs, in this division you have to have at least one defender in your starting XI who is big and strong to compete with the tough target men that are regularly found in League Two. Chey Dunkley certainly ticks those boxes. However, do we disregard the solid defensive performances in the majority of the games so far this season over just one game? It's a difficult decision to make.

In my personal opinion, I would bring Chey in for the games against teams who have big centre forwards and should play on Saturday against Stevenage because they have one of the biggest strikers in the Football League in Armand Gnanduillet. It's harsh on Johnny, who I think should be the one to get replaced, because he has been fantastic for Oxford United over the past few years but I think Appleton needs to show a bit more tactical awareness, so we can deal better with League Two's anti-football sides who have an obsession with the long ball tactic better.

What do you think though? Should Dunkley come in? Would you dare to drop skipper Jake Wright? Feel free to leave a comment or tweet me @Joe_Citrone.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Barnet Reaction- 5 Minutes of Madness...

A below par performance from Oxford United led to our first home defeat of the season to a Barnet side who had only picked up one point on the road this campaign prior to today.  

FT: Oxford 2-3 Barnet

First half
Unlike the majority of Oxford fans, I came into this game with a sense of trepidation and concern. I knew our main weakness was long balls into the box and we all know what Martin Allen teams like to do...

We certainly started well, the lads were confidently knocking the ball around and dominating possession. Barnet didn't get near us in the opening quarter of an hour or so. 

The magical Liam Sercombe gave us the lead on 13 minutes. A clever corner routine worked a treat. The short pass found it's way to Sercombe on the edge of the area who lashed it past Stephens to give Oxford the lead. At this stage, Oxford fans couldn't have been blamed for starting to relax but much more was to come in this game. 

Against the run of play on 26 minutes, a superb ball from the left was excellently knocked down by Akinde to the incoming Weston who fired it into the net. Oxford yet again failing to deal with long, diagonal balls into the box. 

Things only got worse for Oxford though after Barnet got their noses in front on 31 minutes. A ball into the box was dealt with dreadfully but United. Jake Wright swung a leg at it but completely missed the ball leaving Akinde with a simple chance which he gratefully took to make it 2-1. 

Barnet then added another goal to their tally a couple of minutes later through Joshua Clark. To be fair, this was a good goal from Barnet. Clark dashed into the box before driving it past Slocombe, who perhaps could have done slightly better but maybe I'm being harsh there. 

However a hectic first half wasn't over yet. Liam Sercombe made a surging run into the box before neatly slotting the ball into the corner and in the process gave Oxford hope just before the break. 

Second half
Oxford started the second half brightly and created a couple of opportunities to keep the pulse racing. The best of which came when Alex MacDonald finally made a contribution when he made a run into the box before forcing Stephens into a scrambling save which trickled to Roofe who scuffed his shot, which allowed the Barnet keeper to recover. 

However the ideas soon began to run out for United and it became increasingly frustrating affair, especially when Barnet's constant time-wasting went unpunished by a weak-minded referee. I have seen plenty of terrible refs in my time but the one today took bad refereeing to a whole new level. 

The Bees ironically were trying to take the sting out of the game and limited Oxford to only a few chances late on. John Lundstram sliced a shot wide from the edge of the area, while Kemar Roofe wasted a few chances in the dying embers as well. 

It is a fantastic victory for Barnet, who's supporters are probably still scratching their heads after a bet-busting result at the Kassam today. Our unbeaten home record goes out of the window as well as the chance to go 2nd in the table. 

Overall opinion
Our strikers weren't good enough, the service from midfield was below par, the referee was shocking but I think we all know that it was the shoddy defending that cost us three points today. 

I think it was Johnny Mullins' worst ever game for the club today. He couldn't tackle, lost the majority of aerial battles and constantly gave the ball away. It was an uncharacteristic display from Mr Reliable. 

Our dependable skipper Jake Wright wasn't much better and only lasted 52 minutes before being hauled off. 

John Lundstram was also a liability in midfield at times. Someone needed to tell him that it wasn't Barnet's birthday and he should stop gifting them the ball, while Alex MacDonald looked knackered after half an hour and Roofe kept running into people. 

However you could criticise the performance of every single Oxford player today, except for the phenomenal Sercombe of course.  

I think we were a bit arrogant and were expecting to win this game, which you can never do in League Two because anybody can beat anybody.

It's going to be a tough week ahead of our next fixture at Stevenage but we just need to dust ourselves down and get on with it. 

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Plymouth Reaction- Going Up?

A Liam Sercombe strike separated two very good teams at the Kassam Stadium last night and as a result puts Oxford firmly in the driving seat for promotion. 

FT: Oxford 1-0 Plymouth

First half
The excitement levels were high as Oxford United took to the field for undoubtedly the biggest game of our season so far. 

Oxford looked hesitant in the early stages and allowed a confident Plymouth side to keep possession and control the game. Despite the early pressure Plymouth failed to muster up any opportunities that were going to worry Sam Slocombe and we soon managed to break through this spell and get our groove back. 

The first clear cut chance of the evening fell to Ryan Taylor, who is in desperate need of a goal. The ball was slid through to him by Roofe and a delicate chip was inches away from breaking the deadlock but it sadly struck the post. 

Danny Hylton then made a mazy run down the line before sliding the ball across to Roofe who fired home, however the linesman ruled it out after claiming that Hylton had run it out of play. United were well on top. 

United got their reward for a slick, stylish display on 32 minutes. George Baldock galloped forward and neatly cut the ball back for the incoming Sercombe who calmly stroked it into the back of the net. 

It was a magnificent first half of football from Oxford United. I can honestly say it was one of the best displays I have ever seen from an Oxford team.

Second half
As expected, Plymouth came out for the second half fired up and clearly eager to bring themselves back into the contest. 

However Plymouth were rarely able to convert their possession into chances to score. They were evidently lacking a spark up front, I'm sure they'll be grateful when talisman striker Reuben Reid returns from the treatment table. 

United had to be more resolute in the second period but there still were a couple of opportunities to add some more goals. On 68 minutes, a cross from the right flew across the goal and found it's way to MacDonald at the back post who fired it straight at McCormick. 

The biggest chance of the lot for Oxford came in stoppage time. A terrific corner was met by the head of Patrick Hoban who's effort was remarkably saved by Luke McCormick. 

The final whistle blew after the three added minutes came to an end and the celebrations started for the Oxford fans who knew that this is a huge win. It sends out a clear message to the rest of the division about our promotion credentials. 

Overall opinion
The first half was finesse and flair, the second half was fitness and fight.

It could well be a season-defining victory and one we all look back on at the end of the campaign and think "that was massive!". 

There are plenty of contenders for Man of the Match, Baldock was sprightly, Hylton was back to his energetic self and Sercombe was typically excellent but I am actually going to give it to Ryan Taylor. I have been critical of him since he joined in the summer but I thought he was terrific last night. He won everything in the air, held the ball up magnificently and his link up play was top class. 

Bring on Barnet at the weekend!!! COYY!!! 

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Wimbledon Reaction- Baldock Strike Keeps Run Going

Oxford kept their good form going after a terrific goal from George Baldock secured victory over AFC Wimbledon yesterday.

FT: Oxford 1-0 AFC Wimbledon

First half
After Tuesday's thrilling triumph against the old enemy, it was inevitably a lot flatter, both on the pitch and in the stands. 

Wimbledon pieced together some well crafted passing moves in the game's infancy and started the better side. 

We know all about Sean Rigg as Oxford fans, he is either absolutely fantastic or completely anonymous. It certainly looked as if we may have caught him on a good day. He had a couple of early shots on goal, as did Adebayo Azeez who was proving to be a handful upfront.

Despite early Wimbledon pressure, United remained calm and professional and it wasn't long before they started to find their rhythm. Jordan Graham's exquisite skill and electrifying pace befuddled Jon Meades. Graham is looking like a great addition to a squad which is now packed full of top class wingers. 

It was strangely pleasant to see an evenly matched half of football at the Kassam Stadium, in contrast to total Oxford dominance which is what we have become accustom to seeing at home so far this season. 

Second half
An odd tactical move from Wimbledon manager Neal Ardley saw the Dons set up in a more defensive fashion after half time.

It soon became a typical League Two away performance from Wimbledon after the interval, full of irritating time wasting and numerous attempts to break up the play and spoil the spectacle. It was a shame because at times in the first half Wimbledon played some good stuff. 

On 52 minutes, United had a huge chance to score through box to box midfielder Liam Sercombe. Kemar Roofe jinked into the box before Taylor knocked it onto Sercombe who thundered a shot against the crossbar from eight yards out. I expected a lot better from a player who has scored a few goals from midfield recently.

Oxford dominated possession but it never looked like we were going to find a way through. Danny Hylton was far from being his usual, energetic self, Meades was starting to deal with Graham far better and although Taylor worked his socks off he never looked like he was going to break the deadlock.

This was far from being a vintage Oxford United display and looked destined to finish goalless, George Baldock had other ideas though. 

An acre of space opened up in front of the full back which he dashed into before unleashing a low, accurate drive into the bottom corner.

The introduction of Bayo Akinfenwa for Wimbledon made little difference and United held on to a precious three points, moving them into the automatic promotion places for the first time since February 2014. 

Overall opinion
An average performance but a great result. It must have been difficult for Michael Appleton to keep the players focused after Tuesday night's heroics, you may remember last time we beat Swindon we lost the following five games and it would have been very easy for us to lose this one today. 

I know it's become very cliche this season but we wouldn't have won that game last season. The difference this season is we have some quality players to give us the edge, something we lacked for large parts last term. 

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Swindon Town Preview

On Tuesday Oxford United take on arch rivals Swindon Town for the first time in three years, it will be Michael Appleton's first derby game since being appointed as a manager in 2014.

Head To Head
Oxford have famously struggled to get results at the County Ground in the past but have managed to string an excellent run of wins together against Town recently. It has been 14 years since Oxford were last defeated by Swindon, a 2-0 loss in the Second Division. Oxford United's first ever encounter with Swindon was a boring 0-0 draw in 1965, in fact United didn't actually get a goal until the sixth match between the two teams. Overall, there have been 56 games between them but Oxford have only managed to muster up a measly 13 wins, 4 of which coming in the last 15 years.

Swindon Town Overview
Swindon have been surprise strugglers in League One this season after narrowly missing out on promotion to the Championship last season, losing 4-0 to Preston in the Play Off Final in May. They have failed to win since 5th September and come into the game on the back of a defeat to a troubled Blackpool side. We all know form books go out the window on derby day but we certainly have a better chance of winning than last time we met, with Swindon flying high in League One and Oxford struggling in League Two. Star striker Wesley Thomas looks set to be forced out of this massive clash with a hamstring injury which is good news, however Swindon still have excellent attacking options in Nicky Ajose and Jon Obika who we all know will be dangerous.

How Are Oxford Going To Line Up?
Michael Appleton finds himself trying to ease a selection headache ahead of derby day. Rose is a doubt while Danny Hylton is definitely out through suspension, meaning two big players will have to try and influence the game through encouragement from the stands rather than a performance on the pitch. Jordan Graham impressed in Oxford's win over Accrington off the bench and surely is the favourite to replace Rose on the wing, while Appleton will have to decide whether it should be Hoban or Taylor to take over from Hylton up top. I think Appleton will go with Ryan Taylor. He has come off the bench in recent weeks, he hasn't looked great, but has looked better than Pat Hoban who is the only alternative. Liam Sercombe has been superb in recent games and will surely start in the heart of midfield, his dynamic display dragged Oxford to victory at Accrington. 

I think it will be a cagey, tense affair which will be decided by a single goal or even a penalty shoot-out. It's always tough to predict derby games but I have to let my heart rule my head, back my team and go for an Oxford win. 

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Morecambe Reaction- Is There Anyone Out There Who Can Take A Penalty?

It is two points dropped again for Oxford United who missed several good chances to see off an average Morecambe team. Kemar Roofe also missed a penalty for the U's.

Full Time: Oxford 0-0 Morecambe

First half
United came out with the tempo of an old woman who has just had a hip operation crossing the road. We were just unable to get out of first gear.

The dull, humdrum performance teamed with a underwhelming 5,000 crowd didn't make for a good spectacle. Roofe was anonymous, Hylton was permanently offside and the back four looked hesitant when Morecambe attacked. 

The closest either team came to a goal was through veteran striker Kevin Ellison, who has become a pantomime villain at Oxford in years gone past. A superb flicked header from the 36 year old crashed against the bar with Sam Slocombe beaten. 

United ended the half with plenty of possession but failed to convert that into clear cut chances. Liam Sercombe again looked lively in midfield but not even he could find a way through. 

You couldn't really have blamed anyone for nodding off in that first half with very little to get excited about. We were all hoping for a big improvement after the interval. 

Second half
Oxford came out for the second half with a bit more oomph, where as Morecambe switched to a more defensive mentality. Michael Appleton also decided to play Danny Rose in a more comfortable position on the left, moving across the right hand side where he'd struggled in the first half. 

Callum O'Dowda switched to the right which allowed George Baldock more freedom to burst forward and cause some havoc. 

Roofe looked like he was getting back to his best when he thundered a strike towards goal which was unconventionally saved by the feet of Barry Roche. However it looked set to be another troublesome day in front of goal for United. Chance after chance went begging before Oxford were handed the biggest of the lot on 65 minutes. 

Kemar Roofe sped away down the right hand side before darting into the box, only for Shaun Beeley to clumsily knock Roofe over and gift Oxford a penalty. Roofe stepped but looked far from confident. His weak effort was effortlessly saved by Roche, meaning Roofe is the third player to miss a penalty for us this season. An unwelcome statistic. 

I have actually become bored of writing the same thing every week. Patrick Hoban came on and did nothing. Surprise surprise. In fact the introduction of him and Taylor, who was also inept, effectively killed any chance of an Oxford winner.

Oxford didn't really look like scoring in the final minutes, bringing on Hoban and Taylor tends to do that. 

This is a poor point for Oxford. Morecambe offered nothing in the second half and were there for the taking but yet again we have missed a hatful and are left frustrated. 

Overall opinion
Very poor up front for Oxford at the moment. When Hylton doesn't perform we might as well go home because we no other centre forwards who can stick the ball in the net. Patrick Hoban is a likeable fella but just isn't good enough for this club or this division in fact. Ryan Taylor doesn't work hard enough and is alarmingly weak considering the size of the man. 

James Roberts hasn't been given a fair chance by Appleton who looks to have some sort of vendetta against him. I accept that I have no idea what has been going on behind the scenes with him but regardless of his attitude, today was the perfect opportunity for Appleton to chuck him on and tell him to "prove me wrong".

The glimmer of optimism I can take from the game was that Liam Sercombe had another good game. He looks dynamic, lively and infectiously energetic.

No wins in three now for Oxford which isn't ideal. In my honest opinion, if we don't bring in a better striker to come off the bench we will not get into the play offs. It is as simple as that. We have a talented starting XI but an inadequate bench. Taylor and Hoban aren't good enough and Appleton should be making the most of the loan window to bring in some more fire power. We have a big game at York on Tuesday, I expect a much better showing. COYY!!

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Portsmouth Reaction- Two Points Dropped

Despite a below par Pompey performance, Oxford were unable to hang on to what would have been a huge three points yesterday. Adam McGurk's long range effort cancelled out Sercombe's first half strike. 

FT: Oxford 1-1 Portsmouth

First half
Portsmouth started the game on top, confidently knocking the ball around for the opening 10 minutes. They didn't really threaten Oxford's goal in that period but limited us to very little possession. 

However United's central midfielders Lundstram and Sercombe started to get in Portsmouth's faces and the rest seemed to follow suit. 

It wasn't long before we found our rhythm and started to cause Pompey problems. Callum O'Dowda was tying Portsmouth's full back in knots, Sercombe and Lundstram were bossing midfield and our defence looked as solid as as a rock. 

We took a deserved lead on 33 minutes as Sercombe got his reward for an energetic display. A Danny Rose corner wasn't defended satisfactorily, allowing Liam Sercombe to volley the ball past a powerless Paul Jones. 

Delirium soon turned to disappointment though when Callum O'Dowda went off injured on 41 minutes with what looked like a nasty bang to the head. We all hope it isn't too serious. 

Oxford had plenty more chances to kill the game off, the biggest of all fell to Kemar Roofe. In the dying embers of the first period, a defensive mishap allowed Roofe to latch onto the ball and go one on one with Jones. However, Jones got down well to push Roofe's effort past the post to deny Oxford a second goal. 

Oxford went in at half time 1-0 up and cruising. All that was lacking was a second goal to kill the game off. Everyone seemed confident that the game was already won. 

Second half
Portsmouth came out for the second half rejuvenated and made it clear to us that we would be facing a different team to the underwhelming side we saw in the first period, causing United to go into their shell and invite unwanted Pompey pressure. 

On 61 minutes, a class goal from Adam McGurk got Portsmouth back on level terms. The former Burton man glanced up at the goal from 30 yards out and drove a bullet past Slocombe, who I'm sure will be disappointed not to have done a bit better. 

This goal appeared to be a cue for Michael Appleton to make the strangest substitution seen at the Kassam for many years. He decided to bring off the attack-minded Danny Rose for the neat and tidy Josh Ruffels. It appeared to be an attempt to settle for a point, which was madness considering Pompey were still far from being at their scintillating best despite their second half improvement.

The substitution caused everyone to drop back, leaving Danny Hylton completely isolated up front. 

United couldn't even profit from another sending off, Michael Doyle the player to take an early bath for a second bookable offence. That's four red cards that have been brandished in the last three matches. 

Oxford yet again threw on Pat Hoban and guess what he contributed....nothing, except a hilarious bicycle kick attempt. 

Johnny Mullins came closet to winning it for Oxford. A lofted ball in from Baldock was powerfully headed towards goal but comfortably saved by Jones. 

Overall opinion
We all said after the Notts County and Yeovil games when we missed a hatful of chances "one day it'll come back to bite us" and it did today. We should have been out of sight by half time.

The end of the game was very similar to Northampton last week. Just passing the ball around in the middle of the park and creating absolutely nothing against ten men. Not good enough. 

It is also the second consecutive week I have to criticise Michael Appleton's tactics. It was an absolute disaster. He was far too negative in the second half. We just kept dropping deeper and deeper and looked like we were settling for a point which was a scandalous thing to do at home. 

Michael Appleton's substitutions were pathetic, I really didn't understand what he was trying to do.

The only thing that'll stop this talented group of players from finishing in the play-offs is the manager. His tactical nous is non-existent. I don't like to say it because his summer recruitment was excellent and we've made a strong start but in recent weeks his deficiencies have been clearly exposed. 

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Northampton Reaction- First Defeat of the Season

Oxford succumbed to their first league defeat of the 15/16 season after a lacklustre performance at Chris Wilder's Northampton Town.

FULL TIME: Northampton 1-0 Oxford

First half
Another slow start from Oxford saw Northampton take control of the early stages and give our defence plenty to think about. Joe Skarz and Chey Dunkley both had to make last ditch tackles in the opening 10 minutes. 

Oxford did create a good chance on 11 minutes when Danny Hylton dashed into the box and slid the ball across to O'Dowda who's heavy touch sadly gave Smith a chance to smother. Despite this Oxford were struggling to find their usual rhythm and I was not at all surprised to see Northampton draw first blood. A superb ball in from Nicky Adams was headed home by Sam Hoskins to give the hosts a first half lead. It was a sloppy goal to concede from Oxford, who have picked up a bad habit of letting in the first goal. 

Oxford tried to up their game but never looked like scoring until a moment of madness from Jason Taylor offered us a way back into the game. Taylor foolishly shoved O'Dowda in the box, which saw the Northampton man sent off and Oxford awarded a penalty. Hylton confidently stepped up to take it, eager to prove that he is a good penalty taker. However a weak strike was parried away by Adam Smith, leaving Hylton with his head in his hands again. 

Second half
United weren't much better in the second half. Chris Wilder's well-drilled team easily shutting out a below par Oxford side. Northampton were content to just sit back, soak up the pressure and grind out a 1-0 win. It just didn't look like it was going to happen for us. 

Dunkley looked a threat when he went up for set pieces but was unable to get us back on level terms. In a desperate attempt to find an equaliser, Michael Appleton threw on Pat Hoban who was typically ineffectual. He is far from being a Football League standard striker. He's not fit enough, quick enough or deadly enough in and around the box.

John Lundstram also came into the side today for his first start and did okay, although he is always looking for an adventurous long ball where at times a simple pass is all that is required. There were a few times where he tried to play a long range pass across the pitch but it just ended up sailing over everyone's head and out of play.

AJ George tried his best when he came off the bench for his first appearance. He whipped in a good cross late on which was expertly watched by our forwards, however I was hoping for them to perhaps run towards the ball or make some effort to head it. It was a very poor performance from our front men this afternoon. You may have also noticed I didn't mention Ryan Taylor's name in the match report, maybe that is saying something. 

Overall opinion
Very poor. I haven't seen a performance that bad in a long time. Defensively shaky, lack of creativity from the midfield and missing a goal threat up front. 

This was the first game where I unfortunately have to question Appleton's tactics, the wingers would have been far more effective if they had swapped sides. I'm also pretty sure I'm not the only one wondering what on earth has happened to James Roberts. There were a few things that left me scratching my head. 

I'm not going to run through the streets of Oxford screaming "EVERYBODY PANIC!" just yet but we have to make sure today was a one off.  We must bounce back for a big game at the Kassam on Saturday against Portsmouth. I'm sure the atmosphere will be great. COYY!

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Bristol Rovers Reaction- Smash & Grab

It's now 14 matches without defeat for Michael Appleton's team after they overcame a resilient Bristol Rovers side. Kemar Roofe winning the game with an incredible strike.

FT: Bristol Rovers 0-1 Oxford United

Some say that the Bristol Rovers fans are still winging at the referee...

OXFORD HAVE WON ON THE TELLY! *pinches myself* Yes we did win, had to double check though. It wasn't a vintage Oxford United performance but we got the job done and secured another pivotal victory in the promotion race. 

Bristol Rovers started better and it looked like we might be in for a tough match, however a moment of madness from Ollie Clarke changed the complexion of the game. Clarke unnecessarily got his elbow involved in an aerial challenge with Danny Rose, which saw him receive a deserved red card. Bristol Rovers fans were clearly not happen and began to bully the referee into decisions, which was not nice to see. 

You would expect Oxford to kick on and win the game against a ten man team but it was more difficult than you'd imagine. Bristol Rovers sat a lot deeper after the loss of Clarke, shutting down what would have been an exciting and open game. It turned into a scrappy affair and an underwhelming advertisement for fourth tier football. 

Oxford started to trouble the Bristol Rovers backline in the latter stages of the first period as George Baldock produced a good ball for Ryan Taylor who disappointingly headed it over. I am still struggling to see what Taylor adds to the team, he appears to be a passenger in the majority of games he plays. He has no pace, can't win headers and can't finish by the looks of it. Hardly an ideal striker. 

I was slightly disgruntled to see Bristol Rovers start the second half with more grit and determination than us, still looking confident that they could snatch three points. However, the game was set to take another twist. The referee sent off Liam Sercombe - who was doing well - for a second bookable offence. The referee was obviously keen to even things up. Bristol Rovers - who had far more possession at that stage - were surely now the favourites to go on and win the game. However Kemar Roofe had other ideas.

A long ball up by Joe Skarz was neatly nodded down by Pat Hoban to Roofe who hit a dipping, curling strike into the top corner stunning the home crowd into an uncharacteristic silence. The fact the Rovers keeper was a man mountain made it all the more impressive that Kemar beat him from that range. 

Bristol Rovers began to pile on the pressure in the dying embers of the contest, desperate to level things up. Oxford began to make silly decisions and give away needless fouls, making it an agonising finale for the Oxford fans in the stands and watching on the sofa. There were only a few minutes remaining when Bristol Rovers had a huge penalty appeal turned down. Pat Hoban - who was desperately trying to help our defence deal with the Bristol onslaught - appeared to trip up Billy Bodin in the area. Despite the referee insisting that he got the ball, from where I was sitting it looked like a blatant penalty. The gas fans have every right to feel aggrieved about that decision but maybe it serves them right for abusing the ref all game, despite getting the sending off decision bang on.

It is now a remarkable 14 games unbeaten for Oxford United. That does not happen very often so we have to cherish our marvelous form which sees us climb up to 4th in the table. The man of the match has to go to the match winner Kemar Roofe who scored another sensational goal. Honourable mentions also go to George Baldock, Joe Skarz and Jake Wright who were outstanding. However, the closest man to stealing Roofe's MOTM award was Mullins' deputant Chey Dunkley, who was as solid as a rock. 

As the U's march on I am going to ask the question, could this be our year?

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Bristol Rovers Preview

Bristol Rovers host Oxford United in a televised match on Sunday. United will be hoping to continue their impressive start to the season against Bristol Rovers, who themselves have started decently.

Head To Head
Oxford have a better record against Rovers, but only just. United have won 18, drawn 13 and lost 17 of the 48 total matches between the two sides. The first meeting being a 3-1 win in the old Third Division way back in 1965.  As you can see, it has been three years since Oxford United last overcame Bristol Rovers, drawing one and losing two of their last three meetings. The graph also interestingly shows a strange pattern. Oxford tend to go on long winless runs, before ending that and out of nowhere going a few games unbeaten. Bristol Rovers went four fixtures unbeaten before losing and United going on their own six game unbeaten streak as seen in the graph. It will be a very intriguing clash on Sunday.

Bristol Rovers Overview
They are a very drilled team, who after a year out of the Football League, have come back stronger than ever. A season of soul searching in the hell hole of non-league football might just have done Bristol Rovers the world of good, who were faltering under various different managers in the final few years of their last Football League experience. They have taken nine points from their opening five matches and find themselves where they would love to finish, in the top seven. They have taken a few risks in the transfer market, including the signing of former Oxford player Cristian Montano who was accused of match fixing in 2013. They have also brought in a few unproven names in Adam Drury from Manchester City and Jeffrey Monakana, who has had several unsuccessful loan spells at Football League clubs. However, the younger players will benefit from the experience of their veteran professionals in Lee Mansell and Steve Mildenhall who will probably prove to be the wise heads in the group. I would expect Bristol Rovers to throw everything at us, with their play off ambitions, they will be eager to win the majority of their home games. 

How Are Oxford Going To Line Up?
This is the team that I would pick. Callum O'Dowda will unfortunately miss the game, which will give the Manager a selection headache. A lot of people would expect Roofe to be moved out wide and to be honest that is what I expect Michael Appleton to do. However, Danny Rose has proven on many occasions that he is more than capable of playing out wide. In fact, during the end of last season Danny Rose was moved into that position and played a huge factor in our surge up the table. Kemar Roofe is wasted out wide and is much more effective in a central position, where he is able to run at League Two's lumbering centre backs. Josh Ruffels would come into the centre midfield position with Rose moving out wide, he is a neat and tidy player who would certainly sure it up in midfield. I have doubts about John Lundstram's fitness which is why I would play it safe and pick Ruffels. The back five picks it self at the moment with Skarz, Mullins, Wright, Baldock and Slocombe becoming very settled. 

I fancy us to win this one. It will be an end to end game, with both teams going out all guns blazing. Bristol Rovers will be desperate to bounce back after a 2-0 defeat at Leyton Orient last week and Oxford will surely be keen to extend their unbeaten start to the season. Usually the mathematical formula for televised games goes as follows, on the telly=humiliating defeat. However, I reckon we could produce an anomaly and win this one...well I hope so anyway! Come on you Yellows!

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Yeovil Reaction- Dominance

Yeovil were dominated by an imperious Oxford side, who have secured back to back home wins. Danny Hylton and Callum O'Dowda getting themselves on the score sheet for the U's.

FT: Oxford United 2-0 Yeovil Town

Back to back home wins has become a rarity for Oxford over the past few seasons, so you can imagine the jubilant expressions on the fan's faces as they saw Michael Appleton's team achieve just that.

I arrived at the ground, with a packed car park and a sea of retro shirts to reminisce over. Some bloke even had a Steve Anthrobus shirt, which I can only assume was a very drunken purchase. 

As for the football, it was Oxford dominance from the first whistle. To be fair to Yeovil they tried to play a bit rather than sit back and take a point, however we refused to let them play the way they wanted and made them look distinctly average. United's opener was a beautifully worked team goal. Alex MacDonald darted across the box before playing an exquisitely timed ball to Callum O'Dowda who chipped it to Hylton who nodded the ball into the net, the first time this season that Oxford had scored the opening goal. 

The first 20 minutes were laughably one sided with United in complete control of the game and Yeovil unable to muster up any sort of opportunity. Oxford sensed that Yeovil were going to offer very little competition and took their foot off the pedal as a result. However, yet again we were unable to kill the match off early. Providing Yeovil with a chance, albeit a small one, of getting an undeserved equaliser. We went in at the break just the one goal ahead which perhaps was the only criticism that could be made. 

United came out for the second period with vim, vigour, gusto and clearly eager to kill this match off. Callum O'Dowda and Alex MacDonald were causing havoc on both flanks, Yeovil's full backs knew they'd be in for a long afternoon. Despite being firmly in the driving seat, Oxford continued to waste excellent chances to end the contest. O'Dowda, Roofe and Sercombe all guilty of fluffing their lines in front of goal. 

There were clearly a few Oxford fans in the stands who were anxious, including myself, that the missed chances could come back and bite us on the backside. However, Michael Appleton made a tactical adjustment that soon paid dividends. He moved O'Dowda into a central position and not long after the local lad scored the goal that assured Oxford were going to win back to back home games. Hylton made a typical lung busting run into the box before squaring it to O'Dowda who prodded it past Krysiak. Roofe crashed a shot against the bar from 25 yards later on but Oxford were going to have to settle for just two goals, where they really should have got a few more. 

Danny Hylton was different class again. I have no fear in saying he is the best forward in the division. There are plenty of quality strikers in the league like Matt Tubbs, Craig Mackail-Smith and Barry Corr but none can influence a game like Hylton can. A really special player. We are also seeing O'Dowda's potential rapidly develop every week, which is getting Oxford fans giddy. Danny Rose was another player that impressed this afternoon but so many of the lads put a good shift in. Although, Pat Hoban did his best impression of a Sunday League striker with a hangover when he came on. 

So, we have another superb home performance to mull over. It feels a bit strange. I'm not going to complain though because this terrific unbeaten start to the new campaign has put us right up there. It is early days but we have certainly built very solid foundations. Bring on Bristol Rovers next week, hopefully we can end our torrid run of shocking results when the game is on telly. I am confident we can! COYY!

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Sheffield Wednesday Reaction- U's Bow Out Of Cup

Oxford United have been eliminated from the Capital One Cup after a narrow 1-0 defeat to Championship side Sheffield Wednesday last night.

FT: Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 Oxford United

Focus on the league? We weren't bothered about the cup? We can all try and put a positive spin on last night's defeat but it is tough to the hide the indisputable frustration. 

It wasn't a poor performance from Oxford, just a bit flat at times. Something that you wouldn't expect in this sort of cup game. You would expect our players to be fired up at the opportunity to test themselves against a Championship team at a huge stadium, something that wasn't shown by many. Sheffield Wednesday were controlling the possession in the early stages but failed to take advantage of their imperious start. Carlos Carvalhal's team started to become more and more frustrated as their dominance continued to come to nothing. Chey Dunkley, who had been brought back into the starting XI, didn't seem to have too many issues dealing with Sheffield Wednesday's big striker Atdhe Nuhiu. Sam Long made a tremendous challenge on 33 minutes to deny Wednesday a certain goal, it was a decent start to the game from the young defender who hadn't played for a little while. Unfortunately his evening was cut short when he picked up a nasty looking injury on 42 minutes, while launching himself into another gutsy tackle. It appeared to be ankle ligament damage, which we hope is less serious than we are all fearing at the moment. United were defending resolutely but the travelling fans were definitely hoping for a bit more vim and vigour in the second period. The introductions of the rested Roofe and Hylton would have provided that but Appleton pragmatically decided to keep them on the bench. 

It was a tight and tense game but the deadlock was broken thanks to a goalkeeping mishap. A floated cross to the far post was flapped at by Slocombe, followed by two blocked shots which somehow found its way to the largely ineffective Nuhiu who bundled it into the back of the net. Oxford yet again conceded a really soft goal to go behind, this is beginning to feel like deja vu. United wasted no time in trying to get back on level terms though as Callum O'Dowda scampered forward, twisted the full back in knots and curled a shot just wide of the far post. It probably would have been a better option to pick out a player waiting in the middle, who would have had a tap in. There were a couple more close shaves for Oxford, including a drilled free kick from Alex MacDonald which flew just inches over the crossbar. Danny Hylton's introduction gave Sheffield Wednesday's backline a lot more to think about but was unable to take the tie to extra time. 

There is no shame in losing to a decent Championship team, even if they did make a few changes. However, I just wanted a bit more from Oxford. A bit more fight and determination to win the game and progress to the next round. When a team is 1-0 down in stoppage time, they are usually desperate and doing everything they can to get an equaliser. I didn't really see that at all and didn't see character they showed at Luton last night. Admittedly, it was only a cup game and it isn't massively important but it would have been nice to see us take it a bit more seriously. Although Appleton's selection was practical and forward-thinking with our league game on Saturday in mind, it was a bit frustrating, especially after making the long trip to Sheffield. The best thing about the night was the wonderful away support from Oxford, non-stop singing throughout the match brought a good atmosphere to a largely empty Hillsborough. Bring on Yeovil on Saturday! COYY!

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Notts County Reaction- O'Dowda Inspires Oxford Comeback

Oxford came back from a goal down to beat Notts County at the Kassam Stadium last night. Callum O'Dowda, Kemar Roofe and Danny Hylton the scorers. 

FULL TIME: Oxford United 3-1 Notts County

It didn't start particularly well for Oxford who were really struggling in the first half an hour, they were letting Notts County move the ball around confidently. The opening goal was yet again an avoidable one, Graham Burke whipped a decent free kick into the box which was easily headed home by the completely unmarked Thierry Audel, who won't score an easier goal this season. We should definitely be practising how to defend set pieces first thing tomorrow morning after conceding that. It is vitally important that we stop conceding these soft goals. 

This game was looking set to be a repeat of a typical Oxford home performance, however things were about to change. Michael Appleton replaced Patrick Hoban, who was having a personal nightmare, with pacy winger Callum O'Dowda on 32 minutes. The results of the tactical shake up were instant. Liam Sercombe made a powerful run from midfield and produced a cross that was narrowly too high for Hylton, but perfect for O'Dowda. He took the ball down, before precisely placing the ball past a powerless Roy Carroll. Oxford had restored parity and had the momentum going into the half time break. 

Notts County offered very little in the second half, O'Dowda's leveller had clearly taken the wind out of their sails. A few unlucky Oxford supporters still hadn't taken their seats by the time we scored a second. O'Dowda's low ball found its way to a dithering defender, who was robbed by Roofe who expertly swivelled and shot into the top corner. Only one team was going to win this game now, get ready for an Oxford onslaught. Unfortunately chance after chance went begging for the U's. Danny Hylton was having the game of his life and made a lung busting run into the box on 56 minutes, only for Aborah to barge him to the ground. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot. Notts County's players were outraged with the decision and swarmed the referee, desperate for him to change his mind. However the decision stood and new penalty taker Alex MacDonald stood up. The ground fell silent as he struck the ball towards goal, only for Carroll to palm it away. The strike was a good height for the goalkeeper and didn't have enough power behind it, maybe we should hand penalty taking duties back to Danny Hylton. 

The penalty miss didn't knock our confidence though with our attacking players continuing to pour forward. It looked like it might get embarrassing for Notts County but we continued to fluff our lines in front of goal. Kemar Roofe guilty of missing two simple chances. He raced clear and was through on goal but couldn't beat Carroll and a few minutes later ballooned a header over the bar from a few yards out with the goalkeeper stranded. It definitely felt like those missed chances were going to come back and haunt us. However, the dazzling Danny Hylton made sure that a first win was on the board for Oxford United with 11 minutes to go. He sprinted all the way from the centre circle into the penalty area before firing a shot straight at Roy Carroll. However Hylton kept on going and on the rebound fired the ball into the net, sending the fans and Hylton himself into a frenzy. A wonderful moment.

It was a fantastic performance from Oxford, something that has rarely been said after playing at the Kassam in recent years. Hopefully this is a sign of our home fortunes starting to change. We had so many stand out performers in this game although there are only two possible candidates for the Man of the Match award, Callum O'Dowda and Danny Hylton. I am going to give it to Danny Hylton simply because his work rate was unbelievable. If there is an award for 'looking knackered but isn't' then Danny Hylton would win it every time. Despite O'Dowda not winning this weeks Man of the Match award, he was utterly joyous to watch. An exciting, old fashioned winger who wants to beat full backs and put crosses into the box. When he gets the ball the whole crowd leans forward because we know something is going to happen. A star in the making. 

We need to work on our finishing but I really can't complain because if we play like that every week there is only one place we are going and that is League One. Bring on Mansfield!

(By the way, a few people have disagreed with some stuff I've been saying on this blog recently. I just want to say to you guys that this blog is opinion-based and I am wrong sometimes. Sorry.)