Friday, 3 July 2015

Michael Appleton: A Year In The Job

Tomorrow it will be exactly one year since ex Portsmouth, Blackpool and Blackburn boss Michael Appleton joined Oxford United as Head Coach, in this post I discuss what sort of an impact he has made on the club since being appointed. 

It has been a topsy turvy twelve months in charge for Michael Appleton, there have been good moments and bad moments. However, one thing he still hasn't managed to produce is a consistent starting eleven over the course of the year. There have been far too many loan players come and go. Firstly it was Carlton Morris up front, then it was Armand Gnadnduillet before settling with Kyle Vassell...for about two matches. Not forgetting Hoskins, Hoban, Hylton and Roberts who also featured up top for Oxford last season. I've never seen so many strikers. 

The start of the season was pretty appalling, the televised performance away at Cambridge was a real low point, not just in the season but in the five years since we returned to the Football League. His interviews have been tedious, boring and delusional at times over the course of the twelve months he's spent at Oxford United. To come out after a shocking, woeful display against Hartlepool and say we had 'dominated' was scandalous. 

His tactics have also been questionable at times, the three centre back experiment earlier in the 14/15 season was scrapped after a few games in which we saw a serious of dubious defensive displays. He just thought we could pass our way to the top, which is impossible on frozen December pitches. Not forgetting that we are in League Two, you aren't going too find many players capable of the tiki-taka style of football that Appleton tried to stamp onto Oxford United early on in the campaign. I distinctly remember Michael Appleton boldly saying at a fans forum early in the season that "plan B is plan A" which is an unsettling statement for a manager to make. However it did eventually click for Michael that he needed to converge his tactics to the level of football that we are playing at and go slightly more direct. Throughout last season I was one of the many supporters to be mystified by the lack of games for James Roberts in the second half of the season, especially after he dug us out of some tricky situations at Christmas time. 

However, despite this I at this moment in time I think Appleton is the right man for the foreseeable future. I am willing to give him another chance. There were signs in the last few games of the season against Wycombe, Tranmere and Newport that the final pieces of the jigsaw puzzle were finally being put into place. We seemed to find a system that worked and teams found very difficult to play against. The additions of George Baldock and Kemar Roofe were excellent, both have been added to the squad for next season. The summer recruitment has been top class so far as well, we have identified the areas that need strengthening and signed players who are able to do that. Danny Rose was also an undervalued catalyst for our late season surge up the table, there are a few question marks whether he can produce that on a consistent basis though. We can only hope. 

In summary, it is tough to rate Michael Appleton's first year in charge of the club because it has been so topsy turvy, almost like a fairground ride at points. He's the sort of manager that if he left the club, I wouldn't be at all upset but not absolutely elated either. If I had to rate his first year out of ten I would probably give it a 5/10. Completely average. It has to be nearer a seven or eight next season though if he wants to keep hold of his job. I would say if we finish any lower than 9th place then Michael Appleton should be sacked, however I'm confident this group of players can achieve that at the very least. We are a club with huge ambitions with dreams of the Championship and above in the next few years and if we finish in a similar mid table position next season, Michael Appleton could heading down to the job centre...again. It's going to be a massive second season for him.

Ryan Clarke Departure: My Thoughts

In this blog post, I offer my opinion to the biggest name to leave Oxford United this summer. Tweet me your opinion to @Joe_Citrone or please put a comment in the section below. 

Two summers, two legends lost. James Constable and Ryan Clarke have both left Oxford in the past two seasons, meaning our captain Jake Wright is the only remaining survivor of the 2010 Wembley team. It's a very sad day, Ryan Clarke was not just a great goalkeeper but one of the nice guys in football as well. It is a terrific signing for Northampton Town, they definitely needed a new man between the sticks. Matt Duke and Shwan Jalal weren't good enough and fellow summer signing Adam Smith needs an experienced mentor, as well as time for people to forget about his controversial, racist sex tape in Thailand. It's hardly a surprise Chris Wilder has snapped him up having once described Clarke as his "best ever signing". 

Do I agree with this piece of business? No, I don't. Ryan Clarke could still offer a massive amount to us, he isn't especially old for a goalkeeper and offloading him to a divisional rival could be cataclysmic. I am sure that Sam Slocombe is a very competent goalkeeper and he will do a good job for us next season but that doesn't stop the impact Clarke will have on Northampton's team. League Two is probably Clarke's level but Northampton are surely going to be in very close competition with us next season so it does seem peculiar. Ex players always seem to come back and haunt us but interestingly, Clarke's wife is due to give birth to their second child the weekend of our visit to Sixfields. 

We should appreciate Clarke's six years of service to the club. I wish him all the best with his future endeavours.