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!