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.