Sunday, 9 October 2016

Wimbledon Reaction- Delight for the Dons

AFC Wimbledon recorded their first ever win against Oxford United, with the U's producing their worst performance of the season at Grenoble Road this afternoon. 

FULL TIME: Oxford United 1-3 AFC Wimbledon

What a difference eight days can make, eh?

After last season's televised triumphs over Bristol Rovers, Millwall and Swansea I thought that perhaps the infamous TV curse might have been broken. However, it was back with a vengeance today as Oxford United were taken to the cleaners by AFC Wimbledon live on Sky Sports. 

The game seemed relatively tight up until Wimbledon's first goal. United gifted the Wombles the opportunity to show the TV cameras how good their set pieces were on 19 minutes, after giving a very cheap corner away. Darius Charles climbed highest at the far post and nodded it back across goal, leaving Tom Elliot with the simple task of guiding it into the net. 

Wimbledon's opener appeared to knock the stuffing out of United, who simply went to pieces. The Wombles must have thought Christmas had come early, with Oxford gifting them the ball time after time. Lundstram, Sercombe and Raglan being the main culprits. 

There was very little that Oxford could have done about the second goal. Although, there was plenty the officials could have done about it. Dean Parrett charged across the edge of the box but his touch was far too heavy, leaving Wes Thomas with the chance to gather the ball and clear. However, Parrett hadn't given it up and flung himself into a challenge which took Thomas out. Everyone froze, expecting the referee to blow up for a free kick. Well, everyone but Darius Charles who curled the ball into the top corner giving Wimbledon a 2-0 lead. 

It was a shambolic decision from the referee. In fact, this was just one in a string of bad calls from Mr Deadman. Maguire's stonewall penalty claim being turned down just after the half hour mark was another one leaving the Oxford faithful dumbfounded.

United just needed to get into the dressing room and regroup but before they had the chance to do that, Wimbledon scored a third leaving the U's with an even bigger mountain to climb. Sercombe gave it away in the middle of the park, giving Reeves the opportunity to play in Barcham who calmly slotted the ball past Eastwood. 3-0 Wimbledon. Game over?

As I sat watching the latest crap half-time entertainment idea, I realised something. I was wrong. I've been spouting on here for weeks that 4-4-2 is the way to go but my traditional views on football tactics are totally wrong judging by that first half. Perhaps three in midfield is the way to go after all...

You don't have to be a genius to guess what Michael Appleton's message to those Oxford United players at half-time was. Go out there and restore some pride. 

It appeared that Appleton's words might have done the trick as United started the second half brighter than they finished the first. An early goal was what we needed and we got it just three minutes after the restart. 

Chris Maguire jinked into the box before fizzing a ball across the goal which was poked home by Darius Charles for the OG. Hope for Appleton's army. 

However that's really as good as it got in the second half for United. We controlled the second half in terms of possession but failed to give James Shea much more to think about in the Wimbledon goal. 

An almighty penalty box scramble gave United their best chance to reduce the deficit to one. A couple of headers were cleared off the line before Kane Hemmings acrobatically fired over. 

The introduction of Dan Crowley made us worse if anything. For a player that is supposed to be extremely talented, I'm yet to see any evidence of it at all. 

Unfortunately our performance wasn't the only thing that left me with my head in my hands. Mr Reliable Joe Skarz picked up a nasty looking injury in the latter stages of the game. With our limited options at left back, this is the last thing we needed. 

A disappointing afternoon for Oxford United who have some soul-searching to do. The referee certainly played a part in the outcome but he is not the sole reason we lost that game of football. He was bad but we were worse. 

The poor performers who stood out above the rest were Kane Hemmings, Liam Sercombe and Alex MacDonald. 

Sercombe and MacDonald gave 100% as ever but that's not always enough. Both were consistently wasteful with the ball. MacDonald disappointed me especially because he was magnificent at Bolton but lacked quality today, in my opinion. 

The worst player on the pitch though was Hemmings who had an absolute shocker. Considering we were playing direct for most of the game, the fact he didn't win a header all afternoon is pathetic. You could argue that winning aerial battles isn't really his game but he's got to make more of a nuisance of himself. He gave the Wimbledon centre-backs a day off today and that isn't acceptable.  

It hurts like hell. We just have to make sure things are put right against Bradford on Saturday. I'm confident we have enough quality in the squad, it's just a shame we didn't see any of it today.

See you on Saturday.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Bolton Reaction

A brilliant second half performance provided Oxford United with their first away league victory of the season at Bolton.

FULL TIME: Bolton Wanderers 0-2 Oxford United

On the long trip to the Macron Stadium, I was feeling quite pessimistic (surprise, surprise). Despite a decent point on Saturday, a midweek defeat at Southend still left us with just one point on the road this season. However, as they say things can change very quickly in football...

It felt a little bit like deja vu watching the first half. We weren't playing badly but - just like on Saturday - the centre forward, who was Hemmings on this occasion, was left isolated at the top of the pitch. 

However, our problems in front of goal were nothing in comparison to Bolton's recent goalscoring woes. They'd only scored three goals in their previous seven games before yesterday and you could see why. They clearly lacked a finisher up front. Their best chance of the half came on 36 minutes. James Henry was played in after a slick passing move but the former Wolves man blazed over with a side-footed strike. 

Oxford had their fair share of the ball in the first half but didn't create too many clear cut opportunities. The best of the lot fell to Kane Hemmings, who was the only player who'd managed to find the net in an away league game prior to yesterday. A Chris Maguire free-kick on the stroke of half time was spilled by Mark Howard but he somehow managed to redeem himself by denying Hemmings' follow up effort. 

Marvin Johnson, who'd had a very quiet first half, was replaced by Alex MacDonald at the break and his industrious style was exactly what United needed. MacDonald went on with a point to prove after an indifferent start to the season. His extra energy in the final third swung the game in United's favour. 

In fact Michael Appleton got his tactics spot on in the second half, also introducing Wes Thomas and changing the formation to a traditional 4-4-2 which gave us more options in attack.

A criticism of having two up front that I've heard from some Oxford fans is that it leaves us too open defensively, however Charlie Raglan and co were having no issue dealing with Bolton's lifeless attack in the second half. 

The legs of Bolton's defenders were clearly tiring as the game grew on and they let their guard down on 75 minutes. Liam Sercombe's floating cross in from the left found Kane Hemmings in acres of space but he scuffed his shot into the grateful arms of Mark Howard.


United kept pushing for a winner and their perseverance paid off with a little under ten minutes remaining. MacDonald produced a superb ball which was perfect for an unmarked Thomas at the back post, who calmly slotted the ball away. 1-0 United.

This was a hammer-blow for Bolton who began to crumble. As the clock struck 90 minutes, United rubbed salt into Wanderers' wound by scoring a second. Moxey was caught dawdling on the ball, allowing Kane Hemmings to nick it off him and race towards goal. His shot towards the near post was parried by Howard but only as far as the incoming Maguire, who side-footed it into the net. 2-0. Game over.  

The final whistle was met with a chorus of boos from the Bolton faithful, who were understandably frustrated with their side's lacklustre performance.

I think it's fair to say that United deserved the three points. The introduction of MacDonald and Thomas was the difference in the second half. I hate to say I told you so but I have been saying for a few weeks now that we look far better going forward with two centre forwards on the pitch. It doesn't look like any of our strikers enjoy playing up front on their own and they all look far more comfortable with someone alongside them. 

Despite being a substitute, man of the match is going to Alex MacDonald this week. He brought an injection of energy to the frontline and caused Bolton's defence all sort of problems. He'll probably be used more sparingly this season with the additions of Marvin Johnson and Rob Hall in the wide areas but he's still an excellent option to bring off the bench, as he demonstrated yesterday.

The U's have climbed themselves up to 10th position, two points off the play-offs and things are looking rosy again. Next up in League One is Wimbledon at home on Sunday (urgh). We always beat them, don't we?

See you next week. Come on you yellows.