It was all la-di-da with a sweet potato, pine nut and goat’s cheese on sour dough base Papa John’s pizza Trophy tie against fellow toffs, Cambridge United on Tuesday. In the end Rob Hall bang dem top binz, bruh to give us a 1-0 win. Before the game, KRob revealed he’s finally got round to clearing out the kitchen draw which contains old batteries, pieces of string and spare right-backs with Sean Clare heading to Burton on loan to provide a regular supply of consolation tap-ins to Kane Hemmings.
Wednesday 13 January 2020
KRob’s been reflecting on last night’s win, pinpointing a quadruple substitution that injected life into the team as a key turning point. He saw a marked improvement once Marcus McGuane, Liam Kelly, Mide Shodipo and Derick Osei came on. “That’s not because they’re any better” said KRob “It’s purely because they’re fitter and more game-ready.” Or, in other words, ‘better’.
It’s been a frantic and disrupted season, hard to believe that we’ve nearly burned our way through half of it. It feels like we’re in a sprint against the pandemic; surviving is more important than to thriving. In anticipation of the Absolute State of Oxford United Mid-Season Survey results – which you can still take part in – now is a good time to look back at what we were all thinking at the start of the season.
Back in September expectations were high; 23% of people thought we’d get automatic promotion with another 49% seeing us in the play-offs. Currently, we’re 12th – a position just 2% of you predicted – though things are looking up now, objectively it’s been a bit of a disappointment so far.
Of all teams in the division, Wigan Athletic, currently in 22nd, were your favourites for promotion; though in mitigation, many of their problems were still emerging at the time and their slip into administration was viewed as a blip. You had Portsmouth, currently third, in second with Peterborough United, currently sixth.
Lincoln City are this season’s Wycombe Wanderers, and I don’t just mean they feature men with arms the size of a child’s waist. They’re currently top despite you having them down in 12th. That said, one soothsayer out there predicted they’d be the dark horse of the division. Hull City are in second where you had them in 4th.
The overwhelming view was that Swindon would finish bottom, despite our obvious bias, they’re making a good fist of it in 23rd and look in deep trouble. Rochdale, currently 21st, were also expected to struggle along with Wimbledon who are 20th. Nobody really saw Burton sitting at the bottom of the table, you saw them comfortably settling in 16th.
Comparing us to others, you saw us finishing 8th, with games in hand and a bit of form, we certainly look better for that than we did a few weeks ago.
We underperformed in both cups – in the FA Cup 49% you thought we’d make the 4th Round with another 44% the fifth, but there was no charge to Wembley as we tumbled out in the first round to Peterborough. Similarly, in the League Cup, 33% expected us to make the 3rd Round, but we fell to Watford in the second. A lot, of course, depends on the draw in the cups so in the circumstances, that wasn’t a terrible showing.
Hopes for the season
In terms of hopes for the season, there were some common themes.
The biggest theme was the hope that we’d gain promotion; that seems to be a long way off at the moment, though after our early season reality check and sudden return to form, we might still have an outside chance of making the play-offs. From there, who knows?
Resolution of the stadium situation was another big hope, but with everything that’s been going on, it’s barely been spoken about.
More generally, people wanted to see us progress. But in a world which is going backwards, perhaps standing still or only going backwards a little bit, is success. It’s all relative.
A return to normality
People also just wanted a return to normality and we’re nowhere near that. The opportunity to get back to games has been snatched away, though the good news, perhaps, is that so far, no league clubs have gone bust. There’s a long way to go, but we need to count every blessing.
Nine in a row
Sadly, the hope that we might enjoy ‘nine in a row’ was lost in a moment of madness back in November. I suppose it’s not that far from ‘none in a row’.
The prediction that we might see a game in real life by October didn’t materialise, but for a lucky few it happened in December. One prediction was that no crowd would top 4000 all year and that away games would be out of the question, both of seem highly likely. Some predicted another interruption to the season, which seems to be hanging in the balance.
There was plenty of expectation around our strikers – Matty Taylor was predicted to get 20-30 goals – he’s currently on nine, so he needs a bit of a run if he’s to catch up. Dan Agyei was expected to have a breakthrough season with 15-20 goals, so far it’s just two. Rob Atkinson was also predicted to emerge as a key talent; when he’s been fit, he’s shone.
Some predicted Cameron Brannagan would move in January which looks highly unlikely, as is the return of Marcus Browne, which some had hoped for.
One person did predict that Simon Eastwood would be replaced as our first-choice keeper. At the time, that seemed extremely unlikely. Another thought he’d move back north before the season is out, which doesn’t seem out of the question now.
Off the field
Predictions of financial chaos across the divisions haven’t materialised, but clubs can’t live off fresh air forever. We seem to be pretty stable, so the prediction that we might suffer another winding up order is, as yet, unrealised.
Quite a few people thought Karl Robinson would leave, but there’s much less management volatility this year, so a sacking seems unlikely nor the opportunity to go elsewhere.
When it came to individual games, the Swindon derby was in sharp focus; the large minority who expected us to falter had their fears realised. Someone predicted there would be a 1-1 draw with Sunderland and another game against Manchester City, but we’ve seen neither.
In the league more generally, most were predicting a rollercoaster season of ups and downs; it’s reasonable to say that has been the case. One person thought the final game of the season would feature 10 teams with a chance of the play-offs – as it stands, around eight teams could make the play-offs without too much effort but there were 12 points separating the top 10, not two and, as one thought it might. It also doesn’t look like relegation will be determined by point deductions.
In other predictions, there was no red away kit, Jerome Sale is not yet an award winner no has he sworn on air, but there’s still time.
Once again, we see that when you predict everything, you’ll get something right. But, above all, we’ve learnt that fans are mostly terrible at predictions and that the mood can change very quickly. Next week, we’ll look at the state we’re in now and how that’s changed since September.
New Burton manager, Jimmy Flloyd Hasselbank, has pinpointed what went wrong yesterday; their defence, attack, midfield, shape, commitment, fitness, organisation… “That was missing a bit and Oxford picked us apart” said the Dutchman with admirable understatement “(Even) while they were not even playing that well.” he added. Because nothing shows a team playing not playing ‘that well’ than a 5-1 away win.
Monday 4 January 2021
Hello? (hello?, hello?, hello?) What’s causing that echo? Why, it’s the empty heads of the two Oxford youth team players caught going to a New Year party breaking CoVid rules. The Athletic report that both have been suspended with KRob threatening to have them sacked. Fans commenting on the article have responded calmly, Bradley B, whose clearly never been managed by Malcolm Shotton, honked “This is the world we live in now. An authoritarian nightmare under the guise of protection.” while Matthew H was as misguided as Agon Mehmeti in front of an open goal, squawking “It kills 0.04% of people. Seriously dangerous s***” – a statistic so spectacularly wrong (by a factor of at least fifteen) it’s almost as if epidemiological studies should be left to professionals.
Imagine having such a sense of self-importance you think you have the right to subvert the norms and conventions of society to get what you want. Imagine, believing that those in power are conspiring against you. Imagine using modern media to over-inflate your status causing thousands of clueless buffoons to follow your lead. Imagine being led by a band of 80s corporate rejects with no plan. Did those storming the Capitol building in Washington learn nothing from Sunderland? Oxford target, Luke Thomas, looks set to put on his horned hat and bear skin and take up the cause at the Stadium of Light.
On the 1st January 2010, Oxford United were a non-league club, their first game of the new decade a 1-0 defeat to Tamworth, ten years later, concluding with a 2-1 win over Wimbledon, they’d achieved two promotions, three trips to Wembley, countless giant killings and endless derby wins. But who were the best players from that decade of glory? Well, I asked and you answered. Here they are, the top 50 players of the 2010s.
50. Toni Martinez
Toni Martinez only started nine games on loan from West Ham in 2017, but in that time he scored five times including one of the most iconic goals of the decade away to Middlesborough in the FA Cup. This alone makes him one of the top fifty players of the decade.
49. Matt Green
Matt Green had a difficult start with Oxford, after a successful loan spell, he was nearly signed by Darren Patterson in 2008. But, just as the club were preparing to announce his arrival, he headed west and signed for Torquay United. Eventually, he joined in 2009 and became one spike in the trident that fired us to promotion in 2010. His key moment was the spectacular opening goal in the Conference play-off final.
48. Simon Clist
Every team needs its water carrier; the 2010 promotion side was driven by a simple principle in midfield – Dannie Bulman won the ball, which was mopped up by Simon Clist who gave it to Adam Murray or Adam Chapman to create something. While Bulman, Murray and Chapman were all more celebrated, none of it would have worked without Clist.
47. Jonjoe Kenny
When George Baldock was recalled to MK Dons by Karl Robinson in 2016, of all people, it threatened to blow the doors off our promotion chase. But Michael Appleton picked out a diamond in Jonjoe Kenny from Everton’s youth ranks who marshalled us to League 1, a year after that formative experience he won the Under 17 World Cup with England.
46. Joe Rothwell
Michael Appleton had a simple vision; pick up young players from the Premier League youth ranks, promise to develop them onto greater things, then let them soar. Joe Rothwell’s enigmatic Oxford career after joining from Manchester United, he had his moments, but the Championship hawks were circling before he truly flourished.
45. Michael Duberry
Michael Duberry was a big character with a big reputation. His signing in 2012 was coup as Chris Wilder turned to experienced players to try and fire us to promotion. Duberry was commanding in his first season. Fans loved his swagger, but age caught up with him in his second season bringing his time at the club to a close. His key moment was against Hereford United, when he managed to score two own-goals, including one in the last minute, plus an injury time equaliser at the other end.
44. Chris Cadden
Chris Cadden was Karl Robinson’s dream full-back; in the mould of George Baldock – who he had at MK Dons – Cadden was full of energy and pace. He was also beyond Robinson’s budget resulting in a peculiar arrangement where he signed on loan from Columbus Crew immediately after leaving Motherwell. Robinson made no bones about wanting to keep him, but Crew were insistent that he crossed the Atlantic.
43. Adam Murray
In reality, Adam Murray only played one game for us in the 2010s; the defeat to Tamworth. Up to that point he’d captained the side and set them on course for promotion. Injury struck him down and he never played for the club again, but his spirit burned through the squad all the way to Wembley.
42. Damian Batt
Damian Batt was a dynamo of a full-back who seemed to function in both boxes simultaneously. His drive and energy overwhelmed the Conference, he took the step up to the Football League in his stride, turning out for three more seasons. Released in 2013, his life then took a very strange turn.
41. Jack Midson
Matt Green offered pace, James Constable strength, Jack Midson gave our three pronged promotion attack finesse and craft. Sadly, Chris Wilder never seemed completely comfortable with gentleman Jack, but whoever he brought in couldn’t best him. Eventually Wilder took a ratchet to the promotion team and considered Midson too lightweight for the rigours of League football. He was eventually eased out – but not before scoring a memorable hat-trick at Torquay – with his reputation in tact.
40. Billy Turley
Most of Billy Turley’s Oxford career was in the 2000s; he played just three games in the 2010s as understudy to Ryan Clarke, but for someone who demanded attention his back-up role in the 2010 promotion charge was done with good grace. A key cheerleader in the main, he helped put right the wrongs of our relegation in 2006. His memorable moment may have been his last, a wondrous last minute save in his final home game for the club against Wrexham.
39. Tariq Fosu
Tariq Fosu was Karl Robinson’s protege who signed from Charlton in 2019. Like many of Robinson’s signings, Fosu stretched the club financially, so when he started the season on fire, he was always vulnerable to be plucked because of a paltry release clause which within easy reach of most Championship clubs. When Brentford came knocking at the start of 2020, the clause was triggered and he slipped from our grasp.
38. Dannie Bulman
Dannie Bulman drove the 2010 promotion from midfield, then, astonishingly was thrown to the dogs by Chris Wilder almost as soon as the following season started. Releasing Bulman was the biggest mistake Chris Wilder made at the club and it took months to recover. Bulman went on to defy Wilder’s view that he was washed up and is still in the Football League today.
37. Adam Chapman
It’s difficult to know whether trouble came looking for Adam Chapman or Adam Chapman went looking for trouble. After scoring one of the great goals in 2009 at Burton to spoilt their promotion party, he was Man of the Match in the Conference Play-Off Final a year laster. Days before it was announced he was set for a year in a Young Offenders Institute for causing death by reckless driving. He returned a more subdued character, but it didn’t stop him nearly missing a game burning his nipple on baby milk in 2012.
36. Jamie Mackie
No pace, no touch and he hardly ever scored; if Jamie Mackie hadn’t been Jamie Mackie, he’d have been boo’ed out of the club. But, whether it was his public health Tik Toks, endless complaints about fictitious elbows in the face or scoring a wonder goal in the 93rd minute against Bradford that changed absolutely everything and was his defining moment, there was so much to love about him.
35. Johnny Mullins
Fittingly, Johnny Mullins was known as Uncle Mulls; a player who knew his way around the lower leagues and provided the leadership and mentoring we needed when times got tough. His grafting dragged us through the end of the Wilder-years and the start of the Appleton reboot. Cruelly, and also fittingly, in that final season he went all Obiwan Kenobi; sacrificing himself to give way to his heir – Chey Dunkley. Dunkley is deferential to his mentor to this day.
34. Marvin Johnson
Marvin Johnson seemed to be so out of our league one fan said he’s have his name tattooed on his forehead if he signed. And then he did; he could do everything, he had pace, strength and fitness. He was almost too good, like a wild animal, trying to hold onto him seemed futile, he lasted just one season – with a defining moment scoring a last minute wonder goal against Luton in the Checkatrade Trophy semi-final – before signing for Middlesborough for a record £4m.
33. Gavin Whyte
Like the perfect golf swing, signing Gavin Whyte felt right from the moment it happened. Karl Robinson found a gap in the market that others couldn’t see. Whyte was plucked from the League of Ireland and was an instant hit with his direct running, close control and eye for goal. Even when we struggled he shone, though his defining moment may have been being caught filming his wanger on a night out. It was no surprise to see him sold to Cardiff after a season.
32. Peter Leven
When Chris Wilder turned to experience in 2012, Peter Leven was his genius in residence. When he was fit, Leven was the best in the division, with no greater illustration than his goal against Port Vale from the half-way line – his defining moment. Sadly, he wasn’t fit very often and so his talents rarely saw the light of day.
31. John Mousinho
When Curtis Nelson was injured in 2017, Pep Clotet signed John Mousinho from Burton Albion. Despite coming with a stellar reputation, after a few shaky performances he was written off as another of Clotet’s aged duds. A move into bolstering the midfield under Karl Robinson gave him the headspace to show his immense leadership qualities. His trademark rocket penalty, particularly the one which won the League Cup tie against Sunderland in 2019, was his key moment. Though his career is drawing to a close, under Karl Robinson Mousinho he’s grown to be an immense presence in the club.
30. Sam Long
Sam Long looked all set to be just another talented youth team player whose career would ultimately fizzle out. But while fighting some near career ending injuries, Chris Wilder, Michael Appleton, Pep Clotet and Karl Robinson all saw there was something worth persevering with. In the intervening years, he’s progressed from marginal player to reliable back-up to regular first teamer. He’s now teetering on becoming one of the stars of the show.
29. Marcus Browne
Like Marvin Johnson, Marcus Browne was an immense physical specimen, a golden eagle who soared higher than others. He was originally signed on loan from West Ham and powered through defences. It was no surprise that Karl Robinson scrambled to re-sign him, then from Middlesborough, to fire up his promotion challenge in 2020.
28. Rob Hall
The destiny of Oxford United and Rob Hall are intertwined. He was first signed as a teenager on loan from West Ham in 2011 and was an instant hit with a slew of goals. He returned permanently in 2016 and despite a series of injuries he’s become beacon in the club. His defining moment came at Swindon in 2017 when he thunderous drive from 25 yards won the seventh derby in a row.
27. Mark Creighton
Somehow, the word Creighton feels onomatopoetic, when you consider the monstrous contribution The Beast played in getting us out of the Conference. There was no greater moment than his last minute winner in his debut against York in 2009. In truth, his 2010s career was limited to little more than half a season, but the aftershocks of his impact on the club are felt even today.
26. Joe Skarz
Some players are camera-ready stars, others just deliver. Joe Skarz was a dependable and no nonsense full-back who understood the value of hard work. His fitness levels were second to none and his sense of resolve was formidable. This was no better illustrated than having announced the end of his season because of injury, with promotion in the balance, he lifted himself from the physios bench sacrificing himself in a critical 2-0 win over Hartlepool.
25. Callum O’Dowda
Callum O’Dowda had everything, he was physically strong, had a great touch and a heavy dose of ambition. He broke through in the 2016 promotion squad and may have sat among the homegrown greats. His key moment was the last minute promotion clincher against Wycombe in 2016 – pure poetry. But, as soon as Bristol City came sniffing, he engineered his way into the Championship, had he stuck it out with Oxford a little longer, he’d have comfortably made the top 10.
24. Andy Whing
There was a time when all we wanted was a team of Andy Whings. Effort, competitiveness, 90 minutes of pure commitment, is that too much to ask? Nobody out-competed Andy Whing whether it was Edgar Davids or Ade Akinfenwa. Then, just when we thought we’d seen it all, he scored a spectacular overhead kick against Rochdale which cemented him into Oxford folklore.
23. Shandon Baptiste
Shandon Baptise seemed to glide around a football pitch. Nothing seemed too much trouble – thirty yard drives, sixty yard passes, weaving runs. With the ball at his feet nobody could stop him. There was no better illustration than his mazy run in the closing minutes to score Oxford’s 4th against West Ham in 2019.
22. Curtis Nelson
In the giddiness of post-promotion 2016, Michael Appleton seemed to get himself in a muddle – he had Jake Wright and Chey Dunkley, then he signed Aaron Martin, and then he got a chance to sign Curtis Nelson which was too much to turn down. The Nelson opportunity was so great, Jake Wright was eased out to make space. These were big shoes to fill. Did he film them? Yes, several times over.
Pep Clotet’s army of overseas veterans didn’t bring much joy, but then there was the Brazilian Ricardinho. A full-back whose zest for life, effervescence and joie de vivre brought rare joy to a post-Michael Appleton hangover. Even his defining moment, a barbaric two footed lunge resulting in a red card was done with panache.
20. Simon Eastwood
If there was a weakness in the 2016 promotion team it was in goal, when Michael Appleton signed one-time understudy to Ryan Clarke, Simon Eastwood, from Blackburn Rovers there were those who thought he’d lost his mind. But, it was soon clear he’d bought a diamond; Eastwood grew to become not only one of the best ‘keepers of the decade, but among the best the club has ever had. There was no greater illustration of this than by his penalty save against Newcastle in the FA Cup in 2018.
19. Alex Gorrin
If there’s one thing Karl Robinson loves, it’s a pacey winger. But Oxford United can only play with their attacking swagger because they have a beast in the middle keeping order. Alex Gorrin is both law and order in the Oxford midfield and we love him for it.
18. Liam Sercombe
Liam Sercombe had broad shoulders; literally and metaphorically – when you needed someone to take responsibility, he was your man. His marauding style bagged seventeen goals in our promotion season including an absolute banger at Carlisle on the penultimate weekend of the season – his pièce de résistance.
17. Ryan Clarke
Every team needs a Ryan Clarke, an unflinchingly dependable man between the sticks. Regardless of whether his defence was solid as a rock or porous as a sponge, when Clarke was in goal, you knew you had a chance.
16. Alex MacDonald
Even the fieriest of furnaces start with the strike of a match. When things were falling apart in Michael Appleton’s first season, it was the signing of MacDonald from Burton that signalled a change of fortune. He dragged the team around and pointed it in the right direction. The team that was built around him was full of heroes and MacDonald sat as an equal with all of them.
15. Alfie Potter
Alfie Potter didn’t always start games, he didn’t always influence games, but when it mattered, he was there. The last minute against York City in the play-off final, the 85th minute against Swindon Town in the JPT or the whole destruction of Portsmouth on the opening day of the season in 2013. For many, this was Alfie Potter’s decade.
14. Matty Taylor
The one that nearly got away; locally born Matty Taylor slipped away unnoticed in 2009, but grew into a goalscorer full of guile. In 2019 he returned home older, wiser and better, adding a new dimension to us as an attacking force.
13. Josh Ruffels
Some players fit a manager’s style, some players can simply adapt. Josh Ruffels made his debut under Chris Wilder before turning out for Gary Waddock, Michael Appleton, Pep Clotet and Karl Robinson. He moved from midfield to full-back and never missed a step. While others came and went, Ruffels kept developing, establishing himself as a key player and one of the best of the decade. His iconic moment was in 2019 and a looping last minute drive against Wycombe which was the hallmark of Lionel Messi.
12. Ryan Ledson
Ryan Ledson looked about fourteen but could tackle like a lion and pass like Glenn Hoddle. What really endeared him to Oxford fans was the way he just loved to play. Whether it was beating Swindon or smashing in a last minute winner at Charlton, Ryan Ledson brought us alive.
11. Rob Dickie
Sure, Rob Dickie arrived as a player with potential, he was dependable, studious and strong. But, nobody expected him to evolve into a modern-day Franz Beckenbaur. His key moment was a commanding performance against Manchester City where he kept Raheem Sterling quiet for 90 minutes.
10. Jake Wright
Jake Wright was many things; defender, leader, the epicentre of the club’s rise from the Conference and then from League 2. His calmness and quiet authority kept the heart of the club beating. Just one word encapsulates all of that: Skip.
9. James Henry
Sometimes James Henry seems to drift around the margins of a game, while others go to war, he sits back; calculating, pondering and strategising. Then, as others lose their heads, hearts and legs, he finds another gear, collects the ball and fires a rapier 60 yard pass that’ll win the game.
8. George Baldock
George Baldock could turn a man’s knees to jelly as quickly as he could turn defence into attack. He signed on loan from MK Dons, went away again, signed again and went away again. But we still love him.
7. Danny Hylton
Promotion in 2016 was built on Michael Appleton’s cold science; but no Big Blue computer would be able to figure out Danny Hylton. Gary Waddock’s only signing carried Appleton’s team through his first difficult season but even when the science started to work, Hylton couldn’t be contained. A remarkable career.
6. John Lundstram
John Lundstram is a master of cartography; he could find new angles and discover new routes to goal at will. No Oxford fan will forget the majesty of his distribution.
5. Cameron Brannagan
Signed from Liverpool Cameron Brannagan should have been too big for Oxford. Sign, develop, move, it was practically written on his forehead. But, that’s not what Cameron Brannagan is about; Cameron Brannagan gets it and gets us. And we get him, big time.
4. Chey Dunkley
There was no better story during the 2016 promotion season than Chey Dunkley’s; he started the season as third choice centre back behind John Mullins and Jake Wright, was nearly got sent off in his debut against Bristol Rovers. But then he grew and grew and grew. By the end of the season he was first on the teamsheet scoring the crucial breakthrough goal against Wycombe that took us to promotion. There truly ain’t nobody, like Chey Dunkley.
3. Chris Maguire
Oxford is a nice club, we do things the right way, we play by the rules, then Chris Maguire rode in on his Harley Davidson, smoking a roll-up, took off his Aviator sun glasses and taught us the joy of the dark side. Chris Maguire didn’t run games, he didn’t win them them, he Chris Maguired them.
2. James Constable
There are good players in this list, there are great players, but true legends are few and far between. James Constable is etched into Oxford folklore, talismanic, loyal, someone who loved the club as much as they loved him. After a decade of despondency and false hope, he didn’t so much get Oxford out of the Conference as raise us from the dead.
1. Kemar Roofe
In some ways, describing Kemar Roofe as the best player of the decade under-sells him. He didn’t just operate at a different level, but at in a different dimension. He drifted assuringly into the club with an army of other loanees, just another player with promise set to disappoint. Then, he scored a goal and another, and more. Fittingly, in the 2016 promotion season, he was a striker who wore the number 4, it didn’t make sense. But then, in many ways, Kemar Roofe didn’t make sense at Oxford at all, he was just too good, he transcended us, and that’s why he’s the player of the decade.
Back in October 1995 Wycombe Wanderers arrived at The Manor; it was their second visit as a Football League team having smashed and grabbed a 2-0 win the previous year. Despite that, we retained an arrogance towards them that exists to this day; we were the bigger team and would sweep them aside because of our sheer Oxfordness.
In fact, they did it again, only worse, taking home three points in a 4-1 win. The situation then was not dissimilar to this season; the previous year we looked set for promotion but fell away, the assumption was that having retained the core of a good team, we would finish the job and be promoted.
The defeat to Wycombe was a sobering experience, while the real story of that season would come later with a scintillating run to promotion, it was a key stepping stone as it represented our last home defeat of the year.
That season is regularly used as a reference point for what can be achieved when things get tough, in the same way our 5-5 draw against Portsmouth in 1992 is often the reason a whole generation of Oxford fans don’t leave until the final whistle. Truth is, if you’re 5-3 down with a minute to go or 15th with half-a-season gone, the most likely scenario is that you’ll lose or remain in mid-table. But, you never know.
Strangely, the Swindon defeat in November may have been just the tonic we needed; sobering us up in the same way the Wycombe game did in 1995. There were no more excuses, the hangover from the previous season needed to be dealt with. Suddenly, there was discord which also gave Karl Robinson the opportunity to make key decisions; not least about the goalkeeping situation that has been nagging away since the end of last season. It would have been harder to make that decision had we scraped a win or even a draw; dropping Simon Eastwood might have looked spiteful in the way the apparent freezing out of Mark Sykes does at the moment.
Let’s face it, the fixtures have fallen well for us recently; in the last ten games only three have been against teams above us in the table. Burton yesterday were terrible and us scoring five was fairly moderate when you consider the three or four other clear chances we missed. The game was nothing short of a riot.
But this is what watching Karl Robinson’s Oxford is all about; a rollercoaster of emotions, the best party and the worst comedown. You’re just as likely to be dancing on a table top with people putting fivers in your thong as you are crying about lost love in a dark corner.
Watching the team is like a Soul Train Line; where dancers line up in two rows and take turns to freestyle their way down the middle, showing off their best moves. Last year there were moments when James Henry, Cameron Brannagan or Shandon Baptiste threw the best shapes, at the moment it seems to be Josh Ruffels and Sam Long, along with the quietly emerging Mide Shodipo.
What we were crying out for in the early stages of the season was leadership; I don’t think anyone expected Ruffels and Long to be the ones to show it. Their roles seem to be under almost constant threat, Long, in particular, seems to have been treated like a stopgap solution until something better comes along even though he’s played in every game, starting all but one – it’s already his best haul of league games in a season.
But, perhaps we need a different kind of leadership at the moment. Sheer technical ability is not enough nor a clear head to cut through a febrile atmosphere when the stands are full of fans baying for blood. Perhaps the qualities that Long and Ruffels show are that they need the club to survive because their careers are interwoven with its fortunes. Where others can look at the club as a stepping stone to something else or maybe another contract in a career that’s coming to an end – neither of which is the wrong way to think – you don’t get a sense either are hankering for a move; the club’s success is their success.
Their longer term view is helping to drag us through the quagmire challenges the club face; where for others there’s always another club and another season; that’s not a luxury afforded to Long and Ruffels. Other players play for a team or a squad, Long and Ruffels play for a club. That reminder to keep going until we find a better place has pulled us from the despair of the pandemic, Wembley and Swindon to a much healthier position. It’s their sheer Oxfordness, which is showing the way.
January looks critical; we’ve a few more fixtures against teams below us until we meet Fleetwood at the end of the month, then we’re back to facing all the teams that gave us problems at the start of the season. We need points and players because if we are to challenge for the play-offs the last couple of months look set to be a proper pile-on.
Of course, January is set to be critical in terms of the pandemic too; with cases surging and postponements growing, getting to the end of the season hangs in the balance. I think it’s right that the season should continue for as long as it can; all industries are having to find another way to do business and football is no exception. But, we can’t ignore the reality that every scenario remains likely – that we’ll end the season on time, that there needs to be a break or that it needs to be curtailed.
Now is the time for the EFL to make plans for all those scenarios, we can’t find ourselves in the same situation as last year where it took weeks for a re-start plan to emerge. You can’t help thinking that we’re set to step into the same trap as the one we fell into in March, hopefully with the likes of Ruffels and Long showing the way, the club has the muscle memory to be ready for what comes next.
Like GLS’ approach to sharing a tub of Celebrations, Oxford left with the bounty against Wimbledon after a 2-0 win on Boxing Day. Despite goals from Matty Taylor and Jordan Obita, star of the show was goalkeeper Jack Stevens who made a string of saves to prevent The Dons from getting back into the game. We haven’t seen reactions like that since the time GLS’ mum opened a crotchless pearl thong from his dad in front of nan one Christmas.
Meanwhile Cowboy Chris Cadden could be about to mount his trusty steed and head back to the old country after it was revealed Columbus Crew may seek to off load him. Both Oxford and Hibs are said to be interested.
Tuesday 29 December 2020
Headington United’s Sam Long was the star of the show on Tuesday night scoring a wonder goal at Plymouth Argyle in a 3-2 win. Long burst out of his own half, exchanged passes with Daryl Clare and slotted home having run some 60 yards to score. Some didn’t think Long had it in his legs, but he’s been doing double shifts down at the Headington quarry in between games.
Oxford visit Burton Albion tomorrow looking to make it four wins in a row. The Brewers haven’t had a permanent manager since the departure of Nigel Clough in the summer. Burton’s taste in managers is like a two-year old fussy eater who will only eat pasta or chips for tea as Jimmy Flloyd Hasselbaink returns for his 227th stint in charge.