Boxing daze

Big crowds and big flags diverted the mind away from the fact there was a football match to win yesterday. The first half meandered into the consciousness of both the players and fans and it took at least twenty minutes to realise that a bit of application was required.

One thing the big crowd did guarantee was a much higher proportion of what is known in modern footballing parlance as the Prawn Sandwich Brigade. This is no class commentary, it’s quite simply the fact that, by definition, most people there will never have been to a Conference game. In fact, their understanding of the game may be entirely defined by slick highlight packages of Premiership football. What these people don’t normally see is that even at the highest level games are punctuated with misplaced passes, wayward shooting, and extended bouts of head tennis. The aesthetic of the beautiful game is even less likely to be displayed in the Conference, record crowd or not. Perhaps half of the crowd were there for the game, the rest were there for the fresh air and were shocked to find that for twenty quid you really don’t get what you see on the telly.

I’ve previously explored the theory that Jim Smith’s 3-5-2 (5-3-2?) formation is an opening stratagem designed to make the team appear impenetrable. This follows the Chelsea model adopted by Jose Mourinho. Smith is currently struggling the find the second phase of the approach, which is to create a team capable of overwhelming their weary opponents. Whilst we struggle to graduate from the first phase we’re finding that we’re coming up against more and more defensive units. Although isn’t it about time that time-wasting was outlawed as a legitimate defensive strategy?

Where is the problem? It’s difficult to say. Rob Duffy‘s goals have dried up, principally because the penalties have dried up. He is neither goal poacher nor battering ram so he has nothing to fall back on when form isn’t with him. Unlike, for example, Yemi, who is also struggling for goals – but that doesn’t stop him being lightening quick. Many will disagree, but a player as obvious as Marvin Robinson may be exactly what we need, he may well have bulldozed a goal from one of the many second half corners yesterday.

There is still a midfield conundrum to resolve; Jim Smith hinted at a pre-match problem; which presumably was an injury to Hargreaves, meaning the vanilla talents of John Dempster were on show and would explain the delayed substitution of Hutchinson when he pulled up about 20 minutes into the second half. I changed my vantage point to the South Stand Upper for the game, which highlighted that for all Pettefer‘s industriousness, he doesn’t offer enough control of the midfield. He could be accommodated if a true holding midfielder can be brought in, but perhaps it would be better to start with Hargreaves and Hutchinson. Defensively, at least, things continue to look steady, although there is probably a strong argument for giving Rufus Brevett a breather and bringing in Gavin Johnson, Brevitt looked a shadow of his earlier self yesterday.

What’s for sure is that, to coin an awful phrase yelled during Oxblogger’s boxing day morning kick-around, we now need to get an upward trend going.

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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