Midweek fixture: Oxford v Wycombe in ten games

Wycombe Wanderers are the visitors to the Kassam on Saturday. Just a regular Joe fixtures against a team of no consequence. Or is it? For a club that has as much relevance to us as, say, Rochdale or Morecambe, we have a surprisingly interwoven history with the team that is just 28 miles down the road, some six miles nearer than our old rivals Swindon.

So, perhaps it doesn’t have the storied past of the Swindon derby, but games against Wycombe Wanderers have rarely lacked significance. Here are ten games to whet the appetite.

April 1995 – Wycombe Wanderers 1 Oxford United 0

There are times when football clubs go through periods of cognitive dissonance; holding two conflicting views at the same time. In 1995 Oxford were in the third tier, but less less than 10 years on from our glorious heights of the Milk Cup Final – in our heads, we were both a small team and a big club. Similarly, Wycombe Wanderers were in their second season as a Football League club – a non-league team in the league. The coming together of the two clubs was both a mismatch and an alignment at the same time.

The first encounter at The Manor ended in a smash and grab 1-0 win for Wycombe but in many ways it felt like a cup giant killing than a league fixture. The following April, we headed to Adams Park for the first time expecting to exact brutal and comprehensive revenge. In the end, a calamitous mistake by Matt Elliott resulted in his sending off and the inevitable goal that followed left us staring at our new reality; Wycombe were one of us.

October 1995 – Oxford United 1 Wycombe Wanderers 4

The perception of Wycombe as a non-league team remains to this day, so it’s no surprise that similar misconceptions hung over the following season’s home fixture six months later. The outcome couldn’t be any worse than the previous season’s results and a re-correction was long overdue. Except it could and the re-correction didn’t happen. Well drilled and motivated; Wycombe picked Oxford apart with two identical set-piece goals leading 3-0 at half-time before eventually cruising to a 4-1 win. The humiliation did, however, act as a wake up call about our intentions for the season. The result sent a chilling reminder to the team that we couldn’t cruise to promotion; we’d have to fight for it. The chastening defeat would be the last one at The Manor that season providing a crucial building block to promotion.

April 1996 – Wycombe Wanderers 0 Oxford United 3

By April 1996 we were a different team; a stunning run of results from Christmas had catapulted us into play-off contention. A storming win over Blackpool the Saturday before was suddenly making promotion a distinct possibility. But, our new nemesis stood in our way, to maintain the run we’d need to finally put the Wycombe hoodoo away. On the following Easter Monday, we cruised on a wave of unstoppable momentum to a 3-0 win making memories and setting course for automatic promotion.

September 2000 – Wycombe Wanderers 3 Oxford United 1

Four years later the story was somewhat different. Against the backdrop of Firoz Kassam’s battle to move the club to its new stadium, Oxford’s on-the-field exploits were a meaningless, hopeless sideshow. Everything came to a head in the 2000/01 season with a slew of poor signings, failing talent and comical mismanagement. Oxford travelled to Adams Park for a Friday night game on Sky; the humiliation was absolute, not only were we humbled in a 3-1 defeat, at half-time injured goalkeeper Richard Knight was replaced by Hubert Busby Junior, a player many fans didn’t know we had. The Canadian delayed the re-start due to the fact the club didn’t have a spare goalkeeper’s jersey forcing him to play the second half in a training top. If anyone had delusions of our dominance in the relationship, they were surely put to bed here. Where’s the video? Nobody knows.

November 2006 – Wycombe Wanderers 2 Oxford United 1

By 2006 we’d hit rock bottom after being relegated to Wycombe’s spiritual home; the Conference. Now Wycombe were a club we could only aspire to be like. By November 2006 they were top of League 2, a height we could only dream of achieving. We assumed, having hit the bottom, that the bounce back was to begin as the club was no longer in the hands of Firoz Kassam and Jim Smith was back on the bench. Glory awaits.

Unbeaten all season, we were drawn together in the 1st Round of the FA Cup, providing the perfect opportunity to prove that our lowly position was some kind of administrative error. Having put up a good performance, we were eventually put in our place as Wycombe opened the scoring. A Gavin Johnson free-kick saw us grab an equaliser and an opportunity to head back to the Kassam to finish the job. A minute later Wycombe scored again, a sobering reminder of the predicament we were in.

April 2015 – Wycombe Wanderers 2 Oxford United 3

A return to the Football League in 2010 saw us reacquaint with Wycombe, but the expected rebirth and domination never quite came. In 2014 the club was taken over by Darryl Eales and Michael Appleton was installed as head coach. The first season was torture, big promises, false hopes and fitful form left us struggling. An endless supply of short-term signings and loanees meant that nothing stuck, nothing settled.

We headed to Wycombe towards the end of the season with lingering concerns about relegation hanging over us. In our ranks was an unassuming striker Kemar Roofe on loan from West Brom, one of many who’d pushed their way through the revolving door that season. Suddenly we found our mojo, Roofe scored two goals and set up the third in a dominant display kindling a return to optimism and hope.

May 2016 – Oxford United 3 Wycombe Wanderers 0

Just over a year later and everything had changed. The season had been blessed with derby wins, giant killings and Wembley, but all paled into insignificance. Going into the final game of the season, we still needed three points to secure promotion to League 1 for the first time in 15 years. It was strangely fitting that the final game was against Wycombe, our constant companion for over 20 years. The team, who hadn’t let us down all season, didn’t let us down again and we marauded to a 3-0 win and promotion. Finally, the readjustment had come, hadn’t it?

March 2019 – Oxford United 2 Wycombe Wanderers 1

Three years on from promotion, Michael Appleton had moved on and an experiment with Pep Clotet hadn’t worked. Not for the first time, the gear change from one division to another hadn’t been as smooth as we’d have liked. Karl Robinson arrived alongside new Thai owners to evolve the latest iteration of the club. Robinson faced a similar challenge to Michael Appleton, deconstructing and reconstructing the club’s culture.

A steady improvement after a difficult start, had eased some of the pressure, but there remained scepticism about the new regime. As the season eased to its inglorious end, the home fixture against Wycombe acted as an important marker of our progress. Having gone a goal down and survived a missed second-half penalty, the game ticked into its final minute and a draw seemed an inevitable conclusion. The ball was worked out to Josh Ruffels for what everyone expected to be a cross into the box for one last desperate chance. Ruffels had something different on his mind, steering a world class finish into the net from 25 yards out for a last minute win.

December 2019 – Oxford United 1 Wycombe Wanderers 0

Six months on and things had changed; Karl Robinson had found his groove; memorable wins akin to the glories of 2015 and 2016 had started to come. Wycombe, however, had found a deeper groove – one that had taken them from relegation favourites to the top of League 1. It was robust, pragmatic and effective; anathema to the expansive ethos Robinson had instilled.

The result was a meeting of cultures and an atmosphere that looked like a derby, even if it wasn’t one. James Henry grabbed a first half goal, but the game pivoted on a first-half incident when the players came together after a bad challenge from Alex Gorrin. John Mousinho sprung into action, easing his way into the melee appearing to play the peace maker while confronting the already booked Wycombe talisman Ade Akinfenwa. Playing the dark arts against its masters, Mousinho collapsed to the floor the second Akinfenwa raised his hands to shove the Oxford captain away giving the referee no choice but to send him off. The tight ship that had put Wycombe on top of the table listed badly and Oxford cruised to a memorable win.

July 2020 – Wycombe Wanderers 2 Oxford United 1

The dynamic between Oxford and Wycombe can pivot in a matter of months, but nobody could have predicted that the world would tilt on its axis following the previous December’s victory. A pandemic had struck, locking the world down. Football shut its doors hoping for the storm to pass. Its gradual re-opening resulted in a contrived resolution to the League season. Wycombe, who were falling apart following the battle at The Kassam, benefitted from a points-per-game calculation that saw them jump from 8th into the play-offs. The inevitable clash in the final came at a hauntingly empty Wembley deep into July. Oxford played all the football and had all the possession, Wycombe stuck to the template that had brought them success taking their chances securing a 2-1 win and a somewhat Pyrrhic promotion to the Championship.

When is a derby a derby? Perhaps the stories of a rivalry need to be retold and embellished to the point where they’re no longer true. They need to span generations until we no longer know what we’re all fighting about. If Oxford v Wycombe isn’t a derby, then it’s something else, whatever it is, our histories have become intertwined and we’re all the richer for it.

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Oxblogger

Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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