George Lawrence's Shorts – Stormsy

Saturday 11 January 2020

*Stomp, Stomp, Stomp*

Fee Fi Fo Fum,
Forty minutes gone, 
It’s three-none. 

The monstrous colossi of Rotherham stomped all over Oxford with a blistering first-half display on Saturday. Marcus Browne’s goal being a consolation in a 1-3 gubbing.

Sunday 12 January 2020

KRob’s not paranoid, I mean you can’t be both KRob and self-aware, but he’s beginning to think that ‘they’ are listening to him via his iPhone. Just days after suggesting that the club were interested in a pre-season training camp in southern Spain, he was linked with a move to coach Malaga. KRob’s panic set in when it also emerged that he’s been linked with a move to Hot Grannies Being Spanked and is currently clearing his internet search history as we speak. 

Rotherham manager Paul Warne came to Oxford to park the bus on Saturday, then found that Creepy Uncle Firoz hadn’t unlocked the ground leaving his team stranded.

Monday 13 January 2020

Luke Garbutt has spoken glowingly about his year with Oxford last season. So much so that he took the opportunity to give his old club an insight into Ipswich’s tactical plans tomorrow. “It could be a case of us letting them come on to us.” he said before adding, “We don’t want to sit back and let them dictate the play.” While not sitting back and sitting back, he confirmed that they plan to be on the front foot winning the ball high up the pitch. Sitting back and not sitting back while on the front foot, this is proof that Garbutt is either a tactical genius or more confused than your mum when you explained she still needed virus software despite being with BUPA.

Tuesday 14 January 2020

It was all go in the 0-0 draw with Ipswich Town after a storm nearly resulted in the game being called off. A brief suspension in play allowed the players to change into dry kit. Unfortunately with the club shop sale starting the team were left a bit short of options. Elliot Moore was in a sponsor-free shirt for 3-5 year olds while Sam Long had to make do with Ollie The Ox’s foam mascot suit.  

Elsewhere, in three-for-two Slazenger jogging bottoms news, we’re off to Sports Direct’s Newcastle United in the 4th Round of the FA Cup after they beat Rochdale 4-1.

Wednesday 15 January 2020

Sam Smith has admitted that going to Oxford on loan last year was a massive learning experience. Principally he learned that not scoring goals is not a good look for a striker. “You can only score goals if you’re playing” said the man who played five league games without scoring. He looks back on his time philosophically “I think first loans can go either way, you can either do really well or have an absolute stinker. It wasn’t a stinker.” he said re-defining the term ‘do really well’. 

Thursday 16 January 2020

It was the Seven Minute Seventeen Second Fans’ Forum with Tiger on Thursday. Regarding the stadiumsituation; ‘there might be some good news soon.’ he said reading from a file called ‘things to say in 2004’. He also wished Sam Long happy birthday, giving him the best birthday present ever by confirming that the club are trying to find a replacement for him.

KRob has organised an intra-squad practice match to get everyone match fit. The game offers an ideal opportunity for everyone to use the term ‘intra-squad’.

Friday 17 January 2020

Tomorrow we visit Gillingham who are managed by big-boned ball breaker Steve Evans. The Gills are on a reasonable run in challenging circumstances. “I have always been at a club which has been well resourced and I have never hidden that.” said the man literally convicted of tax fraud by hiding his club’s resources in 2006.

Match wrap: Oxford United 0 Ipswich Town 0

As much as we may not want to believe it, football is increasingly predictable. Players and managers come from the same vast academies and are taught to similar FIFA approved standards. Money is the main differentiator between success and failure. Even then, the minimum stake in the game has been pushed so high it’s only the multi-billionaires that can disrupt the status quo. 

I have a soft spot for Ipswich Town having supported them briefly in my unenlightened pre-Oxford days. I liked their kit and when they started winning trophies it was good being the only Ipswich fan in school. Bobby Robson and his meticulously crafted team brought success to an unfashionable club, I liked being part of that. 

It’s unlikely that’ll ever happen again. At the top of the game, modern football seems to act as a data provider for other pursuits; betting, fantasy football, FIFA and Football Manager, this is where the fun is, the games themselves are entertainment products with mostly predictable outcomes.

When the rain battered Tuesday’s game, we witnessed a rare moment of unpredictability in an increasingly predictable sport. When the referee suspended play, Ipswich players stayed on the pitch to stay warm, Oxford players went off to the dressing room to stay warm, there was no precedent or protocol to follow.

The referee’s decision was understandable, considered and ultimately correct; we earnestly talk about player safety and it was true that Marcus Browne, Sam Long and Josh Ruffels all ended up sliding into tackles which were dangerously out of control. It was also clear the ball wasn’t running true but if you want evidence of the increasingly mechanistic nature of the game, just look at the pass Alex Gorrin played directly into the middle of the boggiest part of the pitch creating panic in our back line. Even the physical evidence in front of him couldn’t override the training that was ingrained into his muscle memory. 

But it was more than that, the physics of the game changed; a referee’s judgement is based on a range of visual clues; how a challenge is made, how a player responds, the direction of the ball before and after the challenge. All those norms were washed away with the rain. The main talking point was John Mousinho’s challenge on James Norwood, it looked untidy, though Norwood took an age to go down. Could the referee definitively say that the mess was created by Mousinho, by Norwood or by the conditions?

Tactically there was no provision for the conditions. On Saturday against Rotherham there were clear tactical patterns and intent, on Tuesday it was impossible to know what each team was trying to do or whether there was any attempt to adapt their plans to suit.

On paper, the game was a key promotion match-up, with both teams’ season on a knife edge. In normal conditions, the fixture could have given some signals about the direction both teams were heading. Ipswich had just ended a run of 12 games without a win, we’d suffered two defeats on the bounce. Was their performance a sign of recovery? No idea. Was our performance a sign of decline? No idea. Did Nathan Holland seem quiet? No idea. Was Simon Eastwood rusty? No idea.

The conditions removed any capacity for informed decision making and the game descended into park football. Afterwards, Nick Harris claimed we eventually got ‘a decent game of football’. A game of football? Yes. Decent? Less so.

With the conditions dictating more than any individual could, once the game became playable, the first half became a long meaningless meander. In the second-half, we emerged with half a plan – with the swirling wind and wet pitch, the idea to shoot at every opportunity was a sensible one, but eventually even that petered out as the players were battered by the conditions. What could have been a significant and entertaining game simply descended from farce to non-event, by the time the final whistle came everyone just seemed happy for it to be over.

Karl Robinson came to terms with what was going on much faster than Paul Lambert. At one point there was a disputed throw-in, Lambert was apoplectic – a default for him – Robinson walked over smiling, grabbing him as if to remind him to stop applying normal rules to abnormal conditions. Robinson, the hyperbolic gobshite calming the cosmopolitan sophisticat, Champions League winner and former Premier League manager Lambert? It was that kind of night.   

Match wrap: Oxford United 1 Rotherham United 3

It’s funny how a pair of slim fitting trousers and a nice new stadium can influence your perception of a club. I always had Paul Warne and Rotherham down as a progressive bolthole, someone for us to aspire to being like. As is patently obvious, I don’t follow the fortunes of other teams that closely, I’d read about our clash of styles and their reliance on set plays but I was still surprised at their sheer physical presence on Saturday. I had to look it up; on average we conceded nearly 4cm in height per player.

Matt Crooks, their number 17, was case in point. Officially standing at 6 ft 3 inches (but looking bigger) you’d expect him to be in the centre of defence, or attack, or in goal, not in the centre of midfield towering over Cameron Brannagan. It was like a stunt you see in the Conference, where physical freaks are played in unusual positions to flummox the opposition.

This wasn’t anti-football though, Crooks can play as could the others, it was a souped-up version what we have seen previously from promotion winning teams at this level – physical, direct, organised. Unusually physical, but not a total abomination. It wasn’t complicated, but it was overwhelmingly efficient. There was a lot of talk about our failings, but much less about how good they were, it was as close as we’ve seen to a title winning side as anyone this season.

They double-teamed constantly, attacked with pace and aggression and when they didn’t have the ball, they expanded to make it impossible to get around them. Conceding early was only part of the story, the physical mismatch meant we were playing two teams – the actual team and the team that was in our heads. That’s what happens with bullying; it goes beyond the physical.

As a result, we were less committed in the tackle, less assured in the passing, less vociferous with the referee. Generally, the confidence drained out of us and there was nobody able to take control of the situation.

It was all done and dusted by half-time, so the post-mortem was a long one. Did Karl Robinson make the wrong selections? I could see the logic of keeping the same core side as we’ve had all season. Jamie Mackie was the more obvious selection in a physical match-up. Simon Eastwood looked understandably rusty and Cameron Brannagan was out of sorts, but the thinking was sound and that’s all I ask.

3-0 down at half-time, Karl Robinson did exactly the right thing, rather than trying to play them at their game, we played them at a completely different one. Mark Sykes was the only player in the first half that looked like he was getting any joy, so pace was clearly something that they would struggle with. We doused them with it with the introduction of Browne and Holland and suddenly they looked a little more human. The result was a reassuring display which occasionally teetered on a comeback. Had Matty Taylor put away his one-on-one and the referee been a fractionally less inconsistent we may even have scraped an unlikely point. In Rotherham we may actually be watching the title winners, but we’re not done yet for promotion or the play-offs.  

The other positive is that it’s out of the way and that future threats we face are more obvious. When the Rotherham fans were singing about being top of the league, I had to look it up; they’ve arrived at the top by stealth. Like League 1 is a Trojan horse; Wycombe were supposed to be the physical industrial unit that were streaking to the title, suddenly they collapse and there’s a new threat. We just happen to be the first team to properly face it. We knew they were good; I think we were surprised at just how good. 

What comes next is no less straight forward, but at least we know that. Our League Cup run benefitted from players like Sam Long and Elliot Moore, straight forward percentage players who wouldn’t leave us vulnerable when faced with quality. Games against Ipswich, Sunderland and Portsmouth may be more like League Cup ties than some of our more swashbuckling League displays of earlier in the season, but, let’s face it, that served us OK.

George Lawrences Shorts: The Kitching sink

Saturday 4 January 2020

Oxford cruised into the fourth round of the FA Cup with a 4-1 win over Hartlepool. After eight minutes, sulky sixth former Rob Dickie scuffed a backpass like he was kicking a stone after arguing with his mum which allowed Hartlepool’s Mark Kitching to nip in to score. After that, it was The Shandon the Baptiste Show who invented more new angles than a Daily Mail columnist racially bating Meghan Markle. Baptiste then weaved through the Hartlepool defence and half of next week’s Rotherham line-up to score our second. 

Sunday 5 January 2020

With Charlie Methven hanging up his suede moccasins last month, lonely Sunderland doe-eyed cash puppy Stewart Donald was seen looking lovingly at Oxford’s FA Cup win over Hartlepool rather than supporting his own team in their game against Lincoln. Donald recently bowed to the demands of entitled Mackems and put his club up for sale

Elsewhere, round the clock football website: Football 365 thinks Tariqe Fosu is ready for the Premier League. He will, just two promotions to negotiate first.

Monday 6 January 2020

There was more fondling of velvet ball bags on Monday as the FA Cup draw was made. Oxford will make the trip to Rochdale or Sports Direct’s flagship football club Newcastle United. Like zero hours Sports Direct factory workers seeing how many of their oversized mugs they can stack – it’s a big cup game.

Tuesday 7 January 2020

* cue: A Team theme tune *

In 2020, a crack football manager was banned from the touchline by a FA Tribunal for a crime he didn’t commit. This man promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Oxford underground. Today, still wanted by the FA he survives as a manager of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them….maybe you can hire The KRob-Team.

At the same time, Hartlepool’s Gime Toure has been given a three match ban after decking sulky sixth former Rob Dickie on Saturday behind the ref’s back.

Wednesday 8 January 2020

Holland and Kelly is a local friendly High Street estate agents in the town where GLS lives. Their attentive nature and unparalleled local knowledge is invaluable when we are looking at houses we can’t afford and have no intention of buying but need to waste time before the pub opens.

So, we were pretty surprised when its founders Nathan Holland and Liam Kelly signed for Oxford on loan, there’s a six bedroom town house on Arcacia Avenue we wanted to look around.

Thursday 9 January 2020

I mean, we’re not pretending it was an edifying sight, but Thursday saw KRob, buoyed by even more signings of Marcus Browne and Rob Atkinson, moonwalking into Radio Oxford giving flirtatious ‘call-me’ signs to the receptionist for the 5 Minute 48 Second Fans Forum.

In it, he confirmed that he didn’t expect Matty Taylor or Cameron Brannagan to go in the transfer window, but did suggest that Leeds have an interest in another player.

Friday 10 January 2020

It’s Rotherham tomorrow; ah, the tradition of football – the end of the working week, 3pm kick-offs, the smell of Bovril in the stands, yet another 1500 word essay on how Christophe Wilde dragged himself up by the bootstraps. The cosmopolitan sophisticate has just signed a new contract at Sheffield United.

Midweek fixture: Absolute state of Oxford United survey – summer results review

Back in July I ran a survey to see what people thought about the state of Oxford United. You can see the results here and here. There’s another, shorter, mid-season survey currently running here, if you want to take part. There were two reasons for the survey; to track progress over time and to provide benchmarks against which we can monitor our performance.  

We’re just past the halfway point in the season; so it seems opportune to review how we’re doing against the benchmarks we set ourselves in the summer.  

Overall

In the league, pre-season predictions were that we’d finish between 8th and 10th, so our current 4th position is polling higher than we’d expected. Just 1.1% of you thought we finish 4th, 1.9% higher, the rest lower. 

It probably goes without saying that we’re out-performing in the cups; over half expected us to make only the 2nd Round of the League Cup, so our quarter-final spot was some way in advance of that. 3.7% thought we’d reach that far, with 1.3% of people thinking we’d go further.

In the FA Cup,  49% expected us to make the third round of the FA Cup so we’ve already beaten that. 17% thought we would make the 4th Round. About 3% thought we’d go further.

So, on that basis – we’re higher in the League than 97% of you thought we’d be, we’ve gone further in the League Cup than 95% thought and in the FA Cup further than 80% predicted. Not bad.

The league pre-season favourites were Portsmouth who are 10th, one place behind Sunderland – who were predicted to finish third. Ipswich were predicted to be 2nd but are currently 5th. The biggest surprise of the lot, of course, is Wycombe who are top despite a pre-season prediction they’d finish 23rd.

Wycombe aside, those at the bottom were largely predicted – everyone knew Bury were in trouble and Bolton’s problems were well known. Rochdale were expected to finish 21st, but are currently 18th. Sol Campbell’s Southend were predicted 17th and are currently 22nd.

Board

Board predictions focussed on winding up orders so it’s good to see no more have materialised. Some predicted a change of chairman, but that hasn’t happened and while Stewart Donald may be trying to extract himself at Sunderland, it seems the prospect of him coming to Oxford are remote.

Firoz Kassam featured in a number of predictions, but he’s been notably quiet in recent months. On the other hand, the prediction that Eric Thohir would leave after being a damp squib turned out to be true. Overall, predictions of instability have not materialised.

Stadium

All sorts of things were predicted of the stadium, but despite some positive noises from the board, we appear to be largely where we were six months ago. The training ground, which nobody talked about, is probably the most important development in that area.

Manager

Predictions that Karl Robinson wouldn’t make it until October or would be sacked by Christmas haven’t happened. Some pleaded that he’ll get some credit, and that does seem to have happened, though he’s yet to be given the freedom of the city. He did sign a player he’s worked with before – Tariqe Fosu, he hasn’t punched a fourth official (but has come close), he has blamed the referee on a number of occasions. Derek Fazackerly has not announced his retirement.

Players

We’ve yet to see whether Cameron Brannagan, Rob Dickie or Mark Sykes will go in January. Recruitment has definitely improved, our top scorer isn’t a loan player, but Matty Taylor is in second. Top scorer James Henry is on track to grab 20 goals. Predictions that we won’t have enough firepower up front at the start of the season or that we’ll sign a striker who’s rubbish don’t seem to have happened. The idea that we’d concede too many goals because we haven’t replaced Curtis Nelson, again seemed baseless.

It was predicted that we’d sign loan players who would return in January, Chris Cadden fits the bill there, and we have had an injury crisis for no obvious reason.

Gavin Whyte didn’t go in January for £5m, he went for £2m in August it also means he won’t end as top scorer. Someone predicted that Rob Hall wouldn’t play more than 10 games, which he has, albeit mostly in cup competitions.

Results

There was no consensus about how things would go on the pitch, so we’ve been everything and nothing that anyone has predicted. It has been exciting rather than disappointing. We haven’t had a points deduction and Christmas was not in any way a poor one. We also won during an international break (against Doncaster) and we didn’t beat Sunderland away.

And other things…

Moaning has been largely absent this season, we won’t draw Swindon in a cup competition and Jim Smith, Womble and John Shuker are all Oxford legends that have passed away – a sadly accurate prediction from someone. I haven’t seen any dogs on the pitch and, as far as I know Ollie and Olivia Ox haven’t had a baby called Oswald.

Live blog: January 2020 transfer window

Is it really that time again? The January transfer window is open and fans are catastrophising about losing Rob Dickie, Cameron Brannagan and Shandon Baptiste. And Simon Eastwood, Chris Cadden and Alex Gorrin. And Mark Sykes and… well you get the idea. You can keep up with all the rumours, comings and goings by checking here from time to time. I’ll try and keep up so that you don’t have to.

Wednesday 1 January 2020

Chris Cadden has left for Columbus Crew after the MLS side triggered the clause in his loan deal to return for the start of their new season. Also sneaking out is Ousanna Zamouri who was on a short term deal, playing one EFL Trophy game.

Jonte Smith who is currently playing for Cheltenham Town is interesting Motherwell and Bolton Wanderers.

Friday 3 January 2020

With Chris Cadden on his way, Karl Robinson is interested in signing Steven O’Donnell from Kilmarnock and Nathan Holland from West Ham.

Blackburn Rovers are apparently interested in signing midfielder Alex Gorrin and Bournemouth are considering a move for Middlesborough winger, Marvin Johnson.

Saturday 4 January 2020

Karl Robinson confirmed that he was interested in Steven O’Donnell along with Feynoord midfielder Liam Kelly. He also suggested that Ricardinho’s agent has been in touch, which would presumably be a backstop position if other deals didn’t materialise.

Sunday 5 January 2020

There’s a lot of Marcus Browne talk at the moment. The Middlesborough player fits Karl Robinson’s desire to add a pace winger to the squad, Coventry, Doncaster and Charlton are also interested.

Tuesday 7 January 2020

The Sunderland Echo have reported that Oxford are set to beat Sunderland to the signing of Liam Kelly from Feyenoord. The rumour is that he was in the stand on Saturday for the FA Cup match with Hartlepool.

Former Oxford captain Jake Wright has had his loan deal with Bolton Wanderers cut short and returned to Sheffield United.

Wednesday 8 January 2020

A double whammy as the club announce the signings of Nathan Holland from West Ham on loan along with Liam Kelly.

Thursday 9 January 2020

Not content with Kelly and Holland, KRob dropped Rob Atkinson from Eastleigh and the returning Marcus Browne from Middlesborough.

The Telegraph are reporting that Leeds United are interested in signing Cameron Brannagan. Leeds are well served in midfield, but have injury problems in that area. If you add their ambition to make the Premier League, it all looks like a short-term option. Brannagan would need to decide whether he’s up for the scrap for places at Elland Road.

One time Oxford loanee Carlton Morris has signed for MK Dons on loan from Norwich City while Alex Mowatt is rumoured to be interesting Nottingham Forest in a loan deal.

Friday 10 January 2020

The Scottish press are fairly certain that Celtic’s full-back Lee O’Connor is set to sign on loan. Derby manager Philip Cocu has said that George Thorne will go back out on loan, but didn’t imply it was back to Oxford.

Sunday 12 January 2020

The eh? What? Uh? news of the transfer window is that Karl Robinson has been linked with the vacancy at Malaga. As I say, eh? What? Uh?

Thursday 8 January 2020

Jordan Archer has signed for Fulham after his short-term deal with Oxford covering Simon Eastwood came to an end.

Match wrap: Oxford United 4 Hartlepool United 1

I tend to park in a little side road about 10 minutes from the ground. Apart from the busiest games, there’s always space. Not many people know about it and there’s a small group of us who do know how to make the most out of the space available.

I was looking forward to getting back to normal after three 10,000+ attendances. I left the house at my usual time and arrived at my usual spot. Someone had parked on the wrong side of the road creating a chicane, limiting the space available. There wasn’t space for me, so I had to park in my ‘big-game’ spot instead.

The ticketing strategy for the FA Cup win over Hartlepool undoubtedly worked, but it did create a lot of irregular behaviour. There seemed to be a lot of newbies; kids in brand new merchandise, queues outside the South Stand, which is unheard of. It was a real success.

I happened to be sitting in my regular seat thanks to Brinyhoof, but nobody else was. The unallocated seats seemed to change the dynamic of the crowd, making it a much more passive, expectant experience. At times it felt like we’d turned up to watch a training session or friendly. People were here to be entertained.

The pre-match gathering to recognise mental health and/or John Shuker and/or everyone who died last year was confusing. They were all important things to mark, but all at the same time made the atmosphere even stranger. Thankfully, nothing touched the farce of the Armistice ceremony at Portsmouth. But then, nothing could.

On the pitch, we stroked the ball around reassuringly, Karl Robinson, usually a hyperactive lunatic on the touchline, spent much of the first half rolling his eyes in a professorial way at the incompetence around him. Nobody seemed that bothered about turning it into a competitive, must-win game.

Then, in a moment reminiscent of San Marino’s goal against England in 1993, Rob Dickie scuffed a back pass and they darted in to score. It created an even more peculiar atmosphere; there was an expectation in the stands that this would be put right, like taking back an over-ripe pack of peaches to Waitrose.

But initially there seemed to be no reaction. They didn’t look threatening, but then neither did we. What was needed, and is needed in all games, is someone to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. Usually we rely on Cameron Brannagan or James Henry, but neither were available.

It was possible that we’d simply let the game slip by, compressing the time available to get the equaliser, then a winner. They never looked particularly threatening and they seemed to have vulnerabilities we could exploit. This was no better illustrated by Michael Raynes; a great guy who had a solid game, but let’s not forget he was a second string League 2 central defender for us. Five years ago. They were nothing special. It could have been the strangest giantkilling in history; driven by apathy with the risk staring us in the face.

Shandon Baptiste can cut an insouciant character, he doesn’t dart about finding spaces, driving people on, he’s rarely stretching for balls, he can look like he’s waiting for the game to come to him. Without Henry or Brannagan we needed someone to change the patterns of the match. Their role was to put bodies behind the ball, ours was to find a way through. Baptiste is the one with the tools to do it, but whether he had the will was another question.

Then, suddenly he was finding a breathtaking range of passing with new angles that cut out lines of Hartlepool’s defence and stretched them in ways they didn’t know they could be stretched. One ball out to Sam Long was simply breathtaking. He has such presence of mind, that there was one foul on the half-way line where he fell while staying on his feet until he was sure the referee had given it. He was in complete control.

His goal, of course, was the culmination of it all. Barrelling through players with step-overs, dummy’s and a dropped shoulder. Like an extended remix of his goal against West Ham.

In the end, it was all quite comfortable and hopefully some of the day-trippers enjoyed their time enough to come to games which aren’t determined by the size of the opponents or the price of the tickets. That has to be the aim; with Rotherham, Ipswich, Sunderland and Portsmouth to come, as well as the next round of the Cup, there’s plenty of entertainment on offer in the coming weeks.

We have a number of flight-risks this transfer window – Dickie, Brannagan, Baptiste. But, where Dickie and Brannagan are most likely to be targeted by teams in the Championship, teams we could be playing next year, you sense with Baptiste that he has the potential to go higher. My hope is that whatever path he does take, its developmental and he doesn’t find himself stuck in a Championship squad keeping their head above water, his home should be at the very top of the game.