Match wrap – Oxford United 1 Ipswich Town 1

When I looked up on Saturday, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. According to the Met Office, there wasn’t a cloud anywhere in country at one point. Spring had arrived and along with it, the dawning of the final act of the season.

It’s not always been easy to read this season, it hasn’t been a relentless pursuit for promotion, no great redemption for last season’s near miss. It’s been an organic, entertaining romp which hasn’t quite answered the central question; to what end?

When a season starts, it’s a ball of confusion and chaos – people try, but nobody can predict what it’ll take to be successful. Eventually, the knots are picked apart, the lines of sight become clearer; the winners, losers and also-rans become more obvious, the battles become localised – two or three teams scraping for a final promotion or play-off spot. Like the end of a game of musical chairs.

The reason this season has been hard to read now seems to be clear. Most of it has happened out of clear sight, there are at least seven teams in this relationship. For all the success we’ve seen, other teams have been through something similar. The division is polarised – there are teams as far down as Bolton in 11th still thinking of the play-offs, then there’s an eight-point gap to 12th, and everyone else.

Inevitably, all the teams towards the top have still got to play each other. Yesterday’s visit of Ipswich under a cloudless sky was the beginning of the final act, but there’s still much more to come. 

Looking down on the Kassam with over 11,000 fans in it, it struck me what a great experience going to football has become. Home games used to be a reassuring routine, but now it feels like an event, like something will happen. This is the third tier of English football, the lower leagues, someone behind me criticised a misplaced pass saying that it wouldn’t happen in the Premier League, I just wanted to say, look at it for what it is, it’s magnificent.

The game quickly served as a reminder that the preceding seven months have been part softener, part origin story. It’s stretched, tested and battered the squad while creating the narratives that now need to be resolved. 

One of the narratives is the brooding animosity between us and Ipswich. They see us as anti-football, who cheat and connive our way to success. We see them as an average team with a big-club ego – which is not unusual at this level. Their view is shaped by the fact that there’s been one goal in seven and a half hours of football between the two sides, nobody has scored two goal in this fixture for over twenty years.

The first half probably demonstrated the reality; together we create almost absolute neutrality. We’re so perfect together that it’s near impossible for either team to gain a meaningful advantage. Our mobility sacrifices strength, their strength sacrifices mobility. We complete each other.

For most of the first half, we were in near total stasis, Gavin Whyte broke through twice, but showed his lack of confidence in front of goal. Wes Burns waltzed through our defence, cloaked in inevitability, bending the ball goalward only for Mark Sykes to read his mind and deflect it for a corner. Sykes’ prescience is probably because both sides are feeding off the same mainframe. 

On 55 minutes, Ipswich made their move, I don’t know if Macauley Bonne and Sam Morsy are particularly big, but they’re definitely bulkier than Gavin Whyte and Mark Sykes. Ipswich compressed the game into a third of the field and the subs filled whatever space remained. Sykes and Cameron Brannagan were pushed out to the margins just to find somewhere to breathe. 

With no space, every pass was contested, each half-deflection disrupting the flow, the ball pinged around frustratingly. There were vignettes of passing which were skilful and intricate, but only served to move the ball momentarily out of danger, to move us sideways into another dense thicket of players and more hand-to-hand combat.

We introduced Marcus McGuane to try and establish some control in midfield, but he was still feeling his way into the game when the ball broke to Burns to race free and square it to Celina for their goal. 

What followed was a familiar pattern against decent sides, an inability to regain composure. They remained compact, meaning we couldn’t stretch the play. Herbie Kane battled heroically, but he couldn’t do it all himself. 

It looked like the game was up; we weren’t peppering them with shots, we’d turned the last page of the book and still nothing worked. Defeats happen, even if each one now gains greater importance, we’ve got to live with that. Thoughts turned to how we might respond in future matches.

As the board went up, people took it as a sign to make for home. It was an unusual sight, it’s not been the Oxford way this season, there’s always been life left in the game even in its dying embers. This was different, it’d been so tight, we’d been suffocated, all life had been squeezed out of us.

From nowhere the ball went for one last corner releasing an instinctive roar, more out of habit than expectation. It’s a peculiarly English thing, apparently, only 8% of corners result in a goal, fans in other countries treat them like a throw-in; territorial advantage but not an imminent chance.

As I’m reminded of this, out of the corner of my eye is Simon Eastwood, trotting up the field; the plans have been torn up for the day, the complexities of our playbook are irrelevant. An analogy for the whole season; the end reveals a simple equation – we either score or we don’t. The ‘how’ isn’t important.

We like to believe that when a keeper goes up for a corner he’ll blast through a crowd of players to head it in. In fact, they usually flay around unable to judge the flight of the ball. They’re used to facing away from goal, not towards it, it’s not natural. They’re not a target, they’re just a random factor. It seems incongruous that the most sensible, understated member of the squad, is now being used as disruptor-in-chief.

As it happens Eastwood finds himself in the flightpath of Luke McNally and his marker. As Herbie Kane’s ball comes in, McNally gets the elevation he needs. A nudge from a defender will probably be enough to put hm off. With Eastwood jamming up the middle of the box, McNally gets a clean run and everyone ends up in a heap on the floor, he connects cleanly, the net bulges, we’ve literally scored.

The resulting scene is a chaotic mess, they fall to the floor; a second before they looked strong and in control, now they look weak and defeated. A cacophonous noise swarms through the stadium; players square up to each other, the tension cracking open to reveal wanton frustration. For us, it’s a sweet release and a renewed hope. It resolves nothing, but reassures everything. We’re still fighting.

The goal isn’t part of a sophisticated plan, it’s the result of an investment in the team, its spirit and each other. The belief that despite everything, one last effort is worth a point even when three are beyond us. There’ll be a more games like this before the end of the season, you suspect, but you know when the plans need to be torched, the belief will still be there.

Match wrap – Shrewsbury Town 1 Oxford United 2

I recently read an article about luck in football; to be a professional footballer, you need to be lucky enough to have the physical attributes to play, you need to be spotted, to avoid injury, to have a support network to sustain your development, to maintain the mental stability to play consistently well, to play in a position which a club actually wants to fill, for a club that has the resources to sign you. And so on.

Take, for example, someone like Marcus McGuane; he was signed by Arsenal and Barcelona and on Tuesday he played against Thame United in the Oxfordshire Senior Cup. It’s the same person with the same attributes. Had a few more things gone his way in his career he might have been playing in the Champions League. Had more things gone against him, he may have been playing for Thame, or perhaps not at all.

There’s so much luck – those incalculable moments beyond your control – that when you spread it across a whole squad and consider how narrow the margins between success and failure are at the end of the season, it might feel like the outcome is largely down to fate.

In 1981 Aston Villa won the League title using fourteen players. That couldn’t have been planned or expected; in normal circumstances you would expect a few injuries and for players to lose form or focus. While those fourteen players represented the best group in the country, luck played a huge part in avoiding injuries and losses of form that sustained them throughout the season.

Naturally, you can hedge against bad luck by investing heavily in players. You certainly get luckier when you’re able to buy four quality strikers rather than one. Chelsea fans crying over their current predicament may not be able to see just how lucky they’ve been having a wealth of talent at their disposal, in the lower leagues, whole seasons can rest on a single injury.

We might reasonably think we’re running low on luck at the moment, our two marquee signings from January – Marcus Browne and Sam Baldock – are out for an indeterminate amount of time. We have other long-term injuries to Alex Gorrin, Elliott Moore and James Henry, and as of this week, we’ve had illness and Covid sweep through the squad.

None of this is new, injuries are common but this is our third Covid outbreak, with no restrictions in place nowadays, the spread of Covid is being left to chance. You might take the view that because it’s unlikely to lead to death or hospitalisations, that it doesn’t matter, but it certainly still has the capacity to hobble our promotion chances.

Each blow feels like it hits a little deeper; when we lost Jordan Thornily we still had four centre-backs. When we lost Elliott Moore, we could still field a solid defensive line-up. When we lost Ciaran Brown, we needed to turn to John Mousinho, who not only hasn’t started a match in 18 months, but was forced to play his second full game in a week.

Behind Mousinho was Simon Eastwood; another reliable lieutenant in the squad. Eastwood may not be the immediate first choice keeper anymore but he’s clearly a good club man and an example to other players. Karl Robinson recognises that, hence the new contract he signed last season. Robinson may be wowed by flair players and wingers, but he’s smart enough to know he needs a bedrock to build on.

Mousinho and Eastwood may not expect to play every week, but their level-headedness, willingness and consistency is worth its weight in gold. They don’t fly into a rage and demand a transfer when they don’t play, they don’t need three or four games to get up to speed. They never get too high or too low.

Are we lucky or unlucky? We’ve taken some deep blows this week, big enough hits to influence the outcome of the season. The performances this year deserve a good result, but we may still fall short given the fixtures to come. On the other hand, you might argue that we were lucky enough to be facing a team like Shrewsbury at a time like this. But as much as they don’t score, nor do they concede – they have the third best defence in the division despite being 18th – so to come home with all three points is still a pretty remarkable result.

Overall, with people like Mousinho and Eastwood in the squad – along with dependable regulars like Brannagan and Taylor – we have a spine of reliability. The vagaries of injuries and form are a constant challenge, but in the case of Mousinho and Eastwood, their value comes from simply being present, setting an example and being conscious that this has a value. That’s not luck, the squad is designed that way, the heart of the club is right there.

Match wrap – Oxford United 4 Burton Albion 1

Back in the early 90s I went with some friends to the Slough Festival, a lightweight indie festival with NME bands that we students thought were about the take over the world. It was a good day in our insular little world. Headliners were Jesus Jones who’d enjoyed a degree of success in America with songs like Right Here, Right Now and International Bright Young Things. This was their triumphant return to their homeland, so anticipation was high.

They opened with a blistering salvo of the hits that had brought them fame alongside a few classics, like Info Freako, which made them cool in the first place. As we swirled around in a breathless and sweaty mosh pit, singer Mike Edwards stepped up to the microphone and said ‘We’re going to play some new stuff now, it’s a bit rough, so bear with us.’

The second half of the gig was devoted to the band trying to figure out various chord progressions to songs we’d never heard before. There were long meandering jams which would clearly be cut in half by any studio producer and short bursts of electronica which was an idea looking for a song. There was at least one song about a big social issue played on an acoustic guitar. And that was it, they didn’t return to any hits, it was like being at a rehearsal with 12,000 other people.

There was an odd atmosphere leaving the Kassam after we’d obliterated Burton on Saturday. The first half was a riot and although I don’t think anyone was expecting us to sustain that kind of performance over 90 minutes, the second, by comparison, was much more of a trudge. We’d played all the hits in the first half, had it been the other way around, I suspect the place would have been a fevered buzz rather than the contented hum of a job well done. As we filed out, I looked down at the pitch to see a couple of players on their haunches looking into the crowd as if to say – ‘after all that, all you can think of is getting out of the car park?’

In many ways it was the perfect Karl Robinson performance, doing a 90 minute job in half the time is pretty much his modus operandi. I imagine he used to drive his mum mad tidying his room only for her to find everything shoved under the bed.

Although reverting to the ‘annihilation mode’ which had destroyed Charlton last month, it didn’t look like tactics would have a major bearing on the outcome. We were simply too mobile, too good. We are pumped full of quality, even if we do have a habit of breaking all our new toys. First Winnall, then Bodin, then Browne, now Baldock; that’s beginning to feel like a trend rather than a dose of bad luck. The fact we stockpile these players makes me wonder whether it’s deliberately priced into the way we play.

It’s fair to say Burton had all the motivation of a Russian conscript fixing a broken axel in a Ukrainian mudflat. From the opening moments they looked beaten as we sliced through them. At one point Luke McNally turned Joe Powell inside out and Powell looked like he was ready to retire on the spot.

It gave us the opportunity to try things that perhaps in a tighter game we wouldn’t have attempted. I didn’t know that Gavin Whyte hadn’t scored for nearly a year, which makes his twenty-five yard strike even more remarkable. Even Matty Taylor’s volley to make it four would probably have been a cut-back had we not been in such a comfortable position. In between Sam Baldock showed his effortless class.

Despite this, as I said on Twitter, the highest compliment you can give to Luke Mcnally’s performance is the fact the sponsors gave him man of the match despite us having three goalscorers. The sponsor’s basic rule of awarding man of the match is goalscorers, then players they’ve heard of (e.g. Cameron Brannagan), someone who was at least quite fast and exciting, the goalkeeper because they wear a different kit, then perhaps a substitute because they seemed to put some effort in. The fact McNally bucked that trend is all you need to know about the way he played.

Although the second-half petered out and became an exercise in preserving energy and avoiding injury – and largely failing to do both – it was a bit of a relief to go to a game that felt a bit more normal. Since Christmas, at home, we’ve had fifty-five goals in fourteen games, four crowds over 10,000, two last minute wins and, of course, all the emotion of Joey Beauchamp’s passing. Burton was a welcome plate of beans on toast in a world of rich restaurant food.

The emotional respite won’t last long; despite the biting wind, we can now plot a path into Spring and the end of the season. The last game of the season tends to take care of itself, so at home we’re looking at Ipswich, Sunderland and MK Dons. On the road we go to Plymouth and Rotherham amongst others. Despite a five point buffer, and despite everything that’s been achieved so far it’s still not an easy road into the play-offs. The next few weeks will come at us pretty quickly but for this team to come out of the season without some reward would be an absolute travesty.

Match wrap – Portsmouth 3 Oxford United 2

Let’s take a moment to remember that last night’s game against Portsmouth was postponed from Boxing Day, and that Boxing Day was just 65 days ago. At the time, fixtures were being decimated by Covid and there were growing fears of another spike in the virus. Thankfully, coronavirus ended last Thursday just in time for the Apocalypse to begin. A bit like how Dancing On Ice is conveniently scheduled to start just after Strictly finishes.

It’s even easier to forget that at the beginning of the season we were making baby steps back to something we might recognise as being normal and that a year ago the prospect of even going to a game was dim and distant.

A friend had a theory that time speeds up as you get older because your life becomes more routine and familiar. It becomes hard to distinguish between one year and another as they all merge together. That was a few years ago, now everything feels like it’s happening all the time. 

If this is the age of everything happening all the time, then we’re a club of the zeitgeist. Our last ten games have been a full attack on the senses with 44 goals scored. My daughter now routinely predicts each game will end 3-2, each time I scornfully tell her that not every game is like that, then, of course, it is.

Just as the emotional rollercoaster of Saturday subsided, we were back in the washing machine within three minutes against Portsmouth. We started like a rocket and seemed to continue along those lines throughout. Whether we were ahead, level or behind, the overriding character of the game seems to be everyone careering around with abandon, a universal lack of control.

My most memorable game of playground football at primary school was between the Upper and Lower Juniors. In modern parlance that’s seven and eight year olds versus nine and tens. That’s not much of a chasm when I think about it now, but at the time it felt like Manchester City playing the Lower Juniors of my primary school. For some reason, despite being an older child, I joined the lower juniors playing in a libero role; the Lower Juniors defended stoutly throughout before snatching a shock last second winner. It was a result for the ages because it felt like a real game, most ended 7-4 or 11-3 or some such. If you watch Oxford, it was more like that than anything you normally see in the professional game.

Even at 3-2 with ten minutes to go, Jerome Sale said he expected us to make at least one more decent chance, I did too, but it didn’t come. It was like we were too busy being busy, there was a whole lot of energy, but not much composure.

Overall, our form has been pretty good recently, as reflected in our league position, but in our 13 games since Christmas, we’ve gone behind in ten. We’ve fought back to win in just three. Rather than controlling games – which is what you’d expect of a team in our position – we’ve been chasing them trying to recover a deficit. That additional energy is likely to take its toll on the players eventually; tiredness and injury is bound to have an effect. 

Under Karl Robinson, we have always been a team who burns through players. It was the same last night; it took me a good hour to realise that Mark Sykes wasn’t on the field, our defensive unit is determined by those who are available and Gavin Whyte was described as ‘exhausted’. 

It’s always important to caveat that we’re still fourth, we’re insanely entertaining to watch and what we do works more often than not, but while comeback wins over Portsmouth (at home), Sheffield Wednesday and Cambridge have been exciting, there are times, like last night, where the same approach results in us tripping over ourselves. 

There are times when we need someone to help us take a breath, last night we needed composure to create that final decisive chance Jerome Sale was talking about. James Henry is one player capable of controlling the pace of a game, but he’s injured, Billy Bodin as well, Herbie Kane can be a metronome but at times he seems to be overrun with the tsunami of enthusiasm around him. We’re running out of players.

While it’s easy to be seduced by the way we play, if we want promotion or even to survive in the Championship, we need to be a team that does more than ‘just about’ wins games or ‘scrapes’ into the play-offs and we don’t want to be in a constant race against our next big disruptive injury. For all the thrills of recent weeks, the next step still looks to be a big one.   

Match wrap – Oxford United 4 Cambridge United 2

It’s been a grim week which even football’s restorative powers have struggled to remedy. There was the melancholy of Joey Beauchamp’s passing last week, then wave after wave crashing over the top of it with every new morsel of information coming from Ukraine. The unrelenting bad news, you imagine, is the kind of thing that eroded Joey’s ever-weakening resistance. 

I remember Joey’s return to Oxford after his spell at Swindon, I’d expected the stands to be full and for him to put on a proper show. In fact, the crowd was about average for the season and Joey was largely anonymous. He was still recovering from the previous 18 months and the emotional wreckage that it had left behind. It felt like outside of a small hardcore, few people really cared that he was back. It made us feel small and insignifcant. My fear was that history would repeat itself and a stark reality would be shone in our faces reminded us that none of this means anything. Not really.

I wasn’t looking forward to Saturday; I didn’t have the compulsion to ‘be there’, I was tired of wading through the treacle of the week’s events, the idea of going to a game seemed pointless and indulgent. I feared any planned tribute would ultimately fall short and come over as mawkish and that we would have to comply even if it didn’t really reflect how we feel. I even feel uncomfortable writing about how ‘we’ feel. Do we even have a right to feel something? This isn’t our tragedy, we’re simply observers, are we complicit in making it all about us?

I pulled onto the Grenoble Road and saw the sun bouncing off the roofs of the parked cars. I can estimate the crowd size based on how far down the road the cars stretch; it was clearly going to be big; it was reassuring that, at least, we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves. Any big statements about how we feel or what it meant wouldn’t echo around a half-empty stadium and drift into the sky.

Inside the ground, the mood was different to normal, the person sat next to me arrived about 10 minutes before kick-off and asked if he’d missed anything. The game was an after-thought, a long way away.

There was a hubbub of activity by the tunnel, Karl Robinson was very visible and there were bouquets of yellow flowers. The club’s academy players lined the pitch and Peter Rhodes-Brown steered us gently through the proceedings. As the crowd sang his name, a sombre hymn, a giant surfer unravelled revealing a huge image of Joey celebrating a goal. These pictures are now so familiar, moments frozen in time, they no longer capture a memory, more a feeling. There he was, happy, doing the only thing he wanted to do, to play for his football team, score goals and entertain people. 

Joey’s daughters were invited to lay their wreaths behind the East Stand goal. As the applause rippled, the girls walked stoically, breaking clear of other members of the family. Did they just want it to be over? The walk seemed to take forever, us celebrating the passing of a legend gave way to two young girls who’d lost their dad and who would now have to make sense of it all. Was all this for him? For them? For us? For the abstract idea of club and community? My hope is that they will come to realise that, quite simply, they’re not alone.

Before the minute’s applause academy players were invited to join the players in the centre circle; the strands of the club’s past, present and future, pulled together, strengthening the bonds that help us get through.

Then, there was a lull, a mood-shift, nobody quite knew how to navigate from the large abstracts of life’s challenges to the comparative meaningless of a game of football. When does mourning give way to pragmatism? What do you do? Should we lean into the emotion of the day, seeking symbolism where there isn’t any? Or do you shut it out and pretend everything that had come before didn’t happened. Was that even possible?

We started with two strikers, both Oxford fans, and without wingers; psychologists would have a field day. The unfamiliar system meant that passes went astray and our usual fast start didn’t materialise. After six minutes Sam Smith, a player with as much talent as Joey Beauchamp had in this toe – the injured one that ended his career – poked home to give Cambridge the lead. He peeled away in a moment of unfettered boneheadedness and goaded the Oxford fans in the Jim Smith Stand.  

Rather than sparking a response, the game dragged on, passes were played into spaces where players no longer stood, Matty Taylor drifted wide to give himself and Sam Baldock space, at one point he was sitting at left-back as we tried to break forward. In truth, it was a bit of a mess. Had the week finally caught up on us?

The equaliser came, a low bouncing cross from Ryan Williams, a feint from Baldock and Matty Taylor was there to slot home. A reprieve rather than a revival, it felt like we were still trying to figure out the system in real time. We were sluggish and disjointed.

As the hour approached, Karl Robinson had seen enough, substitutes were readied just as another mistake led to another Sam Smith goal. It wasn’t a day for frustrations or anger, not towards your own team, but we seemed to be sleepwalking to a defeat which just didn’t seem to matter in the circumstances. 

Cameron Brannagan claimed the second equaliser and, at least, we seemed to bring Cambridge to heel. As fragmented as we were you couldn’t imagine them creating a third opportunity. Any other week this should have been a routine victory, but it wasn’t any other week. The good things that were happening were flowing through Ryan Williams, who fed Mark Sykes to set up Sam Baldock for the third, then they reversed roles to give Brannagan the fourth. It hadn’t been great, but we’d dragged ourselves through it. Life is full of symbolism, isn’t it?

It didn’t really matter, of course, the game was a distraction, a necessity around which we could build a moment of symbolic communion. This was about one person and his timeless legacy, about re-establishing the bonds that help us navigate the vagaries of our lives. The artist Banksy is attributed with saying that everyone dies twice – once when we breathe our last breath and again when their name is last spoken. After Saturday, we can be assured that we may have lost Joey once, but we’ll never lose him again. 

Match wrap – Crewe Alexandra 0 Oxford United 1

Before other events took over on Saturday, I was formulating an idea about how culture overrides tactics. Immediately before the win over Charlton, Karl Robinson’s selection was questioned by quite a few people. The received wisdom was that a lack of full-back cover coupled with Steve Seddon’s perceived lack of form had forced Robinson into adopting a tactic which might best be described as ‘so many wingers, so few wings’. His all-out entertainment plan looked a high risk way of facing a team like Charlton.

Which, of course, it wasn’t – there’s a culture instilled within the squad which pushes the team towards starting quickly. Eleven of our seventeen league wins this season have seen us score in the opening half-an-hour, six of our nine defeats have been in games where we’ve failed to make an early breakthrough. 

That culture compels us to play with high energy, regardless of the tactics we play. It has consequences, it’s hard to sustain so we can become vulnerable, but it generally works, so even when the tactics seem wanting, we’ve got a chance. With Charlton, the quick start paid such dividends it’s hard to say whether the tactical adjustments made a significant difference or not.

We were quick out of the blocks against Crewe as well. It made sense to get amongst them, you feel any team floundering at the bottom of the table would be susceptible to an early breakthrough and were likely to crumble under pressure.

After a couple of early chances, the pressure eased, the patterns of play settled. This is the point where we’ve been caught out before or lost our way a little. Crewe, like Accrington a couple of weeks ago, don’t really need to prove anything, a point against the team fourth in the table would be a solid result, if opportunities come, that’s a bonus. If not, then so be it. They’re happy to wait for us to make mistakes.

Despite the lack of breakthrough, half-time came and there was nothing to worry about; the law of averages suggested a goal would come. But it didn’t and the game edged into that anxious period where you wonder whether we might run out of ideas.

That’s the point when something needs to change, but all our obvious impact players – Sykes, Whyte, Williams – were already on the pitch. Others – Browne, Bodin and Henry – were at home. Nathan Holland was an option, but you might describe the rest of the bench as ‘closers’ – better at closing a game out than sparking it into life.

It was hard not to think we could do with a Joey Beauchamp-type, who scored a critical goal at Gresty Road in the penultimate game of the 1996 promotion season, we could have done with his ability to turn games on their head.

And then I thought, he’d have probably hated that, I’m sure he loved to play and score, but to perform on cue, to ‘turn it on’, to commoditise his talent, these were big contributing factors which made life so difficult at West Ham and then Swindon. He just wanted to play for his favourite team.

It may ultimately be a necessity for a player to be able to do that, a product of being a professional, but does any flair player wants to be an impact player? It’s difficult to turn something which is instinctive into something which is conscious and controllable, even if the best players are the ones who can find consistency.

So, even if the desire is always to turn to any available elfin sprite who happens to be wrapped up in a padded sports coat and fluorescent tabbard, perhaps on this particular night it’s fitting that we ended up turning to the most unlikely game changer – Ciaron Brown.

I had filed Brown’s signing in a big box labelled ‘Bodies in the building’ – it reminded me of those long-forgotten announcements of Johnny Giles, Sam Allardyce’s grandson and pretty much everyone Michael Appleton signed in the first half of the 2014/15 season. We needed some defensive cover and were running out of time, Brown fitted the bill.

It was difficult to switch from the emotional outpouring of Beauchamp’s passing to the regular grind of League 1, but it was refreshing that an anti-Joey, a counter-cultural member of the squad should be the one to break the deadlock and seal the three points. It reminds us that heroes can come in all shapes and sizes.