George Lawrences’s Shorts: Cam and Agyei

Saturday 10 August 2019

Time warped in on itself on Saturday. The club announced a contract extension for KRob which was announced last week and reported the signing of Dan Agyei that was reported last week. On the pitch, Cameron Brannagan scored in the 1-0 win over Peterborough in next week’s League Cup game. C U Next Tuesday, I guess.

Sunday 11 August 2019

Disappointment at the annual photo day when 130 of our newly minted squad members didn’t turn up. Afterwards the players got a trip around Oxford’s Natural History Museum. Cameron Brannigan coloured in his worksheet without going over the lines, bored dad, John Mousinho, secretly checked the football scores on his phone and Derek Fazackeley spent some time with a set of diplodocus bones that reminded him of the pet he had when he was a boy.

Monday 12 August 2019

There was feverish speculation that Matty Taylor was set to sign from Bristol City. Taylor played seven games for Oxford in The Conference. He was released in 2009, placing him in a file marked ‘Phil Trainer et al’. Inexplicably the player the club prematurely wrote off has resisted attempts to re-sign him when he got good. But, he was seen at The Kassam on Saturday, so perhaps KRob has got his man.

Tuesday 13 August 2019

On Saturday, the press in Peterborough said nothing is won in August, and for their football club, they’re not wrong. The theory that the world was destroyed by the Higgs Boson in 2012 leaving just our consciousness suspended in an endless vortex of nothingness gained further traction in the Type 2 Diabetes Cup. Cameron Brannagan scored again as we won 1-0 again over Peterborough again, setting us up for a mouthwatering second round game probably at home to Peterborough again. What the Fiarce Kelleher is going on?

Wednesday 14 August 2019

Cosmopolitan sophisticat Çhrïš Ŵįłdé is heading for a no-deal Oxit at Sheffield United. He’s realised his Oxford United fetish is a closet full of skeletons he needs to empty. In an attempt to shame them into walking out of the club so he can play with his new expensive toys, he has told Samir Carruthers, Jake Wright and Ricky Holmes to think beyond the salaries that pay their mortgages and feed their children and think nebulously about ‘their careers’.

Thursday 15 August 2019

KRob was on The Six Minute Fifty-Five Second Fans Forum on Radio Oxford on Thursday where he confirmed that he wasn’t looking to replace Shaun Derry as deputy head of pointing and shouting. ‘I like being on the grass.’ said KRob, in a joke which writes itself. Pass the Wagon Wheels.

Benji Buchel’s summer tour of countries Nigel Farage is scared of has concluded in Germany with a creditable 0-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League.

Friday 16 August 2019

Anyone who has seen GLS rummaging around in his rhinestone covered cod piece will know how much he loves ballroom and chlamydia. So we’re beyond excited to be going to Blackpool this weekend. The Seasiders’ manager Simon Grayson has been giving some insight into how he’ll defeat KRob’s unbeatable army. “We will do what we normally do and that’s focus on their weaknesses and try and use our strengths to go and win the football match” It’s that kind of tactical genius which us two world wars.

George Lawrence’s Shorts: Squad goals

Saturday 3 August 2019

GLS’ expensive public school education at The Anthony Tonkin College For Ordinary Boys meant our grasp of Latin is second to none. For instance, the verb ‘to mack’ means to complain endlessly. Mackie (he complains endlessly) Mackem (they complain endlessly), and so on. Ironically on Saturday, KRob wore the same waistcoat and tie combo for the 1-1 draw with Sunderland as the substitute Latin teacher GLS once gaffer-taped to the blackboard in Room 6b.

Monday 5 August 2019

Oxford United’s lessons in Brexit. Step 1: actively devalue your crippled reputation for no apparent reason as the EFL have done by announcing that the Football League Trophy will be known as the Leasing.com Trophy. Step 2: allow your valued assets to leave for the European mainland where they will be better treated as Leeds are set to do with Kemar Roofe heading to Anderlecht. Step 3: blame everyone else for the mess you created as Sunderland manager Jack Ross did following our draw with them on Saturday.

Tuesday 6 August 2019 

I AM NOT A NUMBER. Except if you’re an Oxford United player you are. The club have announced an innovative shirt numbering system where every registered player will have their own squad number. Junior players can aspire to achieving the smaller numbers, according to KRob, which should be motivation enough for little James Henry at 17 or young Jamie Mackie at 19. The club haven’t yet announced the competition for the first person to spot a pushy-parent in the club shop making a humblebrag order for a replica shirt with their darling little cash machine’s three figured number emblazoned on their back.

Wednesday 7 August 2019

Former Oxford striker John Aldridge has endorsed Ben Woodburn’s season long loan. Aldridge, who described Oxford as a “poxy club” before leaving for Liverpool in 1987 and hasn’t returned for single reunion or anniversary in the intervening 32 years said “He’s gone to what I think is a great club with great fans. I had great times there and I can’t say anything bad about the club because it’s in my heart.”

Thursday 8 August 2019

Benji Buchel’s dream of playing in some godforsaken corrupt country who has bought the rights to staging the 2020 Europa League Final looks to be over. He shipped five goals for no reply in the home leg of their latest qualifier against Eintracht Frankfurt. That’s right, the home leg. The second leg in Frankfurt is next week, #prayforbenji.

Friday 9 August 2019

Tiger had a grrreat Five Minute Fans Forum on Radio Oxford yesterday, dangling a bunch of intoxicating carrots as if Jerome Sale were Bugs Bunny on meth. I wish I could tell you more about the stadium, he said, maybe there’ll be an exciting announcement soon. Exciting times, will it be as exciting as the announcement from OxVox which is due in a couple of years ago about the future of the stadium? Or maybe it’ll be about the building of a temporary fourth stand, which will be ready for the 2016 derby game against Swindon?

Tomorrow marks Jose’s son, John Mousinho’s 500th game ‘I remember my debut like it was last week’ he said, ‘I gave away possession in a critical part of the field’.

‘No, that was last week’, said one of the clubs sports analysts. ‘And the week before’ he continued, flipping through his clip board. ‘And the week before that’ he said, not reading the mood of the room.

The wrap: Luton Town 3 Oxford United 1

So that’s it, the end of a brutal and bruising year. One where every game appeared analogous of the whole season, yet seemed to signal something different. A season full of contradictions; where we’re owned by the richest people in our history, but can’t pay the bills, where we’ve developed an infrastructure for the future, but struggled for results today, where we spent 84% of the season in bottom seven (55% in the relegation zone) and finished in the top half of the table.

Because of this, I genuinely thought we might beat Luton, but in the end we stuck to the script; which I suppose, was a contradiction to the script-ripping nine months we’ve had.

Perhaps it’s fitting that Luton were champions; it’s difficult not to admire what they’ve achieved as a club. I’ve always seen them as a barometer; how we’re doing relative to each other and what we can achieve. But simultaneously, they (their fans, and perhaps just a minority of them) are loathsome, as their reaction after the game showed. And if you think that them taunting the away end and throwing a smoke bomb into the stand is just the excitement of the moment, then you’re forgetting them doing something similar in 2010 when York City players were forced to into the away end to escape. No set of fans deserve their success less.

In other ways, it’s heartening to see Luton succeed, it gives us a glimmer of hope. In truth, if you look at all our ups and downs over the decades, mid-table in third tier is probably our natural place, despite ambitions stating otherwise. The biggest challenge is that the increments needed to navigate beyond where we are grow by the year. A team can spend £4m on a striker and finish fifth in the third division now.

Luton’s promotion means that three of the four teams you’d think have Championship infrastructures – Sunderland, Portsmouth, Charlton and Doncaster – will still be with us next year. Of those coming down, Ipswich, Bolton (if they survive the summer) and Rotherham are all similarly capable of competing for promotion despite their woes.

For us, bridging the gap and breaking into the top six has to be our target. This season reminds me of Eric Morecambe’s famous line to Andre Previn – we played all the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order. If we want to progress, then we have to be more organised; our season was killed by our form in the opening weeks, which was preceded by a chaotic summer.

The last few weeks have been as entertaining as anything we’ve seen in the last decade or more, even the promotion seasons, which have been laced with anxiety. We’ve been swashbuckling and daring, sparking life back into the club just as it seemed to be on a downward spiral. Even narrowly avoiding relegation in our 125th year would have been a grim way to celebrate.

Any sign the problems that caused us to fail so badly are sorting themselves out may come in the next couple of weeks. Our previous two promotions were characterised by high quality early signings. Fans will always get jittery during May and early-June because signings aren’t flowing in. In the main, that’s not justified because football slows down during those months as people take a well-earned break. However, if our results on the pitch in the last couple of months are a reflection of us getting our act together off it, then maybe we’ll see some signs of that in the coming days.

The wrap: Oxford United 2 Doncaster Rovers 2

It took a double take for me to realise that we’d made eight changes for the draw against Doncaster. At first glance, it looked like a fairly predictable starting eleven. That’s probably because there were only four from the starting eleven that played against Charlton just over a week ago.

With Kashi serving a customary ban, Hanson’s inclusion was no shock. Whyte and Browne for Garbutt and Sykes didn’t feel particularly experimental given both have featured regularly throughout the year. Only Nico Jones coming in for Rob Dickie was any real surprise.

Karl Robinson was back to his babbling best, if that’s what you can call it. Beforehand he said he wanted Jones to make mistakes – because that’s how you learn – and said afterwards that he ‘loved’ his own goal. Thankfully Nathan Cooper gave him an outball on that by suggesting that it was because of Jones’ reaction. Yes, said Robbo, moving incomprehensibly into a detailed description of some ‘diag’ Jones made shortly afterwards.

For all his nonsense, what I will say about Robinson is that he’s got a nice tone when talking about prospects, although referring to every young player as the future of the club does wear a little thin.

It’s a fine line though, there is undoubted benefit in giving young players the opportunity to experience the pace of first team football and the feeling of playing in front of a crowd. But, asking him to play the full 90 minutes against a decent team whose season is still very alive was a big challenge.

I thought it was a step too far, if I’m honest. It wasn’t a bad display in the context of his age and experience. The own goal and a couple of critical slips can be written off as unfortunate, but, more experienced players’ have the deep muscle memory to adopt starting positions that mean they’re less likely to get into similar muddles. Giving Jones the full 90 minutes asked a lot physically and mentally, and gave him a lot to process afterwards. Apparently Robinson took time to talk to Jones afterwards, perhaps he knew he had work to do to maintain his confidence after a challenging afternoon.

Will it make him a better player, or damage his confidence? Time will tell, but it was a gamble that, perhaps, wasn’t needed. I’d have preferred Mousinho for an hour – assuming he was fit – perhaps giving Jones half an hour.

Whatever, against a club whose season isn’t over, we were the better team. It was heartening to see that for once, we showed a bit of savvy with the wind. You could see Browne’s long-distance daisy cutter just after half-time which led to Sinclair’s wrongly disallowed goal was pre-planned. For his failings, Karl Robinson will use every tool he’s got to win, we haven’t seen since the days of Chris Wilder.

People have said that they don’t want the season to end, but I think it’s coming at just the right time. There’s no guarantee that we could keep up our current pace and a couple of defeats could have knocked us back to where we were. Instead, we can head into the summer on a big positive, which should help with season ticket sales and general positivity towards the club in general. Meanwhile, the owners and management get a break to sort out the messy backdrop against which the season has been played out. Then perhaps, just perhaps, we can come back in August and achieve something closer to what we expected to achieve this season.

The wrap: Shrewsbury Town 2 Oxford United 3

The first game I saw this season was at home to Accrington. People were already talking about how unprepared we looked in our first few games. Against Stanley we took the lead twice, but lost 3-2. I mentioned at the time that perhaps this high energy style was what Karl Robinson was looking for, and perhaps both players and fans had to get used to the approach.

Robinson’s personal style is all action, of course, it’s perhaps not a surprise to see his teams playing the way they do. What is evident is that when it’s not working, it can be embarrassingly bad – being 3-0 up against Scunthorpe and drawing 3-3, conceding eight minutes into injury time against Luton, for example. When it does work – as it has in recent weeks – it’s brilliant, we haven’t had a sequence of games like this since promotion in 2016.

I was walking in The Chilterns with a patchy 4G connection during our win over Shrewsbury, but when information did filter through, it had a familiar feel about it. Conceded a penalty? Like Charlton, sending off? Like Walsall and Charlton, thrilling comeback? Charlton (again). All that was missing was the 94th minute winner.

Unless you’re there, not only does it take a while to piece it all together, it’s a lot to process. Ahmed Kashi has been sent off twice, and was booked against Charlton, Marcus Browne and Simon Eastwood have both received red cards. If you add people like Cameron Brannagan – 14 yellow cards this season or Jamie Mackie (11), you start to realise that this approach is not without its collateral damage. In addition, we’ve had to come back from behind twice and relied on injury time goals twice. This doesn’t happen very often.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a lot of fun as we’ve scrambled for safety and then made a bit of a mess of others’ promotion and relegation fights. I’ve loved Ahmed Kashi’s lunacy; bans give others opportunities, which keeps it interesting when the results are largely meaningless. But, is it sustainable across a whole season?

If we are going to mount a promotion bid next season, we surely can’t do it relying on 35 yard last minute winners or having to deal with the consequences of bans and injuries resulting from an over-combative style. We won’t have a big squad next year, so it’s not likely Karl Robinson will have options to draw on, he needs to keep his players playing. If we’re going to do well, then we need to be able to pick up points efficiently with minimal fuss. With the summer in our sights and players likely to leave anyway, then what happens between now and the end of season can be as messy as it likes, But, there’s nothing wrong with a controlled 2-0 win, and we will need to learn that at some point.

The wrap: Oxford United 2 Charlton Athletic 1

My evolving theory about League 1 this season is that the division mostly consists of fairly average teams, of which we are one. There is a small group of marginally more competent teams who will fight for promotion. But, no one is really capable of competing in the Championship for any length of time. Is it better to know your level or fight to get into a division you’re not equipped to compete in?

Our recent run has been slightly tinged with the concern we’ve merely hit a good run of opponents at the right time – Walsall, Bradford, Wycombe and Wimbledon all look like relegation candidates and we played them one after the other, drawing with with one and sneaking past two in the last minute.

Charlton offered a different proposition; not only are they in that group of teams looking to go up, there were times in the opening minutes where they blew my theory out of the water. Perhaps they could sustain themselves at a higher level. I thought they were much better than Sunderland or Portsmouth. The fact they were unbeaten in eleven supporting that view.

Their penalty was soft, I thought, but may have done us a favour given the chaos later. It made it much harder for the referee to make big decisions on marginal calls without the game descending into a farce that would have been of his making.

There was something about the sunshine, the meaninglessness of the game from our perspective, the buoyancy of the Charlton fans and the early goal which gave that foreboding sense that we were going to collapse in the theatre of it all.

Then it all turned around. Just when we could have switched off, we resolved to show we weren’t just a makeweights in someone else’s end of season adventure. Curtis Nelson, perhaps playing his penultimate game at the Kassam, had plenty of time to watch the ball drop, but caught his volley perfectly. And then Garbutt slammed home his brilliant second.

Garbutt’s resurrection may be the story of our revival. He could easily have crumbled under the criticism of earlier in the season, he’s well paid and is not from round here so he could have just given up. Instead, he’s dragged himself back into the team, changed position and transformed. He’s now the one gee’ing up the crowd and, at Walsall, disappearing into it. Karl Robinson’s role in turning his season around can’t be ignored, either.

The second half was entertaining but barking mad – Simon Eastwood was rightly sent off although it was clearly a miscalculation rather than a deliberate attempt to cheat. His one-match ban implies that the FA agree, so it does make you wonder whether red is too harsh a punishment for a momentary mistake.

Incidentally, I’m not a fan of a team being allowed to make an immediate substitution when a goalkeeper gets sent off. Clearly it would have disadvantaged us, but I think you should have to wait until the next available stoppage before making any changes.

There was half-an-hour to hold out. I remember looking at the clock and realising that Eastwood had only been off the field for six minutes; it felt like hours had passed. They had territory and possession, and won a lot of corners, but we didn’t cave.

Eastwood’s dismissal should have signalled the end of our hopes of taking the points, but in reality, we had the better chances. In many ways it was reminiscent of our fabled win at home to Swindon in 2012 when James Constable was sent off.

Solly’s sending off was as much about Jamie Mackie’s fall as it was about a dangerous challenge. Perhaps that was more deserving of a yellow, although I thought Lapslie should have been sent off for tripping Jerome Sinclair when he was clean through. It could easily have been a goal from Garbutt, who benefitted from the advantage, with Lapslie then being sent off for the foul. Practically every decision and incident could have gone the other way; it was that good a game.

Leaving the game with adrenalin coursing through my veins once again got me thinking; in terms of sheer thrills, spills and drama; is there a team offering better value for money in the country than us right now?

Through all the mayhem, though, was a refreshing level of gamesmanship and guile. We would have been overwhelmed with less maturity. It’s something we have frequently lacked in the past. Michael Appleton prided himself on developing players, Pep Clotet on his tactical acumen, Karl Robinson’s thing is winning games at all cost. He’s more a Chris Wilder, with all the baggage that comes with that.

It was Robinson who introduced Mackie and Hanson because he knew they’d dig in. He removed Kashi to protect him from a second yellow, god help him if Josh Ruffels’ last minute chance had gone in. For all Robinson’s streams of consciousness when interviewed, he kept his head when all those around him lost theirs.

It goes without saying that Jamie Mackie led the charge with a masterful performance of pushing, being pushed and being outraged at being pushed. Cameron Brannagan showed his growing maturity being tidy and combative at the same time. The back-four protected Jack Stevens admirably, with Josh Ruffels and Sam Long both offering outlets when the chance was offered. Not that Stevens was a passenger, his scooped save being as good as anything Simon Eastwood has produced this year, in fact I’m not sure Eastwood would have the athleticism.

Every Charlton shot was met with two or three players falling over themselves to block the ball. Total commitment and discipline.

With the younger players learning from the older players, what emerges is an increasingly competent and effective unit, one capable of performing against the best in the division.

And this is what turns a team from being a League One also-ran into potential play-off or promotion candidates. It’s come too late for this season and large chunks of the squad will disappear over the summer, but if a DNA is emerging and some off-the-field stability can be established, then we can, perhaps look forward to next season with a degree of optimism.