Midweek fixture: Season review 2020/21

It’ll soon be time for Oxblogger’s Absolute State of Oxford United Survey for 2021, but with the season complete and the spoils of war dished out, let’s look back at what you were predicting for us last year and how it turned out.

When asked where we’d finish 56% of you thought we’d end up higher than 6th, so even though we sneaked into the play-offs, most expected more. It’s a different picture when predicting the final table compared to others; in that you thought we’d finish 8th, showing how fierce the competition was. But this meant we were ahead of expectation in that respect.

Hull City were champions, but you had them down as 4th. You predicted that Wigan Athletic would be top, even though they finished 19th. To rectify that terrible prediction; you also said Swindon Town would be anchored to the bottom, but they over-performed to finish 23rd. In a hard fought battle of ineptitude, the wooden spoon went to Bristol Rovers, who you thought would finish 11th.

Charlton Athletic, in seventh, was the only team whose place you predicted accurately. Surprisingly, perhaps, Crewe Alexandra were the team that over-performed nine places ahead of their predicted 21st. Lincoln City’s 5th place was the next biggest, eight places higher than you’d predicted, with a similar performance from Accrington Stanley.

Biggest failures were Wigan, 19 places below where you said they’d finish, next was Bristol Rovers 13 places below their predicted finish.

Finishing positionPredictedDifference
Hull City14+3
Peterborough23+1
Blackpool310+7
Sunderland46+2
Lincoln City513+8
Oxford United68+2
Charlton Athletic770
Portsmouth82-6
Ipswich Town95-4
Gillingham1016+6
Accrington Stanley1119+8
Crewe Alexandra1221+9
MK Dons1317+4
Doncaster Rovers1412-2
Fleetwood Town159-6
Burton Albion16160
Shrewsbury Town1715-2
Plymouth Argyle1814-4
AFC Wimbledon1922+3
Wigan Athletic201-19
Rochdale2123+2
Northampton Town2220-2
Swindon Town2324+1
Bristol Rovers2411-13

Cup predictions were pretty grim; in 2019/20 we’d had good runs in both competitions and hopes were high for this season. 66% of you thought we’d go beyond the 2nd round of the League Cup and a whopping 97% thought we’d go beyond the 1st Round in the FA Cup. So, under-performances all round.

Hopes for the season

In terms of more general hopes for the season, the themes produced a mix bag.

Promotion

The biggest single hope was us achieving promotion, even though, as illustrated above, we were expected to finish outside the play-offs when considering the opposition. So, a failed objective, but perhaps it was an expectation bar that was too high. 

Stadium

The great perennial hope was around the resolution of the now 20 year old stadium situation – new stadium or buying the Kassam – you weren’t fussy. In reality, and understandably, this may have been the quietest year on record in that particular issue. It remains our eternal and elusive hope, could it be resolved next year? Probably not.

General progress

More generally, people wanted to see progress; this is a nebulous concept – fans back at the stadium? Promotion? A general feeling of goodwill? More investment? While there isn’t the fervour of last season’s successes, there still seems to be a good vibe around the place and a general enthusiasm for the club. So, we’re probably in a similar place to where we were this time last year and in the circumstances, that’s no bad thing.

A return to normality

What everyone was looking for back in September was a return to normal and we’re still a way from that. There does seem to be some indication that we’re moving in the right direction with fans back at games, albeit in a limited way. The return to normality didn’t just focus on our own situation, there was also a real hope that the financial damage to other clubs wasn’t too deep either. So far, although full recovery is still a long way away, the fact that no clubs have gone bust is, perhaps, a big bonus. 

Nine in a row

This season offered the opportunity to turn seven in a row against Swindon into nine. Naturally, that all went up in a puff of smoke. Despite the hope, lots of you were predicting this, just by the law of averages.

Predictions

Your predictions were wild, varied and mostly misguided, but there were a few gems in there:

Fans

The most optimistic prediction was the return of fans by October, so the brief return in December wasn’t miles off even if it was short lived. One prediction was that we wouldn’t see a live game and we were pretty close to that. Someone predicted that crowds wouldn’t top 4000 all year, which was bang on. Many of you were right to predict that away games would be out of the question, but at least the season wasn’t interrupted as some thought it might.

Players

Matty Taylor was predicted to notch 20-30 goals, but fell short by a single goal, Dan Agyei was also predicted to score 15-20 goals, so six was some way off that. Rob Atkinson did emerge as a key talent as some thought he would. 

Cameron Brannagan is still with us, when many thought he wouldn’t be, but Marcus Browne’s return in January failed to materialise.

One person predicted that Simon Eastwood would be ousted as our first choice keeper, which was inconceivable at the time, although it has surprised many that he hasn’t moved back north and has, in fact, signed a new contract.

Off the field

You predicted financial chaos across the divisions, which, miraculously, hasn’t yet shown itself. Some thought we’d have a winding up order, which we didn’t, others thought there’d be a cash injection, which, if rumours of a boardroom shake up are anything to go by, could actually be right. You also thought Karl Robinson would leave for the Championship, but he’s still here.

Matches

On the field, someone predicted there would be a 1-1 draw with Sunderland, which, for the first time ever, there wasn’t, nor was there another cup game against Manchester City. 

Elsewhere, the season didn’t end with 10 teams with a chance of the play-offs but Lincoln City did turn out to be the dark horses of the division. At the other end, the expectation that relegation would be determined by points deductions didn’t happen.

Other

And finally; there was no red away kit and Jerome Sale didn’t win commentator of the year nor, thankfully, did he swear live on air.

The verdict

Purely objectively, based on your predictions and hopes, it’s been a disappointing season with general under-achievement all round. Why doesn’t it feel like that? Probably because there was a realisation that after narrowly missing out on promotion in 2019/20, expectations were very high, perhaps too high, as was the competition within the division. In such a volatile environment, standing still could easily be seen as progress in itself.

Midweek fixture: Sam Long – local hero

The first time I remember seeing Sam Long he was 18-years-old and stood in a school assembly hall handing out end of season awards to a local junior football club having signed his first professional contract a few days earlier. 

Long was unremarkable; his hair was short and he was wearing jeans, trainers and a hoodie, looking indistinguishable from the teenagers he was rewarding. The year before, the club had attracted England international Eniola Aluko. By contrast, dressed in her England tracksuit, she looked comfortable in her ambassadorial role. 

One of the coaches congratulated Long on his new contract; though most didn’t know who he was. My thoughts were less magnanimous, it had been nearly a decade since Dean Whitehead and Sam Ricketts had cultivated successful careers in the game and two decades since Joey Beauchamp and Chris Allen had done the same. Long didn’t seem the type that was likely to follow in their footsteps.

There are always players that fans see as being the great new hope for the club; there were frenzied calls for James Roberts and Tyrone Marsh to solve our goalscoring problems despite being inexperienced teenagers, like many others, they quickly faded from the scene.

Long’s debut was as a substitute for James Constable in 2013 away to Accrington Stanley. The team, managed by Chris Wilder, mixed veterans from our Conference promotion season – Constable, Damian Batt and Alfie Potter – with experienced pros like Michael Duberry who had been brought in to fire us towards promotion. Duberry had already picked Long out for his work ethic and lack of ego, praising the influence of Chris Allen, his youth team coach, for instilling a culture of listening and learning which, he said, would serve him well.

It would be another year before Long would make his first start. With Wilder moving on to Northampton, caretaker manager Mickey Lewis gave him his debut in a draw at Morecambe. It was an illustration of Lewis’ generous character to give young players a chance, even if it was sometimes at the expense of results. Lewis was quick to praise Long’s performance, in what was otherwise a disappointing display.

The arrival of Michael Appleton and new ownership in 2014 saw a revolution at the club. Long wasn’t an established player and with Appleton impatient to find a winning formula, his chances were limited to eight games, although he did score his first goal against Southend. 

Appleton churned through over 40 players in his first season, weeding out many of Chris Wilder’s signings who he saw as having a loser’s mentality. Long could easily have been swept away in the tidal wave, but he survived the cull, going on a six-week loan to Kidderminster in November 2014 as part of a deal that brought Chey Dunkley to the club.

With the painful screwdriver work complete; everything seemed to be falling into place for Long as the 2015/16 season approached. Jake Wright called him the best player in pre-season; in a crowded field, it was quite an accolade. 

It went further; Michael Appleton started implementing a philosophy inspired by the book Legacy – which details the winning formula of the All-Blacks. He established a leadership group to build cohesiveness and deal with squad issues; Long was made part of it to stand alongside more experienced first team regulars.

Then, just as things started to click, Long was stretchered off in a League Cup tie at Hillsborough with an ankle ligament injury that plagued him all season. He returned to the bench for the 2016 EFL Trophy defeat to Barnsley, but while the club were advancing, Long was stuck in the physio’s room.

Long would make the bench a year later for another EFL Trophy final against Coventry, but injuries slowed his progress. When Pep Clotet replaced Appleton in 2017, the new manager turned to experienced players, a rainbow alliance of old mates. When he was fit, Long was loaned out to Hampton and Richmond Borough.

To outsiders, it seemed that the club were running Long’s contract down; he’d started four league games in three years and faced the prospect of getting to the end of his deal with little or no experience and no reputation to take him elsewhere. 

It would be romantic to suggest that Karl Robinson spotted Long’s potential and nurtured him into the player he is today, but that wouldn’t be wholly true. Robinson wanted a modern full-back, an auxiliary midfielder expected to defend and attack for 90 minutes. He strained his resources to land someone with the modern characteristics of pace, energy, resilience and those crucial defensive and attacking qualities. Chris Cadden arrived from Motherwell, but the budget couldn’t stretch to a permanent deal so the club signed up to a curious arrangement where he moved to Columbus Crew before being immediately loaned bak to the Oxford for half a season while the MLS season was in recess. When Cadden’s deal ran out, Robinson turned to Long to fill the vacant slot. 

Finally getting regular starts, the season was curtailed as the coronavirus pandemic hit, a late run of form saw Oxford qualify for the play-off final against Wycombe. It was Long’s third trip to Wembley, his first time on the pitch and his third disappointment. 

Although Long signed a new two-year deal just before the play-offs, 2020/21 felt like déjà vu; Sean Clare was signed from Hearts and given the right-back’s number two shirt, implying that he was the preferred starting option. The season started underwhelmingly and Clare’s performances we’re fitful. Long clawed his way back into the starting line-up once again.

His return coincided with a return to form and a scintillating winning streak. He was also picking up assists and goals that had been absent from his CV. Against Plymouth, he sprinted half the length of the pitch, exchanging passes with Clare along the way, to score the winner in a crucial 3-2 win. With the play-off race tightening, he popped up to score a memorable last-minute brace to put Gillingham to the sword. Long edged past the milestone of 100 starts and was leading from the front. 

Perhaps it was that time spent with the leaders of the club under Michael Appleton, or the guidance as a youth team player under Chris Allen that encouraged Long to take a greater responsibility in terms of being a leader in the team. His willingness to take responsibility grew as the season progressed. The regular season closed with a play-off spot, and two player of the season awards. Next season, he’ll wear the number 2 shirt.

What is a full back? They don’t score the goals like a striker; they don’t show the great artistic impudence like a midfielder nor the alpha-brutish strength of central defender. When you get a good one they dictate mood and tone. Long has emerged as an attacking threat and an active contributor to our success as a club, he represents his community and embodies the philosophy that Karl Robinson has tried to instil into the club. Perhaps he needed that journey to establish himself in that role and build the mental fortitude to fulfil it; now he’s here, long may he reign.

Midweek fixture: The 17 best games of Oxford United’s 2016 promotion season

A long time ago, I asked for your favourite games of the 2015/16 season, then the pandemic hit and everything went belly up. That season had everything – derby wins, giant killings, a Wembley visit and, of course, promotion. There was a lot to choose from, but vote you did. Here are the seventeen best games from that unforgettable year.

17. Morecambe 2 Oxford United 4

A hard won away win in a lovely kit, apart from that, it’s not obvious why this was such a significant game. But, if you’re in the pub, a job interview or hostage situation and someone asks what was the 17th most memorable game of the 2015/16 season; this is it.

Read the match wrap.

16. Oxford United 2 Hartlepool 0

Had it really come to this? After the derby, Wembley, giant killings and all the winning, we were faced with the prospect of three games and three wins for promotion. This was the first, Joe Skarz returned from what was thought to be a season ending injury to help drag us to three points against a stubborn Hartlepool side. One down, two to go.

Read the match wrap.

15. Oxford United 3 Exeter City 0

An absolute Boxing Day banger, in front of a near capacity crowd, we put on a breathtaking second half attacking display to sweep away Exeter City.

Read the match wrap

14. Bristol Rovers 0 Oxford United 1

All good teams need a magician to make them great; ours came in the form of Kemar Roofe. His early season wonder-strike at Bristol Rovers was just a sign of things to come. The Roofe was on fire.

Read the match wrap.

13. Stevenage 1 Oxford United 5

Sometimes, everything just clicks. When the club designated the game at Teddy Sheringham’s Stevenage a family away-day special, they couldn’t have hoped for a better game than this 5-1 annihilation. It was the first time in nine years we’d scored five away from home and was, at the time, a record equalling away victory. One for the record books, but more importantly, one for the kids.

Read the match wrap.

12. Oxford United 0 Millwall 1

Sometimes games are less about the performance and more about the result. The atmosphere was ugly, the game was tense for this JPT Semi-Final Second Leg against Millwall. All we needed to do was protect our 2-0 first leg advantage. A 1-0 defeat made things uncomfortable, but still meant we were heading for Wembley.

Read the match wrap.

11. Barnet 0 Oxford United 3

The season turned into a farewell tour of the clubs we’d considered equals for a decade or more. This dominant display at Barnet with two goals from Callum O’Dowda had a strong ‘we’ll never play you again’ vibe about it.

Read the match wrap.

10. Portsmouth 0 Oxford United 1

Roofe, Dunkley, Hylton, MacDonald, Wright, Baldock, Lundstram, Maguire – the list of great names from that season live long in the memory – Skarz. See? Was Jordan Bowery the great forgotten player from that season? Maybe. With JPT, FA Cup and league interests, things were getting hectic. A trip to Portsmouth looked daunting, but Bowery’s second half winner secured a memorable and crucial three points.

Read the match wrap.

9. Oxford United 2 Barnsley 3

Wembley; the JPT Final was a true game of two halves. In the first 45 minutes we were, by far, the better team and went in 1-0 up with a goal from Callum O’Dowda and a Cruyff turn from Chey Dunkley. In the second half we came out heavy legged and conceded three. A Danny Hylton goal pulled it back to 3-2, which wasn’t quite enough. But, what a day out.

Read the match wrap.

8. Crawley Town 1 Oxford United 5

We needed this; after two frustrating league draws and a defeat at Wembley, we just needed to give someone a good pummelling. It’d taken nine years for us to score five away from home and five months to do it again. Crawley, it was nothing personal.

Read the match wrap.

7. Millwall 0 Oxford United 2

Days after knocking Swansea City out of the FA Cup, we headed to The New Den for our JPT Semi-Final First Leg against Millwall. After the Lord Mayor’s Show? Not a chance. Two giant killings in four days? Yes please.

Read the match wrap.

6. Brentford 0 Oxford United 4

There may have been a good feeling around the place, but the obliteration of Championship Brentford in the League Cup ignited the season. The opening was rampant with Oxford three up inside 15 minutes, including a wonder strike from Kemar Roofe, Johnny Mullins’ second half goal saw us stroll to a 4-0 win.

Read the match wrap.

5. Notts County 2 Oxford United 4

New Year, New You. The first game of 2016 was at a grim Meadow Lane. What resulted was a titanic tussle with two breathtaking last minute goals.

Read the match wrap.

4. Oxford United 2 Swindon Town 0

The Kassam Stadium can feel like a soulless concrete brick, but when Oxford’s Ultras unveiled a giant flag of an ox impaling a robin which stretched from the top of the stand to the bottom, it felt like the Curva Sud. We were absolutely dominant for this JPT derby; two Kemar Roofe goals swept Swindon aside in a true changing of the guard in the rivalry.

Read the match wrap.

3. Carlisle United 0 Oxford United 2

Did someone order a Family Bucket of limbs? The penultimate game of the season saw us 270 miles to Carlisle and owner Daryl Eales dishing out free hot dogs. Chris Maguire’s early penalty was a settler, but it was Liam Sercombe’s trademark surge into the box which cemented this as the third best game of the season. Now, where have my shoes gone?

Read the match wrap.

2. Oxford United 3 Swansea City 2

When you’ve got Premier League opponents; keep it tight, see if you can nick a goal. Right? Wrong. Despite conceding early, we put on a scintillating display of attacking joie de vivre to sweep away Swansea City in the FA Cup. If we didn’t know something special was happening before, we did now.

Read the match wrap.

1. Oxford United 3 Wycombe Wanderers 0

The pinnacle, the denouement, the culmination of a wonderful season, the sun shone, the crowds came, promotion was won. Chey Dunkley physically, emotionally and psychologically broke the deadlock, Chris Maguire made it certain, then it was over to the local boy Callum O’Dowda to weave his way to an injury-time third. For O’Dowda, Jake Wright, Danny Hylton and Kemar Roofe, it was their last appearance in an Oxford shirt. A magical spell had been broken.

Read the match wrap.

Midweek fixture: 90 minutes with Oxford United

It’s Saturday and you’re settling down for an afternoon with Jeff Stelling, who’s about to take you through the day’s action. Except this weekend’s fixtures only feature Oxford United and our correspondents are dotted around the country and throughout time. Sit back and enjoy an afternoon of Oxford United goals from the first minute to the last.

Jeff Stelling: ‘Welcome to The Manor, Highbury, Griffin Park, The Kassam Stadium, White Hart Lane, The Madjeski Stadium, Kenilworth Road, Stamford Bridge, Wembley, The County Ground, Ninian Park, Broadfield Stadium, Nene Park, Maine Road, Brisbane Road, Fratton Park, Adams Park, The New Den, Field Mill, Sincil Bank, Meadow Lane, Sixfields, Old Wembley, Villa Park, Prenton Park, The Memorial Ground, Roots Hall, Old Trafford, The Pirelli Stadium, Brunton Park and The New York Stadium, Rotheram. We’re looking forward to an afternoon of cup wins, promotions, relegations, giant killings, memorable goals and milestone moments. How do you feel it’s going to go today Paul Merson?’

Merse ‘Well Jeff, y’know…’

GOAL!

Hold that thought Merse, we head straight over to The Manor in 1999. An early goal for Oxford United…

1st minute: Jamie Lambert, Colchester United, 1999

Oh, what a start for Oxford United at The Manor against Colchester United. Jamie Lambert has put the ball in the back of the net after just 20 seconds. By my watch, that’s the fastest goal in Oxford United history. Mickey Lewis’ first league game in charge, what a way to stake a claim for the top job.

2nd minute: Steve Basham, Arsenal, 2003

And now we have a major shock on our hands at Highbury. This afternoon has gone off with a bang; Steve Basham has just wriggled free to give Oxford United the lead against Premier League leaders Arsenal in the FA Cup. The massed ranks of Oxford fans at the Clock End have gone wild. No, wait, it’s been flagged for offside. I’m not sure, that looked very tight.

3rd minute: Joey Beauchamp, Chelsea, 1994

This one counts, back at The Manor in 1994, Joey Beauchamp has bundled through the Chelsea defence and slotted home past the onrushing Chelsea keeper Dimitri Kharine to put Oxford 1-0 up. The London Road are going wild, is a shock on the cards in this FA Cup tie?

4th minute: Kevin Brock, Leeds United, 1983

Oh, yes. And now Kevin Brock has just given Oxford the lead in their League Cup second leg tie against Leeds United at The Manor. Mick Vinter controlled the throw-in just inside the box, knocking it back to the onrushing Brock who slammed it home in front of the London Road. Oxford lead 1-0 on the night, 2-1 on aggregate.

5th minute: Liam Sercombe, Brentford, 2015

Meanwhile, over in the capital, Oxford have started off like a train at Griffin Park in the League Cup in 2015. Liam Sercombe has just put the visitors in front, a really well worked goal with Sercombe driving the ball into the bottom right hand corner. They look really up for this tonight. 1-0.

6th minute: David Leworthy, Tottenham Hotspur, 1986

It’s like an ice-rink at The Manor in 1986 where Tottenham are the visitors for this FA Cup Third Round tie. But, Kevin Brock has just crossed for David Leworthy to head home the opening goal past Ray Clemence. Oxford lead 1-0.

7th minute: Rob Folland, Reading, 1999

OOOOOh, great goal at the Madjeski Stadium. Young Welsh full-back Rob Folland has cut inside and fired home to give Oxford the unlikeliest of leads in their first ever visit to the Madjeski. They’re looking right at home in the derby.

8th minute: Nick Cusack, Newcastle United, 1992

Oxford are in dreamland; just eight minutes gone and Nick Cusack has poked home Joey Beauchamp’s cross to put them 2-0 at The Manor. Great work from Cusack, but that was all about Beauchamp, silky skills and a pinpoint cross.

9th minute: Mike Ford, Dorchester Town, 1995

Opening goal at The Manor in the FA Cup where non-league Dorchester Town have travelled up the A34 to face their illustrious league opponents. Mike Ford headed home the rebound from Joey Beauchamp’s cross. Despite having former-Oxford keeper Ken Veysey in goal, Dorchester are looking really shaky here, this could be a long day for the minnows.

10th minute: Phil Edwards, Luton Town, 2017

Goal at Kenilworth Road in the semi-final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy now. Oxford United have been under a bit of pressure in this one, but some great work from Liam Sercombe saw the ball fall to loanee Phil Edwards who was sitting on the floor from an earlier challenge and has swept the ball home. Are Oxford heading to Wembley for the second year in a row?

11th minute: Peter Rhodes-Brown, Chelsea, 1986

No time to answer that, over to West London now where there’s been a bit of a shock on the cards in the 1st Division at Stamford Bridge. Oxford United, without an away win all season are leading Chelsea who had been hoping to go top. And to really rub it in, the goal is from former Chelsea winger, Peter Rhodes-Brown.

12th minute: James Constable, Swindon Town, 2011

Is history being written at The County Ground? Maybe. James Constable has just darted in at the near post to put Oxford 1-0 up against Swindon Town. Swindon boss Paolo DiCanio claims Constable is a Swindon fan, I think we know the truth now.

13th minute: Tony Jones, Blackburn Rovers, 1964

Oh I say, now Oxford United have taken the lead against Blackburn Rovers in the fifth round of the FA Cup at the Manor in 1964. Over 20,000 jolly good fellows have packed into the little ground in Headington. It looks like we have a major shock on the cards.

14th minute: Eric Sabin, Leyton Orient, 2006

Lifeline at The Kassam Stadium! Oxford United need to beat Leyton Orient to retain their League status. Striker Eric Sabin has just got on the end of Andy Burgess’ free-kick to give the hosts the lead. The atmosphere in the stadium wild. Orient need to win to go up, so there’s a long way to go on this. But, that’s the early goal Jim Smith’s were looking for to settle the nerves.

15th minute: Alex Dyer, Leeds United, 1994

And now Oxford have taken the lead against Leeds United in the FA Cup. Attacking down the slope towards the London Road, Joey Beauchamp fed Jim Magilton down the right who fired in a low cross to Alex Dyer arriving in the middle. 1-0 Oxford.

16th minute: Jamie Cook, Luton Town, 2009

What. Have. I. Just. Seen? Goal of the season? Goal of the century? Jamie Cook just scored from 25 yards against Luton Town in this battle of the Conference giants. The game was delayed because of crowd congestion trying to get nearly 10,000 fans into the stadium. That goal was worth the entrance fee alone.

17th minute: Kevin Brock, Oldham Athletic, 1985

Oxford are putting on a show at The Manor in front of the Match of the Day cameras now, Mark Jones has just broken down the left flank crossing deep for Kevin Brock to slot home a fine opening goal. The champions-elect are on the goal trail once again.

18th minute: Oli Johnson, Swindon Town, 2012

Oh. My. Word. Injury ravaged Oxford United have had their star striker sent-off against the League leaders, who are unbeaten in ten games, they’ve taken the lead with Asa Hall scoring from close range, now two minutes later, they’re two up from young loanee Oli Johnson. Oxford are racing towards a famous derby double.

19th minute: Neil Whatmore, Newcastle United, 1983

1-0 to Oxford at The Manor in 1983, and it’s nothing more than they deserve. Star-studded Newcastle United featuring Kevin Keegan, Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle and Terry McDermott are being overwhelmed here. Oxford should already be two-up already, but the breakthrough has come from the biggest name of the lot; striker Neil Whatmore.

20th minute: James Constable, York City, 2010

Oh, magnificent, Oxford United have started this play-off final at Wembley like a train, Matt Green gave them the lead in the 15th minute, now James Constable has doubled their advantage, blasting it in from twelve yards. 2-0, difficult to see York coming back from this, they look shellshocked.

21st minute: Matt Murphy, Everton, 1999

Everton looking at sixes and sevens in the League Cup and Matt Murphy has capitalised on their lax defending by heading in for the lead. The ball hit the net and trickled along the goal line before being awarded, but they all count.

22nd minute: Trevor Hebberd, Luton Town, 1987

Big goal at Kenilworth Road. Oxford needing a result here to secure another season in Division 1 and the breakthrough has come from Trevor Hebberd. Still a long way to go but they’ve got something to work with.

23rd minute: Matt Green, Bristol Rovers, 2010

What a way to announce yourself back as a League team. It’s the first game back from the Conference and Matt Green has just doubled Oxford’s lead after Simon Heslop’s thunderbolt. Oxford are right in the mood here, it could be a cricket score by the time we’ve finished.

24th minute: Mike Ford, Swindon Town, 1997

Are Oxford about to break their 24 year hoodoo at The County Ground? Great work by Nigel Jemson on the flank and an inviting cross onto the back post and there’s Mike Ford to nod home. He nearly collided with the post there, but I don’t think he cares. Great start for Oxford.

25th minute: Rob Hall, Sunderland, 2019

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant from Rob Hall. Sunderland hit the post in this League Cup tie, Oxford react with a blistering counterattack, the ball breaks loose to Rob hall who arrows it into the back of the net. 1-0.

26th minute: Nigel Jemson, Barnsley, 1997

They may be heading for the Premier League, but Barnsley look like they’ve been over-doing the celebrations a bit. Just 26 minutes gone and Oxford are two up with a brave header from Nigel Jemson. Barnsley look all at sea here, I don’t think that’s the end of the goals today.

27th minute: Yemi Odubade, Exeter City, 2007

Yemi Odubade has put Oxford United a goal up at the Kassam in the Conference semi-final play-off. You have to say, it’s against the run of play, but with an away goal in the bag from the first leg, the yellows are fully in charge in this one.

28th minute: Paul Moody, Cardiff City, 1994

Goal! I can’t quite believe what I’ve just seen, 28 minutes gone at Ninian Park and Paul Moody, Oxford’s big lumbering striker has danced his way past five defenders, running half the length of the field to given Oxford the lead. It was like watching Maradona in ’86, great movement from big man.

29th minute: James Constable, Rushden & Diamonds, 2010

Breakthrough goal at Nene Park now in the Conference semi-final first leg and who else but James Constable? Great work in the box, firing home on the turn. That’s the away goal they wanted. 1-0 Oxford.

30th minute: Nigel Jemson, Manchester City, 1996

Just half-an-hour gone and it’s already 2-2 at Maine Road after Nigel Jemson’s looping header dropped in just under the crossbar. Manager-less Manchester City look all over the shop. Lovely goal from the Us.

31st minute: Wes Thomas, Chesterfield, 2016

Great moment, Oxford have announced their return to League 1 after a fifteen year absence with a goal from new signing Wes Thomas who’s just tapped home Alex MacDonalds shot.

32nd minute: Andy Thomas, Newcastle United, 1983

Oxford are making second placed Newcastle look second rate here at The Manor in the Milk Cup. Andy Thomas made the first and now he’s scored the second. They don’t look like they’re finished yet.

33rd minute: John Lundstram, Leyton Orient, 2015

Big deflection, but they all count. It’s been billed as a bit of a revenge mission for what happened in 2006, and Oxford are bang on track as John Lundstram scores his first goal for the club to extend their lead. 2-0 to Oxford and just half-an-hour gone.

34th minute: Dean Saunders, Luton Town, 1988

Something’s going on at Kenilworth Road, just 34 minutes gone and Dean Saunders has pulled one back from the spot to make it 1-2. Both sides seem to be struggling with Luton’s plastic pitch, this could end up like a basketball score.

35th minute: Gary Briggs, Manchester United, 1988

Four years ago Oxford dumped Manchester United out of the Milk Cup, now they’re at it again. Gary Briggs has just launched himself through the United defence to connect with John Dreyer’s cross and head Oxford two-up. Fantastic diving header from Briggs, the real United are in the boss seat now.

36th minute: Tommy Caton, Liverpool, 1987

Over at The Manor in 1987 Tommy Caton has equalised for Oxford against champions Liverpool. Despite two great saves from Bruce Grobelaar, there was nothing he could do to prevent Caton forcing it home from two yards. Can Oxford pick up their first win over the Merseyside giants?

37th minute: John Aldridge, Arsenal, 1984

Mixed news from The Manor in 1985. Striker, John Aldridge has just equalised for Oxford United against Arsenal in the Milk Cup. He headed home George Lawrence’s fine cross but was clattered by Pat Jennings. The stretcher is coming on, great goal by Aldridge, but at what price?

38th minute: Alfie Potter, Portsmouth, 2013

We leave The Manor as we’re getting news of an important goal for Oxford United at Fratton Park in 2013. Having gone a goal down, they equalised with Dean Smalley and have now taken the lead with a well taken goal from Alfie Potter latching onto Sean Rigg’s cross.

39th minute: Chris Maguire, Crawley Town, 2016

Equaliser at Crawley Town in 2016, good work down the right from Alex MacDonald, with Chris Maguire driving home from just inside the box. What’s the significance? We don’t know, this is much harder than it looks.

40th minute: Gary Briggs, Leeds United, 1984

BRIGGS! Oxford are on the comeback trail against Leeds United at The Manor. Two down, Gary Briggs connected with a fine Kevin Brock corner to make it 2-1. This team has goals in them, that’s really put Oxford on the front foot.

41st minute: David Rush, Wycombe Wanderers, 1996

Big breakthrough at Adams Park, Oxford are on quite a charge at the moment and David Rush has just connected with a deep cross from Les Robinson to open the scoring against Wycombe Wanderers. Big moment in breaking their duck against Wycombe, bigger moment in their promotion chase.

42nd minute: Billy Hamilton, Arsenal, 1984

Hold on a minute, let’s cross back to 1984. Oxford are down to ten men following John Aldridge’s injury for their first goal against Arsenal in the Milk Cup. And now they’ve done the unthinkable and taken the lead. The Manor is rocking after Northern Ireland international Billy Hamilton connected with Dave Langan’s perfect cross.

43rd minute: Kemar Roofe, Millwall, 2016

With half-time around the grounds and throughout time looming, things are looking rosey at the New Den for the JPT semi-final first leg. Kemar Roofe has just nodded home his second goal latching onto John Lundstram’s audacious drive which cannoned off the underside of the crossbar. That’s 2-0 and you’ve got to say Oxford have one foot in the final.

44th minute: Joey Beauchamp, Manchester City, 1998

Football’s a rollercoaster isn’t it? Oxford have already lost Stuart Massey to what looks like a bad injury, then on the stroke of half time a goal forged in the furnace of the Oxford United academy; Jamie Cook forced the defender into a mistake, the ball was picked up by Paul Powell who played it to Kevin Francis to square for Joey Beauchamp for the opening goal. No sugar in my tea, mum, that’s sweet enough.

45th minute: James Constable, Mansfield Town, 2013

Major goal at Mansfield in 2013. Moments after Mansfield Town had equalised James Constable latched onto Ryan Williams’ cross with the deftest touch to steer the ball into the far corner off the post. 2-1 Oxford, but more importantly, that’s Constable’s 100th goal for the club. What a milestone to reach.

***PEEP PEEP***

And that’s half-time. A first half full of action and drama. Oxford United will go in very satisfied with their first forty-five minutes’ work. Managers Chris Wilder, Mickey Lewis, Jim Smith, Maurice Evans, Denis Smith, Michael Appleton and Karl Robinson will be looking for more of the same in the second half.

Paul Merson, you were going to say something before the game, any thoughts on how Oxford might approach the second half?

Well, Jeff…

46th minute: Kane Hemmings, Newcastle United, 2017

Sorry Merse, but we’ve got a goal at The Kassam already in the FA Cup against Newcastle United. Chris Maguire collected the ball on the right, crossed it to Chey Dunkley on the back post and Kane Hemmings was on hand to prod home the knockdown from close range. 1-0 Oxford and another cup giant killing is on the cards.

47th minute: John Durnin, Swindon Town, 1992

It’s a goalfest in the derby at the Manor, John Durnin has just got on the end of Chris Allen’s cross to make it 3-2. Big goal for Johnny Lager.

48th minute: Jamie Mackie, Lincoln City, 2019

Oxford cruising now at Sincil Bank as Jamie Mackie adds a third goal. A deft finish from the veteran striker, it’s like his foot was a sand wedge. With former manager and new Lincoln boss Michael Appleton watching on, everything they touch is turning to goals this afternoon.

49th minute: Joey Beauchamp, Nottingham Forest, 1998

Brilliant stuff from Joey Beauchamp at The County Ground, he’s just latched onto a Nigel Jemson header and volleyed it past the keeper for the opening goal.

50th minute: Alfie Potter, Northampton Town, 2014

I don’t quite know how he’s done it, but that one feels really sweet. Oxford are 2-1 up against Chris Wilder’s Northampton Town, Alfie Potter has just weaved his way into the box and lobbed the ‘keeper from the tightest possible angle. What a way to stick it to your former boss.

52nd minute: Ray Houghton, Queens Park Rangers, 1986

Wonderful stuff now at Wembley, Oxford United in dreamland with a brilliantly worked goal that’s put them 2-0 up in the Milk Cup. Trevor Hebberd feeding Ray Houghton, beating the QPR offside trap to fire home. A goal to grace any final, we might want to prepare the yellow and blue ribbons now.

53rd minute: Andy Whing, Rochdale, 2013

Stop the count, stop the steal, I’ve seen it all now. It’s the last home game of the season and midfielder Andy Whing has just scored the goal of the season a bicycle kick from four yards out. He looks as shocked as everyone else.

54th minute: Martin Aldridge, Swindon Town, 1996

But, no time to dwell as we head back to The Manor where Martin Aldridge has just punished some poor goalkeeping to make it 2-0 against their deadly rivals.

55th minute: Jack Midson, Yeovil Town, 2009

They’ve looked the better team from the off and now they’ve made the breakthrough. Lovely through ball from Adam Murray and Jack Midson nips in between the ponderous Yeovil defence to lob the keeper. 1-0 and we have a giankilling on our hands.

56th minute: John Aldridge, Aston Villa, 1986

Penalty at Villa Park! Huge moment in this Milk Cup Semi-Final, just sixty seconds after Simon Stainrod had given Villa the lead, John Aldridge has been brought down by Alan Evans and now has a chance to equalise. Aldridge, bounces the ball on the spot as Steve Hodge does his best to put him off. And…

2-2! A massive goal in this tie, Oxford have a second away goal to take back to The Manor.

57th minute: Mark Sykes, Wycombe Wanderers, 2020

What was that? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a cross? Is it a shot? Who knows? Mark Sykes has just blasted spectacular equaliser as Wembley in the play-off final.

58th minute: John Durnin, Tranmere Rovers, 1992

Lifeline at Prenton Park, Oxford have turned their domination into goals. The ball ricochets off an Oxford player and falls to John Durnin to runs through to give Oxford the lead. Blackburn are keeping their side of the bargain at Plymouth, can Oxford make it count and stay up?

59th minute: Kemar Roofe, Swansea City, 2016

Wonderful, wonderful stuff from Oxford as Kemar Roofe puts Oxford 3-1 up against Premier League Swansea City at the Kassam. A blistering break by Chris Maguire set up Roofe finish off the move with a neat finish. We’ve got a big FA Cup giant killing on our hands here.

60th minute: Kemar Roofe, Wycombe Wanderers, 2015

Roofe, again, on his debut this time. How does that work? It’s taken him ten games to get his first, now he’s got two against Wycombe at Adams Park. It was a bit of a daisy cutter, but you’ve got to say that’s going to give the young West Brom loanee confidence.

61th minute: Chris Maguire, Swindon Town, 2016

Oh my goodness, calamitous defending from Swindon Town at the Kassam Stadium. They work the ball back to ‘keeper Lawrence Vigouroux, who tries to launch the ball downfield, but instead it canons off Oxford striker Chris Maguire in the net. What a shambles that club is. Oxford United 2 Swindon Town 0.

62nd minute: Kemar Roofe, Bristol Rovers, 2015

That’s just different class. That boy Roofe is going places. Picks up the ball from Pat Hoban’s knock down 25 yards out and smashes it into the top corner.

63rd minute: Paul Moody, Swindon Town, 1995

Equaliser at The County Ground, and it’s a bit controversial. Les Robinson delivers a fairly innocuous cross into the box which Wayne Allison tries to control. He comes together with Matt Elliott and the ball runs loose to Paul Moody to fire home. Was that a foul by Elliott? We don’t know that we care at the moment.

64th minute: Peter Leven, Port Vale, 2012

Oh, oh, OH! You don’t save those. Only Peter Leven can do that. He’s just won the ball inside his own half, looked up and lobbed the ‘keeper from sixty yards out. Forget about goal of the season, that’s a goal of a lifetime.

65th minute: Jefferson Louis, Swindon Town, 2003

I don’t know how it happened, but it happened. Oxford lead in the FA Cup derby at The Kassam. Jefferson Louis has got the slightest touch on a long Scott McNiven throw and it’s crept through a crowd of players and into the net. Did Steve Basham get a touch on the line. Who knows? But, frankly, who cares?

66th minute: David Rush, Peterborough United, 1996

The shirt is off, it’s party time at the Manor. David Rush has just latched onto a long Mike Ford ball and poked it home for four-nil. That’s the clincher and that’s promotion. And doesn’t Rush know it, he’s got the corner flag out and is waving with triumph. And why not?

68th minute: Mark Rawle, Southend United, 2003

Miracles do happen. It’s been eleven years since Oxford went home with three points from Roots Hall, but Mark Rawle’s strike may just have ended that voodoo. Who wouldn’t bet against Oxford putting together a long winning streak against The Shrimpers in the future?

69th minute: Kevin Brock, Manchester United, 1983

Majestic. Kevin Brock has silenced Old Trafford with a brilliant free-kick in the Milk Cup. Manchester United must have thought this replay was just formality after the scare at The Manor a few days ago, but they know they’re in a game now. Manchester United 0 Oxford United 1.

70th minute: Adam Chapman, Burton Albion, 2009

What a party-pooper. 7000 Burton fans packed into the Pirelli Stadium expecting to celebrate their promotion to the Football League and Adam Chapman has just curled in a wonderful free-kick into the top corner to put Oxford a goal up. Twenty minutes to go, 1-0 to Oxford and the only noise you can hear is from the Oxford fans behind the goal.

71st minute: Dave Langan, Arsenal, 1985

Oxford are at it again, we’ve got another giant killing in the offing after Irish full-back Dave Langan just drove the ball in from 30 yards through the hands of Pat Jennings. I mean, you’ve got to expect him to do better than that, but that’s 3-2 with 19 minutes to go.

72nd minute: John Aldridge, Arsenal, 1986

Relax Oxford fans, the Us are staying up. John Aldridge has made it three-nil against Arsenal in this must-win game at The Manor. Two weeks after the euphoria of Wembley, the goal pretty much secures them a second season in the top flight.

73rd minute: Rob Hall, Swindon Town, 2017

Wow, that’s just about broken the net. Rob Hall’s just picked the ball up from 30 yards out and fired a howitzer into the top corner. Oxford have turned it around here at The County Ground. Swindon 1 Oxford 2 and that’s seven in a row.

74th minute: Liam Sercombe, Carlisle United, 2016

Phone your mum and tell her the Us are going up. Liam Sercombe has just given Oxford a 2-0 lead here at Carlisle with a low drive into the bottom corner sending the thousands of Oxford fans who have made the journey north into raptures. There are hotdogs everywhere.

75th minute: Liam Sercombe, Coventry City, 2017

And again, Sercombe seems to be everywhere at the moment. After being left out of the starting line-up for the trip to Wembley, Liam Sercombe has come on and is playing like a man possessed. He’s just bundled the ball home from close range to pull a goal back for Oxford against Coventry. Coventry 2 Oxford United 1. Game on!

76th minute: Danny Hylton, Barnsley, 2016

Lovely goal, and nothing more than they deserve. For long periods Oxford have been the better team in this JPT Final, and Danny Hylton has just headed home to make to 3-2 to Barnsley. Can they force extra-time here at Wembley?

77th minute: Dean Windass, Chelsea, 1999

Now then. Oxford United are on the verge of going bust and Dean Windass has just scored from the near post with thirteen minutes to go against the aristocrats of Chelsea. Can the paupers beat the princes in the FA Cup tonight?

78th minute: Roy Clayton, Manchester United, 1972

Manchester United have brought their triple threat of Denis Law, George Best and Bobby Charlton to The Manor, but nobody thought about Roy Clayton, whose just put Oxford in front at The Manor.

79th minute: Neil Slatter, Manchester United, 1986

Nightmare start for former Aberdeen manager Alex Ferguson at Manchester United here at The Manor, Neil Slatter has surely settled this making it 2-0 from close range. At this rate, Ferguson won’t last long at Old Trafford.

80th minute: Phil Edwards, Rotherham, 2017

Oxford have been absolutely magnificent against their Championship opponents in the FA Cup, and now they’ve just gone 2-1 up with Phil Edwards latching onto a Alex Macdonald cross.

81st minute: Les Phillips, Everton, 1986

There’s nothing Oxford United love more than spoiling a party. They’re at it again under the lights at The Manor, Les Phillips has just side-footed it home from just inside the box for 1-0. That’s put a massive dent in Everton’s title dreams and kept Oxford’s survival hopes alive.

82nd minute: Paul Moody, Dorchester Town, 1995

It’s a goal rush at The Manor. Paul Moody has just completed his hat-trick, blasting in Oxford’s ninth goal against Dorchester.

83rd minute: Joey Beauchamp, Blackpool, 1996

Is that goal of the day? Of this and any other day. Joey Beauchamp, hero of the London Road just collected the loose ball in midfield and sent it back from 40 yards out with interest. 1-0 Oxford, that’s a big statement in the promotion race.

84th minute Liam Kelly, Newcastle, 2020

Hang on a minute. Just when you thought it was all over, Liam Kelly has scored a brilliant free-kick to pull one back against Newcastle at The Kassam in the FA Cup. That’s got the crowd up again, I don’t think Oxford are quite finished yet.

85th minute: Marvin Johnson, Luton Town, 2017

My word, they’re flying in at the moment. That’s quite a strike from Marvin Johnson, cutting in from the left and sending a rocket into the top corner. Luton Town 2 Oxford United 3. It’s going to take a massive effort for the Hatters to pick themselves up again and prevent Oxford from heading to Wembley for the second time in two years.

86th minute: Nigel Jemson, Sheffield Wednesday, 1996

It’s been a tense game at The Manor against Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup, but Nigel Jemson may have just snatched it in the dying moments prodding home Paul Moody’s knockdown from three yards. Four minutes left and Oxford are on track to knock the Premier League team out.

87th minute: Alan Kennedy (OG), Liverpool, 1985

Oxford are going to need a stroke of luck to stay in the First Division this season and they’ve just had some against the biggest team in the country. They’ve been hanging on for the whole game, but Peter Rhodes-Brown’s hopeful through ball has been put into his own net by Alan Kennedy for 2-2.

88th minute: Alfie Potter, Swindon Town, 2010

There’s been a breakthrough at The Kassam in the EFL Trophy, James Constable, who has been quiet all game, pounced on a Swindon defensive error squared the ball to the back post for Alfie Potter to slot home. Swindon can’t buy a win against their deadliest rivals.

89th minute: Todd Kane, Charlton Athletic, 2018

Brilliant stuff. Oxford United have no manager and no recognisable striker on the pitch, they’re 2-1 down as we enter the last minute. Great determination from Josh Ruffels on the flank who squares it to Todd Kane to side foot home. I don’t know if they can sneak a winner now, but they deserve it after this performance.

90th minute: Callum O’Dowda, Notts County, 2016

What might that mean come May? Alex MacDonald has just laid it off for Callum O’Dowda to drill the ball into the top left hand corner to make it Oxford United 3 Notts County 2 at Meadow Lane. A great way to start the New Year for the Yellows.

91st minute: Callum O’Dowda, Wycombe Wanderers 2016

O’Dowda! Again! Is there a more fitting way of securing promotion than seeing a hometown boy weaving his way through the Wycombe defence to fire home from close range. That’s three. And that’s promotion.

92nd minute: Shandon Baptiste, West Ham United, 2019

They’ve left the best ’til last at The Kassam, Shandon Baptiste has put icing on the cake of a magnificent performance weaving through West Ham’s beleaguered defence and slotting home from the left. The gulf in class has been massive.

93rd minute: Pat Hoban, Luton Town, 2015

Yes! No! Yes! Just when you thought the drama was over. Late late equaliser at Kenilworth Road for Oxford United, after Kemar Roofe dragged Oxford back into the game two minutes ago, with the board showing three minutes of injury time, a scramble in the box saw the ball drop to Pat Hoban who scuffed at it and then prodded home at the second attempt for 2-2. Crazy scenes in the away end.

94th minute: Jamie Mackie, Bradford City, 2019

OOOOOOOOHHHHHHH! Massive, massive goal at the Kassam Stadium in the League 1 relegation battle against Bradford City. Bradford have spurned a glorious chance, completely missing an open goal. From the resultant goal kick, Josh Ruffels sent a raking ball to Gavin Whyte whose shot popped up, then Jamie Mackie came marauding through on the volley and slammed it home. Sensational scenes here.

No, wait, what’s happening now? The ref’s not allowed it. What’s going on? A Bradford penalty? Oxford are surrounding the ref pleading with him. Now he’s talking to his linesmen. And. And. It’s a goal, Oxford have snatched this at the death. What a finish.

***PEEP PEEP***

‘Merse, it’s been such a hectic afternoon, we didn’t even get a chance to find out your thoughts about today’s action.’

‘No problem Jeff, the thing is Jeff. I just can’t see where Oxford’s goals are going to come from this afternoon. I fear for them, I really do.’

A tribute to Micky Lewis

I once saw Micky Lewis coming out of the garage outside The Manor in Headington. He was unshaven, holding a tabloid newspaper and drinking a can of Coke. He’d probably just finished training, but he looked like he’d just finished a night on the town.

I hadn’t seen many footballers outside their natural habitat before, my prevailing image was either of them on the pitch or posing in outlandish designer clothes that screamed money! Fame! Girls! Micky looked normal, I’d have missed him if he hadn’t been outside the ground wearing an Oxford training top.

His signing in 1988 signalled a sea change at the club, he arrived from Derby County as part of the deal which took the Milk Cup Final man-of-the-match Trevor Hebberd to the Baseball Ground. It represented something of a changing of the guard from the glory years to something quite different. None-the-less having been relegated from Division 1 the season before, he was part of Mark Lawrenson’s plan for an immediate turn to the top flight.

That dream crumbled as Lawrenson resigned and owner Robert Maxwell’s financial problems started to bite. Maxwell died in 1991 with debts of up to £1 billion, it compounded Oxford’s emotional crisis with a financial one. 

Suddenly, the club were forced into survival mode with Brian Horton building a team of hard working professionals designed to keep their head above water in Division 2. It was the perfect challenge for Lewis, as the club threatened to fall apart, he tightened the bolts and held things together from midfield. We might be outplayed, but we’d never be outfought. 

Never flamboyant – he averaged a goal every fifty games – he understood that whatever he lacked in ability he made up for with hard work and commitment. Players are brought up to dream about scoring goals and dazzling crowds, but hard work is always a value managers appreciate. Micky knew that, by sacrificing himself for the greater good, he would, in turn, become indispensable.  

There is no great story arc with Lewis, no heroic career-defining moment. He just never had a bad game, weaving himself into the culture of the club along the way. He marshalled the midfield as the club miraculously escaped relegation in 1992 at Tranmere, beat Leeds in the FA Cup in 1994, he came on to replace Martin Gray when we were promoted against Peterborough in 1996 and in 1999, supposedly retired, was drafted in as the club suffered an injury crisis, bolstering the midfield when we put Everton out of the League Cup at Goodison Park. 

But, mostly he just played; week in, week out over a period of nearly twelve years. With money leaking from every pore of the club, each point he helped to secure, each fan who appreciated his efforts enough to return to watch us the following week, he gave us another thread of survival.

Did the club shape Micky’s attitude or vice versa? Perhaps he sensed the jeopardy the club were in. Its failure could similarly have meant the end for him. Yes, managers valued what he offered, but they weren’t clamoring for his signature with a blank cheque. The relationship he had with Oxford was symbiotic.  

Fans called him Mad Dog, but he was never dirty. He never pulled out of a tackle and would be a ferocious competitor, but there was never any malice. He did simple things well, giving a platform for the likes of Jim Magilton, Paul Simpson and Joey Beauchamp to shine. Each one, of course, secured big money moves as a result. 

He took that commitment and generosity into coaching, that sense of sacrifice for the greater good. His bouts as caretaker manager returned unspectacular results, but countless managers saw what he offered on the training ground. 

When Chris Wilder took over in 2008, Micky may have been sent packing. He’d returned to become assistant to Darren Patterson and it would have been within Wider’s right to have a clean break. But, Wilder needed to strike a balance; he needed to use the club’s relative size in the Conference as an asset, but not become too arrogant. Size and reputation alone wouldn’t deliver promotion, it had to be underpinned with commitment and a solid work ethic. Within Micky Lewis he had a man who embodied the spirit of the club, who never lost sight of the reasons why that was. 

Wilder and Lewis forged a culture of all-in commitment to a cause which culminated in play-off success at Wembley against York City. From the financial failures two decades earlier, the club found a firm footing to begin the climb back to where they’d once been. Perhaps it was his greatest gift to the club.

Most players aren’t sitting on piles of cash once they’re spat out into the real world at the end of their career. Their bodies are battered, their education compromised, they go from adulation to anonymity. Reputations don’t pay the bills but the years of grafting, Micky Lewis’ investment in the people around him served him well. Micky did what he knew, he kept going, working hard giving his all.

Micky was ranked our 14th favourite player of the 90s; they won’t name a stand after him or build a statue. He was the kind of player you miss mostly when they’re gone. But, when they do go, the shock is felt more deeply, they don’t just entertain us as fans, they encompass the values we believe in. In a sense, they are a part of what you are. To lose that is a cruel blow.

Of course, for his family, their loss is deeper and more profound than anything felt by the club or fans. But, perhaps they might take a crumb of comfort in seeing the impact Micky Lewis had on so many people.  

Legacies are judged by what you leave behind; the values that underpinned his career saved the club as it plunged into crisis, dived, survived and resurrected itself. They were the same values that were invested in the hundreds of players he coached. There is a little bit of Micky in each of those players. Perhaps they will pass it on to the next generation of Oxford players. That spirit, an Oxford United spirit, will no doubt live on long after he’s gone.

Midweek fixture: Story of a shirt – 24

Up until 1999, the number 24 didn’t really exist on a football shirt. Squad numbers had been around for international tournaments for decades, but squads were limited to 22 players before edging up to 23 for the 2002 World Cup. So, outside the North American Soccer League, the number 24 was never seen.

When squad numbers were introduced to the Football League in 1999, the first Oxford player to take the shirt in was Jamie Lambert. The club were strapped for cash and engaged in a form of fracking – trying to extract some value out of largely dormant or subsiding talent. Lambert had built a bit of a reputation at Reading before joining Denis Smith’s ailing side but things didn’t work out and he moved on without completing the season. In his place was the returning Nigel Jemson. Jemson had been a prolific goalscorer in the late 90s for Oxford, but was a notoriously disruptive force in the squad and had moved to Bury in 1998.

Two years later, with Denis Smith looking for cheap talent to mount a survival campaign, Jemson fitted the bill because, well, he didn’t fit anywhere else. It was a disaster as he failed to score any goals in 18 games.

Jemson moved to Shrewsbury Town and the shirt was handed to goalkeeper Jimmy Glass at the start of the 2000/01 season. Glass had been famous for a last minute goal for Carlisle United that saved them from relegation to the Conference. It was a moment of fame which helped prolong his career for longer than it really deserved. Glass was brought in as an undemanding understudy to Richard Knight, in a catastrophic season where the club were relegated having conceded 100 goals using five ‘keepers, Glass managed just two appearances.

Glass moved on and the club left The Manor, at the new Kassam Stadium, the shirt was handed to defender Simon King. A local boy, King’s opportunities at the Kassam were limited by the arrival of manager Ian Atkins, who had no time for nurturing young talent. King left having played just one game in the shirt out of a total of three for the club. 

Atkins brought in some rigid stability and even threatened to serve up a promotion, but, like all things related to Kassam, it didn’t last.

At this point the destiny of the number 24 reflects the chaos of the period. First, Atkins brought in defender Adi Viveash on loan from Reading with the intention of signing him permanently. After 10 games, a deal couldn’t be struck and he vacated the shirt. Then in March 2003, Atkins was faced with a goalkeeping crisis and had to draft in 43 year old Milk Cup Final hero Alan Judge to play in goal against Cambridge United. 

The following season, the shirt passed to Dwight Ciampoli, a youth product, who didn’t trouble the scorers before being released. It was then picked up by Richie Foran, who made three appearances on loan in January 2004 before returning to Carlisle. Ian Atkins then had an almighty fall out with Firoz Kassam and left for Bristol Rovers. In his place came Graham Rix, who passed the shirt to Richard Walker on loan for three games from Blackpool. 

Rix started the following season with Michael Alexis wearing the shirt, at least figuratively, because he didn’t play a game. When Rix was fired, Firoz Kassam appointed ‘The Argentine Alex Ferguson’ Ramon Diaz in a move that was as weird then as it sounds now. The appointment seemed to be part of an elaborate plan to sell the club and stadium to Diaz’s consortium. Shortly after his arrival, the shirt was handed to Doudou, a winger from QPR. Doudou made a single, notorious substitute appearance against Bury before evaporating without trace. From there, the shirt was picked up by Juan Pablo Raponi, one of a raft of Argentines ill-suited for League 2. Raponi shivered his way through 10 games before the Argentine project imploded in acrimony.

In 2005, Firoz Kassam turned to Brian Talbot and gave him a brief of getting the club out of the division, which he did, but not in the way that was expected. After three seasons and eight owners, the shirt was given a rest. Notionally, it was owned by Bradie Clarke, a young keeper who’d made four appearances under Diaz. But with Billy Turley and Chris Tardif ahead of him, Clarke wasn’t called into action as the club plummeted out of the Football League. By this point, the club was then in the hands of Nick Merry and Jim Smith.

Descending into the Conference, the shirt was eventually passed to Martin Foster, who Smith signed on loan from Halifax Town (whose manager was Chris Wilder). Foster made fifteen appearances in a desperate attempt to scramble to promotion. He was a late season regular as the club fell in the Conference play-off semi-finals to Exeter City. 

Following that disappointment, Smith struggled to revive his beleaguered side. He turned to Michael Standing to wear the shirt. His three game contribution was hardly the stuff of Oxford legend, but, more recently, fans have enjoyed his role at the centre of a boardroom debacle at Swindon Town. 

Smith, exasperated, stood down to be replaced by Darren Patterson. At the start of the 2008/9 season, Patterson handed the shirt to Michael Husbands, a signing from Macclesfield Town, who managed two games before slipping back into the shadows. 

Patterson couldn’t deliver the success the club desperately needed and was replaced by Chris Wilder who set about transforming the team into a promotion chasing machine. At the beginning of the 2009/10 season the number 24 was adopted by former Cardiff City loanee Matt Green. Green had nearly signed for Darren Patterson twelve months earlier, but turned the opportunity down at the last minute before signing a deal with Torquay United. Green joined on a season long loan to complete a ferocious three-pronged attack with James Constable and Jack Midson that blasted the club back to the Football League with a famous win over York City at Wembley, Green scoring the spectacular opening goal that catapulted the team to victory.

Green signed permanently as the club returned to the Football League, but became increasingly marginalised. He kept the shirt for a season and a half before moving to Cheltenham Town. At this point, the shirt passed to Mark Wilson, a former Manchester United starlet who’d largely lost his way on and off the pitch. Wilson managed only six appearances, though that included a famous 2-0 win over Swindon Town at The Kassam. He left the club and got caught up in a betting scandal a few months later.

The following season Chris Wilder signed Daniel Boateng on loan from Arsenal, despite his promise, League 2 football seemed a bit too much for the 20-year-old and after just two games he returned to his parent club. Another goalkeeping crisis later that season meant the shirt was handed to emergency signing, Luke McCormick. With the transfer window closed, Wilder needed cheap, available league experience to cover the loss of Ryan Clarke. Former Plymouth keeper, McCormick had recently been released from jail after serving time for causing death by drink driving which had resulted in him killing two children. Despite heavy criticism, McCormick proved a worthy stopgap, but was released at the end of the season having served his purpose.

In 2013/14, the shirt remained vacant for much of the season but, with relations straining between Wilder and owner Ian Lenagan, the manager sought to add some cost-effective class to his attacking options. He brought in ageing Republic of Ireland international David Connolly on loan from Portsmouth. Despite coming to the end of his career, Connolly showed himself to still have ability beyond those who surrounded him. As Wilder moved on to Northampton Town to be replaced by Gary Waddock, Connolly scored four goals in fifteen appearances before returning to the south coast.

The shirt finally found stability in the hands of Josh Ashby who picked it up at the start of 2014/15 under Michael Appleton, appointed Head Coach as part of a summer coup. At one point Ashby had been identified as a future star with Chris Wilder rushing to sit him on the bench during the Conference days to help secure a future transfer fee. Ashby kept the shirt for four seasons, including the 2015/16 promotion under Michael Appleton, but only managed two league starts in all that time.

In 2018/19 the shirt went to Candice Carroll, the product of Oxford’s academy and a Republic of Ireland Under 23 international who put in a number of strong performances as full-back under Pep Clotet before being sold to Brentford. In the same transfer window, the shirt passed to Mark Sykes who’d arrived from Glenavon. 

When Sykes took on the number 18 shirt in 2019/20 the shirt was left vacant for a season before being picked up by Jordan Obita who signed from Reading on a short-term contract in the summer of 2020. When an offer from Wycombe Wanderers came in, Obita took the opportunity for more stability and left after just nine starts. From there, the shirt was handed to Joe Grayson signed on loan from Blackburn Rovers.

No shirt has been held by more players, its history is full of short-term loans, young prospects, long forgotten journeymen and emergency goalkeepers, plus one legend and one legendary goal. It may be the most unconventional shirt number, but, in many ways, it reflects the life of a lower league football club.