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. 

Midweek fixture: Absolute State of Oxford United mid-season survey results

One thing you learn from doing the Absolute State of Oxford United survey – a survey which tries to assess performance against some kind of norm – is that there’s no such thing as a norm. Last year, I said it was difficult to judge the mood when you’re in the middle of a transfer window and all the volatility that brings, this year, for transfer window, read: pandemic. The degree to our mood towards the club can be separated out from our general mood is difficult to judge. Still, let’s give it a try.

Quite understandably, the mid-season survey suggests that the overall mood amongst fans has cooled since the summer. In September expectations were high, perhaps too high, but after a poor start and defeat to Swindon coupled with our enforced physical separation and general pandemic-related gloom, the fans’ overall rating has dropped notably. Despite this, we aren’t at our lowest ebb; that was back in the first survey at the start of the 2019/2020 season having spent a good proportion of the year fighting relegation. The rosey glow of last year’s success is dimmed, but not yet extinguished.

The squad ratings have fallen largely in line with the overall mood. The loss of Shandon Baptiste, Tarique Fosu and then Rob Dickie in the summer were all predictable, but you get a sense that those players haven’t been replaced. It doesn’t help that few fans have seen our new players in the flesh, so it’s much harder to build any kind of relationship with them.

Despite a lowering mood, Karl Robinson’s stock remains fairly high; his rating has outperformed his players by some way, which is quite some achievement. Given that a manager’s value comes from the extra he can add to the players’ natural ability, this looks like a particularly good result.

Amidst the gloom, one area that has held up is the performance of the directors and owners of the club. I’ve always assumed they’d be the last to gain praise when the club is doing well and the quickest to fall from favour. But, despite lowering expectations on the pitch, of it, the rating has barely dropped at all. The current situation has brought into sharp focus how important the owners are in keeping the club afloat and stable. The stability the owners have offered during this period of turbulence has been rewarded with a strong rating.

Although the lack of access to the club has tested many fans loyalty; the relationship remains a strong one. While it has dipped, it’s not fallen as much as the overall rating, suggesting, despite everything, the long-term prospects remain good.

PosFavourite playerPre-season
1Sam Long 9
2Matty Taylor2
3Alex Gorrin5
4Cameron Brannagan1
=5James Henry4
=5Josh Ruffels3
=5Jack Stevens 
8Marcus McGuane 
9Rob Atkinson 
=10John Mousinho11
=10Mark Sykes6
=10Dan Agyei8

I deliberately ask who the fans’ favourite player is, rather than who they think is best. It’s difficult to distinguish between the two, but it’s clear that fans do appreciate things beyond individual ability. The most notable change in the fans’ favourites is Sam Long who at the start of the season was ranked 9th and now tops the tree. Long has put in a string of impressive performances this season despite attempts to oust him from the first eleven, but his ascent is as much down to how resolute he is and how he represents the club on the pitch.

In terms of our aspirations for the season, our confidence has taken a knock. At the start of the season, the expectation was that the play-offs were a minimum requirement. The mid-season update has seen those ambitions recede to around 8th-10th. Despite this, based on previous surveys, for most fans this is our more natural level. Even at the start of the season when asked who would win the title, we were only 9th favourites despite fans expecting us to finish some way above that point. While expectations will fluctuate from one survey to another, our natural position appears to be just outside the play-offs.

PosPre-season
1Hull City 4
2Lincoln City 12
3Portsmouth 2
4Peterborough 3
4Sunderland 6
6Ipswich Town 5
=7Charlton Athletic 7
=7Doncaster Rovers 12
=7Shrewsbury Town 14
=10Accrington 19
=10AFC Wimbledon 22
=10Blackpool 10
=10Crewe Alexandra 21
=10Fleetwood Town 9
=10Gillingham 17
=10MK Dons 18
=10Oxford United 8
=10Plymouth Argyle 14
=10Rochdale 23
=20Bristol Rovers 11
=20Northampton Town 20
22Wigan Athletic 1
23Burton Albion 16
24Swindon 24

Naturally, we know much more `about the form teams in the division, so when asked who’d win the title and who would finish bottom, there was much less spread across the teams. The most obvious shift is with Lincoln, who nobody saw them competing at the top of the table but are predicted to finish second behind Hull City, who were predicted to finish in the play-offs.

At the other end, Wigan – your pre-season favourites for the title – are now expected to finish 22nd and be relegated. We sit in amongst a bundle of clubs expected to finish in mid-table. In fact, there may be some secret hope for us in that there are so few standout clubs. If, and it is a big if, we can continue to string a decent run of form together it may be possible to break out of the pack and mount a challenge.

Overall, I don’t think there’s much to be concerned about; these are gloomy times, last season’s play-offs were an adrenaline shot which raised expectations a little too high. Sustaining that level of positivity was always likely to be a challenge, so a slight drop represents a return to normal, rather than straight up failure.

Midweek season: Oxford United mid-season review

It’s been a frantic and disrupted season, hard to believe that we’ve nearly burned our way through half of it. It feels like we’re in a sprint against the pandemic; surviving is more important than to thriving. In anticipation of the Absolute State of Oxford United Mid-Season Survey results – which you can still take part in – now is a good time to look back at what we were all thinking at the start of the season.

Back in September expectations were high; 23% of people thought we’d get automatic promotion with another 49% seeing us in the play-offs. Currently, we’re 12th – a position just 2% of you predicted – though things are looking up now, objectively it’s been a bit of a disappointment so far. 

Of all teams in the division, Wigan Athletic, currently in 22nd, were your favourites for promotion; though in mitigation, many of their problems were still emerging at the time and their slip into administration was viewed as a blip. You had Portsmouth, currently third, in second with Peterborough United, currently sixth.

Lincoln City are this season’s Wycombe Wanderers, and I don’t just mean they feature men with arms the size of a child’s waist. They’re currently top despite you having them down in 12th. That said, one soothsayer out there predicted they’d be the dark horse of the division. Hull City are in second where you had them in 4th.

The overwhelming view was that Swindon would finish bottom, despite our obvious bias, they’re making a good fist of it in 23rd and look in deep trouble. Rochdale, currently 21st, were also expected to struggle along with Wimbledon who are 20th. Nobody really saw Burton sitting at the bottom of the table, you saw them comfortably settling in 16th

Comparing us to others, you saw us finishing 8th, with games in hand and a bit of form, we certainly look better for that than we did a few weeks ago. 

PredictedActualTeam
123Wigan Athletic
23Portsmouth
35Peterborough
42Hull City
58Ipswich Town
610Sunderland
77Charlton Athletic
812Oxford United
911Fleetwood Town
1013Blackpool
1118Bristol Rovers
124Doncaster Rovers
131Lincoln City
1415Plymouth Argyle
1517Shrewsbury Town
1624Burton Albion
1714Gillingham
1816MK Dons
196Accrington
2019Northampton Town
219Crewe Alexandra
2221AFC Wimbledon
2320Rochdale
2422Swindon

We underperformed in both cups – in the FA Cup 49% you thought we’d make the 4th Round with another 44% the fifth, but there was no charge to Wembley as we tumbled out in the first round to Peterborough. Similarly, in the League Cup, 33% expected us to make the 3rd Round, but we fell to Watford in the second. A lot, of course, depends on the draw in the cups so in the circumstances, that wasn’t a terrible showing.   

Hopes for the season

In terms of hopes for the season, there were some common themes.

Promotion

The biggest theme was the hope that we’d gain promotion; that seems to be a long way off at the moment, though after our early season reality check and sudden return to form, we might still have an outside chance of making the play-offs. From there, who knows? 

Stadium

Resolution of the stadium situation was another big hope, but with everything that’s been going on, it’s barely been spoken about. 

General progress

More generally, people wanted to see us progress. But in a world which is going backwards, perhaps standing still or only going backwards a little bit, is success. It’s all relative. 

A return to normality

People also just wanted a return to normality and we’re nowhere near that. The opportunity to get back to games has been snatched away, though the good news, perhaps, is that so far, no league clubs have gone bust. There’s a long way to go, but we need to count every blessing.

Nine in a row

Sadly, the hope that we might enjoy ‘nine in a row’ was lost in a moment of madness back in November. I suppose it’s not that far from ‘none in a row’.

Predictions

Fans

The prediction that we might see a game in real life by October didn’t materialise, but for a lucky few it happened in December. One prediction was that no crowd would top 4000 all year and that away games would be out of the question, both of seem highly likely. Some predicted another interruption to the season, which seems to be hanging in the balance.

Players

There was plenty of expectation around our strikers – Matty Taylor was predicted to get 20-30 goals – he’s currently on nine, so he needs a bit of a run if he’s to catch up. Dan Agyei was expected to have a breakthrough season with 15-20 goals, so far it’s just two. Rob Atkinson was also predicted to emerge as a key talent; when he’s been fit, he’s shone.

Some predicted Cameron Brannagan would move in January which looks highly unlikely, as is the return of Marcus Browne, which some had hoped for. 

One person did predict that Simon Eastwood would be replaced as our first-choice keeper. At the time, that seemed extremely unlikely. Another thought he’d move back north before the season is out, which doesn’t seem out of the question now.

Off the field

Predictions of financial chaos across the divisions haven’t materialised, but clubs can’t live off fresh air forever. We seem to be pretty stable, so the prediction that we might suffer another winding up order is, as yet, unrealised. 

Quite a few people thought Karl Robinson would leave, but there’s much less management volatility this year, so a sacking seems unlikely nor the opportunity to go elsewhere.

Matches

When it came to individual games, the Swindon derby was in sharp focus; the large minority who expected us to falter had their fears realised. Someone predicted there would be a 1-1 draw with Sunderland and another game against Manchester City, but we’ve seen neither.

In the league more generally, most were predicting a rollercoaster season of ups and downs; it’s reasonable to say that has been the case. One person thought the final game of the season would feature 10 teams with a chance of the play-offs – as it stands, around eight teams could make the play-offs without too much effort but there were 12 points separating the top 10, not two and, as one thought it might. It also doesn’t look like relegation will be determined by point deductions.

Other

In other predictions, there was no red away kit, Jerome Sale is not yet an award winner no has he sworn on air, but there’s still time.

Once again, we see that when you predict everything, you’ll get something right. But, above all, we’ve learnt that fans are mostly terrible at predictions and that the mood can change very quickly. Next week, we’ll look at the state we’re in now and how that’s changed since September.

Midweek fixture: The top 50 players of the 2010s

On the 1st January 2010, Oxford United were a non-league club, their first game of the new decade a 1-0 defeat to Tamworth, ten years later, concluding with a 2-1 win over Wimbledon, they’d achieved two promotions, three trips to Wembley, countless giant killings and endless derby wins. But who were the best players from that decade of glory? Well, I asked and you answered. Here they are, the top 50 players of the 2010s.

50. Toni Martinez

Toni Martinez only started nine games on loan from West Ham in 2017, but in that time he scored five times including one of the most iconic goals of the decade away to Middlesborough in the FA Cup. This alone makes him one of the top fifty players of the decade.

49. Matt Green

Matt Green had a difficult start with Oxford, after a successful loan spell, he was nearly signed by Darren Patterson in 2008. But, just as the club were preparing to announce his arrival, he headed west and signed for Torquay United. Eventually, he joined in 2009 and became one spike in the trident that fired us to promotion in 2010. His key moment was the spectacular opening goal in the Conference play-off final.

48. Simon Clist

Every team needs its water carrier; the 2010 promotion side was driven by a simple principle in midfield – Dannie Bulman won the ball, which was mopped up by Simon Clist who gave it to Adam Murray or Adam Chapman to create something. While Bulman, Murray and Chapman were all more celebrated, none of it would have worked without Clist.

47. Jonjoe Kenny

When George Baldock was recalled to MK Dons by Karl Robinson in 2016, of all people, it threatened to blow the doors off our promotion chase. But Michael Appleton picked out a diamond in Jonjoe Kenny from Everton’s youth ranks who marshalled us to League 1, a year after that formative experience he won the Under 17 World Cup with England.

46. Joe Rothwell

Michael Appleton had a simple vision; pick up young players from the Premier League youth ranks, promise to develop them onto greater things, then let them soar. Joe Rothwell’s enigmatic Oxford career after joining from Manchester United, he had his moments, but the Championship hawks were circling before he truly flourished.

45. Michael Duberry

Michael Duberry was a big character with a big reputation. His signing in 2012 was coup as Chris Wilder turned to experienced players to try and fire us to promotion. Duberry was commanding in his first season. Fans loved his swagger, but age caught up with him in his second season bringing his time at the club to a close. His key moment was against Hereford United, when he managed to score two own-goals, including one in the last minute, plus an injury time equaliser at the other end.

44. Chris Cadden

Chris Cadden was Karl Robinson’s dream full-back; in the mould of George Baldock – who he had at MK Dons – Cadden was full of energy and pace. He was also beyond Robinson’s budget resulting in a peculiar arrangement where he signed on loan from Columbus Crew immediately after leaving Motherwell. Robinson made no bones about wanting to keep him, but Crew were insistent that he crossed the Atlantic.

43. Adam Murray

In reality, Adam Murray only played one game for us in the 2010s; the defeat to Tamworth. Up to that point he’d captained the side and set them on course for promotion. Injury struck him down and he never played for the club again, but his spirit burned through the squad all the way to Wembley.

42. Damian Batt

Damian Batt was a dynamo of a full-back who seemed to function in both boxes simultaneously. His drive and energy overwhelmed the Conference, he took the step up to the Football League in his stride, turning out for three more seasons. Released in 2013, his life then took a very strange turn.

41. Jack Midson

Matt Green offered pace, James Constable strength, Jack Midson gave our three pronged promotion attack finesse and craft. Sadly, Chris Wilder never seemed completely comfortable with gentleman Jack, but whoever he brought in couldn’t best him. Eventually Wilder took a ratchet to the promotion team and considered Midson too lightweight for the rigours of League football. He was eventually eased out – but not before scoring a memorable hat-trick at Torquay – with his reputation in tact.

40. Billy Turley

Most of Billy Turley’s Oxford career was in the 2000s; he played just three games in the 2010s as understudy to Ryan Clarke, but for someone who demanded attention his back-up role in the 2010 promotion charge was done with good grace. A key cheerleader in the main, he helped put right the wrongs of our relegation in 2006. His memorable moment may have been his last, a wondrous last minute save in his final home game for the club against Wrexham.

39. Tariq Fosu

Tariq Fosu was Karl Robinson’s protege who signed from Charlton in 2019. Like many of Robinson’s signings, Fosu stretched the club financially, so when he started the season on fire, he was always vulnerable to be plucked because of a paltry release clause which within easy reach of most Championship clubs. When Brentford came knocking at the start of 2020, the clause was triggered and he slipped from our grasp.

38. Dannie Bulman

Dannie Bulman drove the 2010 promotion from midfield, then, astonishingly was thrown to the dogs by Chris Wilder almost as soon as the following season started. Releasing Bulman was the biggest mistake Chris Wilder made at the club and it took months to recover. Bulman went on to defy Wilder’s view that he was washed up and is still in the Football League today.

37. Adam Chapman

It’s difficult to know whether trouble came looking for Adam Chapman or Adam Chapman went looking for trouble. After scoring one of the great goals in 2009 at Burton to spoilt their promotion party, he was Man of the Match in the Conference Play-Off Final a year laster. Days before it was announced he was set for a year in a Young Offenders Institute for causing death by reckless driving. He returned a more subdued character, but it didn’t stop him nearly missing a game burning his nipple on baby milk in 2012.

36. Jamie Mackie

No pace, no touch and he hardly ever scored; if Jamie Mackie hadn’t been Jamie Mackie, he’d have been boo’ed out of the club. But, whether it was his public health Tik Toks, endless complaints about fictitious elbows in the face or scoring a wonder goal in the 93rd minute against Bradford that changed absolutely everything and was his defining moment, there was so much to love about him.

35. Johnny Mullins

Fittingly, Johnny Mullins was known as Uncle Mulls; a player who knew his way around the lower leagues and provided the leadership and mentoring we needed when times got tough. His grafting dragged us through the end of the Wilder-years and the start of the Appleton reboot. Cruelly, and also fittingly, in that final season he went all Obiwan Kenobi; sacrificing himself to give way to his heir – Chey Dunkley. Dunkley is deferential to his mentor to this day.

34. Marvin Johnson

Marvin Johnson seemed to be so out of our league one fan said he’s have his name tattooed on his forehead if he signed. And then he did; he could do everything, he had pace, strength and fitness. He was almost too good, like a wild animal, trying to hold onto him seemed futile, he lasted just one season – with a defining moment scoring a last minute wonder goal against Luton in the Checkatrade Trophy semi-final – before signing for Middlesborough for a record £4m.

33. Gavin Whyte

Like the perfect golf swing, signing Gavin Whyte felt right from the moment it happened. Karl Robinson found a gap in the market that others couldn’t see. Whyte was plucked from the League of Ireland and was an instant hit with his direct running, close control and eye for goal. Even when we struggled he shone, though his defining moment may have been being caught filming his wanger on a night out. It was no surprise to see him sold to Cardiff after a season.

32. Peter Leven

When Chris Wilder turned to experience in 2012, Peter Leven was his genius in residence. When he was fit, Leven was the best in the division, with no greater illustration than his goal against Port Vale from the half-way line – his defining moment. Sadly, he wasn’t fit very often and so his talents rarely saw the light of day.

31. John Mousinho

When Curtis Nelson was injured in 2017, Pep Clotet signed John Mousinho from Burton Albion. Despite coming with a stellar reputation, after a few shaky performances he was written off as another of Clotet’s aged duds. A move into bolstering the midfield under Karl Robinson gave him the headspace to show his immense leadership qualities. His trademark rocket penalty, particularly the one which won the League Cup tie against Sunderland in 2019, was his key moment. Though his career is drawing to a close, under Karl Robinson Mousinho he’s grown to be an immense presence in the club.

30. Sam Long

Sam Long looked all set to be just another talented youth team player whose career would ultimately fizzle out. But while fighting some near career ending injuries, Chris Wilder, Michael Appleton, Pep Clotet and Karl Robinson all saw there was something worth persevering with. In the intervening years, he’s progressed from marginal player to reliable back-up to regular first teamer. He’s now teetering on becoming one of the stars of the show.

29. Marcus Browne

Like Marvin Johnson, Marcus Browne was an immense physical specimen, a golden eagle who soared higher than others. He was originally signed on loan from West Ham and powered through defences. It was no surprise that Karl Robinson scrambled to re-sign him, then from Middlesborough, to fire up his promotion challenge in 2020.

28. Rob Hall

The destiny of Oxford United and Rob Hall are intertwined. He was first signed as a teenager on loan from West Ham in 2011 and was an instant hit with a slew of goals. He returned permanently in 2016 and despite a series of injuries he’s become beacon in the club. His defining moment came at Swindon in 2017 when he thunderous drive from 25 yards won the seventh derby in a row.

27. Mark Creighton

Somehow, the word Creighton feels onomatopoetic, when you consider the monstrous contribution The Beast played in getting us out of the Conference. There was no greater moment than his last minute winner in his debut against York in 2009. In truth, his 2010s career was limited to little more than half a season, but the aftershocks of his impact on the club are felt even today.

26. Joe Skarz

Some players are camera-ready stars, others just deliver. Joe Skarz was a dependable and no nonsense full-back who understood the value of hard work. His fitness levels were second to none and his sense of resolve was formidable. This was no better illustrated than having announced the end of his season because of injury, with promotion in the balance, he lifted himself from the physios bench sacrificing himself in a critical 2-0 win over Hartlepool.

25. Callum O’Dowda

Callum O’Dowda had everything, he was physically strong, had a great touch and a heavy dose of ambition. He broke through in the 2016 promotion squad and may have sat among the homegrown greats. His key moment was the last minute promotion clincher against Wycombe in 2016 – pure poetry. But, as soon as Bristol City came sniffing, he engineered his way into the Championship, had he stuck it out with Oxford a little longer, he’d have comfortably made the top 10.

24. Andy Whing

There was a time when all we wanted was a team of Andy Whings. Effort, competitiveness, 90 minutes of pure commitment, is that too much to ask? Nobody out-competed Andy Whing whether it was Edgar Davids or Ade Akinfenwa. Then, just when we thought we’d seen it all, he scored a spectacular overhead kick against Rochdale which cemented him into Oxford folklore.

23. Shandon Baptiste

Shandon Baptise seemed to glide around a football pitch. Nothing seemed too much trouble – thirty yard drives, sixty yard passes, weaving runs. With the ball at his feet nobody could stop him. There was no better illustration than his mazy run in the closing minutes to score Oxford’s 4th against West Ham in 2019.

22. Curtis Nelson

In the giddiness of post-promotion 2016, Michael Appleton seemed to get himself in a muddle – he had Jake Wright and Chey Dunkley, then he signed Aaron Martin, and then he got a chance to sign Curtis Nelson which was too much to turn down. The Nelson opportunity was so great, Jake Wright was eased out to make space. These were big shoes to fill. Did he film them? Yes, several times over.

21. Ricardinho

Pep Clotet’s army of overseas veterans didn’t bring much joy, but then there was the Brazilian Ricardinho. A full-back whose zest for life, effervescence and joie de vivre brought rare joy to a post-Michael Appleton hangover. Even his defining moment, a barbaric two footed lunge resulting in a red card was done with panache.

20. Simon Eastwood

If there was a weakness in the 2016 promotion team it was in goal, when Michael Appleton signed one-time understudy to Ryan Clarke, Simon Eastwood, from Blackburn Rovers there were those who thought he’d lost his mind. But, it was soon clear he’d bought a diamond; Eastwood grew to become not only one of the best ‘keepers of the decade, but among the best the club has ever had. There was no greater illustration of this than by his penalty save against Newcastle in the FA Cup in 2018.

19. Alex Gorrin

If there’s one thing Karl Robinson loves, it’s a pacey winger. But Oxford United can only play with their attacking swagger because they have a beast in the middle keeping order. Alex Gorrin is both law and order in the Oxford midfield and we love him for it.

18. Liam Sercombe

Liam Sercombe had broad shoulders; literally and metaphorically – when you needed someone to take responsibility, he was your man. His marauding style bagged seventeen goals in our promotion season including an absolute banger at Carlisle on the penultimate weekend of the season – his pièce de résistance.

17. Ryan Clarke

Every team needs a Ryan Clarke, an unflinchingly dependable man between the sticks. Regardless of whether his defence was solid as a rock or porous as a sponge, when Clarke was in goal, you knew you had a chance.

16. Alex MacDonald

Even the fieriest of furnaces start with the strike of a match. When things were falling apart in Michael Appleton’s first season, it was the signing of MacDonald from Burton that signalled a change of fortune. He dragged the team around and pointed it in the right direction. The team that was built around him was full of heroes and MacDonald sat as an equal with all of them.

15. Alfie Potter

Alfie Potter didn’t always start games, he didn’t always influence games, but when it mattered, he was there. The last minute against York City in the play-off final, the 85th minute against Swindon Town in the JPT or the whole destruction of Portsmouth on the opening day of the season in 2013. For many, this was Alfie Potter’s decade.

14. Matty Taylor

The one that nearly got away; locally born Matty Taylor slipped away unnoticed in 2009, but grew into a goalscorer full of guile. In 2019 he returned home older, wiser and better, adding a new dimension to us as an attacking force.

13. Josh Ruffels

Some players fit a manager’s style, some players can simply adapt. Josh Ruffels made his debut under Chris Wilder before turning out for Gary Waddock, Michael Appleton, Pep Clotet and Karl Robinson. He moved from midfield to full-back and never missed a step. While others came and went, Ruffels kept developing, establishing himself as a key player and one of the best of the decade. His iconic moment was in 2019 and a looping last minute drive against Wycombe which was the hallmark of Lionel Messi.

12. Ryan Ledson

Ryan Ledson looked about fourteen but could tackle like a lion and pass like Glenn Hoddle. What really endeared him to Oxford fans was the way he just loved to play. Whether it was beating Swindon or smashing in a last minute winner at Charlton, Ryan Ledson brought us alive.

11. Rob Dickie

Sure, Rob Dickie arrived as a player with potential, he was dependable, studious and strong. But, nobody expected him to evolve into a modern-day Franz Beckenbaur. His key moment was a commanding performance against Manchester City where he kept Raheem Sterling quiet for 90 minutes.

10. Jake Wright

Jake Wright was many things; defender, leader, the epicentre of the club’s rise from the Conference and then from League 2. His calmness and quiet authority kept the heart of the club beating. Just one word encapsulates all of that: Skip.

9. James Henry

Sometimes James Henry seems to drift around the margins of a game, while others go to war, he sits back; calculating, pondering and strategising. Then, as others lose their heads, hearts and legs, he finds another gear, collects the ball and fires a rapier 60 yard pass that’ll win the game.

8. George Baldock

George Baldock could turn a man’s knees to jelly as quickly as he could turn defence into attack. He signed on loan from MK Dons, went away again, signed again and went away again. But we still love him.

7. Danny Hylton

Promotion in 2016 was built on Michael Appleton’s cold science; but no Big Blue computer would be able to figure out Danny Hylton. Gary Waddock’s only signing carried Appleton’s team through his first difficult season but even when the science started to work, Hylton couldn’t be contained. A remarkable career.

6. John Lundstram

John Lundstram is a master of cartography; he could find new angles and discover new routes to goal at will. No Oxford fan will forget the majesty of his distribution.

5. Cameron Brannagan

Signed from Liverpool Cameron Brannagan should have been too big for Oxford. Sign, develop, move, it was practically written on his forehead. But, that’s not what Cameron Brannagan is about; Cameron Brannagan gets it and gets us. And we get him, big time.

4. Chey Dunkley

There was no better story during the 2016 promotion season than Chey Dunkley’s; he started the season as third choice centre back behind John Mullins and Jake Wright, was nearly got sent off in his debut against Bristol Rovers. But then he grew and grew and grew. By the end of the season he was first on the teamsheet scoring the crucial breakthrough goal against Wycombe that took us to promotion. There truly ain’t nobody, like Chey Dunkley.

3. Chris Maguire

Oxford is a nice club, we do things the right way, we play by the rules, then Chris Maguire rode in on his Harley Davidson, smoking a roll-up, took off his Aviator sun glasses and taught us the joy of the dark side. Chris Maguire didn’t run games, he didn’t win them them, he Chris Maguired them.

2. James Constable

There are good players in this list, there are great players, but true legends are few and far between. James Constable is etched into Oxford folklore, talismanic, loyal, someone who loved the club as much as they loved him. After a decade of despondency and false hope, he didn’t so much get Oxford out of the Conference as raise us from the dead.

1. Kemar Roofe

In some ways, describing Kemar Roofe as the best player of the decade under-sells him. He didn’t just operate at a different level, but at in a different dimension. He drifted assuringly into the club with an army of other loanees, just another player with promise set to disappoint. Then, he scored a goal and another, and more. Fittingly, in the 2016 promotion season, he was a striker who wore the number 4, it didn’t make sense. But then, in many ways, Kemar Roofe didn’t make sense at Oxford at all, he was just too good, he transcended us, and that’s why he’s the player of the decade.