George Lawrence’s Shorts: Potato ROFLs

Saturday 5 October 2019

At the Wham Stadium on Saturday Tariqe Fosu proved He’s Our Man opening the goalscoring against victorian non-leaguers Accrington Stanley. Young Gun, Cameron Brannagain saw an opportunity to Go For It from 25 yards to make it 2-1 before we were pegged back to 2-2 with a low strike to the left of the goal; or was it a Different Corner? Jamie Mackie was booked for Careless Whispers with the ref.

Monday 7 October 2019

Liverpool wunderkind Ben Woodburn had a little bump playing with the big boys on Saturday. He was a very brave and didn’t cry, after a cold compress, a cuddle, a Paw Patrol plaster and twelve weeks on the sidelines and he’ll be out to play again. 

Tuesday 8 October 2019

In the MySpace.com Trophy, Oxford won through after losing in the draw against Portsmouth. The game of futility wrapped in a cloak of pointlessness, balanced on a plinth on inconsequentiality ended 2-2, with goals from Matty Taylor and Rob Dickie which left Pompey with the humiliation of having to win the penalty shoot-out and pretend it meant something.

In alopecia news; dome bonced Conference crushing pass-master Adam Murray has taken over as Barnsley manager after Daniel Stendel was sacked.  

Wednesday 9 October 2019

Weekly Scottish full-back news (that isn’t about Chris Cadden bowel movements or ice cream preferences): former loanee Todd Kane could be set to join the Scotland squad

Thursday 10 October 2019

After legitimate ice hockey fan and player Petr Chech joined Guilford Phoenix as a way of keeping fit during his retirement, Oxford City Stars announced the absolute mega-lolz and cry-face emoji news that the greatest Oxford goalscorer with a head shaped like a potato, James Constable, had signed for them. It was double ROFLs from hairdo’s worst nightmare Greig Box Turnbull who cracked the joke to acceptable apathy on Twitter a few hours before doubling down on it in a press release which was also royally ignored. As GLS knows more than most, there’s nothing funnier than a re-fried joke.

It was the Five Minute Thirty-Eight Second fans forum on Radio Oxford on Thursday with KRob. One fan asked whether we talk too much about formations before KRob talked too much about formations – inadvertently giving out his credit card PIN in the process. There was also extended chat about his sweat patches. And people think he talks too much.

Friday 11 October 2019

It’s Doncaster tomorrow and the air will be filled with a chorus of “We’re by far the 427th greatest team, the world has ever seen”. Website FiveThirtyEight – a team of crack statistical virgins – has ranked 628 teams from around the world. We were the third highest League 1 team, comfortably nestled in between Argentinians, Godoy Cruz and Sochaux of Switzerland, and 152 places ahead of Swindon, obviously. GLS doesn’t know how the rankings were done; so we looked at the methodology and realise that we don’t care.

Match wrap: Accrington Stanley 2 Oxford United 2

It wasn’t a question of if, it was always a question of when. When would we concede and when would we drop points? The longer our run of results went on, the closer they were to ending. We knew that, we just hoped it wasn’t true.

Another nagging question that hangs in the air is; what now? We’re the life and soul of the party; entertaining, dynamic and fun at our best; but can we keep it going or will we end up sobbing uncontrollably in the corner when the lights go on?

It is still difficult to fully trust this team; even when I talk about ‘team’ I’m not sure who I’m talking about. The squad clearly has plenty of ability and it rattles along at such a pace that the potential for the wheels to fall off remains very real.

After the Accrington game Cameron Brannagan was talking about the Portsmouth game on Tuesday as though it were a league match. ‘I’m a machine’ he said. It’s a machine whose throttle is permanently pressed to the floor.

But there is no better illustration of the risk than the substitution of Ben Woodburn for Anthony Forde and then Forde for Alex Gorrin in the first half. Gorrin had been rested because he’s been one booking from a ban since the opening weeks of the season.

Those injuries to Woodburn and Forde, along with Thorne and Hanson seem to be the collateral damage of the way we play. Two others are a booking away from a ban and we’ve had more bookings than anyone else in the division.

Karl Robinson creates so much heat and light through his boundless energy that for every last minute win, giant killing and breakneck run of results, there’s another player risking ban or six-week spell on the sidelines due to injury. No wonder he’s still looking to bring in more players in, he burns through them at such a rate.

For Robinson, this is probably how he’s lived his whole career – it’s probably normal to him. Powering on, hoovering up experiences, never looking back at the consequences. But, can we sustain this for the next eight months? Eight weeks? Even the next eight days?

There’s a notable chill in the air, which means things are getting serious. We’re about to go into a period of about four months where everything gets disrupted; cup games – with the addition of the League Cup – and international breaks are shoehorned in between the League.

I’m torn between enjoying the moments and building a sustainable club one block at a time. We’re ninth in the table, if we have a top 10 budget, then we’re exactly where we should be. Sometimes I feel we need to be more conservative because our peers are teams like Accrington, Wycombe, Burton and Wimbledon – conservative, sustainable and pragmatic.

We have Doncaster, Rotherham, Sunderland (in the League Cup), Ipswich and Portsmouth coming up. It’s a group of clubs which we would aspire to being part of. Perhaps we already are and this is the way we need to play to maintain our position or go higher.

Maybe the problem isn’t the team or Karl Robinson, perhaps it’s just me.

The wrap: Accrington Stanley 4 Oxford United 2

At the start of the week, a group of Labour MPs announced they were forming The Independent Group because they could no longer trust the party system in politics.

The journalist Owen Jones, went on the rampage, working his way through each of the seven picking a personal policy view for each one in an aim to discredit them individually and as a group.

It was the kind of boneheaded attack which is getting us into a mess in all sorts of areas. You might not like one view of one person, but that’s not a sign they are wholly evil or wrong about everything. If The Independent Group stands for anything, it’s debate and nuance over dogmatic ideology.

Inevitably after the defeat to Accrington, a day after another winding up order, the response was understandably enraged; get Tiger out and take Robinson with him. Everything about the current club is wrong. Get Michael Appleton in or even James Constable as he represents the spirit of the club.

Squeezing a complex issue into a view offers no space for debate or discussion. So, let’s break it down a little.

Tiger out?

Four winding up orders is not the sign of a well run club. But, they fall into two categories. I have a degree of sympathy for the argument that funding the club from outside the UK is difficult and that unexpected expenses have caused cash flow problems. These have impacted the club’s ability to pay its bills to HMRC. In truth, they appear to have been paid relatively quickly – suggesting there is money – after the PR damage has been done.

Then there’s the most recent winding up order from the stadium company, which appears to be something completely different. The stadium company are clearly tightening the screw on the club, it seems to be a contributory factor to the spat that led to the disbanding of the Oxford United Ultras at the weekend. It may also be a factor in how the team are preparing for match days. We’ve never had a winding up order from Firoz Kassam before, so why now?

It looks like a bit of grandstanding from Firoka designed to embarrass the owners at a time when he knows their stock is low. We can only speculate as to why, and Kassam will always fall back on the argument that they should pay what they owe. But he knows the pressures the club is under financially and winding the club up doesn’t help him longer term – he’d lose his tenant and there aren’t many alternatives out there. Perhaps it was anger and frustration, perhaps it’s a way of moving things on with the stadium discussions, if there are any. It may even be that with the club implying some progress on looking at alternative sites for a new stadium, Kassam is feeling under pressure and reacting accordingly.

I don’t think there’s a finance problem per se, although cashflow is something that needs to be sorted out. I’m assuming HMRC haven’t come knocking recently, so perhaps things are being put in place as Tiger suggested.

The club does have a massive communication problem with both its fans and the stadium company. Tiger appears not to have the time to dedicate to running the club himself, and so he needs an effective operational team with suitable delegated authority to run things on a day-to-day basis. I am often critical of Niall McWilliams who’s job is to nominally run the club. McWilliams might argue that he doesn’t have the cash or authority to run things as they need to be. He either needs that authority, or we need to bring in someone Tiger trusts to get on with things and rebuild damaged relationships.

Robbo out?

Third from bottom is not acceptable. Sacking a manager for poor performances would be a completely normal thing to do.

I don’t think Robinson is a bad manager; he did well at MK Dons and dragged Charlton into the play-offs in a pretty toxic environment. He’s not always great in front of a microphone – he speaks too quickly and ends up in cul de sacs where he says things perhaps he shouldn’t. Listen more closely, however and there’s a good philosophy trying to get out. He knows his stuff. He also understands football fans and what they want. Think back to his first interview with Radio Oxford, he knew us, our history and what we wanted.

His problem, I think, is that he seems to be doing everything – club spokesman, manager, scout. When you’ve got too much on, you’re more likely to make mistakes.

He’s also got a family and a career; the notion of him honourably walking away is unfair. When have you walked out of a job, putting you and your family in financial difficulty, because it satisfies some else’s moral code? No, you either look for another job or you stick at it. Let’s not pretend he’s happy or unaware of the situation.

He’s also an employee; he has to work within the constraints he’s given. It may be driving him mad, it may be borderline intolerable, but he has to keep smiling and supporting the machine. We’ve all done it. Don’t assume he’s in collusion with the owner and that they’re plotting to bring the club down or deluded.

It might be that Robinson needs to go to relieve the pressure on him and the club more widely, it’s hard to see a situation where he’s driving us forward with everyone’s backing. However, I’m not convinced that a change of manager would bring a significant change in performance. In some ways it gives the owners an excuse not to sort out their deeper problems. Maybe in the short term there would be a revival, but there are bigger issues to do with money and player recruitment that need sorting out before any manager can come in and perform at his best.

Appleton in?

Or James Constable? No.

A recent story about Michael Appleton going to Hibernian summarised his career as being a former Blackburn, Portsmouth and Blackpool manager. No mention of his success with us.

Appleton is tainted by his time working in impossible surroundings. He can’t work magic on his own, the difference with his time at Oxford was that everyone was pushing in the same direction. He thrived in that environment, but it’s not the environment he’d come into now.

Appleton is a theoretician; a scientist of the game. With resourcing, time and support he did wonders, but if you’re going to bring someone in to make an immediate impact, you need a hard nosed results man in the mould of Chris Wilder who is going to drag the team to success regardless of the circumstances.

In conclusion

Perhaps there is an owner and manager package with resources to meet our ambitions ready to step in and improve things, but I haven’t seen it.

In the absence of that, to get out of the hole we’re in we need to break the issues down and deal with them individually. The club needs to rebuild its relationships; with fans and with the stadium company. It needs people with the skills and authority to do that.

Sacking Karl Robinson may provide a short term boost that helps us get out of the relegation zone. But, the manager who replaces him needs to be the kind that will focus on results at all costs. Don’t expect it to be pretty. Think Steve Evans.

But also be careful; sacking Karl Robinson can create the illusion that the club has solved its problems. A nice PR boost for Tiger, but without a plan to replace him or build the club longer term, sacking him might just paper over cracks. If you’re bringing in a new manager, you have to decide why – to get us out of relegation zone, to be better prepared for League 2 (which suggests we’ve given up) or because there’s a new long term strategy with funding and a plan ready to take us forward.

It’s very tight at the bottom, despite Tuesday’s defeat we’re only a point from safety, three from the relative comfort of 17th. It is still within our powers to survive. We don’t, yet, need a miracle. If the club can relieve pressure on Karl Robinson by building positive relations, communicating more and sorting out its cash flow, it might just allow him to do his job, he should have the players. If there’s no prospect of that, then Robinson will continue to be dragged down with the club and someone with a different approach might be needed. Above all, however, let’s not pretend this is simple.


The wrap – Oxford United 2 Accrington Stanley 3

Success, it is said, is a fine balance between having enough confidence to believe you can achieve something and enough doubt to convince you to put in effort to achieve it. If you are too confident, you may not put the effort in, if you have too much doubt you’ll give up or you won’t start in the first place.

Performance-wise, I didn’t think Tuesday’s defeat to Accrington was too bad at all. I don’t have a benchmark this year, but it seems to me that Karl Robinson wants to play an intense, high-tempo game and in the main we achieved that.

But that kind of game carries risk; if you bomb forward and lose the ball, you’re susceptible to counter-attack. If you pass the ball quickly, one misplaced ball can cost you. If you close down quickly, mistiming can result in a foul. It is no riskier than, say, Pep Clotet’s or Michael Appleton’s approach.

With Clotet, the strategy was to draw teams on by retaining possession in midfield and defence before attacking at pace. In fact, the team would often get lost passing it along the defence and midfield, unsure of when to attack. While the players bought into Michael Appleton’s strategy of simply out-performing your opponents, sometimes we would be out-thought in the process.

So every strategy carries risk. The fact that we lost doesn’t invalidate the strategy. On Tuesday night, the players seemed to have confidence in the approach and bought into it. All over the pitch there were players stepping up, but the fact every step forward resulted in a step back eroded confidence. It wasn’t just the steps back, but the nature of those steps – an own goal and a penalty – like some higher being has decreed we should struggle. You got a sense of the deflation when the penalty was given, as Robinson said afterwards – it just feels like nothing is going right for us.

This should be short term, but we risk drifting into despondency, a loss of confidence that it’s not worth even trying. Karl Robinson’s post-match interview, I think, was designed to avoid that happening. Everyone did everything right, we were unlucky, if the players keep going they’ll be OK.
On the pitch it’s important that senior pros like John Mousinho and Curtis Nelson step up to provide the leadership. I get a sense that Browne doesn’t lack for confidence and Whyte should be pleased with his start. Most areas had positives.

The most volatile group in all this, of course, are the fans, who stayed with the team and appeared encouraged with what they saw. It’s was quite different to the echo-chamber of social media where everything is bad and will continue to be.

I don’t think we’re far away from getting going, but looking at the upcoming fixtures against two teams relegated from the Championship, it’s important that we get a foothold on the season soon. Maintaining confidence won’t last much longer, and then it’s a long way back from Karl Robinson.

Accrington wrap – Oxford United 1 Accrington Stanley 2

Football fans are pretty unforgiving, despite the gasps every time the ball hung in the air from a goal kick on Saturday, the assessment of our performance against Accrington completely discounted the impact the wind had on the game.

First half with the wind at our backs we looked OK, but with the wind in our faces we looked like we were running into a brick wall. Some viewed it as a sign of fatigue, which may be true, although I think mental fatigue is probably a bigger factor right now. The difference between the two teams was not who was more fresh or who had more skill, but who managed the conditions best.

In the first half, Accrington positioned two players on the edge of their own box at goal kicks to guard against the ball not making it out of their half. At one point when playing with the wind they put a player on the edge of our box, way beyond our back line. They knew that the ball would get caught in the wind and the player on the edge of the box meant that Dunkley and Mullins had to deal with it or let it through for a chance on goal.

Once they’d equalised, which was an absolute shambles from our perspective, Stanley could play conservatively – a point would have been fine. They used the wind to get the ball forward and put pressure on us to play, and, because of the way we play with lots of short passing, wait for the possibility of us making a mistake.

Which is where the problems start, we have a playing philosophy which doesn’t account for the conditions its played in. They, on the other hand, played the game that was in front of them. I suppose the idea is that our system should work more often than not. It’s the kind of philosophy that might work for a middle ranking Premier League team whose definition of success is maintain a level of consistency which ensures you don’t fail. But, for a team looking for promotion, can we really afford to wait for the conditions be right for us to succeed?

It’s a gamble, although we’re moving towards March when conditions should start to suit us more. But, if we have too many more games like Saturday we’re going to have to decide whether we want to lose pretty or win ugly.

Coming up: Accrington

The drop

The biggest game, massive, gigantic. If you needed any reminder of how massive this game is both fans and Michael Appleton have implored each other to understand its sheer massiveness.

Way to put pressure on everyone. Yes, a win would be particularly helpful against Accrington at this point in the season. But, Stanley are another of a succession on teams that have appeared in fourth place off the back of a half decent run, and the ineptitude of those around them; Mansfield (now 7th) and Bristol Rovers (8th) have both been our primary threat in recent weeks.

That implies to me that onky three teams have shown consistency this season, and the rest are typical of League 2, producing fitfully throughout the year.

There’s a particularly disingenuous piece in the Northampton Chronicle about Tuesday’s game, but one this Chris Wilder does say is that football is a physical, technical, tactical and psychological game; if we perform consistently in all four areas, then we should be just fine.

Old game of the day

Coming up: Accrington Stanley

The drop

Our trip to The North was supposed to give us a bit of rest bite before tougher fixtures later in the month, which includes the amuse bouche against Swindon on Tuesday. Our midweek win against York was more stressful than it had any need to be and next is promotion chasing Accrington Stanley.
Stanley are defying gravity at the moment. By rights they shouldn’t exist at all; surrounded, as they are, by a stack of larger, more established clubs. If the fact they exist is a bit of a miracle, their current position of fourth in the table even more so.
My guess is we won’t see them in this position in May; injuries and general fatigue will begin to kick-in and that’s when resources really start to count. Those around them look more equipped to cope as we head into the deep winter. In reality, rather than chasing promotion, they’re really banking points to ensure safety.
While things are going well, there’s a sense of invincibility and confidence, the trick is to break their spirit at the moment they think they can’t be beaten. Saturday could be that day.

 

Old game of the day

Who are they? Now, here are two clubs who share a peculiar history. Both teams’ most high profile moments are synonymous with the marketing of milk. When we came into the league we replaced them, when they came into the league, they replaced us. Yet, our first ever fixture was just five years ago. A fixture wholly archived by YouTube.

This one is probably the best of the lot; a rip-snorting cup game from 2012. Days after the death of Mitchell Cole, we seemed to be carried on a wave of emotion. Michael Raynes is one of my favourite players of recent years, so his last minute goal is particularly sweet.

From the blog

“I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon. A win is definitely better than a defeat; I am not one of those people who claims to want to see their team lose to affect a change of manager. For one, that’s a buffoon’s logic and two; from what I hear of him, I quite like Michael Appleton. I’m not convinced by him as a manager for obvious, tangible, reasons, but he speaks well and appears willing to take responsibility for his team. I don’t particularly like myself for not being convinced by him as a professional.”