I didn’t really follow last night’s defeat to Bristol Rovers closely as I was watching Alex Horne in Wycombe. He was on stage, I wasn’t stalking him through the Sainsbury’s. The early kick-off meant that I could check-in just before he came on stage to see the game was goalless. As the first half closed of the show, I could see it was 1-1 and heading for extra-time. As the lights dimmed for the second-half, the two quick goals from Bodin and Seddon gave me with the assurance I needed that we would ease through while I enjoyed the rest of the performance.
The show closed and I opened my phone to confirm our progress into the second round. I located the result and couldn’t initially compute what I was seeing. As we shuffled out of the theatre, my brain kept trying to transpose the four and three because that’s what it expected to see. It didn’t seem possible that we could throw a 3-1 lead away in extra time.
For some reason, Twitter has started to helpfully deprioritise my Oxford United tweets, perhaps it’s making space for GBNews memes or something. Piecing together exactly what happened was tricky but, inevitably, there was plenty of catastrophising and claims that this was ‘typical Oxford’.
The benefit of distance does allow for some perspective; extra-time isn’t normal; strange things can happen, though rarely stranger than what happened on Tuesday. We drew the match over 90 minutes, then lost the tie. It’s still not great, but had it been a league game, we’d have gone home with a point.
It also came three days after a dogged point away at Ipswich. There’s been a surprising reaction from Ipswich fans to our performance on Saturday. We are cheats, timewasters and – the ultimate diss at this level – ‘anti-football’. Alternatively, we battled for a point and chose wisely to protect it, rather than recklessly go for all three.
I recently came across the term ‘emotional architecture’, the idea of knowing how something works in reality rather than on paper. An ability to navigate the emotional structures of something; its relationships, strengths and weaknesses. People who have worked somewhere for a long time are particularly adept at it.
Ipswich Town fans are not totally unfamiliar with the third tier but it’s not their natural home. This summer was one of positive change for them and heavy investment in their squad suggested that promotion and the title was within their grasp. But, based on Saturday, they still haven’t come to terms with the emotional architecture of the lower leagues and are struggling because things aren’t how they want them to be. A big part of this is the recognition that every team at this level is, to some extent, flawed and limited.
We are no exception. On Saturday we showed guile and awareness of those limitations which helped manage that situation. Teams who succeed tend to be very good at dealing with what is in front of them. Those that fail are indignant the opponents don’t present themselves as they want to them to be. We have weaknesses which we need to manage if we’re going to accumulate the points we need for the play-offs and beyond. Ipswich didn’t like that and thought we should expose those weaknesses in the name of ‘proper foootball’.
In some sense, what we saw last night was an illustration of those weaknesses. We don’t have endless flexibility to change our system or the depth to provide cover in all areas. We could have managed the situation better – not least by not making three substitutions in the first game which totally destabilised us when leading – but the fact we have limitations should’t come as a surprise. Although most people try to ignore it, our failure to progress in the Papa John’s Trophy was an indication of the unavoidable weaknesses within the squad.
Is it something to complain about or part of the emotional architecture of this level of football? A reality we have to deal with best we can? I think it’s one of those things; you build your strength up best you can, accept your vulnerabilities and hope they don’t get found out too often. In a sense, that’s what the lower leagues are all about.
In a sense, the defeat might be a godsend. Back in 2016 we made progress in all competitions and by January were playing a blancmange of JPT, FA Cup and league games. By March, we were falling apart and hanging on with injuries to Joe Skarz, Ryan Taylor and Kemar Roofe, amongst others. We still had enough quality and hauled ourselves over the line for the ultimate goal of promotion, but I’m not convinced we could achieve that in League 1 if we also had to manage a good cup run. As difficult as last night proved to be, I’ll take it if it gives us a better chance of the play-offs or promotion.
One of my favourite films is the 1983, ahem, ‘masterpiece’ War Games. In it, a teenage computer nerd (Matthew Broderick) hacks into a government computer thinking he’s accessing the latest computer games. The ‘game’ he plays turns out to be a simulation of global thermonuclear war which teaches a government supercomputer how to respond to a Russian nuclear attack.
Inadvertently, the game creates the perception that the US is under attack in real life putting the US military on red alert. As the prospect of World War 3 edges ever closer, the computer tries to calculate a strategy to counteract the imminent apocalyptic threat. With every scenario broadly advocating blowing everyone to kingdom come, to teach the computer about the futility of war, the nerd gets the computer to play an infinite number of unwinnable game of noughts and crosses.
I’m beginning to see a parallel here with the complex programming of our current squad. There’s a gaping weakness which everyone can see and nobody can fix. Matty Taylor’s opening goal against Bristol Rovers was the fifteenth time in nineteen games that we’ve taken the lead this season, the tenth time in the opening half-an-hour. Sam Finley’s response before half-time was the sixth time the second goal was an equaliser. As has been the common pattern this year, a strong start was followed by a period of collective narcolepsy, something we seem unable to combat.
It isn’t a terminal flaw; generally speaking we’ve been very good this season and are in a strong position. It’s a simple reminder that, at this level, as much as we want to believe our team is an all-conquering machine, the reality is that nobody playing at this level is close to being perfect. We need to constantly remind ourselves of this before any streak of arrogance skittles us.
Around the hour, we burst back into life, chances flowed, everything clicked, Marcus McGuane showed why teams like the biggest teams have taken him on in the past. The move that led to his goal was flawless in its execution. Then we were rampant, Matty Taylor hit the post and bar within a minute, at one point we broke clear with Williams, Sykes and Whyte marauding forward with menace before Cameron Brannagan nearly Peter Levened it into the top right-hand corner. The game became a full-throttle and very entertaining FA Cup tie. Then Brannagan tried from range again, then again. Each attempt was less effective and analogy to our whole performance. The purple patch began to pass, the little imperfections crept back in.
Everything that previously attracted McGuane to Barcelona, Taylor to Bristol City, Whyte to Cardiff and Williams to Fulham overwhelmed Rovers for a while but critically, the third goal didn’t come.
As the winded Rovers gulped in mouthfuls air trying to catch its breath from the onslaught, from the bench appeared Boden, Forde and Agyei to replace Whyte, Taylor and Sykes. Any triple substitution is a big statement, was Karl Robinson trying to get under the skin at the odious Joey Barton? Playing to the crowd by giving Matty Taylor his standing ovation? Or cocking a snook at what he oddly described last week as our ‘second derby’? Whatever it was, he seemed to overlook that the game wasn’t yet definitively won.
The grand gesture destabilised the team, momentum shifted from putting Rovers to the sword to focus on re-constituting the team mid-flow. All the while there was the prospect of someone making a silly mistake or Rovers pulling off something unlikely. The margin of error was too narrow for us to be showboating.
Karl Robinson focussed on Hanson after the game, but he was just the fall guy – when you make that many changes that quickly, the likelihood is that something will malfunction. It just happened to be Hanson at the centre of the penalty award, but it could have been anyone in that position. Had the changes been introduced more gradually, it would have been easier for the team to adjust and the more catastrophic mistakes would have been less likely.
Like every team at this level, we have inevitable and unavoidable weaknesses baked into who we are. It’s fine, and nothing to worry about, but we need to stay focussed and manage that risk. From the jaws of victory we seemed to forget who we are, and for that we paid the price.
A long time ago, I asked for your favourite games of the 2015/16 season, then the pandemic hit and everything went belly up. That season had everything – derby wins, giant killings, a Wembley visit and, of course, promotion. There was a lot to choose from, but vote you did. Here are the seventeen best games from that unforgettable year.
17. Morecambe 2 Oxford United 4
A hard won away win in a lovely kit, apart from that, it’s not obvious why this was such a significant game. But, if you’re in the pub, a job interview or hostage situation and someone asks what was the 17th most memorable game of the 2015/16 season; this is it.
Had it really come to this? After the derby, Wembley, giant killings and all the winning, we were faced with the prospect of three games and three wins for promotion. This was the first, Joe Skarz returned from what was thought to be a season ending injury to help drag us to three points against a stubborn Hartlepool side. One down, two to go.
Sometimes, everything just clicks. When the club designated the game at Teddy Sheringham’s Stevenage a family away-day special, they couldn’t have hoped for a better game than this 5-1 annihilation. It was the first time in nine years we’d scored five away from home and was, at the time, a record equalling away victory. One for the record books, but more importantly, one for the kids.
Sometimes games are less about the performance and more about the result. The atmosphere was ugly, the game was tense for this JPT Semi-Final Second Leg against Millwall. All we needed to do was protect our 2-0 first leg advantage. A 1-0 defeat made things uncomfortable, but still meant we were heading for Wembley.
The season turned into a farewell tour of the clubs we’d considered equals for a decade or more. This dominant display at Barnet with two goals from Callum O’Dowda had a strong ‘we’ll never play you again’ vibe about it.
Roofe, Dunkley, Hylton, MacDonald, Wright, Baldock, Lundstram, Maguire – the list of great names from that season live long in the memory – Skarz. See? Was Jordan Bowery the great forgotten player from that season? Maybe. With JPT, FA Cup and league interests, things were getting hectic. A trip to Portsmouth looked daunting, but Bowery’s second half winner secured a memorable and crucial three points.
Wembley; the JPT Final was a true game of two halves. In the first 45 minutes we were, by far, the better team and went in 1-0 up with a goal from Callum O’Dowda and a Cruyff turn from Chey Dunkley. In the second half we came out heavy legged and conceded three. A Danny Hylton goal pulled it back to 3-2, which wasn’t quite enough. But, what a day out.
We needed this; after two frustrating league draws and a defeat at Wembley, we just needed to give someone a good pummelling. It’d taken nine years for us to score five away from home and five months to do it again. Crawley, it was nothing personal.
Days after knocking Swansea City out of the FA Cup, we headed to The New Den for our JPT Semi-Final First Leg against Millwall. After the Lord Mayor’s Show? Not a chance. Two giant killings in four days? Yes please.
There may have been a good feeling around the place, but the obliteration of Championship Brentford in the League Cup ignited the season. The opening was rampant with Oxford three up inside 15 minutes, including a wonder strike from Kemar Roofe, Johnny Mullins’ second half goal saw us stroll to a 4-0 win.
The Kassam Stadium can feel like a soulless concrete brick, but when Oxford’s Ultras unveiled a giant flag of an ox impaling a robin which stretched from the top of the stand to the bottom, it felt like the Curva Sud. We were absolutely dominant for this JPT derby; two Kemar Roofe goals swept Swindon aside in a true changing of the guard in the rivalry.
Did someone order a Family Bucket of limbs? The penultimate game of the season saw us 270 miles to Carlisle and owner Daryl Eales dishing out free hot dogs. Chris Maguire’s early penalty was a settler, but it was Liam Sercombe’s trademark surge into the box which cemented this as the third best game of the season. Now, where have my shoes gone?
When you’ve got Premier League opponents; keep it tight, see if you can nick a goal. Right? Wrong. Despite conceding early, we put on a scintillating display of attacking joie de vivre to sweep away Swansea City in the FA Cup. If we didn’t know something special was happening before, we did now.
The pinnacle, the denouement, the culmination of a wonderful season, the sun shone, the crowds came, promotion was won. Chey Dunkley physically, emotionally and psychologically broke the deadlock, Chris Maguire made it certain, then it was over to the local boy Callum O’Dowda to weave his way to an injury-time third. For O’Dowda, Jake Wright, Danny Hylton and Kemar Roofe, it was their last appearance in an Oxford shirt. A magical spell had been broken.
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…’
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.’
GLS hasn’t had an unfamiliar sensation like this since the doctor told him she needed to use the extra long lance. Apparently we suffered what’s known as ‘a loss’ on Saturday against Doncaster Rovers. This is an Old English term historians believe was last used in the Oxford area around the birth of Christ, or ‘Sam Long’ as he’s more conventionally known. An approximate translation is something along the lines of ‘WHAT THE FUDGING HECK WERE YOU DOING REF? HOW IS THAT NOT A PENALTY?’.
Sunday 7 February 2021
Last year, the country was in thrall as Coleen Rooney took to Twitter to call out Rebekah Vardy for leaking stories to the tabloids. The affair was dubbed ‘Wagatha Christie’. Well, season two just dropped, it’s… A Touch of Fost.
There’s more to Bristol Rovers Peaky Blinder Paul Tisdale than turn-ups and a pair of vintage Adidas Spezials, he’s also got a distressed t-shirt of a band he’s never heard of with the sleeves torn off. Tomorrow we head for Bristol Rovers just two weeks after beating them 2-0 at home. “I think we’ve made some progress in terms of players” he said “and maybe some pattern that has improved since then.” Nothing barks improvement like no wins in nine, and two goals and two points out of twelve since our last game.
Tuesday 9 February 2021
*coquettishly puts fingers on lips and looks innocent*
What’s that? Oh, I’ve dropped something? This little thing? Another win? Oh silly me, let me bend down and pick it up. Gosh, I hope this skirt isn’t too short?
The Mirror have taken to wildly speculating who will take over as manager at Bournemouth. It’s a veritable racist paradise with both Jonathan Woodgate and John Terry in the running. One surprise name, though, is plucky non-racist KRob, whose been turning a few heads with his endeavours at Oxford. There’s a lot going for KRob; his results record, his record developing players and especially that the compo will be cheap when they fire him after six games and get Eddie Howe back again.
Friday 12 February 2021
KRob missed out on becoming manager of the month to Hull’s Grant McCann on Friday. Despite his perfect record in January, nobody can deny that Hull’s plummet down the form table to 11th hasn’t been eye-catching. Nothing could separate Josh Ruffels from Matty Lund of Rochdale for player of the month apart from their defensive records, goals per game, head-to-head record, league position and points accumulated; so the judges had to rely on the complicated football algorithm; alphabetical order, to make the decision.
Meanwhile, the Sheffield Star have spun the wheel of random punditry to reveal that John Lundstram has been tipped to join Leeds United in the summer by former Aston Villa full-back Alan Hutton who has no obvious connection to any of the parties involved. Next month, Joe Skarz tipped for Borussia Mönchengladbach by Julian Joachim.
I don’t remember a lot about our eight game winning streak in 1982/83 – the last time we won more than six in a row – but I do remember bits. I remember the 5-2 win over Folkstone in the FA Cup because Folkestone was where we caught the ferry to go on holiday and I couldn’t fathom why they’d have a football team. I remember beating Newport 2-1 because we went a goal down and Radio Oxford got the ‘prayer mat’ out; something they’d do if we needed a bit of luck. When we equalised I shouted in my kitchen ‘COME ON OXFORD’ to the obvious amusement of our neighbour raking leaves in the garden next door. I also remember the run ending in a cup game against Torquay; their mascot had ‘½’ on the back of their shirt, which I thought was hilarious. Don’t look at me like that, I was young.
I do remember the feeling; like we were in a pocket of air with no resistance. We breezed through games, nothing was too difficult we were floating, weightless. I got a similar sense of that last season when we beat Lincoln, West Ham and Gillingham. And yes, that was only last season.
I’m not getting the same feeling from the current run. Partially, because it’s been so fragmented with postponements but mostly because we are not of it, we are not within it, we are watchers from afar.
I know I’m not alone in feeling this lockdown more than the previous ones, football fans are winter-people, football, for me, straightens out the wrinkles and frustrations of the working week. Working can be complex and frustrating; football and going to games, is simple and unifying. In the winter, when it’s dark, cold and gloomy and those frustrations hide in the shadows, the weekend’s game is a beacon. As mentally refreshing as any spar weekend. I know people who don’t like football and hate winter, I’ve always loved it, particularly January. Where they look to the skies to see if the sun is lingering a little longer, signalling the oncoming of spring, I just have to look to the floodlights each weekend to provide direction.
There’s no doubt I prefer a lockdown with football than without, I look forward to the game and enjoy the wins, but I don’t lose myself when the ball hits the back of the net and, at the final whistle, I unplug my laptop from the TV and get on with whatever needs doing. I miss walking down the concrete steps and getting mildly frustrated behind a hobbling septuagenarian who descends like they’re returning from the summit of Everest. I miss walking past a shadowy group catching up on the day’s results… ‘I see Plymouth won again…’ without ever knowing why that might be important to them.
I’ve no doubt the players feel the same; playing football each weekend will still bring them purpose and fulfilment, but the sense of occasion is gone. I doubt many footballers try to articulate their cultural purpose, but I bet they miss it when it’s not there.
I see Oxford fans on Twitter sharing the odd conspiracy theory about Covid, snippets of data and information that appear to confirm what everyone desperately wants; a lessening of its threat and a return to normal. But building that narrative only makes it worse, we begin to believe what is not true; that this will magically disappear or that the risks are overstated, and that will just mean the road to recovery will be longer and more painful. It’s a bit like the woman I read about in a local paper a couple of years ago who turned down chemotherapy in preference for a diet of carrots to fight her cancer. Yes, really and no, it didn’t work. The loss of prominent Oxford fans to the virus surely brings it home that this isn’t some abstract threat, it’s very real and immediate.
I know that data is misinterpreted, I know the virus is real, but I still look to the horizons for a glimmer of hope that this will simply end and the world will click back into place. It’s only natural. I want to go back to games, we have away games at Ipswich, MK Dons and Swindon coming up, in our current form, these would have been epic adventures.
But, the prospect of returning to normal this season seems to ebb away with every passing day. Perhaps a very limited number of people will be allowed in during late spring, but surely the government will be more cautious this time and the unlocking will be so gradual, the season will be nearly over by the time it’s safe to return.
At work, we’re currently planning on six month cycles, nobody is planning their next career move, they’re not even planning their next summer holiday. To cast too far forward just brings uncertainty, regret and anxiety. The answer, then, is to pull back; did we get through today? Are we OK right now?
It’s much the same with this season; our regret comes from not being immersed in the narrative, the feeling of detachment creates a feeling of more detachment. Rather than pining for the whole – a late season charge to the play-offs, an away day for the ages, we just need to take each game as it comes, however it comes. The days will turn into weeks, which turn into months and into years and gradually everything changes.
Perhaps just taking each game at a time is how we’ve dragged ourselves back into form. It feels like the current run has sneaked up on us. The Swindon defeat, our last loss, was so brutal it could easily have signalled the end of our season. Just keep clear of relegation and sack off the season as a whole. Instead, yesterday we looked fluid and cohesive, we’re no longer chasing shadows, we’re playing on the front foot, confidence flowed through everything we did. It’s massive credit to the players and manager that they’ve turned it round. There are tougher games to come, but improbably, the play-offs don’t seem such a distant prospect. The win was great, I just missed that feeling of my toes thawing out in the car on the way home.