New Burton manager, Jimmy Flloyd Hasselbank, has pinpointed what went wrong yesterday; their defence, attack, midfield, shape, commitment, fitness, organisation… “That was missing a bit and Oxford picked us apart” said the Dutchman with admirable understatement “(Even) while they were not even playing that well.” he added. Because nothing shows a team playing not playing ‘that well’ than a 5-1 away win.
Monday 4 January 2021
Hello? (hello?, hello?, hello?) What’s causing that echo? Why, it’s the empty heads of the two Oxford youth team players caught going to a New Year party breaking CoVid rules. The Athletic report that both have been suspended with KRob threatening to have them sacked. Fans commenting on the article have responded calmly, Bradley B, whose clearly never been managed by Malcolm Shotton, honked “This is the world we live in now. An authoritarian nightmare under the guise of protection.” while Matthew H was as misguided as Agon Mehmeti in front of an open goal, squawking “It kills 0.04% of people. Seriously dangerous s***” – a statistic so spectacularly wrong (by a factor of at least fifteen) it’s almost as if epidemiological studies should be left to professionals.
Imagine having such a sense of self-importance you think you have the right to subvert the norms and conventions of society to get what you want. Imagine, believing that those in power are conspiring against you. Imagine using modern media to over-inflate your status causing thousands of clueless buffoons to follow your lead. Imagine being led by a band of 80s corporate rejects with no plan. Did those storming the Capitol building in Washington learn nothing from Sunderland? Oxford target, Luke Thomas, looks set to put on his horned hat and bear skin and take up the cause at the Stadium of Light.
Back in October 1995 Wycombe Wanderers arrived at The Manor; it was their second visit as a Football League team having smashed and grabbed a 2-0 win the previous year. Despite that, we retained an arrogance towards them that exists to this day; we were the bigger team and would sweep them aside because of our sheer Oxfordness.
In fact, they did it again, only worse, taking home three points in a 4-1 win. The situation then was not dissimilar to this season; the previous year we looked set for promotion but fell away, the assumption was that having retained the core of a good team, we would finish the job and be promoted.
The defeat to Wycombe was a sobering experience, while the real story of that season would come later with a scintillating run to promotion, it was a key stepping stone as it represented our last home defeat of the year.
That season is regularly used as a reference point for what can be achieved when things get tough, in the same way our 5-5 draw against Portsmouth in 1992 is often the reason a whole generation of Oxford fans don’t leave until the final whistle. Truth is, if you’re 5-3 down with a minute to go or 15th with half-a-season gone, the most likely scenario is that you’ll lose or remain in mid-table. But, you never know.
Strangely, the Swindon defeat in November may have been just the tonic we needed; sobering us up in the same way the Wycombe game did in 1995. There were no more excuses, the hangover from the previous season needed to be dealt with. Suddenly, there was discord which also gave Karl Robinson the opportunity to make key decisions; not least about the goalkeeping situation that has been nagging away since the end of last season. It would have been harder to make that decision had we scraped a win or even a draw; dropping Simon Eastwood might have looked spiteful in the way the apparent freezing out of Mark Sykes does at the moment.
Let’s face it, the fixtures have fallen well for us recently; in the last ten games only three have been against teams above us in the table. Burton yesterday were terrible and us scoring five was fairly moderate when you consider the three or four other clear chances we missed. The game was nothing short of a riot.
But this is what watching Karl Robinson’s Oxford is all about; a rollercoaster of emotions, the best party and the worst comedown. You’re just as likely to be dancing on a table top with people putting fivers in your thong as you are crying about lost love in a dark corner.
Watching the team is like a Soul Train Line; where dancers line up in two rows and take turns to freestyle their way down the middle, showing off their best moves. Last year there were moments when James Henry, Cameron Brannagan or Shandon Baptiste threw the best shapes, at the moment it seems to be Josh Ruffels and Sam Long, along with the quietly emerging Mide Shodipo.
What we were crying out for in the early stages of the season was leadership; I don’t think anyone expected Ruffels and Long to be the ones to show it. Their roles seem to be under almost constant threat, Long, in particular, seems to have been treated like a stopgap solution until something better comes along even though he’s played in every game, starting all but one – it’s already his best haul of league games in a season.
But, perhaps we need a different kind of leadership at the moment. Sheer technical ability is not enough nor a clear head to cut through a febrile atmosphere when the stands are full of fans baying for blood. Perhaps the qualities that Long and Ruffels show are that they need the club to survive because their careers are interwoven with its fortunes. Where others can look at the club as a stepping stone to something else or maybe another contract in a career that’s coming to an end – neither of which is the wrong way to think – you don’t get a sense either are hankering for a move; the club’s success is their success.
Their longer term view is helping to drag us through the quagmire challenges the club face; where for others there’s always another club and another season; that’s not a luxury afforded to Long and Ruffels. Other players play for a team or a squad, Long and Ruffels play for a club. That reminder to keep going until we find a better place has pulled us from the despair of the pandemic, Wembley and Swindon to a much healthier position. It’s their sheer Oxfordness, which is showing the way.
January looks critical; we’ve a few more fixtures against teams below us until we meet Fleetwood at the end of the month, then we’re back to facing all the teams that gave us problems at the start of the season. We need points and players because if we are to challenge for the play-offs the last couple of months look set to be a proper pile-on.
Of course, January is set to be critical in terms of the pandemic too; with cases surging and postponements growing, getting to the end of the season hangs in the balance. I think it’s right that the season should continue for as long as it can; all industries are having to find another way to do business and football is no exception. But, we can’t ignore the reality that every scenario remains likely – that we’ll end the season on time, that there needs to be a break or that it needs to be curtailed.
Now is the time for the EFL to make plans for all those scenarios, we can’t find ourselves in the same situation as last year where it took weeks for a re-start plan to emerge. You can’t help thinking that we’re set to step into the same trap as the one we fell into in March, hopefully with the likes of Ruffels and Long showing the way, the club has the muscle memory to be ready for what comes next.
Like GLS’ approach to sharing a tub of Celebrations, Oxford left with the bounty against Wimbledon after a 2-0 win on Boxing Day. Despite goals from Matty Taylor and Jordan Obita, star of the show was goalkeeper Jack Stevens who made a string of saves to prevent The Dons from getting back into the game. We haven’t seen reactions like that since the time GLS’ mum opened a crotchless pearl thong from his dad in front of nan one Christmas.
Meanwhile Cowboy Chris Cadden could be about to mount his trusty steed and head back to the old country after it was revealed Columbus Crew may seek to off load him. Both Oxford and Hibs are said to be interested.
Tuesday 29 December 2020
Headington United’s Sam Long was the star of the show on Tuesday night scoring a wonder goal at Plymouth Argyle in a 3-2 win. Long burst out of his own half, exchanged passes with Daryl Clare and slotted home having run some 60 yards to score. Some didn’t think Long had it in his legs, but he’s been doing double shifts down at the Headington quarry in between games.
Oxford visit Burton Albion tomorrow looking to make it four wins in a row. The Brewers haven’t had a permanent manager since the departure of Nigel Clough in the summer. Burton’s taste in managers is like a two-year old fussy eater who will only eat pasta or chips for tea as Jimmy Flloyd Hasselbaink returns for his 227th stint in charge.
There’s nothing better than a new kit; so the summer is new kit Christmas. Nearly everyone have revealed their kit for the new season. I’ll keep updating this post with new designs as they’re revealed. Here’s what we have so far…
Accrington are punching above their weight adopting Adidas as their kit manufacturer. Thankfully they’ve managed to bring the tone down a notch or two with an experimental dotty sleeve. It’s let Accrington down, it’s let Adidas down, but most of all, it’s let the lovely white shirt down.
We’re all shocked to our core with Blackpool’s new shirt; tangerine with white trim, like every Blackpool shirt in history. That said, it’s a nice enough design. Eagled eyed among you will see this template replicated elsewhere. In the least shocking news ever the away shirt is a simple reverse out of the home version.
The key to any artistic process is to know when to stop. Bristol Rovers have an iconic kit and it shouldn’t be difficult to pull a decent shirt out of the bag. This version has funny cuffs, collar, stripe down the arm, what appears to be some kind of camo shadowing. The second kit goes some way to redeeming things, but not much.
Burton Albion may be the most forgettable team in the division, and their new home shirt lives up to that reputation. One of this season’s trends is the re-introduction of the button collar, which we can all agree is a travesty. And yet, the away kit is so awful, apparently modelled on the faux medical uniform of a cosmetic surgery nurse, that the button may just improve it.
Without doubt Charlton have bigger problems than providing a decent new kit. The home shirt looks like every Charlton kit ever released, while the away shirt is probably a reflection of the mood around the club.
Crewe’s return to League 1 is marked by a retro red and black number, but it’s the away kit which is of most note, appearing to take inspiration from their shirt sponsor Mornflake Mighty Oats.
Thankfully Doncaster Rovers’ new shirt is identical to every Doncaster Rovers home shirt of the last decade. The red and white hoops are a classic not to be messed with. The away kit is also pretty sweet; maybe the best combo in the division?
To some people, the fact that Fleetwood Town exist and are managed by Joey Barton is confusing enough. This kit, which seems to adopt about nine different styles in one, is a proper head scrambler. The away kit, however, works really nicely – silver and mint, who knew?
Bit of an odd one this; Gillingham are perhaps the most meh team in League 1, and it appears that they’re sticking with the same kit as last season. It’s OK, Macron, the manufacturer, have a nice style about them. You could describe this as a bit meh, really.
Like all the teams coming down from the Championship, Hull have been slow to release their new shirt. The result is an unremarkable number, saved largely by the fact that it’s Umbro, giving it a nice traditional feel. The third kit (no second kit that I can ascertain) is a bit of an oddity; when I first saw it, I really liked it and thought it was one of the nicest in the division, then I looked again and find it a bit boring.
A tale of two shirts for Ipswich Town. An absolute beauty for the home shirt reminiscent of their heyday in the 1980s under Bobby Robson. The away shirt looks like someone has washed it with a tissue in the pocket.
Lincoln City play a classic card with their new shirt. There are few teams that wear red and white stripes who haven’t gone for the disruptive inverted colourway at some point. There will be Lincoln fans everywhere tearing up their season tickets at the abomination, but I like it. The away number is solid but unremarkable.
A solid home option for MK Dons, but you can’t deny they work hard to be the most despicable team in the league, the away shirt is black with gold trim? What are they? A Bond villain? Yes, yes they are.
I’ve always felt that Hummel offer a hipster’s choice when it comes to shirt manufacturing; typically because of their excellent work on the Danish national shirts in the mid-80s. I’ve also always liked Northampton’s colours. So, put together should be a sure fire winner. the away kit is OK until you look more closely, the strange central dribble, the fading pin stripes. They get away with it, but only just.
Look closely, well not that closely, and you’ll see the new Oxford shirt is the same Puma template as Blackpool and Swindon. Rumour has it that in real life it adopts the geometric pattern of the Peterborough shirt. It’s OK, for a title winning shirt.
Last season Puma made a big deal of their sublimated flux shirt designs, this year seems to have some kind of geometric update. There are randomised white flecks in there as well. A real nearly, but not quite design, a bit like Peterborough. The away shirt utilises the 437th Puma template of the division, and it’s a bit of a cracker, while nothing screams ‘Revenge season’ then a neon pink third kit.
Plymouth return to League 1 with a couple of scorchers. The home shirt is spoilt a bit with what appears to be a button collar, the away kit is absolutely magnificent. It’s difficult to imagine under what circumstances they would need a third kit, but it ticks some boxes.
One of the big favourites for the League 1 title next season have opted for a pretty conservative upgrade. What the heck is with that collar though? I quite like the away shirt with its white shadow stripes, it reminds me of our own away kit from the mid-eighties. Was there a three for two offer at Sports Direct? The unnecessary third kit looks like a reboot of our 2013/14 Animalates shirt.
You might call it armageddon chic; there’s a theme in a lot of kits where they’ve taken their standard design and given it a twist. Quite often it’s such a twist it comes off completely. Rochdale are just about the right side of acceptable with the blurred lined and shredded but at the top.
Aficionados of League 1 kit launches will know that Shrewsbury specialise in producing terrible promotional photography. For evidence try this, this or even this.This year is no different. Still, they get bonus points for adopting Admiral as their kit manufacturer. The away shirt takes inspiration from Oxford’s purple years when we were sponsored by Isinglass.
Our friends up the A420 have selected yet another Puma kit variation. How many templates does one manufacturer need? It’s a nice and simple design, ruined by the addition of a Swindon Town badge. The away shirt could not be less imaginative if it tried.
Let’s not kid ourselves; all teams use standard templates, but Sunderland’s new Nike shirt absolutely screams ‘park football’. The away shirt is Portsmouth’s home shirt in a different colour way, but that’s OK, I quite like it.
I was genuinely sad when I saw this; Wigan’s kit feels like a club that’s fallen apart with the off-the-peg template and the ironed-on ‘sponsor’ (let’s assume the Supporters Club have not paid a penny for this).
Have Wimbledon given up? They seem so bored with life they can’t be bothered to feature a decent logo of their sponsor and what can you say about the diagonal shadow stripe? They seem to trump it with the away shirt, which is going some. A shirt that screams relegation.
Which is worse? Being battered by the Coronavirus, being battered by Storm Ciara or being battered by Peterborough? We took a 4-0 pasting on Saturday, who were decent enough to make things competitive by going down to 10 men.
On Valentine’s Day, try and find someone who looks at you like Sunderland owner Stewart Donald looks at Oxford United. The doe-eyed cash puppy drags his financial millstone down south on Saturday. It’s predicted that Storm Dennis will hit the game with lashings of rain and fifty mile an hour winds. This is not to be confused with billowing hot air about being England manager while wearing a ginger wig; that’s Storm Denis. Oxford will be without the Fun-Sized Sam Deering, Liam Kelly, who was injured on Tuesday. Given the strength of the wind, we probably wouldn’t have had him for long even if he had been on the pitch.
Back in 2009 I watched our game at Burton on some dodgy internet feed. It was a famous night; Burton were expecting to confirm their ascent to the Football League before Adam Chapman’s zinger of a free-kick ruined it all.
The picture was glitchy and blurred and surrounded by adverts of exotic looking large breasted women, sat in expensive sports cars who apparently were available for sex right now in a village two miles down the road from me. Last time I drove through there, the only thing available right now are some tulip bulbs which can be bought with a donation to an honesty box.
It was a novel immersive experience with a small community of Twitter early adopters sharing the feed around and Twittering inanely throughout the game.
Fast forward 11 years and we were back at virtual-Burton; the stream via iFollow is legitimate and paid-for, the large breasted distractions have gone, the Twitter community is bigger. The production is better but it’s still pretty poor; even paying £10 for the privilege, I like its raw appeal.
The experience opens you up to the real-time opinions and emotions of hundreds of people simultaneously. It’s an odd feeling, even at a live game amongst thousands, the number of people you talk or listen to is relatively small and most will share similar views to you, that’s why you hang out with them.
In a ding dong draw there was a huge range of emotions; from despair to frustration to anger, to disengagement, elation, acceptance and more. At least with a heavy defeat or rousing win it’s relatively easy to find a consensus, but a draw with mid-table Burton opens up a wider debate.
Personally, in the context of the season, I think the point is acceptable. Burton are a solid and robust team, Nigel Clough is the epitome of steadiness; they’re slap bang in the middle of the table and in their last five games they have drawn four times. You could argue that these are teams we should be beating, you can equally argue that Burton are a tough side and any away point against them is a point gained. On balance, not forgetting who we are – a team punching slightly above our weight – for me it’s a point gained.
Encouragingly I didn’t feel the result was down to fatigue or injuries, I thought we showed good energy throughout. Players like Cameron Brannagan, James Henry and Matty Taylor all looked like they were coming back to form and fitness. The failing was tactical, our fast moving possession passing game is prone to errors, and we’re particularly vulnerable early in games when our opponents are fresh. We’ve been caught several times now early in games conceding possession and giving away goals. What gives me grounds for hope is that this is more fixable than bringing injured players back to fitness.
The final argument is that will always be trotted out in the event of a defeat; any failing is the fault of the board, no better illustrated than through their decision to sell Tariqe Fosu and Shandon Baptiste. This is a convenient argument, but seems over-stated; Baptiste, for all his potential, only started nine league games this season, winning three. Brannagan, Henry, Gorrin, Forde and Thorne have all been as influential. Fosu also had his moments, but looked tired in the final weeks of his time at the club and, in my view, has been more than compensated with the arrival Holland and Browne. The only justifiable criticism is that the club haven’t replaced Chris Cadden.
Back in the summer we predicted a finish between 8th and 10th, we currently sit 10th. This is a division full of teams susceptible to extreme runs of form. For all the challenges that this month offers, the priority for me is as much about limiting losses as it is about making gains.