Match wrap – Oxford United 4 Burton Albion 1

Back in the early 90s I went with some friends to the Slough Festival, a lightweight indie festival with NME bands that we students thought were about the take over the world. It was a good day in our insular little world. Headliners were Jesus Jones who’d enjoyed a degree of success in America with songs like Right Here, Right Now and International Bright Young Things. This was their triumphant return to their homeland, so anticipation was high.

They opened with a blistering salvo of the hits that had brought them fame alongside a few classics, like Info Freako, which made them cool in the first place. As we swirled around in a breathless and sweaty mosh pit, singer Mike Edwards stepped up to the microphone and said ‘We’re going to play some new stuff now, it’s a bit rough, so bear with us.’

The second half of the gig was devoted to the band trying to figure out various chord progressions to songs we’d never heard before. There were long meandering jams which would clearly be cut in half by any studio producer and short bursts of electronica which was an idea looking for a song. There was at least one song about a big social issue played on an acoustic guitar. And that was it, they didn’t return to any hits, it was like being at a rehearsal with 12,000 other people.

There was an odd atmosphere leaving the Kassam after we’d obliterated Burton on Saturday. The first half was a riot and although I don’t think anyone was expecting us to sustain that kind of performance over 90 minutes, the second, by comparison, was much more of a trudge. We’d played all the hits in the first half, had it been the other way around, I suspect the place would have been a fevered buzz rather than the contented hum of a job well done. As we filed out, I looked down at the pitch to see a couple of players on their haunches looking into the crowd as if to say – ‘after all that, all you can think of is getting out of the car park?’

In many ways it was the perfect Karl Robinson performance, doing a 90 minute job in half the time is pretty much his modus operandi. I imagine he used to drive his mum mad tidying his room only for her to find everything shoved under the bed.

Although reverting to the ‘annihilation mode’ which had destroyed Charlton last month, it didn’t look like tactics would have a major bearing on the outcome. We were simply too mobile, too good. We are pumped full of quality, even if we do have a habit of breaking all our new toys. First Winnall, then Bodin, then Browne, now Baldock; that’s beginning to feel like a trend rather than a dose of bad luck. The fact we stockpile these players makes me wonder whether it’s deliberately priced into the way we play.

It’s fair to say Burton had all the motivation of a Russian conscript fixing a broken axel in a Ukrainian mudflat. From the opening moments they looked beaten as we sliced through them. At one point Luke McNally turned Joe Powell inside out and Powell looked like he was ready to retire on the spot.

It gave us the opportunity to try things that perhaps in a tighter game we wouldn’t have attempted. I didn’t know that Gavin Whyte hadn’t scored for nearly a year, which makes his twenty-five yard strike even more remarkable. Even Matty Taylor’s volley to make it four would probably have been a cut-back had we not been in such a comfortable position. In between Sam Baldock showed his effortless class.

Despite this, as I said on Twitter, the highest compliment you can give to Luke Mcnally’s performance is the fact the sponsors gave him man of the match despite us having three goalscorers. The sponsor’s basic rule of awarding man of the match is goalscorers, then players they’ve heard of (e.g. Cameron Brannagan), someone who was at least quite fast and exciting, the goalkeeper because they wear a different kit, then perhaps a substitute because they seemed to put some effort in. The fact McNally bucked that trend is all you need to know about the way he played.

Although the second-half petered out and became an exercise in preserving energy and avoiding injury – and largely failing to do both – it was a bit of a relief to go to a game that felt a bit more normal. Since Christmas, at home, we’ve had fifty-five goals in fourteen games, four crowds over 10,000, two last minute wins and, of course, all the emotion of Joey Beauchamp’s passing. Burton was a welcome plate of beans on toast in a world of rich restaurant food.

The emotional respite won’t last long; despite the biting wind, we can now plot a path into Spring and the end of the season. The last game of the season tends to take care of itself, so at home we’re looking at Ipswich, Sunderland and MK Dons. On the road we go to Plymouth and Rotherham amongst others. Despite a five point buffer, and despite everything that’s been achieved so far it’s still not an easy road into the play-offs. The next few weeks will come at us pretty quickly but for this team to come out of the season without some reward would be an absolute travesty.

George Lawrence’s Shorts: Cambridge analytica

Sunday 1 August 2021

Helicopter pilot Gavin Whyte has wanged his way back to the club on loan from Cardiff City. We don’t want to be too cocky, but as we don’t use the schlong ball game, we think he’ll propel us to promotion, it’ll be tough, but where there’s a willy, there’s a way.

Monday 2 August 2021

With KRob salivating over the re-signing of Gavin Whyte, the rest of the coaching staff were able to sneak a defender into the building with Jordan Thorniley signing on loan from Blackpool. Meanwhile, bang dem up dat wid de big bear belly; Robbie Hall has found himself on trial in the lair of fatberg Steve Evans at Gillingham. #prayforrob #freerob #bigboned.

Tuesday 3 August 2021

With a few days left until the start of the season, Oxford got ready for the new campaign by inviting some NHS workers to the training ground. These are the heroes who have been looking after some of the country’s sickest people, or Sam Winnall as we know him.

Wednesday 4 August 2021

Barnet manager, Harry Kewell has been reflecting on his team’s 1-1 friendly draw with Oxford while we reflect on the fact we played a 1-1 friendly draw with Barnet nobody knew about.   

Thursday 5 August 2021

Play-offs, here we come. In Plymouth Live’s League One league table of new kits we’ve come a very creditable 5th. In rave reviews, the Gok Wan’s doing the review called the shirt ‘not gobbing’ which is good enough for us.

Friday 6 August 2021

The club launched two new shirts via Tiktok; YouTube for the ADHD generation. A zig zagging fever-dream blue and white third shirt is complemented by a black change kit with yellow trim; a reminder of the golden years of Doudou and Rob Wooleansten.   

Saturday 7 August 2021

There was no undeserved privilege at the Abbey Stadium on the opening day of the season as Oxford and Cambridge played out a 1-1 draw. The game was sponsored by Astrazeneca, the pharmaceutical giant who worked with Oxford University to inject DNA-changing 5G transmitters into people’s arms. 

Sunday 8 August 2021

It may be over a year since fans have been at games; a time when people have lost loved ones and suffered economic hardship, but Cambridge manager Mark Bonner, reflecting on yesterday’s game, has no time for snowflake bedwetting. “I felt it was right to say welcome back to everyone, and to thank them for their support, but you’re also asking them at that point ‘come on then, you’re back now, so play a part with us this year’.” 

Monday 9 August 2021

There was a time that Chris Wilder could have been the next Denis Smith by declaring himself a candidate for the England manager’s job. Now he’s ready to climb his next mountain and get back into football. Wilder has never been out of the game for this long before, which has allowed a period of reflection. If we were Chris Wilder reflecting on who Chris Wilder is, we’d probably go looking for a big distraction too.  

Tuesday 10 August 2021

Jose’s son, John Mousinho hasn’t always led the life of a high flying office administrator. No, there was a time when he could only dream of owning his own clipboard and clicky pen. He used to play football for Burton Albion, who we play in the 1st round of the Type 2 Diabetes Cup tomorrow. “I don’t think you can replicate the buzz of playing, winning or scoring – it’s a cliché, but it’s true.” he said.

Wednesday 11 August 2021

Alright mate, calm down. Jose’s son decided to replicate the buzz of scoring for Burton by scoring for Burton in the last minute to cancel out Nathan Holland’s opener on Wednesday night. His deflected own-goal sent the tie to penalties. At that point it was time for the grown-ups to step in; Sensible Simon Eastwood saved two penalties before the box-to-boxfile footballer Mousinho did the admin by larruping home the winning spot kick.

Thursday 12 August 2021

Burton manager Flimsy Droid Bustlebank, has been ruing the missed opportunities that led to his side being knocked out of the Type 2 Diabetes Cup last night. “We had two balls cleared off the line, we looked dangerous going forward and it was just that final bit we are looking for and need to get better at.“ He said. A lack of striking options is at the heart of the problem but he hopes to have Kane Hemmings available soon, he’s also hoping to have some striking options too.

Friday 13 August 2021

Oxford welcome back both Charlton and fans on Saturday. Charlton manager Nigel Adkins has injury problems with three players doubtful for the game. “We’re a small group of players. You can see where we are, this is our squad.” He will, however, have former Oxford player, Sean Clare available who is currently doing a charity fundraiser to see if he can play for every League 1 club in the country.

Match wrap: Burton Albion 1 Oxford United 1 (2-4 on penalties)

Years ago I damaged ligaments in my ankle playing football. As I went over, I felt an obvious pain and a strange feeling, which may have been a tear or rupture. One of my teammates gave me their sage medical advice and said I should just ‘run it off’. I tried, and even went to see Oxford that afternoon; it’s amazing how a last minute Julian Allsop goal can act as a soothing balm.

A physiotherapist friend checked it over and gave me some advice, but I didn’t do any proper rehabilitation. Months later, apparently fit and recovered, I was fetching a ball back during another game and went over again. The advice I got was that, essentially, the damage done initially had taught my ankle how it could behave – which was completely at odds with how if should behave – although the pain had gone the injury remained.

It’s an odd time being a fan at the moment; the messaging, both by the club and more broadly, is about a great return to normality. And yet, every time I try to engage, I can’t find any purchase. Last night’s game involved a last minute equaliser and a penalty shoot out win but it didn’t stir much emotion in me sitting at home.

It’s early days and it was only Burton and it was only the League Cup, but it feels like the damage done when the physical bonds with the club were severed still remain and may take more time to heal than we thought. 

With eight changes to the starting line-up, it was hard to gauge anything from the team selection – as fans we don’t particularly know where our strengths and weaknesses are, watching on iFollow gives you a two-dimensional view of the game, not the rich experience of being there. It’s difficult to know how under-powered we were.

If you consider that Tyler Goodrham wasn’t seventeen when the first lockdown happened, Joshua Johnson was fifteen; these are names fans might vaguely recognise from the website or the odd EFL Trophy game, but their recent development has been largely hidden from sight; we didn’t see them coming, we don’t know how good they are. Are they on the bench because the club is struggling for depth or is this a golden harvest of rich young talent? All the threads and narratives have been lost, somehow we need to re-engage and recap the story. Where are we strong? Where are we weak? Who are the duds? Who is the golden child?  

Readjusting might be a similar issue for the players; playing in front of fans will always be their preference, but it comes with new pressures; not least the unique pressure at the moment to be the centrepiece of a barnstorming ‘return to matches’ party. It’s in the very nature of football that at some point someone will lose or have a stinker. At some point the party will be pooped, nobody wants to that guy.

All this may explain the reasons for so many changes, the reluctance to throw first choice players back into the mix after periods out – to do too much too soon. The temptation might be to lurch back to normality – or even reach beyond and grab at every opportunity to celebrate and entertain. It’s one of Karl Robinson’s more obvious instincts; he’ll be desperate to play his best team and give someone a pasting to reward the fans, it’s how he’s built. He’s not Ian Atkins or Chris Wilder with their dour philosophy of winning the battle before winning the game and only entertaining when it’s absolutely necessary. We’re told that we all want this riotous return to action, but is that what everyone wants or needs right now? Do we need a full-on party or just a toe in the water? I don’t suppose a club would market any game as ‘come along, it might be OK’ but maybe a solid away draw and a solid Carabao Cup win is just what the doctor ordered to help with our rehabilitation and recovery. There are risks of burning ourselves out before things get serious or disappointing people and falling into a rut, realising that the one thing we all thought we were missing is, in reality, a bit rubbish. Whether it’s by accident or design, a cautious, solid start to the season to reconnect and ease people back may be the best option in the long term.

George Lawrence’s Shorts – Never Mind the Ballots

Saturday 8 May 2021

On the eve of the last game of the season, Headington United’s Sam Long and Big Friendly Giant Elliott Moore have been reflecting on the last two years. Moore’s had a breakthrough season, skippering the side and playing every game. Long hasn’t seen a season this disrupted since the 1846 cholera pandemic preventing Headington United from playing their Oxfordshire Senior Cup Quarter Final against the Oxford University Department for Advanced Wheelwrighting Second XI. 

Sunday 9 May 2021

A blistering 4-0 win over Flimsy Boyd Jasselblank’s Burton Albion set up an unlikely opportunity for Oxford to make the play-offs on Sunday. Everything depended on Portsmouth’s game against Accrington. Over at Fratton Park, there was a proper bumpy Pompey pumping as Stanley won 1-0. The result meant Oxford snatched the last play-offs place and will play Blackpool next week.

Monday 10 May 2021

Blackpool fans are excited by the prospect of allowing up to 4,000 fans to Bloomfield Road for the play-off second leg against Oxford a week on Friday. The town hasn’t been this excited since Blackpool’s Woke-end Weekend a couple of years ago, which involved vegan ice-creams, a Black(pool) Lives Matter demonstration and the polyamarous puppet show; Punch and Judy and Another Judy.

Tuesday 11 May 2021

KRob’s still recovering from the excitement of making the play-offs, but feels his team are the underdogs as they go into the post-season. “…for some unknown reason we are in with a shout of going to the second tier of English football.” he said reassuringly.

Wednesday 12 May 2021

Oxford have confirmed that fans will be allowed to attend the first leg play-off game against Blackpoo next Tuesday. All season ticket holders will be invited to enter a ballot for the tickets available. Some fans have complained they’ve been unfairly left out, feeling they deserve to be rewarded for their dedication to posting flame emojis on the club’s instagram posts nearly every day.

Thursday 13 May 2021

Oxford players have been seen celebrating goals by pretending to play a saxophone and Elliot Lee has explained the reason why. “I put my music on and it was a saxophone playlist. A few of the lads asked whose music it was.” he said. Expect a few of the other lads to do a ‘sandpapering my eyeballs’ celebration when they score against Blackpool to show what it feels like to listen to a saxophone playlist.

Friday 14 May 2021

There are rumours that KRob is lining up a bid for Hibs right-back Tom James. James is said to be excited at the prospect of starting a few games in August before getting ousted by Sam Long and being shipped out on loan by Christmas.

With the play-offs next week, there’s a blank weekend for Oxford fans who don’t know what to do with themselves on Saturday. What about Tsun Dai? Well, the former Oxford player has scored his first professional goals with a brace for Shenzen in the Chinese Super League against Shandong Taishan.

Match wrap: Oxford United 4 Burton Albion 0

And so it came to this; we needed an improbable set of results to sneak into the play-offs. But, Portsmouth; thirteen points ahead of us at Christmas, just needed a win at home to Accrington and ours would be a lost cause. 

They’ll do it, though, won’t they? For all the farago surrounding the last game of the season, good teams tend to deliver. For all the sharp cuts on Sky’s screaming trailers, the reality is not that dramatic; good teams find a way to secure the points they need and move on, the fake news drama is long forgotten as they head to the play-offs and us to the beach.

For us, the rambunctious interlopers, second bottom at the end of October, we would finally find our level; not amongst the contenders but with the bystanders. We would commend ourselves on our bravery while quietly filing the season away in a bin marked ‘forgotten’. That’s how it works, doesn’t it?

Last year, our journey to the play-offs felt like threading a needle through an increasingly narrow eye. The pre-pandemic run, Josh Ruffels’ decisive last minute winner at Shrewsbury, the debate about the future of the season, the intricacies of points-per-game calculations, play-offs ties that felt like having your teeth filed, a cavernous soulless Wembley and a dispiriting defeat to bring it all to an end. An ever narrowing, treacherous and doomed path to nowhere.

But this felt different, a crazy run had got us to this point; goals flying in, comeback wins, returning from the dead with a last minute double from our homegrown full-back and spirit animal. Insanity and never not fun.

This time we were here to crash the party; to stumble through the door, get off with your mum and commandeer the stereo. But, it would end, eventually, surely someone would kick us back out onto the street.

A few weeks ago, Karl Robinson talked of taking the handbrake off; living in the moment, just seeing what happens, what did we have to lose? We’d survived a coach being disabled by disinfectant, opponents turning up with an outbreak of covid in their ranks, postponements, a stadium fire, countless makeshift changing rooms fashioned out of burger bars and hospitality suites, we’d revived ourselves after a grim derby defeat. We weren’t ‘in it’, but we also weren’t ‘out of it’.

By contrast, at Portsmouth there was expectation, pressure and minimum requirements to make the play-offs. They’d been buckling, for sure, but they still had enough in the tank, didn’t they?

There’s hope and there’s logic, and that wasn’t in our favour. We stepped onto the pitch free of pressure, free from logic; just play the next game. We were magnificent, swashbuckling, brave, playing with light in our heart; nobody expects us to make it, so why not just enjoy it? 

If we were nervous, it didn’t show; the early goal scythed through Burton’s defence for Mide Shodipo to nod home. Burton looked club footed by comparison; they’ve hauled themselves to safety which is a triumph in itself, but there wasn’t much left to give apart from the heavy artillery of their long throws into the box, which were easily mopped up.

News filtered through of an Accrington goal; how were Pompey feeling now? A black cloud darkening their mood? Consumed by their own failings? Helplessly watching the sands of fate drain between their fingers? Every Accrington win at this level is a triumph against the odds, they’re not going to let an opportunity pass when it’s presented to them.

Tired, calamitous Burton defending allowed Matty Taylor to head home the second; the scoreboard marked up another goal, but the real impact was on the south coast. We looked so light on our feet while they looked dead on theirs. We were breaking their spirit and resolve, how after all this time, and all that’s happened, were we so full of energy? 

When Elliot Lee’s ridiculous daisy cutting free-kick squirmed under the wall and through the goalkeepers hands it was confirmed; we were home and hosed and destiny would pass over to Fratton Park to decide our future. They toiled, broken by their own expectation, blinded by our light, bamboozled that we’re enjoying this. This is the sharp end of the season, the pressure is supposed to be too much to bear.

For us, though, there is no expectation; we just have more to gain. The handbrake is off, the consequences of failure minimal. We’ve survived a pandemic, we’re still in with a chance of the play-offs despite everything, whatever happens now is a bonus. We’re better like this; playing on adrenaline, luck and emotion. The tortuous intricacies of last year have been shed, we’re playing with a freedom that those around us have long since lost, swimming in a deep well of their own doubt.

As injury time came, a long ball from Jack Stevens dropped to Sam Winnall 25 yards out, why not have a lash? The manual says keep the ball, but that’s not fun and that’s not us. What’s the worst that can happen? The strike was sweet and true, playful and mischievous, now that is us.

Radio Oxford passed through to Radio Solent for the final moments of the game at Fratton Park, the mood was bleak, the commentators knew it was long since over. Not good enough, overwhelmed by their own shortcomings, their squandered chances, and a history that hangs around their neck like a noose.  

We haven’t threaded our way into the play-offs, we’ve crashed into them; we’re not expecting to play Championship football next season, but it would be fun to try it. We come without the baggage of expectation, without a legacy of opportunities squandered, without that sense that even if we did succeed, we’d still be below our natural level. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The fans will return, the air will be fresh, we are fortified by what we’ve achieved, we enter the next stage as rascals and outsiders, playing with a smile, not dwelling on what we’ve lost but revelling in what we’ve achieved, you never know, that could be enough.

George Lawrence’s Shorts – Countdown conundrums

Saturday 24 April 2021

It’s like Countdown around here, after the 3-1 win Plymouth on Saturday. The win propelled Oxford into the fifth. Teams around us have games in hand, but with plenty of opportunities to drop points, two wins from the last two games could still see Oxford make the top six. A consonant, please Rachel.

Sunday 25 April 2021

Following yesterday’s defeat, after conceding 16 goals in 6 games and losing 9 in their last 13 games Plymouth manager Ryan Lowe has become a great all-seeing sage by revealing a controversial theory about what’s going wrong at the Devon club. “We’re not good enough.” he said, sitting in the lotus position banging his chakra.

Monday 26 April 2021

KRob’s a fugitive on the run from the law, the Feds at the FA have got him banged to rights and charged him with ‘improper and/or violent conduct’ relating to the ill-tempered game against Premier League One side Sunderland earlier this month. KRob ended up doing porridge in the slammer during that game after referee Trevor Kettle sent him to the stands. Now he’s back in front of the beak, but he ain’t no grass. 

Tuesday 27 April 2021

Ole! The bookie monster Alex Gorrin has signed a contract extension until 2022 alongside Jedward Orphan Mark Sykes. Gorrin received lots of cards from friends to celebrate the news, mostly yellow ones for shin high lunging tackles.  

Wednesday 28 April 2021

From the GLS vaults labelled ‘are you absolutely shitting me?’ comes news that Burton Albion are planning to use our last game of the season for a virtual ‘staying up’ party. Burton were rock bottom of the table, but with Flimmy Joyd Basselhank at the helm they’ve climbed their way to safety, it’s now party time. 

Thursday 29 April 2021

The League One Team of the season has been revealed and Rob Atkinson has secured one of the centre-back spots. It’s been an impressive season for Atkinson who last year was playing non-league football at Eastleigh. Before that he was West Brom and Manchester United manager with a nifty line in sheepskin coats and chunky gold jewelry.

Friday 30 April 2021

As the season draws to the end, again, the rumour mill starts to turn, again, this time, it’s news that a Championship team are in the hunt, again, for Cameron Brannagain, again. This time it’s Preston North End who are interested in the midfielder. Brannagain would join Ryan Ledson at Deepdale; so expect a surge in sales of double-strength shin pads to the Championship next season. 

Saturday 1 May 2021

Oxford’s 3-2 comeback win over Shrewsbury Town on Saturday guaranteed that the season will go to the last day. A win over Burton could see the yellows sneak into the play-offs. There is some debate about how you pronounce Shrewsbury; does it rhyme with ‘lose’ as in ‘Shrewsbury lose to Oxford’ or does it rhyme with ‘throws’ as in ‘Shrewsbury throws away their lead again’?

Sunday 2 May 2021

The comb-over Sam Long, Dave Langan has been reflecting on mixing it with the hoi polloi during his time at Oxford United in the 1980s. As well as negotiating contracts with Robert Maxwell, he also spent time with Oxford director and alleged child sex trafficker, Maxwell’s daughter, Ghislane. “She seemed really down to earth. She was just like a normal person.” he said, unlike any of the sex trafficking, friend of a billionaire paedophiles he’d met before.

Monday 3 May 2021

KRob loves a good ding dong, and there’s a proper ding dang do coming up next Sunday. “Roll on next Sunday and the balls start rolling again.” he said eating a bacon roll, having a stroll, stroking a foal. 

Tuesday 4 May 2021

Sheffield United’s transformation into the t’Oxford is nearly complete as they seek a big gun to replace Chris Wilder. After Wilder, Jake Wright, John Lundstram and George Baldock; rumours are that Mr Big Guns himself, MApp, is the next Oxford alumni to join the club as manager. PClot’s Malmo 2010 WhatsApp group was buzzing at the prospect of getting the gang back together at Bramall Lane in a couple of years. Ago Mehmeti said he’ll make a big chilli for the reunion.

Wednesday 5 May 2021

KRob was in the dock on Wednesday as he faced a charge of improper and/or violent conduct after the shenanigans at Sunderland. Due to the pandemic, the case was held over Zoom, where the Oxford boss stated his case with passion and panache. “YOU HAVE NO AUTHORITY HERE”, he screamed “READ THE STANDING ORDERS, READ THEM AND UNDERSTAND THEM”.

Thursday 6 May 2021

McGuane in Spain was quickly on the plane, but he’s delighted to be taking the step up from playing for Barcelona, Arsenal and Nottingham Forest after signing a three year contract at Oxford.

Jose’s son John Mousinho is a real box-to-box-file player. He’s been elected as chair of the new PFA players’ board. This is not to be confused with the Playaz Board, which organises custom sports cars, expensive jewelry and spit roasting sessions for aspiring Premier League teenagers.  

Friday 7 May 2021

Life is like a box of chocolates for Josh Ruffels, he’s got his pick of the teams to sign for next season when his contract expires. Now rumours are surfacing that he could become a Nottingham Forest chump