Midweek fixture: 90 minutes with Oxford United

It’s Saturday and you’re settling down for an afternoon with Jeff Stelling, who’s about to take you through the day’s action. Except this weekend’s fixtures only feature Oxford United and our correspondents are dotted around the country and throughout time. Sit back and enjoy an afternoon of Oxford United goals from the first minute to the last.

Jeff Stelling: ‘Welcome to The Manor, Highbury, Griffin Park, The Kassam Stadium, White Hart Lane, The Madjeski Stadium, Kenilworth Road, Stamford Bridge, Wembley, The County Ground, Ninian Park, Broadfield Stadium, Nene Park, Maine Road, Brisbane Road, Fratton Park, Adams Park, The New Den, Field Mill, Sincil Bank, Meadow Lane, Sixfields, Old Wembley, Villa Park, Prenton Park, The Memorial Ground, Roots Hall, Old Trafford, The Pirelli Stadium, Brunton Park and The New York Stadium, Rotheram. We’re looking forward to an afternoon of cup wins, promotions, relegations, giant killings, memorable goals and milestone moments. How do you feel it’s going to go today Paul Merson?’

Merse ‘Well Jeff, y’know…’

GOAL!

Hold that thought Merse, we head straight over to The Manor in 1999. An early goal for Oxford United…

1st minute: Jamie Lambert, Colchester United, 1999

Oh, what a start for Oxford United at The Manor against Colchester United. Jamie Lambert has put the ball in the back of the net after just 20 seconds. By my watch, that’s the fastest goal in Oxford United history. Mickey Lewis’ first league game in charge, what a way to stake a claim for the top job.

2nd minute: Steve Basham, Arsenal, 2003

And now we have a major shock on our hands at Highbury. This afternoon has gone off with a bang; Steve Basham has just wriggled free to give Oxford United the lead against Premier League leaders Arsenal in the FA Cup. The massed ranks of Oxford fans at the Clock End have gone wild. No, wait, it’s been flagged for offside. I’m not sure, that looked very tight.

3rd minute: Joey Beauchamp, Chelsea, 1994

This one counts, back at The Manor in 1994, Joey Beauchamp has bundled through the Chelsea defence and slotted home past the onrushing Chelsea keeper Dimitri Kharine to put Oxford 1-0 up. The London Road are going wild, is a shock on the cards in this FA Cup tie?

4th minute: Kevin Brock, Leeds United, 1983

Oh, yes. And now Kevin Brock has just given Oxford the lead in their League Cup second leg tie against Leeds United at The Manor. Mick Vinter controlled the throw-in just inside the box, knocking it back to the onrushing Brock who slammed it home in front of the London Road. Oxford lead 1-0 on the night, 2-1 on aggregate.

5th minute: Liam Sercombe, Brentford, 2015

Meanwhile, over in the capital, Oxford have started off like a train at Griffin Park in the League Cup in 2015. Liam Sercombe has just put the visitors in front, a really well worked goal with Sercombe driving the ball into the bottom right hand corner. They look really up for this tonight. 1-0.

6th minute: David Leworthy, Tottenham Hotspur, 1986

It’s like an ice-rink at The Manor in 1986 where Tottenham are the visitors for this FA Cup Third Round tie. But, Kevin Brock has just crossed for David Leworthy to head home the opening goal past Ray Clemence. Oxford lead 1-0.

7th minute: Rob Folland, Reading, 1999

OOOOOh, great goal at the Madjeski Stadium. Young Welsh full-back Rob Folland has cut inside and fired home to give Oxford the unlikeliest of leads in their first ever visit to the Madjeski. They’re looking right at home in the derby.

8th minute: Nick Cusack, Newcastle United, 1992

Oxford are in dreamland; just eight minutes gone and Nick Cusack has poked home Joey Beauchamp’s cross to put them 2-0 at The Manor. Great work from Cusack, but that was all about Beauchamp, silky skills and a pinpoint cross.

9th minute: Mike Ford, Dorchester Town, 1995

Opening goal at The Manor in the FA Cup where non-league Dorchester Town have travelled up the A34 to face their illustrious league opponents. Mike Ford headed home the rebound from Joey Beauchamp’s cross. Despite having former-Oxford keeper Ken Veysey in goal, Dorchester are looking really shaky here, this could be a long day for the minnows.

10th minute: Phil Edwards, Luton Town, 2017

Goal at Kenilworth Road in the semi-final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy now. Oxford United have been under a bit of pressure in this one, but some great work from Liam Sercombe saw the ball fall to loanee Phil Edwards who was sitting on the floor from an earlier challenge and has swept the ball home. Are Oxford heading to Wembley for the second year in a row?

11th minute: Peter Rhodes-Brown, Chelsea, 1986

No time to answer that, over to West London now where there’s been a bit of a shock on the cards in the 1st Division at Stamford Bridge. Oxford United, without an away win all season are leading Chelsea who had been hoping to go top. And to really rub it in, the goal is from former Chelsea winger, Peter Rhodes-Brown.

12th minute: James Constable, Swindon Town, 2011

Is history being written at The County Ground? Maybe. James Constable has just darted in at the near post to put Oxford 1-0 up against Swindon Town. Swindon boss Paolo DiCanio claims Constable is a Swindon fan, I think we know the truth now.

13th minute: Tony Jones, Blackburn Rovers, 1964

Oh I say, now Oxford United have taken the lead against Blackburn Rovers in the fifth round of the FA Cup at the Manor in 1964. Over 20,000 jolly good fellows have packed into the little ground in Headington. It looks like we have a major shock on the cards.

14th minute: Eric Sabin, Leyton Orient, 2006

Lifeline at The Kassam Stadium! Oxford United need to beat Leyton Orient to retain their League status. Striker Eric Sabin has just got on the end of Andy Burgess’ free-kick to give the hosts the lead. The atmosphere in the stadium wild. Orient need to win to go up, so there’s a long way to go on this. But, that’s the early goal Jim Smith’s were looking for to settle the nerves.

15th minute: Alex Dyer, Leeds United, 1994

And now Oxford have taken the lead against Leeds United in the FA Cup. Attacking down the slope towards the London Road, Joey Beauchamp fed Jim Magilton down the right who fired in a low cross to Alex Dyer arriving in the middle. 1-0 Oxford.

16th minute: Jamie Cook, Luton Town, 2009

What. Have. I. Just. Seen? Goal of the season? Goal of the century? Jamie Cook just scored from 25 yards against Luton Town in this battle of the Conference giants. The game was delayed because of crowd congestion trying to get nearly 10,000 fans into the stadium. That goal was worth the entrance fee alone.

17th minute: Kevin Brock, Oldham Athletic, 1985

Oxford are putting on a show at The Manor in front of the Match of the Day cameras now, Mark Jones has just broken down the left flank crossing deep for Kevin Brock to slot home a fine opening goal. The champions-elect are on the goal trail once again.

18th minute: Oli Johnson, Swindon Town, 2012

Oh. My. Word. Injury ravaged Oxford United have had their star striker sent-off against the League leaders, who are unbeaten in ten games, they’ve taken the lead with Asa Hall scoring from close range, now two minutes later, they’re two up from young loanee Oli Johnson. Oxford are racing towards a famous derby double.

19th minute: Neil Whatmore, Newcastle United, 1983

1-0 to Oxford at The Manor in 1983, and it’s nothing more than they deserve. Star-studded Newcastle United featuring Kevin Keegan, Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle and Terry McDermott are being overwhelmed here. Oxford should already be two-up already, but the breakthrough has come from the biggest name of the lot; striker Neil Whatmore.

20th minute: James Constable, York City, 2010

Oh, magnificent, Oxford United have started this play-off final at Wembley like a train, Matt Green gave them the lead in the 15th minute, now James Constable has doubled their advantage, blasting it in from twelve yards. 2-0, difficult to see York coming back from this, they look shellshocked.

21st minute: Matt Murphy, Everton, 1999

Everton looking at sixes and sevens in the League Cup and Matt Murphy has capitalised on their lax defending by heading in for the lead. The ball hit the net and trickled along the goal line before being awarded, but they all count.

22nd minute: Trevor Hebberd, Luton Town, 1987

Big goal at Kenilworth Road. Oxford needing a result here to secure another season in Division 1 and the breakthrough has come from Trevor Hebberd. Still a long way to go but they’ve got something to work with.

23rd minute: Matt Green, Bristol Rovers, 2010

What a way to announce yourself back as a League team. It’s the first game back from the Conference and Matt Green has just doubled Oxford’s lead after Simon Heslop’s thunderbolt. Oxford are right in the mood here, it could be a cricket score by the time we’ve finished.

24th minute: Mike Ford, Swindon Town, 1997

Are Oxford about to break their 24 year hoodoo at The County Ground? Great work by Nigel Jemson on the flank and an inviting cross onto the back post and there’s Mike Ford to nod home. He nearly collided with the post there, but I don’t think he cares. Great start for Oxford.

25th minute: Rob Hall, Sunderland, 2019

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant from Rob Hall. Sunderland hit the post in this League Cup tie, Oxford react with a blistering counterattack, the ball breaks loose to Rob hall who arrows it into the back of the net. 1-0.

26th minute: Nigel Jemson, Barnsley, 1997

They may be heading for the Premier League, but Barnsley look like they’ve been over-doing the celebrations a bit. Just 26 minutes gone and Oxford are two up with a brave header from Nigel Jemson. Barnsley look all at sea here, I don’t think that’s the end of the goals today.

27th minute: Yemi Odubade, Exeter City, 2007

Yemi Odubade has put Oxford United a goal up at the Kassam in the Conference semi-final play-off. You have to say, it’s against the run of play, but with an away goal in the bag from the first leg, the yellows are fully in charge in this one.

28th minute: Paul Moody, Cardiff City, 1994

Goal! I can’t quite believe what I’ve just seen, 28 minutes gone at Ninian Park and Paul Moody, Oxford’s big lumbering striker has danced his way past five defenders, running half the length of the field to given Oxford the lead. It was like watching Maradona in ’86, great movement from big man.

29th minute: James Constable, Rushden & Diamonds, 2010

Breakthrough goal at Nene Park now in the Conference semi-final first leg and who else but James Constable? Great work in the box, firing home on the turn. That’s the away goal they wanted. 1-0 Oxford.

30th minute: Nigel Jemson, Manchester City, 1996

Just half-an-hour gone and it’s already 2-2 at Maine Road after Nigel Jemson’s looping header dropped in just under the crossbar. Manager-less Manchester City look all over the shop. Lovely goal from the Us.

31st minute: Wes Thomas, Chesterfield, 2016

Great moment, Oxford have announced their return to League 1 after a fifteen year absence with a goal from new signing Wes Thomas who’s just tapped home Alex MacDonalds shot.

32nd minute: Andy Thomas, Newcastle United, 1983

Oxford are making second placed Newcastle look second rate here at The Manor in the Milk Cup. Andy Thomas made the first and now he’s scored the second. They don’t look like they’re finished yet.

33rd minute: John Lundstram, Leyton Orient, 2015

Big deflection, but they all count. It’s been billed as a bit of a revenge mission for what happened in 2006, and Oxford are bang on track as John Lundstram scores his first goal for the club to extend their lead. 2-0 to Oxford and just half-an-hour gone.

34th minute: Dean Saunders, Luton Town, 1988

Something’s going on at Kenilworth Road, just 34 minutes gone and Dean Saunders has pulled one back from the spot to make it 1-2. Both sides seem to be struggling with Luton’s plastic pitch, this could end up like a basketball score.

35th minute: Gary Briggs, Manchester United, 1988

Four years ago Oxford dumped Manchester United out of the Milk Cup, now they’re at it again. Gary Briggs has just launched himself through the United defence to connect with John Dreyer’s cross and head Oxford two-up. Fantastic diving header from Briggs, the real United are in the boss seat now.

36th minute: Tommy Caton, Liverpool, 1987

Over at The Manor in 1987 Tommy Caton has equalised for Oxford against champions Liverpool. Despite two great saves from Bruce Grobelaar, there was nothing he could do to prevent Caton forcing it home from two yards. Can Oxford pick up their first win over the Merseyside giants?

37th minute: John Aldridge, Arsenal, 1984

Mixed news from The Manor in 1985. Striker, John Aldridge has just equalised for Oxford United against Arsenal in the Milk Cup. He headed home George Lawrence’s fine cross but was clattered by Pat Jennings. The stretcher is coming on, great goal by Aldridge, but at what price?

38th minute: Alfie Potter, Portsmouth, 2013

We leave The Manor as we’re getting news of an important goal for Oxford United at Fratton Park in 2013. Having gone a goal down, they equalised with Dean Smalley and have now taken the lead with a well taken goal from Alfie Potter latching onto Sean Rigg’s cross.

39th minute: Chris Maguire, Crawley Town, 2016

Equaliser at Crawley Town in 2016, good work down the right from Alex MacDonald, with Chris Maguire driving home from just inside the box. What’s the significance? We don’t know, this is much harder than it looks.

40th minute: Gary Briggs, Leeds United, 1984

BRIGGS! Oxford are on the comeback trail against Leeds United at The Manor. Two down, Gary Briggs connected with a fine Kevin Brock corner to make it 2-1. This team has goals in them, that’s really put Oxford on the front foot.

41st minute: David Rush, Wycombe Wanderers, 1996

Big breakthrough at Adams Park, Oxford are on quite a charge at the moment and David Rush has just connected with a deep cross from Les Robinson to open the scoring against Wycombe Wanderers. Big moment in breaking their duck against Wycombe, bigger moment in their promotion chase.

42nd minute: Billy Hamilton, Arsenal, 1984

Hold on a minute, let’s cross back to 1984. Oxford are down to ten men following John Aldridge’s injury for their first goal against Arsenal in the Milk Cup. And now they’ve done the unthinkable and taken the lead. The Manor is rocking after Northern Ireland international Billy Hamilton connected with Dave Langan’s perfect cross.

43rd minute: Kemar Roofe, Millwall, 2016

With half-time around the grounds and throughout time looming, things are looking rosey at the New Den for the JPT semi-final first leg. Kemar Roofe has just nodded home his second goal latching onto John Lundstram’s audacious drive which cannoned off the underside of the crossbar. That’s 2-0 and you’ve got to say Oxford have one foot in the final.

44th minute: Joey Beauchamp, Manchester City, 1998

Football’s a rollercoaster isn’t it? Oxford have already lost Stuart Massey to what looks like a bad injury, then on the stroke of half time a goal forged in the furnace of the Oxford United academy; Jamie Cook forced the defender into a mistake, the ball was picked up by Paul Powell who played it to Kevin Francis to square for Joey Beauchamp for the opening goal. No sugar in my tea, mum, that’s sweet enough.

45th minute: James Constable, Mansfield Town, 2013

Major goal at Mansfield in 2013. Moments after Mansfield Town had equalised James Constable latched onto Ryan Williams’ cross with the deftest touch to steer the ball into the far corner off the post. 2-1 Oxford, but more importantly, that’s Constable’s 100th goal for the club. What a milestone to reach.

***PEEP PEEP***

And that’s half-time. A first half full of action and drama. Oxford United will go in very satisfied with their first forty-five minutes’ work. Managers Chris Wilder, Mickey Lewis, Jim Smith, Maurice Evans, Denis Smith, Michael Appleton and Karl Robinson will be looking for more of the same in the second half.

Paul Merson, you were going to say something before the game, any thoughts on how Oxford might approach the second half?

Well, Jeff…

46th minute: Kane Hemmings, Newcastle United, 2017

Sorry Merse, but we’ve got a goal at The Kassam already in the FA Cup against Newcastle United. Chris Maguire collected the ball on the right, crossed it to Chey Dunkley on the back post and Kane Hemmings was on hand to prod home the knockdown from close range. 1-0 Oxford and another cup giant killing is on the cards.

47th minute: John Durnin, Swindon Town, 1992

It’s a goalfest in the derby at the Manor, John Durnin has just got on the end of Chris Allen’s cross to make it 3-2. Big goal for Johnny Lager.

48th minute: Jamie Mackie, Lincoln City, 2019

Oxford cruising now at Sincil Bank as Jamie Mackie adds a third goal. A deft finish from the veteran striker, it’s like his foot was a sand wedge. With former manager and new Lincoln boss Michael Appleton watching on, everything they touch is turning to goals this afternoon.

49th minute: Joey Beauchamp, Nottingham Forest, 1998

Brilliant stuff from Joey Beauchamp at The County Ground, he’s just latched onto a Nigel Jemson header and volleyed it past the keeper for the opening goal.

50th minute: Alfie Potter, Northampton Town, 2014

I don’t quite know how he’s done it, but that one feels really sweet. Oxford are 2-1 up against Chris Wilder’s Northampton Town, Alfie Potter has just weaved his way into the box and lobbed the ‘keeper from the tightest possible angle. What a way to stick it to your former boss.

52nd minute: Ray Houghton, Queens Park Rangers, 1986

Wonderful stuff now at Wembley, Oxford United in dreamland with a brilliantly worked goal that’s put them 2-0 up in the Milk Cup. Trevor Hebberd feeding Ray Houghton, beating the QPR offside trap to fire home. A goal to grace any final, we might want to prepare the yellow and blue ribbons now.

53rd minute: Andy Whing, Rochdale, 2013

Stop the count, stop the steal, I’ve seen it all now. It’s the last home game of the season and midfielder Andy Whing has just scored the goal of the season a bicycle kick from four yards out. He looks as shocked as everyone else.

54th minute: Martin Aldridge, Swindon Town, 1996

But, no time to dwell as we head back to The Manor where Martin Aldridge has just punished some poor goalkeeping to make it 2-0 against their deadly rivals.

55th minute: Jack Midson, Yeovil Town, 2009

They’ve looked the better team from the off and now they’ve made the breakthrough. Lovely through ball from Adam Murray and Jack Midson nips in between the ponderous Yeovil defence to lob the keeper. 1-0 and we have a giankilling on our hands.

56th minute: John Aldridge, Aston Villa, 1986

Penalty at Villa Park! Huge moment in this Milk Cup Semi-Final, just sixty seconds after Simon Stainrod had given Villa the lead, John Aldridge has been brought down by Alan Evans and now has a chance to equalise. Aldridge, bounces the ball on the spot as Steve Hodge does his best to put him off. And…

2-2! A massive goal in this tie, Oxford have a second away goal to take back to The Manor.

57th minute: Mark Sykes, Wycombe Wanderers, 2020

What was that? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a cross? Is it a shot? Who knows? Mark Sykes has just blasted spectacular equaliser as Wembley in the play-off final.

58th minute: John Durnin, Tranmere Rovers, 1992

Lifeline at Prenton Park, Oxford have turned their domination into goals. The ball ricochets off an Oxford player and falls to John Durnin to runs through to give Oxford the lead. Blackburn are keeping their side of the bargain at Plymouth, can Oxford make it count and stay up?

59th minute: Kemar Roofe, Swansea City, 2016

Wonderful, wonderful stuff from Oxford as Kemar Roofe puts Oxford 3-1 up against Premier League Swansea City at the Kassam. A blistering break by Chris Maguire set up Roofe finish off the move with a neat finish. We’ve got a big FA Cup giant killing on our hands here.

60th minute: Kemar Roofe, Wycombe Wanderers, 2015

Roofe, again, on his debut this time. How does that work? It’s taken him ten games to get his first, now he’s got two against Wycombe at Adams Park. It was a bit of a daisy cutter, but you’ve got to say that’s going to give the young West Brom loanee confidence.

61th minute: Chris Maguire, Swindon Town, 2016

Oh my goodness, calamitous defending from Swindon Town at the Kassam Stadium. They work the ball back to ‘keeper Lawrence Vigouroux, who tries to launch the ball downfield, but instead it canons off Oxford striker Chris Maguire in the net. What a shambles that club is. Oxford United 2 Swindon Town 0.

62nd minute: Kemar Roofe, Bristol Rovers, 2015

That’s just different class. That boy Roofe is going places. Picks up the ball from Pat Hoban’s knock down 25 yards out and smashes it into the top corner.

63rd minute: Paul Moody, Swindon Town, 1995

Equaliser at The County Ground, and it’s a bit controversial. Les Robinson delivers a fairly innocuous cross into the box which Wayne Allison tries to control. He comes together with Matt Elliott and the ball runs loose to Paul Moody to fire home. Was that a foul by Elliott? We don’t know that we care at the moment.

64th minute: Peter Leven, Port Vale, 2012

Oh, oh, OH! You don’t save those. Only Peter Leven can do that. He’s just won the ball inside his own half, looked up and lobbed the ‘keeper from sixty yards out. Forget about goal of the season, that’s a goal of a lifetime.

65th minute: Jefferson Louis, Swindon Town, 2003

I don’t know how it happened, but it happened. Oxford lead in the FA Cup derby at The Kassam. Jefferson Louis has got the slightest touch on a long Scott McNiven throw and it’s crept through a crowd of players and into the net. Did Steve Basham get a touch on the line. Who knows? But, frankly, who cares?

66th minute: David Rush, Peterborough United, 1996

The shirt is off, it’s party time at the Manor. David Rush has just latched onto a long Mike Ford ball and poked it home for four-nil. That’s the clincher and that’s promotion. And doesn’t Rush know it, he’s got the corner flag out and is waving with triumph. And why not?

68th minute: Mark Rawle, Southend United, 2003

Miracles do happen. It’s been eleven years since Oxford went home with three points from Roots Hall, but Mark Rawle’s strike may just have ended that voodoo. Who wouldn’t bet against Oxford putting together a long winning streak against The Shrimpers in the future?

69th minute: Kevin Brock, Manchester United, 1983

Majestic. Kevin Brock has silenced Old Trafford with a brilliant free-kick in the Milk Cup. Manchester United must have thought this replay was just formality after the scare at The Manor a few days ago, but they know they’re in a game now. Manchester United 0 Oxford United 1.

70th minute: Adam Chapman, Burton Albion, 2009

What a party-pooper. 7000 Burton fans packed into the Pirelli Stadium expecting to celebrate their promotion to the Football League and Adam Chapman has just curled in a wonderful free-kick into the top corner to put Oxford a goal up. Twenty minutes to go, 1-0 to Oxford and the only noise you can hear is from the Oxford fans behind the goal.

71st minute: Dave Langan, Arsenal, 1985

Oxford are at it again, we’ve got another giant killing in the offing after Irish full-back Dave Langan just drove the ball in from 30 yards through the hands of Pat Jennings. I mean, you’ve got to expect him to do better than that, but that’s 3-2 with 19 minutes to go.

72nd minute: John Aldridge, Arsenal, 1986

Relax Oxford fans, the Us are staying up. John Aldridge has made it three-nil against Arsenal in this must-win game at The Manor. Two weeks after the euphoria of Wembley, the goal pretty much secures them a second season in the top flight.

73rd minute: Rob Hall, Swindon Town, 2017

Wow, that’s just about broken the net. Rob Hall’s just picked the ball up from 30 yards out and fired a howitzer into the top corner. Oxford have turned it around here at The County Ground. Swindon 1 Oxford 2 and that’s seven in a row.

74th minute: Liam Sercombe, Carlisle United, 2016

Phone your mum and tell her the Us are going up. Liam Sercombe has just given Oxford a 2-0 lead here at Carlisle with a low drive into the bottom corner sending the thousands of Oxford fans who have made the journey north into raptures. There are hotdogs everywhere.

75th minute: Liam Sercombe, Coventry City, 2017

And again, Sercombe seems to be everywhere at the moment. After being left out of the starting line-up for the trip to Wembley, Liam Sercombe has come on and is playing like a man possessed. He’s just bundled the ball home from close range to pull a goal back for Oxford against Coventry. Coventry 2 Oxford United 1. Game on!

76th minute: Danny Hylton, Barnsley, 2016

Lovely goal, and nothing more than they deserve. For long periods Oxford have been the better team in this JPT Final, and Danny Hylton has just headed home to make to 3-2 to Barnsley. Can they force extra-time here at Wembley?

77th minute: Dean Windass, Chelsea, 1999

Now then. Oxford United are on the verge of going bust and Dean Windass has just scored from the near post with thirteen minutes to go against the aristocrats of Chelsea. Can the paupers beat the princes in the FA Cup tonight?

78th minute: Roy Clayton, Manchester United, 1972

Manchester United have brought their triple threat of Denis Law, George Best and Bobby Charlton to The Manor, but nobody thought about Roy Clayton, whose just put Oxford in front at The Manor.

79th minute: Neil Slatter, Manchester United, 1986

Nightmare start for former Aberdeen manager Alex Ferguson at Manchester United here at The Manor, Neil Slatter has surely settled this making it 2-0 from close range. At this rate, Ferguson won’t last long at Old Trafford.

80th minute: Phil Edwards, Rotherham, 2017

Oxford have been absolutely magnificent against their Championship opponents in the FA Cup, and now they’ve just gone 2-1 up with Phil Edwards latching onto a Alex Macdonald cross.

81st minute: Les Phillips, Everton, 1986

There’s nothing Oxford United love more than spoiling a party. They’re at it again under the lights at The Manor, Les Phillips has just side-footed it home from just inside the box for 1-0. That’s put a massive dent in Everton’s title dreams and kept Oxford’s survival hopes alive.

82nd minute: Paul Moody, Dorchester Town, 1995

It’s a goal rush at The Manor. Paul Moody has just completed his hat-trick, blasting in Oxford’s ninth goal against Dorchester.

83rd minute: Joey Beauchamp, Blackpool, 1996

Is that goal of the day? Of this and any other day. Joey Beauchamp, hero of the London Road just collected the loose ball in midfield and sent it back from 40 yards out with interest. 1-0 Oxford, that’s a big statement in the promotion race.

84th minute Liam Kelly, Newcastle, 2020

Hang on a minute. Just when you thought it was all over, Liam Kelly has scored a brilliant free-kick to pull one back against Newcastle at The Kassam in the FA Cup. That’s got the crowd up again, I don’t think Oxford are quite finished yet.

85th minute: Marvin Johnson, Luton Town, 2017

My word, they’re flying in at the moment. That’s quite a strike from Marvin Johnson, cutting in from the left and sending a rocket into the top corner. Luton Town 2 Oxford United 3. It’s going to take a massive effort for the Hatters to pick themselves up again and prevent Oxford from heading to Wembley for the second time in two years.

86th minute: Nigel Jemson, Sheffield Wednesday, 1996

It’s been a tense game at The Manor against Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup, but Nigel Jemson may have just snatched it in the dying moments prodding home Paul Moody’s knockdown from three yards. Four minutes left and Oxford are on track to knock the Premier League team out.

87th minute: Alan Kennedy (OG), Liverpool, 1985

Oxford are going to need a stroke of luck to stay in the First Division this season and they’ve just had some against the biggest team in the country. They’ve been hanging on for the whole game, but Peter Rhodes-Brown’s hopeful through ball has been put into his own net by Alan Kennedy for 2-2.

88th minute: Alfie Potter, Swindon Town, 2010

There’s been a breakthrough at The Kassam in the EFL Trophy, James Constable, who has been quiet all game, pounced on a Swindon defensive error squared the ball to the back post for Alfie Potter to slot home. Swindon can’t buy a win against their deadliest rivals.

89th minute: Todd Kane, Charlton Athletic, 2018

Brilliant stuff. Oxford United have no manager and no recognisable striker on the pitch, they’re 2-1 down as we enter the last minute. Great determination from Josh Ruffels on the flank who squares it to Todd Kane to side foot home. I don’t know if they can sneak a winner now, but they deserve it after this performance.

90th minute: Callum O’Dowda, Notts County, 2016

What might that mean come May? Alex MacDonald has just laid it off for Callum O’Dowda to drill the ball into the top left hand corner to make it Oxford United 3 Notts County 2 at Meadow Lane. A great way to start the New Year for the Yellows.

91st minute: Callum O’Dowda, Wycombe Wanderers 2016

O’Dowda! Again! Is there a more fitting way of securing promotion than seeing a hometown boy weaving his way through the Wycombe defence to fire home from close range. That’s three. And that’s promotion.

92nd minute: Shandon Baptiste, West Ham United, 2019

They’ve left the best ’til last at The Kassam, Shandon Baptiste has put icing on the cake of a magnificent performance weaving through West Ham’s beleaguered defence and slotting home from the left. The gulf in class has been massive.

93rd minute: Pat Hoban, Luton Town, 2015

Yes! No! Yes! Just when you thought the drama was over. Late late equaliser at Kenilworth Road for Oxford United, after Kemar Roofe dragged Oxford back into the game two minutes ago, with the board showing three minutes of injury time, a scramble in the box saw the ball drop to Pat Hoban who scuffed at it and then prodded home at the second attempt for 2-2. Crazy scenes in the away end.

94th minute: Jamie Mackie, Bradford City, 2019

OOOOOOOOHHHHHHH! Massive, massive goal at the Kassam Stadium in the League 1 relegation battle against Bradford City. Bradford have spurned a glorious chance, completely missing an open goal. From the resultant goal kick, Josh Ruffels sent a raking ball to Gavin Whyte whose shot popped up, then Jamie Mackie came marauding through on the volley and slammed it home. Sensational scenes here.

No, wait, what’s happening now? The ref’s not allowed it. What’s going on? A Bradford penalty? Oxford are surrounding the ref pleading with him. Now he’s talking to his linesmen. And. And. It’s a goal, Oxford have snatched this at the death. What a finish.

***PEEP PEEP***

‘Merse, it’s been such a hectic afternoon, we didn’t even get a chance to find out your thoughts about today’s action.’

‘No problem Jeff, the thing is Jeff. I just can’t see where Oxford’s goals are going to come from this afternoon. I fear for them, I really do.’

Charlton and Chesterfield wraps – Charlton Athletic 0 Oxford United 1, Chesterfield 0 Oxford United 4

Hidden within the guts and glory of our FA Cup defeat was an uncomfortable truth; we were suddenly on a losing streak. Not only that, we were facing three more away games and, therefore, weren’t that far away from finding ourselves in a slump.

This wasn’t exactly new, last year between 10th January and 2nd February we played six games four of which were cup games. We beat Swansea and Millwall – both memorable results – but then lost to Millwall and then to Blackburn. In addition, we fell to a painful league defeat to Bristol Rovers. We then lost two home games on the bounce for the first time, both to promotion rivals. By the end of February we’d accumulated a giant-killing and booked a Wembley appearance but we were on the brink of physical and mental exhaustion that threatened to derail the whole season.

The year was stabilised by the most unlikely player – Jordan Bowery. Bowery scored in five consecutive league wins from late-January to the end of February. When the story of that promotion season is written Bowery will get little more than a few paragraphs, but he was crucial in helping set up the run-in and promotion.

The stakes aren’t quite as high this year – I don’t think anyone is expecting promotion – but we didn’t want the season to fizzle out. Wins against Charlton and Chesterfield leave us just four points from the play-offs. Conor McAnely, who has looked a little lost in his cameos at home, has suddenly changed the whole complexion of the season. It’s possible that McAnely will become this year’s Jordan Bowery scoring key stabilising goals at a crucial time. Maybe he’ll even become this year’s Kemar Roofe, who knows?

That said, it’s debatable as to whether a charge for the play-offs is truly desirable. With games in hand, the play-offs are in our hands, but it’s questionable just how ready we are as a club to play Championship football. Any run-in involving the play-offs – whether it ends in success or failure – will be hugely intense. It will mean the club will have played something like 120 games – including many many big ones – in two years. Great for the fans, exhausting for people like Liam Sercombe and John Lundstram and maybe even Michael Appleton. If we did manage to get promoted, we will suddenly be presented with a whole new world to deal with, are we really ready?

Another year and a lot of this year’s squad will be reaching their physical maturity and maybe even the stadium issue will be sorted out and so we will be much better position to deal with any new challenge. Dilemmas around a promotion charge are a nice problem to have but, perhaps, it’s a bridge too far at the moment?

Weekly wrap – Chesterfield, Birmingham City, Bristol Rovers and Fleetwood Town

Oxford United 1 Chesterfield 1

If this makes any sense, I remember our first game of the last season we had in League 1. The last season at The Manor, Denis Smith had a close season to forget; his attempts at re-signing many of the previous year’s crocks had failed and so, in their place, he signed an even bigger pile of crud. Things weren’t looking good.

In a season which would see finish bottom, concede 100 goals and, of course, get relegated, we opened against Peterborough at home. We dutifully applauding so many new signings that my hands hurt when we finished, though I barely knew any of them.

Though the mood and quality is somewhat different this time around, we have similarly replaced a whole team this summer. The consensus in the car was that Michael Appleton had a good summer with each new signing offering something new and exciting to the squad. The big question that hadn’t been answered in pre-season was whether he could make them gel.

Appleton kept most of his new toys hidden as Saturday’s selection smelt of, if not stability, then experience. It reminded me of our first home game back after the Conference against Bury. We’d expected to storm the division, but we got caught out by a team with more sophistication than we’d anticipated. We didn’t want the same thing to happen here and the focus on experience seemed to suggest that was at the forefront of Appleton’s mind too.

We looked solid enough, Wes Thomas is a kind of Danny Hylton character; he doesn’t make sense context of the squad in general, but looks reliable. Ribiero’s injury was a blow, but Sam Long seems to have had a growth spurt and looked completely settled in his place. The loss of Dunkley was a worry, but it doesn’t sound like he’ll be out for long.

Difficult to know whether we looked at home in League 1. Chesterfield were certainly better than most of League 2, and Swindon from last year, but not a patch on Millwall or Barnsley. With Ched Evans’ signing causing consternation and a laughable crisis involving a fake raffle to deal with, they presumably, like us, will look on mid-table security as success. If they are the benchmark for mid-table, then we should be fine and maybe should hope for more from the season.

Nobody is really expecting promotion, though it would be nice, so ticking off the points rather than storming the division is perfectly acceptable. With three away games coming up, a point is OK. Nobody wants to get to September with people pining anxiously for Hylton, Roofe, Wright, Mullins and O’Dowda.

Birmingham City 0 Oxford United 1

So, for the third year running, we delivered a League Cup giantkilling barely worth of its name. Nobody really knows what Birmingham City are; Premier League pretenders? Relegation certainties? Neither? Can we truly benchmark the result in terms of its achievement? Can we really call this a giantkilling?

City made nine changes from their opening game against Cardiff, such is the sniffiness of Championship managers towards the League Cup. They will talk about the league being a priority as if that sort of pragmatism is supposed to impress us. There are typically three trophies to play for per season (League, FA Cup and League Cup) and on average each team will win a significantly less than one of them. For most teams a couple of memorable wins is what leaves a season in the memory and the cups should offer those moments. But, the idea of glory being is lost on most managers who choose to effectively ignored the cup in order to concentrate on standing still.

I like the Appleton mentality that every game is there to be won, it plays to both the romantic notion of a football team wanting to win every game they play, but, more importantly, it creates a template in which the team learns how to win games. There are precious few players, if any, who can decide when to perform and when not so developing a habit of winning has to be an advantage. Whatever the benefits of resting players are they have to be balanced against the lost opportunity to practice winning games.

Honorable mention has to go to Liam Sercombe. The departure of Jake Wright in the summer brought an era at the club to a close. It wasn’t immediately obvious who might take the captain’s armband when the likes of Sam Long and Josh Ruffels are the longest serving members of the squad. Sercombe must have been in the running for the job.

It’s not so much that he leads by example; he just does what comes naturally with seemingly endless energy. If he’s like that at home, it must drive his fiancé mad, but it must also be completely infectious for young players at the club. If they plan to model themselves on anyone, it’s not the superstar pretentions of the Premier League, it’s the boundless enthusiasm of Liam Sercombe where they should look.

Sercombe has been in the middle of everything that’s been good about the club over year or so, his goal against Birmingham was another chapter in a stellar Oxford career.

Bristol Rovers 2 Oxford United 1

… And just as Sam Long and Liam Sercombe emerge as heroes of the first week, they conspire to make a significant contribution to our first defeat of the season. Brilliant.

The response has been, as you might expect, completely binary. From the innate confidence of promotion to the abject failure of defeat. We are in trouble, or perhaps not.

Frankly, who knows at this stage? I don’t, and nor do you.

Rovers are a bit of a benchmark for us, we’ve always competed at roughly the same level, so a defeat probably feels like we’re falling below a perceived watermark. However, they held onto their core squad and star striker, and we didn’t. So they’ve started the season a bit more established, whereas we’re likely to evolve into it.

Talking of strikers, the good news is that Kane Hemmings got off the mark, which is important despite the result. The figures may be moderate in wider footballing terms, but transfer fees are an unequivocal measure of perceived quality. Goals are an unequivocal measure of the return on that investment. As a striker that brings a pressure that other players won’t feel. If the goals don’t come, then everyone gets restless and the pressure builds. Dealing with that pressure takes a special mindset.

If the goals do come then the pressure goes away. A few more goals in the coming weeks and another jigsaw puzzle will be slotting into place.

It’s been an OK week, and not one that should have been wholly unexpected. One win, one draw, one defeat; fairly predictable. It could have been any order. We were always likely to start more slowly than last year and it was always likely to be a bit harder. This is no time to jump to any conclusions.

Fleetwood Town 2 Oxford United 0  

Some people seem to suggest that our defeat to Fleetwood is a sign of impending crisis. That’s two defeats in a row, meaning we’ve taken only a point from three games, time to panic.

But, in every sense, it is too early to tell whether this is how our season will pan out. It is only our third league game, we’ve only had one game at home, and, lest we forget, we are playing in a higher league. This seems to be one of our problems; we’re ‘only’ playing Fleetwood, a team that we ‘should’ be beating. But we forget that while they don’t have any heritage at this level, the team is there on merit and by definition they, like everyone else in the division, are going to be harder to defeat than  the teams we faced last year.

When will we know our direction of travel? Looking at the fixtures, I don’t think we’ll have a clear picture until October at the earliest. The early season is fraught with difficulties,  MK Dons, Sheffield United and Bolton away, Swindon at home. Things look more settled into October, but it’s not until January that we start to play batches of teams more like us. We might need to be patient, while the team find their feet.

Perspective and cool heads are needed right now, as Michael Appleton says, it’s time to focus on the basics. That said, with Brighton next Tuesday and Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United away the following Saturday, a nerve settling result over Peterborough will do everyone the power of good this weekend.

The blame game

On the pitch, off the pitch, in the stand or in the board room; apportioning blame when things go wrong seems to be a natural instinct. Just how much further forward does that ever get us?

Recently, Matt Murphy came to the Kassam as a returning legend. I can’t have been the only long-standing fan to suffer some cognisant dissonance resulting from the idea of Murphy being a labelled a legend, a confusion which was compounded by his interview on Yellow Player; where he came across as a genuinely lovely bloke.

The thing is, during the mid-90s Matt Murphy was the London Road’s boo-boy. Every team needs one, they’re a counter balance to the ‘star player’, serving an equal and opposite purpose. With the inevitable fluctuations in team performances, you need someone to constantly love – a star player. This justifies your otherwise illogical devotion to something which is more likely to fail than succeed. Similarly, you need someone to constantly dislike to give you someone to vent your frustrations at. You need his constant because most players are good sometimes and awful at others; you don’t want to appear like a reactionary nut job or undermine any previous absolute statements you’ve previously made about players.

The boo-boy is a constant, a punchbag. It acts like a pressure valve. In the immediate aftermath of our promotion from the Conference, and we were hidebound by that success. A moderate start to life back in the Football League left us in a position of seeking the root of our problem without being afforded the luxury of being able to criticise any of the players who had only a few weeks earlier performed heroically in our name.

It happens at every team; even at Manchester United during periods where silverware was almost guaranteed every year (I’m not kidding, ask your parents, kids). Ryan Giggs became a focus for criticism for those at Old Trafford. To everyone else the greatest player of his generation and one of the all-time greatest British players was a United boo boy because he didn’t tackle like Keane, pass like Scholes, cross like Beckham or score goals like Gary Neville. It wasn’t Giggs they were criticising, it was the collective need to have someone to beat up when things didn’t go well.

Most people will agree the Murphy was very much like Giggs in so many ways. He is the club’s 5th top scorer and played during a period of comparative success. But at the time he was the focus of almost constant criticism.

Deane Smalley is the Matt Murphy for the current age; it seems we have risen as one and decreed him to be useless. Rather like Murphy, the facts tend not to back up the perception. It ignores that Smalley is our most prolific goalscorer this season. It ignores that this is precisely what Smalley is; a goalscorer. It ignores that Smalley, the most prolific goalscorer in the team is being played woefully out of position or at least being slotted in wherever there happens to be a gap.

It beggars belief that Lewis and Melville worked alongside Chris Wilder for over five years and yet seemed to have learnt precisely nothing of their squad or how best to deploy them. Instead, we’ve been treated to Smalley and James Constable playing on the wing with no apparent game plan as to how their particular strengths might be used from that position. Constable, of course, enjoys the immunity that Smalley doesn’t.

Standing amongst the bodies in the immediate aftermath of the 0-3 defeat to Chesterfield, Nick Harris joined the chorus of those claiming that it was no longer acceptable to wait to get the right man in, now was time to get anyone in. Even Jerome Sale, who is usually a rare voice of reason tabled the idea that the only solution now was to get someone like Martin Allen. Now amidst the shock and desolation of a three goal defeat with two men sent off and your best player stretchered off, perhaps rationality was in short supply, but this is the equivalent of deploying ground to air missiles to frighten off the cat that’s been crapping on your flowerbeds.

Yes, there is no doubt that the appointment of the new manager has taken too long. However, panic is not the option right now. It is easy to blame Ian Lenagan, and without doubt the longer it goes on the greater the pressure to make the right decision. But blame is such a destructive quality; blame is something you assign to something or someone at the end of something. But like many things – particularly running football clubs – nothing has come to an end; so if you blame Ian Lenagan, how much further forward has that taken you? Has it put an effective manager in place? No.

The reality is that Lenagan was left in a bind; the mood of the fans was against Chris Wilder and our post-Christmas form was patchy, had he offered him a contract extension then there would hardly have been universal approval. However, sacking him didn’t make sense given that we were in the automatic promotion places. Perhaps he shouldn’t have given him the extension at the beginning of the season; but then what would this season have looked like?

So in a sense Lenagan was in no-mans land and when Wilder eventually found the exit door. It might have been reasonable to assume that Lewis and Melville along with a squad of experienced players might have kept themselves going for a bit. But, instead they have failed Lenagan miserably by simply falling apart. But even with that established, what is the point of laying blame and panicking? The problem, after Chesterfield is the same problem as before it.

History, they say, is a constant process of people clearing up their mistakes. So, wherever the club has got to, there’s no point in kicking through the ashes of recent weeks in order to find out where it all went wrong. Whatever state we find ourselves in, we’ve still got the same players we had before this mess occurred. We don’t need wholsale change or destructive revolution, but we do need a manager. Someone able to provide some structure and discipline to the squad; once that’s been established, then the players should still be able to see us through to the play-offs.

From a field in Chester to Chesterfield

It’s not often I wake up on the morning of a game not knowing whether I was going or not. On Saturday I was 175 miles from the Kassam Stadium; the race against time that followed made me consider a rarely discussed element of the game; being late and missing games.

 I can easily get poetic about motorways and football. Football is the heartbeat of the country, fans are its lifeblood and motorways are the arteries. At risk of descending into Partridge-like parody, there’s an expectant thrill about motorway service stations at lunchtime on a Saturday afternoon.

There is something special about seeing a procession of overweight men in claret and blue shirts filing their way into the gents. As they pass, you focus on the badge nestling on the crest of their right moob. West Ham? Burnley? No… it’s… Scunthorpe! Then you have to scramble to find where they’re off to that afternoon. You check their result at full-time and then they dissolve back into being just another club that isn’t yours.

On Saturday, I was in Chester with work. A field in Chester before Chesterfield, I quipped. I’d known about this clash the day the fixtures came out in June. You often hear about people who can’t make particular games, but this doesn’t reveal the personal crisis that comes with the realisation that you’re missing a game. It’s not so much the fear of missing something brilliant, more the anxiety related to breaking a routine.

Usually, if I’m missing a game, I’m missing it. If I’m going, then I’m going. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to handle this one. The time at which I left was only partly in my control. But I have some emotional intelligence and that told me that jetting too early wasn’t going to pay dividends with my colleagues.

In the end I took a risk based approach, the most likely scenarios were that I left on time and missed the game, or I wriggled out early, pissed a few people off, and still missed the game. Given that the most likely scenarios involved missing the game; I figured I was better leaving at a time that minimised any discord with my colleagues.

I’ve missed games before; in 2004 I sat in traffic on the edge of Milton Keynes at 2.15pm knowing that I wasn’t going make our opening day fixture at Boston. Nine years earlier I went to St Andrews with my mate Pete for a potential title decider against Birmingham. We got stuck in traffic and couldn’t park. In a rush I got out of the car pushed the button on the door to lock it and slammed it shut. Just as I heard Pete slam the door on the other side I realised that I hadn’t taken the keys out of the ignition. We were locked out. For a moment I contemplated taking a risk and just head for the ground; the key issue could wait. We were passed by some kids who asked if we wanted them to ‘look after’ the car. We were naive, but not lobotomised, so we declined. We found a rough local pub, full, but silent apart from the radio blaring out the game (we conceded while I borrowed their phone).

By the time the RAC got the key out it was getting beyond half time and David Rush missed a penalty. Into the second half we were circumnavigating the ground trying to get in. We’d sold out our end so we had to get in somewhere else. The only tickets available we’re getting ridiculously expensive; especially for less than half a game that we were losing. I’d lost all sense of perspective, it was like I was trying fruitlessly to revitalise a dying dog while Pete tugged at my arm trying to persuade me it was over and that I should ‘just leave it’.

We drove home listening to the final moments of the game, which doubled up as their promotion party.

As well as missing games I’ve also travelled long distances for games. I was in Boston, Massachusetts 12 hours before our 2-1 win over Bury at the Manor in 2002. In 1998 I drove down from the west coast of Scotland for a game with Wolves.

On Saturday, I got away on time and plugged OX4 into the Sat Nav. It predicted my arrival as 3.30pm. I could eat into that, I thought, if I didn’t stop. But I did consider what is the latest time that it’s reasonable to turn up to a game?

I’d turned up late to games before, of course, who hasn’t? In 1994, coming back from university, I arrived late for our cup game against Chelsea. I arrived at the top of steps on the London Road terrace only to find myself tumbling down to the front as Joey Beauchamp poked the ball home to give us a 1-0 lead.

But that was a terrace, and you can merge your way anonymously into the stand at almost any time. With seating its different, people need to get out of the way. I was late for our relegation decider against Leyton Orient in 2006. My daughter was born at 9am that morning. Having spent the night weaning myself off the idea that I was going to go, we eventually realised at about 11am that there was little form me to do but to go. By time time I got out of the hospital (smashing a wing mirror off a parked car in the process), and got across Oxford it was gone 3pm. Nobody noticed and I didn’t care, everyone was preoccupied by events on the pitch.

Back in Chester, things weren’t going well. I’d been on the road for nearly an hour and had shaved off about 2 minutes from my ETA. The Worksop Town supporters’ trust coach went passed (3-2 win away at Nantwich). Football was starting to happen. Rationality was beginning to take hold of the situation. I was getting hungry, I couldn’t stop if I wanted to get back to Oxford. That meant missing out on lunch. On expenses. Which was not so much a luxury as a missed opportunity. I passed a service station and decided that if I hadn’t brought the ETA down significantly by the next services (12 miles away) I was giving up.

Reader, I failed.

I stopped, bought food, and set off again. I still hadn’t mentally discharged the idea of making the game. I was still calculating the average speed I’d need to make it, I was in Stafford and I was due to arrive at 4pm.

Birmingham killed me, of course. I passed Walsall (1-1 v Rotherham), you can see the the top of the main stand at the  Bescott just off the M42. It was reassuringly sparsely populated. Then I slowed at the alter of traffic congestion; the RAC building. My next goal was to get into Radio Oxford’s range, it became bearable to listen to around 64 miles out. Not before Radio 5 Live described our game as the ‘hottest ticket in League 2’. Deaf to the withering qualifier ‘in League 2’ I felt a pang of jealousy. I was amongst normal people, counting down the miles to get home.

I’ve now missed two home games; I’ve only seen two of our eight matches this season. Both were underwhelming draws, meanwhile we’ve had our best start for years. Is this a season in which I’m simply destined to chase, and ultimately fail, our successes? Is this an analogy?

Entering an age of darkness

The defeat to Chesterfield felt so typical of this season. The moment that you think we’re about to break out of the fug and grab an unlikely play-off spot, we meekly throw away three points to a team with a terrible away record. Is this familiar cycle a sign that we’re entering a dark age?

Before Saturday’s game against Chesterfield, I found myself in a conversation about the state of modern football. One of those discussions where the game’s rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. That there are too many foreign owners ploughing money into teams that skew the competition. One said that teams could no longer make it through the divisions into the top flight like Watford, Oxford and Wimbledon did back in the 1980s. The words ‘Swansea City’ or even ‘Stoke City’ popped into my head, but I suppressed my urge to correct him and nodded in agreement.

We do that. Agree with things that we don’t actually agree with. We conform to norms and patterns. It’s a survival technique, it prevents us from being outcasts. Take the incident with Nathan Smith on Saturday, for example. He was barely able to run when Damian Batt was powering down the line readying himself for a cross into the box. Somehow Smith managed to get into a position where the ball cannoned off him for a corner. Finally, he goes down and Oxford fans are apoplectic. The collective view was that he grounded himself pretending to be hurt by the ball hitting him.

After treatment, he hobbled back to the halfway line before dropping, again, to the floor. More boos. Deane Smalley tries to roll him off the pitch and a scuffle ensued. Smith goes off, genuinely injured. And yet, Oxford fans can’t bring themselves to give him the benefit of the doubt, or to criticise Smalley’s ill-advised actions. All along I sit in silence, accepting the views of the masses.

That ‘do what we want’ song rang out when Chesterfield scored. It’s a horrible song, but it’s sung every week. It’s just part of the pattern of a matchday. It’s rare to hear an original club song or something which is genuinely funny or original. The pattern of the game, the day, stays the same from week to week. The routine of an Oxford matchday clicks by. Those who come for excitement and thrills have given up, others will inevitably do so soon, it’s not a protest against the current owners or managers, it’s just the product of the boredom of the current routine.

So much of this season reminds me of the club that I started seeing in the early 80s. It was a complete anathema to what I’d come to understand as what football was. Football on TV, in Roy of the Rovers and on my subbuteo pitch was full of glory and cups and goals. Seething crowds banked on terraces, tumbling down with unbridled joy when you star striker scored. In reality Oxford United in the early 80s was full of people moaning. The stands were sparse, the routines set in stone. The club never really got into relegation trouble, nor troubled the promotion places. The sense of helplessness at the endless drift was palpable.

Nowadays, James Constable is Peter Foley, Jake Wright is early 80s Malcolm Shotton. Good players, players who we can be fond of, but no John Aldridge or Matt Elliot. They’re players who are likely to jettison us forward. The others are Tim Smithers, or Mark Jones, or John Doyle. Never heard of them? Exactly.

Those who think that firing Chris Wilder is the solution to this misunderstands the problem. I’m fairly certain that Wilder is not about to take us to the Premier League and firing him might freshen things up a bit but I think most people agree that the immediate future is all but mapped out with or without him. We’re set to miss out on the play-offs, season ticket sales will fall and lots and lots of players will leave. Next season will probably be the same as this. And the season after that, and the season after that.

These are football’s hard miles, unrewarding drudgery, and it could go on for a while without either us finding a genius manager who can outperform within the constraints around us, or new and significant investment which will make good managers great. Granted, that’s always a possibility, but the chances remain remote.

A small core of fans may remain to tough it out; and one of these days we’ll be at Wembley, or a title clinching home game, or one of the country’s biggest grounds and we’ll have a sesnse of something we can’t quite put our fingers on that others won’t be able to feel. We’ll have games like Chesterfield, forgotten over the passing of time, deep in our muscle memory.

But, time has run out, the post-promotion glow has wained, Ian Lenegan’s ability to fund rapid growth is coming to an end. There are some signs in the youth set up, that a golden age of Oxford-based youngsters could be the solution, but that’s what they said about Darren Patterson’s youth team of the early 2000s.We may even be seeing a slight tilt towards the ladies game; it’s not unheard of, for a period the best football team in Doncaster were the fabled Doncaster Belles, not the broken Rovers.

But, there is nothing glorious about supporting us through these grey days. It’s self-harm, a cry for help, but help never comes, nobody cares. There is no one person or thing that has caused it. We were going to stall sooner or later; there’s only so much forward momentum we can muster from our promotion from the Conference, or from us as ‘the great’ Oxford United.

Perhaps the only people we can look at to change is us; bring back the flags, bring back the songs, bring back the unbridled positive support. Who knows, it may drag us out of the darkness quicker than waiting for a knight in shining armour to do it for us.