Kassam All Star XI – Centre backs

Gareth Southgate has a lot to answer for. In 1996 he was heralded as representative of a new wave of centre back. No more Tony Adams or Terry Butcher with their noses splattered all over their faces. Southgate was the new intelligent ball-playing centre back who spoke nicely and slowly; he couldn’t be anything but a thinker.

But, I’m a traditionalist. I like my centre backs big, ugly and prepared to put their faces in other people’s boots. Mark Wright’s first move when he arrived at the Kassam was to replace a couple of lightweight Gareth Southgates: Jon Richardson and Darren Patterson with a couple of trusted war horses from his successful spell with Chester. Scott Guyett and Phil Bolland offered a proven combination that he could trust.

But Ian Atkins needed more, and I don’t just mean a third centre back. He brought in a genuine leader in Andy Crosby. In an ever-volatile situation at the Kassam, Crosby kept the players focussed on winning games. He was such a pro, he knew exactly when to step away from the madness and took up residence at Scunthorpe where he did a Ricketts and won a couple of promotions.

Crosby was accompanied by similarly gnarly old pros; Matt Bound and latterly Paul McCarthy. It wasn’t the most handsome of back lines, but it was effective. Jon Ashton was drafted in, offering a Phil Gilchrist to Crosby’s Matt Elliot. While Crosby was the epitome of consistency, Ashton’s form bobbed around in the sea of failure that was the Kassam.

Leo Roget was brought in by Graham Rix to play the Crosby role and nurture the back line. Roget was a notable victim of the ‘Kassam Spiral’ whereby his first season he looked awful, the second, when the rest of the team had descended below his limited abilities, he started to look like a pivotal figure.

In the desperate search for a stabilising influence Brian Talbot brought in Chris Willmott. Willmott was, for a period at least, a reassuring big chunk of British centre-back. The Willmott/Ashton/Roget combination – Talbot chose two from those three almost at random – looked like it should be good enough. But the season quickly turned from disappointment to alarm to crisis to disaster and we were relegated.

Standing around in midfield thinking ‘I could do better than that’ was Barry Quinn. It wasn’t until we reached the Conference that he drifted back into a back-five. At first he covered Willmott who was a long-term injury victim, but eventually the role became permanent. I maintain to this day that he was never a defender despite being a regular fixture until 2008.

Alongside Quinn was a true defender, Phil Gilchrist. Gilchrist was one of the best centre-backs the club has ever had, but by 2006 he was a bag of bones and muscle held together with sellotape. At the start of the season his experience carried him through, eventually, like so many other members of the squad, he was in bits. With Gilchrist and Quinn was Matt Day – perhaps the stupidest footballer in the history of the game. He had a kick like a mule and regularly blasted them in from 25 yards. For a period, we could forgive him. His ability to return for pre-season 4 stone overweight counted against him somewhat.

With one defender falling apart, another having no brain of any note and a third who wasn’t a defender at all (alongside Willmott who was in the treatment room) something had to be done. Luke Foster arrived, apparently, via a letter from his dad. Foster was quick, strong and reliable, but, if rumour is to be believed, his extra-curricular activities were getting the better of him and to the dismay of many, he was shipped out by Chris Wilder.

By that point, Foster’s partner in the back four was Mark Creighton. Before kick off he’d be seen bouncing 5-10 yards outside his own box seething in preparation for the battle ahead. Creighton was significant because he was the first signing of a bewildering close season in 2009. It was an aggressive move (Creighton was captain at Kidderminster) and a signal of intent from Chris Wilder. The momentum Creighton’s signing offered propelled the team to the top of the Conference and eventually back to the league.

Following Foster’s controversial departure, when the team were top with the best defensive record in the division, Jake Wright arrived. Wright’s performances, which improved from a very shaky debut, probably didn’t outstrip Foster’s, but he was a less disruptive influence off the field. Certainly, Wright’s leadership skills were evident when the pressure was on.

Once we returned to the League, a smarter more streetwise style was needed. Creighton’s brief, but significant, stay was over once Harry Worley came in to partner Wright. The partnership, though far from perfect, was more finessed than what had been in the Conference.

For the Kassam All-Star XI, I want two dependable obelisks in the middle. So, therefore, we have two icons of the back line. Andy Crosby and Mark Creighton. Just don’t ever expect them to catch Yemi Odubade in a foot race.

Comment: Oxblogger Official Favourite Player

If Chris Wilder threw together his team this season, he fair blew it to bits on announcing his retained list this week.

It’s a heartless business, and in a sense its sad to see the likes of Barry Quinn and Yemi take the bullet. Quinn, I maintain, was never a defender, but he was a good hard working pro. Yemi was given ample opportunity to shine, especially against Northwich, and failed miserably by skulking disinterestedly on the wing like a sixth form goth in a games lesson.

Craig Nelthorpe was a surprise, presumably brought in because his wages were right, and his performances were decent. We all know that wingers’ performances are fitful, but Nelthorpe was a player in the mold of Beauchamp, Cook, Angel and Powell – we’d not had his like for some time. His attitude was spikey, which may have been a reason for his release.

Chris Willmott deserved better. His injury record, lack of versatility and wages will have played against him; but his partnership with Foster this season was immense. Perhaps there is better out there and Willmott’s role would have been as a back up next season, but it still seems wrong.

It also leaves a vacancy for Oxblogger’s Official Favourite Player and post-clear out there’s not masses to choose from. But one man fits the bill. In the same way that Kate Moss is attracted to men who are not classically good looking, the Oxblogger Official Favourite Player is should never be a classically good player. No Turley, Constable, Murray et al. We like our players flawed, but we love watching them succeed; so no bench-huggers need apply. Just one man does it for me; and that’s Mr Damien Batt: Official Oxblogger Favourite Player number 3.

Yellows 1 York 1, Yellows 1 Altrincham 0

As we contemplate what impact Manchester City’s £100 million pursuit of Kaka will have on top flight football, we should also contemplate what the long term impact of our five point deduction and defeat to York will have on us.

The reality is that it could well have set us back 10 years. The next new tranche of money (aside from a cut of any future Dean Whitehead transfer) will come in the summer with the season ticket renewals. By this time we’ll be a below midway non-league team in its fourth year of Conference football… deep in a recession.

The recession is all relative of course, we’ll still have the biggest crowds and income, but we’re also living relatively way beyond our means. It’ll take some feat to lever us out of the league in that situation.

The departure of Phil Trainer prior yesterday’s win over Altrincham leaves Oxblogger without an official favourite player. I spent most of yesterday’s game trying to decide on who should replace him.

Turley, Foster, Constable and Yemi are all too obviously ‘good’, although Yemi has a bit of the Vern Troye about him. He may be ineffective, but he’s sooo cute. Dress him up in a teddy bear outfit and he’d win player of the season every year.

What’s more, the Oxblogger Official Favourite Player is a player that stands for something. Phil Trainer appealed because he punched some way above his natural talents. It was this sense of achievement in adversity which appealed.

Lewis Haldane is the complete metaphor for the whole club and therefore was a candidate. He’s got a great infrastructure that we don’t own but manages to disappoint week after week.

Others are either too young or too injured. Which makes Oxblogger’s Official Favourite Player… Chris Willmott.

Yesterday, as I looked around me to see a sea of acne’d faces, I’ve sat in my seat since we moved to the new stadium, but all others around me have moved on and been replaced by another tranche of teenagers lured by an afternoon out with their mates (only to eventually find out that girls are much more interesting). I feel like an old oak tree in the middle of a new business park that has a preservation order on it.

And, this, pretty much describes Willmott. All others around him change, but he keeps plodding on. Presumably he’s learnt that it’ll never get much better than it is at the moment, this is it for him, this is his job. He is me, and I is him. I feel we have a connection. Congratulations Chris.

News Round Up: The retained list

No major surprises in the elegantly named ‘retained’ list. Carl Pettefer was always a bit of an oddity; he did that Paul Scholes industriousness really well but neither Jim Smith nor Darren Patterson seemed to like him. Maybe it was wages, injuries or attitude, but something prevented him from being a more permanent member of the squad.

You always knew when Eddie Hutchinson was about to get injured because he started playing well. His eager bluster did little to disguise a lack of quality. He may have been a useful player to throw in at times of crisis, but salary meant carrying a rarely needed footballing Kate Aide was a luxury too far.

Rob Duffy, The Enigma, will no doubt be seen trotting up and down the touchline as a substitute for some aspirant promotion hopeful in the coming months – “Ooh, he scored over 20 goals for Oxford one year”. His defining moment was his one-on-one against Exeter, the moment he tamely rolled the ball into the arms of the keeper was the moment his Oxford career was effectively over.

The Danny Rose brand – Ex-Captain of Manchester United Reserves – fooled many a Kassam regular who would obliquely comment on how much we needed his ‘creativity’. The sad truth is, as small and cute as he looks, he just wasn’t up to the job.

Richards and Blackwood never looked likely to stay long. Jamie Hand was improving and one wonders whether Patterson may have another look at him if he’s still available in August. One must question just how long Chris Willmott’s contract is for. I was sure his name would eventually surface.

The biggest surprise was probably Craig McCallister; who I thought was a useful foil for speed freaks like Yemi and Matt Green. Whilst he was never going to net 20 goals a season, his ability to hold the ball up and link up with the midfield allowed us to control games much better than we did with the sauntering Duffy.

What’s more, I don’t think we’ll keep Matt Green, it feels like his gaze has gone elsewhere already and there’s a long summer and a lot of clubs looking to take a chance on a half decent striker ahead. With only the recently revitalised Yemi staying, but still not fully redeemed, we could start next season right back where we started.