Match wrap: Bristol Rovers 3 Oxford United 1

For all the brouhaha around Matty Taylor’s return to Bristol Rovers with the personal security and amnesty bins, the real issue for Oxford United was probably nearly two hundred miles away.

Curtis Nelson hasn’t started a game at Cardiff City, he’s been sat on the bench waiting his chance. Meanwhile, after an encouraging start, we’re shipping goals like there’s no tomorrow – nine in a week. It’s possible his greatest impact this season is our defensive problems.

Although we can’t really hope to replace Nelson like-for-like, his departure was no surprise. It was nearly a year ago that Karl Robinson took the captaincy off him because of his reluctance to sign a new contract. Even before then, it was difficult to see him; given that it’s the most important contract decision of his career, choosing us over a chance to play in a higher division.

John Mousinho’s age is similarly predictable, age is like that. He was brought in principally as an emergency cover for Nelson when he damaged knee ligaments in 2017 – a leader without doubt – it’s clear he would have physical limitations. Also, let’s not forget that Robinson didn’t really have him in his plans, offering him a coaching role during the summer.

Rob Dickie is at the other end of the spectrum; an excellent prospect and developing well, but with some way to go before becoming the commanding presence of his defensive partner from last year.

In fact, after nearly 18 months in charge, Elliot Moore is the first centre-back Karl Robinson has signed. And that was days before the start of the season. Moore may become the towering defensive unit we’re looking for. He’s certainly got the physicality, but there’s more to being a top class centre-back than being called Elliot and having a Leicester and Oxford connection.

The issue goes further; our first choice full-backs are Josh Ruffels and Chris Cadden. Ruffels is a converted midfielder and, although I haven’t seen much of Cadden, I can see what Radio Oxford match summariser Steve Kinniburgh means when he says he prefers Cadden’s attacking threat to his defensive capabilities. Few will want a return to the days of Hunt and Newey, but something a little more defensively minded – think Ford and Robinson – might give more confidence. Or perhaps the Baldock and Skarz approach of one bombing forward while the other provides cover.

Whereas in midfield we’ve built a bit of a dynasty from Lundstram to Ledson to Brannagan, in defence we seem to have ignored all the signs that we were always likely to run into difficulties. It’s a far cry from 2016 when we released Jake Wright because we had too many central defenders.

Perhaps Karl Robinson has been too eager to please, bringing in exciting talent like Gavin Whyte or Tariqe Fosu, and trying to fulfil the endless bleating about needing a ‘twenty goals a season striker’, while ignoring the more mundane realities of our defensive capabilities.

There’s more to come from Dickie and Moore, but there’s little cover if that goes wrong. Mousinho can’t play every game and it isn’t his best position anyway. I still think we’ll surprise the good teams with our attacking threat and overwhelm the poorer ones. However, beating teams like us, like Bristol Rovers and Burton, are going to need more balance between our attacking threat and defensive ability. Everyone is so similar, the wins will come in the margins.

There’s still a week to go until the transfer window closes but those who are available are likely to be in the mould of Moore or Mousinho – youngsters looking for game-time, or older players who are moving to the margins of their squad. It looks like we’ll have to deal with what we have. It’s time to get organised.

George Lawrence’s Summer Shorts: Rob(in)son and Jerome

Monday 24 June 2019

Someone needs to turn KRob off and back on again; we downloaded the new KRob 2.0 app in May which promised less talk about transfer targets, but we’ve woken up this morning to find that’s all he’s talking about. Not only that, he’s talking about last year’s transfer targets albeit in some kind of encrypted code. He’s interested in bringing back Jerome ‘Jerome’ Sinclair and Luke ‘Garbs’ Garbutt who he wants to play alongside Sykes-ey, Hally and Henry-ey. 

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Nico Jones has given up his paper round and signed his first professional contract having broken into the first team at the end of last season. It’s a major first step for the seventeen-year-old whose ambitions to play in the Champions League final, appear in a World Cup and above all, be old enough to wear a football shirt with a beer logo on it. 

Meanwhile in the early hours of the morning, Jonte Angle Smith didn’t feature as Bermuda bowed out of Gold Cup despite winning against Nicaragua.

Wednesday 26 June 2019

Let’s face it, the CONCACAF Gold Cup is the last strand of knicker elastic holding up George Lawrence’s Summer Shorts at the moment. The gift keeps giving after Gino van Kessel’s Curacao snatched a last minute draw against Jamaica to progress to the next round where they’ll play the USA. Van Kessel enjoyed a short run out, coming on as a substitute.

Thursday 27 June 2019

KRob’s been talking. And talking. And talking. 80s pop sensation Danny Wilson who was linked with us is so enamoured by KRob he’s decided to stay in the US to continue what one website described as his MLS nightmare, the Sloth in the Box Jerome Sinclair is off to play in Holland while Chris Cadden has done a bit of a Matt Green (first time) and gone all quiet on a potential deal.

The good news is that former Charlton manager Lee Bowyer has admitted that Tariq Fosu is set to join. “He knows Karl Robinson…” said the reformed nasty piece of work “…and it still hasn’t put him off.” He didn’t add.

Meanwhile, creepy Uncle Warnock has got his man as Curtis Nelson turned into a Bluebird.

Friday 28 June 2019

Eric Thohir may look like a teenager featured on local news because of his thriving antiques business, but there are few moves he can’t shake. Having recently managed the election of Indonesian president Joko Widodo, he’s turned his attention to their Olympic bid by becoming a member of the IOC committee. This is all setting himself up for the biggest challenge of them all; having a cup of tea with Firoz Kassam which doesn’t result in a court order, but don’t run until you can walk.

Saturday 29 June 2019

Those of you concerned we haven’t signed an under-23 player for about 25 minutes will be reassured to hear that we’ve signed Yoav Sade. The club, who seem to collect under-23s like GLS collects tea lights from Ikea, is hoping he’ll play with Salvi Spasov. ‘Yoav sade slavi spasov’ is what GLS says when confronted by his wife at 3am when he gets home after 14 pints of Strongbow.

Sunday 30 June 2019

We close the week pretty much where we started. The Sloth in the Box Jerome Sinclair has signed for Dutch stutterers VVV-Venlo. It’s a brave move, and who knows he may regret it. But, he should never look back – as we had to look back into midfield to find out where he was every time a tantalising cross dropped harmlessly into the hands of the opposition keeper. Sick burn.

George Lawrence’s summer shorts: fixtures and flittings

Monday 17 June 2019

So, that’s settled; Curtis Nelson is heading for Cardiff City. Nelson hasn’t signed a new contract with Oxford due to his ambition to play for a Championship club. This alerted Sunderland, who admitted defeat in the race after remembering that they weren’t one. Gammon fanzine The Daily Mail are now reporting that Nelson’s off to South Wales.

Meanwhile in Costa Rica, Jonte ‘Angle’ Smith drew on the ineffectual cameo experience he gained during his time at Oxford by coming on for Bermuda in their 2-1 defeat to Haiti in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

On the internet, Oxford United blogging sensation Oxblogger has launched The Absolute State of Oxford United Survey, which you can take part in here.

Tuesday 18 June 2019

Negotiations are hotting up to keep Gavin Whyte at Oxford United following interest from Nottingham Forest. The too and fro is like watching the mating ritual of a pair of particularly amourous flamingos. KRob did the ultimate mic-drop by giving Whyte the number 10 shirt next season. Whyte’s considered response was a high-fives emoji on Twitter. That’s some high stakes negotiating right there.

In a, *squints*, Morrisons near Wembley, the baked beans are being tidied in preparation for the Carabao Cup draw which will be held there on Thursday.

In foreign climes, Curacao didn’t make Gino van Kessel run in their defeat to El Salvador.

Wednesday 19 June 2019

Birmingham City have sent former loanee Garry Monk back to his monastery due to the fact they’re making too much progress or something. In his wake comes PClot as caretaker head coach.

The meticulously crafted Spanish marketing construct, and Oxford United record breaker, brings a wealth of experience focussing on football fundamentals; the obsessive recreation of early 2010’s Malmo, soporific tactics and posting vaingloriously thoughtful photos on Twitter.

Thursday 20 June 2019

Fixtures Christmas! A day when randomly assorted list of obscure northern towns starts to address the issues you have with your father’s lack of love and attention when the teenage you was addressing conflicting feelings surrounding your sexuality. Or is that just us?

Football League copyright restrictions prevent us from letting you know who we’re playing, in fact we’re not sure we should even be telling you that football exists. We open the season with the Marco Gabbiadini derby, Boxing Day sees us play in the Wayne Biggins Trophy. The last game of the season will be the Sam Ricketts Invitational.

The Type 2 Diabetes Cup first round was drawn at the home of football (Morrisons, Colindale). The removal of unexpected items in the velvet bagging area resulted in us drawing, a two-for-one offer on Branston Pickle.

Or, Peterborough United.

And then, if there wasn’t enough football for the day, we only went and signed a real life player; Alex Rodriguez Gorrin, whose has a record as a tough tackling midfield ball-winner. He should provide lots of protection for the shrinking wallflower Cameron Brannagan.

Friday 21 June 2019

Back in the real world of losing games, the ever-consistent Jonte ‘Angle’ Smith made a brief and ineffectual appearance for Bermuda in their defeat to Costa Rica in the Gold Cup.

Saturday 22 June 2019

The technical sports bras were back out on Saturday as the players returned for what was nebulously called ‘testing’. We assume this was to see whether they’ve gone up a cup size or two during their down time. Judging by pictures on Twitter, none of the players have gone full Matt Day who appeared to use his summers during the Conference years supplementing his income as a doughnut eating competition professional.

No, you’re regretting finding out it was on… in The Gold Cup, Gino van Kessel featured as a substitute in Curacao’s 1-0 win over Honduras. What’s worse, it means they can still qualify for the knock-out rounds.

Still, you could console yourself by filling out an Oxford United survey, couldn’t you?

George Lawrence’s Summer Shorts: Admirable Nelson

Monday 10 June 2019

Last month, the club publicly pledged its eternal allegiance to the King of Thailand, and everyone thought that was a Very Normal Thing To Do. GLS take these things seriously, so today’s news is dedicated to our new leader.

Remember, workshy barrel chested wingman Gino van Kessel who we had an option to buy for £800,000 last year? An option that became as attractive as eating a nest of wasps? Well, nobody saw van Kessel run in 12 parsecs on Saturday as he was an unused substitute in Curaçao’s King’s Cup win over Vietnam in Thailand. Meanwhile, Tiger was photographed having a grrrrreat meeting with Ahmed Kashi. Kashi’s hotel is a home from home; it’s got a big bed, TV and an early bath.

Tuesday 11 June 2019

It takes a billion grains of sand to make a beach; and today is a veritable sandpit of news. The arms race in the Championship is hotting up – Chrìstôphé Wïldé is still being courted by West Brom and Middlesborough, while Hull City are being linked with Steve McClaren – or as Athletico Mince prefer ‘15th and out’ – and the man who will always win an arms race, perpetual managerial bridesmaid, MApp.

Meanwhile, if you’re worried about the value of your investments in the wake of Brexit, put your money into Gavin Whyte whose stock value grows exponentially. Having lodged a £2m interest, Nottingham Forest have found their target’s value arbitrarily doubled by a Sky commentator on Sunday. Cagey-in-chief, KRob, who has a poker-face like concrete, has piled in saying he wants more than that, while boasting about how good he is at selling players.    

Wednesday 12 June 2019

It’s all going off in non-playing substitute news this week. Tyler Roberts was keeping his snood game strong on the bench for Wales as they got mullered by Hungary. Half of the Oxford United Jedward, Mark Sykes has experienced the joy of wearing a fluorescent tabard after making the bench for Northern Ireland’s Euro qualifier win over Belarus. Gavin Whyte; Sykes’ partner in disposable pop-crime didn’t make the bench and was left in the stands Googling ‘obscenity laws, nottingham’.

An archeological dig has discovered the missing link between Matt Elliot and Curtis Nelson – via Steve Davis, Brian Wilsterman and Andy Lineghan. Neolithic former centre-back Mike Williamson has been excavated to become manager of Gateshead.

Thursday 13 June 2019

KRob’s search for players continues having taken his wife on a hot date to the Toulon Tournament. She tweeted a shot of them looking out across a spartan stadium readying themselves for the semi-final tie between Brazil and the Republic of Ireland.

Giddy fans implored KRob to pull one out of the bag and sign one of the samba stars of the future. But, KRob’s recruitment strategy is taken directly from Henry Ford’s principle of having any colour of car as long as it’s black. Or, in KRob’s case, we can have any player as long as they’re Irish, so we’re only going to get a starlet with a famous Brazilian name if The Republic have Diarmuid O’Pele or Eamonn O’Zico in their ranks.

Friday 14 June 2019

KRob’s admitted defeat in Curtis Nelson signing a new contract. It seems humiliatingly stripping him of the captaincy, giving it to a player with less than 5 games experience, and then preventing him from wearing the armband even for a few minutes at the end of any game has not motivated Nelson to sign. Go figure. He’s looking for a move to the Championship, or at least teams look like they should be in the Championship but are a bit too shambolic to actually be there. Like Sunderland.

Saturday 15 June 2019

The weekend has been a barron wasteland of news, so we end the week pretty much where we started. All eyes will be on the benches of the CONCACAF Gold Cup in USA, Jamaica and Costa Rica (basically, anywhere that’s happy to host a game). This is the international tournament for countries with the best holiday destinations. Jonte Angle Smith is lining up (for the national anthems, before sitting on the bench) for Bermuda in their game against Haiti on Sunday while Gino van Kessel’s Curaçao start their bid to avoid humiliation against El Salvador on Tuesday.

Comment: Nelson’s column

Some transfers run smoothly, with fans wishing players well as they move onto the next stage of their career – think Ryan Ledson or Kemar Roofe. Some transfers are messier – Callum O’Dowda or Marvin Johnson. Some are just plain weird, as anyone who remembers the protracted saga of Mark Watson’s vanishing act in 2000 will confirm.

Curtis Nelson’s departure from the club is threatening to get messy. It should come as no surprise to hear that Nelson is likely to go either in January or at the end of the season. He’s an outstanding player with potential to play at a level beyond that of avoiding relegation from League 1.

At 25, his next contract will define his career and unless he’s offered eye-watering amounts of money or has developed such a bond with the club that he’s happy to be remembered as a loyal, if under-achieving servant – Joey Beauchamp? – it seems Oxford is unlikely to fulfil his needs.

No one should deny Nelson’s right to pursue his ambition, even at the short-term expense of the club. Fans will regularly remind you that no player is bigger than the club, but the quid pro quo is that no player should be naive enough to trust a club which may use its size and stature to retain or discard its assets as it chooses. Fans might pay today’s wages, but players must control their own future.

The question is not whether he should leave, but more how that might happen.

There’s been plenty of finger-pointing following Nelson’s uncomfortable interview after the defeat to Plymouth; some say he was being unprofessional and disrespectful, others say it was a calculated attempt by Karl Robinson to humiliate him and/or turn him against the fans.

Let’s start with that. The Nelson affair has been going on for some time. He was ‘stripped’ of the captaincy for the Wycombe game in September and even when John Mousinho wasn’t available he didn’t get it back.

At the time Karl Robinson said it was to give Nelson some breathing space to decide his future. I think it was more a crude attempt to force him to sign a new deal. Crude rather than manipulative. Clubs with a player like Nelson – a saleable asset coming to the end of his contract – have little room for manoeuvre, so perhaps the club thought removing the captaincy might expedite his decision.

Was Tuesday’s interview stage two in a calculated plan? If Robinson was such an arch schemer, I suspect we wouldn’t have had some of his more bizarre outbursts this year, for example giving Shandon Baptiste the captaincy or claiming that Jamie Hanson wasn’t his signing. I think it’s more that Nelson is usually a good man to put in front of the media and Robinson, under pressure, didn’t think through the circumstances or consequences.

A shrewder move would have been to keep Nelson away from the media and present him as a settled, happy player. That way any interested clubs might feel they need to spend more to prize him out of our hands. An unhappy Nelson is more likely to encourage clubs to offer lower fees knowing the player is more likely to want out of his existing situation.

Was Nelson disrespectful? It wasn’t a great interview, but he’d just come off a heavy defeat to his old team at a time when speculation around him was intensifying. Presumably some dialogue is going on now and perhaps has been for some time. In the short term, the club hold the key to his immediate future, so it must be frustrating to have to bite his lip while it all plays out. It’s reasonable to think that it’s consuming a lot of his headspace. Someone asking him about his future when everyone knows the media friendly answer is a non-committal ‘I’m focussed on Oxford until someone tells me differently’ must be intensely frustrating. In the circumstances, the frustration boiled over.

Despite the loss of the captaincy, there’s been no sign that he lacks motivation or commitment on the pitch. No player is completely impervious to external pressures or lapses in form, but if you were to list our weaknesses, Nelson wouldn’t be high on that list.

Ultimately, I don’t think either party is playing a particularly calculated game. What I think we’re seeing is another example of poor organisation within the club. I don’t know how post-match communications are handled; whether it’s the player, manager or someone else who decides who steps up, but it was clearly a mistake to put Nelson in front of the microphone given the position he was in. Everyone could have handled it better.

The problem is that with each new screw-up or wobble comes more questions and assumptions. You end up in a confrontational situation that no party intended or wanted.

Some managers handle these situations better than others, Robinson might wear his heart on his sleeve, but sometimes he needs to use his head to get the best outcome.