Match wrap: Oxford United 1 Watford 1 (0-3 on pens)

Steve Kinniburgh talks with the attack and authority, he’s not quite the pantomime villain of a Graham Souness or Roy Keane, but he carries the air of a man who has earned his right to an opinion. 

I much prefer Kinniburgh to Peter Rhodes-Brown whose radio analysis rarely gravitates beyond ‘the lads knocking the ball around well’ and ‘wanting to grab an early goal’. But, if you’d challenged me to describe Kinniburgh’s Oxford career I would have said it amounted to a handful of games on loan from Rangers alongside another player (who, it turns out, was Ross Perry). The reality is that he started as many games as Alfie Potter did in our 2009/10 promotion season, as well as another ten in our first season back in the Football League.

I have much clearer memories of the details of our 2015/16 season, but was still surprised to see that Jordan Bowery scored seven goals in nine starts, ahead of his more storied colleagues Chris Maguire, Alex MacDonald and John Lundstram. Going back a bit further, not many people talk about Mark Jones’ 28 game contribution to the glory years of 1983-86.

If successful sides are built on a solid defence then fringe players are the grout that holds them together. England’s World Cup winners are chiselled into the national consciousness and there are stories of people with tattoos of famous cup winning teams, but the dream of a fixed, first-choice eleven that carries you through a whole season is a myth.  History might condense promotion squads into a ‘classic starting XI’ but it’s a trick of the light that your best seasons had the same players trotting out every week. 

For example, if, like me, your classic promotion team from 2010 is Clarke, Tonkin, Wright, Creighton, Batt, Bulman, Clist, Chapman, Midson, Constable, Green, then you might be surprised to hear that the only time that group ever played together was against York at Wembley. This was due, in no small measure, to Rhys Day’s 15 games and Kevin Sandwith who contributed 16, only three fewer than Anthony Tonkin. 

If this season is to be a success, then it’s these fringe player contributions will be critical. The Watford game saw eight changes from the defeat to Lincoln so provided an opportunity to test the capability of our extended squad. 

It’s too early to tell which of those players are easing their way into a more regular spot and who is settling into a season at the margins, but the signs were encouraging. I’m not sure if Derick Osei Yaw is a raw impact player or a genius, both he and Dan Agyei looked exciting and mobile up front. Rob Hall, you suspect, is settling into his role as a dependable back-up. In goal, Jack Stevens’ performance should ensure that the sharp intake of breath resulting from Simon Eastwood taking a knock is a little less sharp in the future.

I normally enjoy this stage of the League Cup – the weather is nice, the pressure is off, the crowd is good natured and there are a few nuggets of interest that comes from playing teams from a different division. But, at the same time it’s nearly impossible to evaluate your opponents – we could have been playing ex-Premier League Watford, or run-of-the-mill Championship Watford or a Watford side on the precipice of falling through the divisions, or the backup Watford of all these incarnations. In terms of quality, any one of their players could be playing anywhere from the Premier League to the Conference in a year’s time. So, we still don’t really know whether taking them to penalties represents a real triumph or a disappointing under-performance. On balance, I think it was a good solid test of the extended squad which is precisely what we were looking for.

They allowed us the space to attack them in a way that Lincoln didn’t – as a result we were able to show there’s strength and ability throughout the squad. The biggest concern remains in defence, John Mousinho’s injury adding to Josh Ruffels’ highlighting that in that department we are vulnerable.

In a sense Mousinho’s injury could have a dose of fortune; for all the goodwill and good signings, it appears to have forced Karl Robinson to think about his defensive cover for the season. Now he has to decide if he thinks Mousinho can play 30 games this season, or the same for Rob Atkinson. As harsh as Atkinson’s red card may have been, the fact it was rescinded was such a rarity, we should look on the fact we currently have two functioning centre-backs for Sunderland, Accrington and Crewe as a matter of freakish good fortune.

The result in the end was by-the-by, even if we had managed to score any of our penalties, after Hall, McGuane and Forde, it was genuinely difficult to think where the fourth and fifth spot kicks would come from. From the moment the final whistle went, it was clear our chances were ebbing away.

All in all a positive evening, although there is an uncomfortable truth that we haven’t won in normal time for six games, a sequence we could really do with breaking before it begins to lodge in peoples’ heads. The enigma that is Sunderland are next, and it’s hard to say if they’ll present a big problem or a potential three points. Given the recent results between the clubs, it would seem their strengths and weaknesses complement ours and a draw would seem the most likely outcome. After that, Accrington and Crewe look like a good opportunity to finally break the sequence. 

Despite the sequence, while there’s no real prospect of the season becoming a struggle, the margins in a promotion charge are narrow. Even at this ludicrously early stage, we don’t want to fall too far behind because getting back on terms will take time and effort. Sticking to the process will be key, maintaining the culture that seems to exist throughout the squad. Karl Robinson has plenty in the bank and his players believe in the system, so you would think it’s going to come good sooner rather than later.

Match wrap: Oxford United 1 AFC Wimbledon 1 (4-3 on penalties)

We’re back, or are we?

I watched the brilliant Netflix documentary series, Hip Hop Evolution, a few weeks ago and specifically the story of the ‘cyphers’ which sprung up around Washington Park in New York in the late 1990s. Cyphers were sessions where kids would congregate and try to outdo each other with their rhymes and wordplay in freestyle rap battles. 

Cyphers were an organic reaction to the money-motivated populism of Puff Daddy, which in turn was a reaction to the grim gun violence which led to the killing of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur. 

Where Puff Daddy sampled great chunks of familiar million-selling songs and ran reductive raps over the top with the sole aim of selling bucket loads of records, the cyphers re-connected kids with the origins of hip hop. Rather than instant gratification from pop samples which played to a worldwide audience, DJs went back to finding obscure records to sample to create new sounds and beats while MCs outdid each other with the complexity of their rhymes and rhythm. What resulted was a generation of skilled lyricists like Talib Kweli, Common and Eminem.

One commentator explained, it was a reconnection of the output with its context. With the likes of Puff Daddy, hip hop had become solely about money, playing to the lowest common denominator, this new wave was about its community, building their reputation by being more skilful and clever than the others.

The link between football and its context is currently being tested, watching via an internet stream remains a mostly soulless experience. It’s necessary, and in some ways helpful, to be reminded that we remain in the midst of a crisis, and that things are not normal. It’s therefore right that Karl Robinson treated the Wimbledon game as an extension of our pre-season friendly programme. Entertaining the crowd wasn’t necessarily a priority. Even when league games start next week, it will still feel like we’re treading water until we can reconnect the games with their context and have fans back in the ground.

The re-structured season may play to our advantage. There is a built-in stability this season; only Marcus McGuane, Rob Atkinson and Derick Osei Yaw (briefly) made their debuts compared to five players last season and six the year before. Both those seasons started unevenly with just two wins out of our first eight last year, one less than the year before. 

But aside from the settled squad, our difficulties at the start of a season is down to the style we play, lots of passing and possession accompanied with blistering attacks in numbers. The movement needs to be second nature if it’s to be effective and, while that’s bedding in, we can look like a group of busy fools getting picked off by more conservative opposition. Take, for example, last season’s 4-2 defeat to Burton, there were times when we looked brilliant, but then we were unpicked by a team whose idea of cutting loose is to undo the top button of a Marks and Spencer shirt. In both previous seasons it took some time to find our flow. 

The stability we’ve managed to achieve over the summer means that most of the DNA remains intact. Osei Yaw aside, whose appearance was too brief to judge, Atkinson looked comfortable in place of Rob Dickie, while McGuane was industrious throughout. There was one brilliant pass which nearly put Matty Taylor through, but otherwise you could see he was still trying to figure out where the angles were with an extra touch which often lost him the opportunity. You get the sense, given time, he’ll be more confident of where his team mates are making his play more incisive. The lack of crowds – with their ability to erode as well as build confidence – may be an advantage.

It was also good to see Cameron Brannagan back in form. While few were prepared to admit it, least of all Brannagan himself, he didn’t quite seem the player he was post-injury last year, which may be why he’s still at the club, but it looks like we’ll benefit as a result. Also, Simon Eastwood continues to come back into form after a rusty play-off campaign. 

So the Wimbledon game, along with the EFL Trophy game against Chelsea Under 21s on Tuesday acts as an extended opportunity to bed new players in without the pressure of the fans complaining at a missed pass or opportunity. In addition, there isn’t the carrot of a big Premier League payday to play for which can tempt managers into looking for short term results over long term benefit. Whatever the second round brings, its advantage is in the minutes the players have on the pitch together, over the glories of the result. The lack of urgency in the early stages of the season should allow new players to settle and existing players to find their feet.

Pretty much every year I say that the season starts with all idealism and no facts and ends with all facts and no idealism. No single game defines the outcome of a season, least of all the first, so drawing significant conclusions to the draw with Wimbledon; our frailties at set pieces or the lack of clear chances up front is a fool’s game. While we seek answers to open questions, football is all a process of evolution. It’s why we, as fans, live with it constantly questioning and concluding only to find that the game has changed and the context moved on. 

Last year we’d won only three games of our opening ten, something that’s forgotten given what came later. That period could have been the difference between the play-offs and promotion. The year before it was just four wins. The front loading of League Cup and Trophy games this season affords us more opportunity to try, and fail, before the season gets into gear and, hopefully, the context; the reason for doing this in the first place, begins to return.  

George Lawrence’s Shorts: Hey Yaw!

Sunday 16 August 2020

The 92 Club is where overweight middle-aged men with Status Quo patches on their denim jackets try to visit every ground in the country. The 92 refers to the number of social media interactions they have every day with young girls in short skirts that claim to be both real and Ipswich Town fans. Sulky sixth-former Rob Dickie is closing in on his own 92 club landmark as Newcastle became the 88th club this summer interested in signing him.

Monday 17 August 2020

The draw for the world’s oldest socially distanced football tournament – the EFL Trophy – was made on Monday, or at least part of it. The draw was held in the middle of a desolate forest in the dead of the night by two druids and a mountain goat. Probably, but frankly who cares? In it, we drew Walsall and Bristol Rovers. Early games are likely to be played without fans, so no change there then. 

Tuesday 18 August 2020

Oxford announced that its new sponsor was the Thai tourist authority Amazing Thailand. Tourism sponsors are very much on trend in League 1 – as well as the sun drenched paradise of Thailand, Blackpool will be promoting their own town as the country’s chlamydia capital while Swindon are sponsored ‘Imagine Cruising’ or as they’re properly known ‘Imagine cruising on a coronavirus incubator’.

In the Type 2 Diabetes Cup, Oxford have been drawn against Fash The Bash and co – Wimbledon – while the Chelsea Muppet Babies have been added to our EFL Trophy group.   

Wednesday 19 August 2020

The club caused mega-ROFLs by ostentaciously announcing the new club socks before revealing their new yellow t-shirt for the season. The story of absolute bantz caused total scenes and was picked up by the Daily Mail whose reader Dandada14 lambasted the story for its poor journalism. Blimey, wait until he hears about the Brexit lies and racebating of Meghan Markle. 

Squad numbers were announced on Wednesday causing amateur numerologists everywhere to pour over the mystical meaning of each proclamation. Jedward orphan Mark Sykes has been elevated to the number 10 shirt, where he hopes to follow in the footsteps of previous Oxford number 10s Craig Farrel, Andy Thomson and Courtney Pitt by becoming a regular punchline to a weakly structured GLS gag.

Thursday 20 August 2020

Jack Midson, who increasingly looks like the local fitness instructor working his way around all the Year 2 mums at the local primary school, has signed for Sheppey United. Meanwhile in Preston, Ryan Ledson has put pen to paper and a late two footed knee-high lunge on a new contract extension

Friday 21 August 2020

Fixture release day is the day that football fans up and down the country excitedly plan the games they’re going to miss due to a catastrophic coronavirus second wave. Oxford’s season opens against one of the big guns; MApp’s Lincoln. The home derby against Swindon is scheduled for October 24th. For once Oxford United fans and Boris Johnson speak with one voice when they say they’d rather their gran died a slow painful death on her own of a respiratory illness than see that one played behind closed doors.

Elsewhere, Liam Kelly, who looks like the kid whose dad paid a substantial donation to the PTA so he could play the lead in the end of year rendition of Bugsy Malone, is back for a season’s loan. In a surprise move, Oxford also signed Frenchman Derick Osei Yaw; in terms of French Oxford United players, we don’t know whether he’ll be a gem-ey like Christophe Remy or as dead as a Doudou. 

Saturday 22 August 2020

On Monday Brian Horton publishes his autobiography; ‘Horton Out’. It’s not called that, of course, but we’re excited to read the true stories of the times he took teams like Oxford to lower mid-table finishes, along with the thrilling run to a Full Member’s Cup Semi-Final with Hull.

In a lengthy interview with Hull Live, Horton talks about the time Cesc Fabregas allegedly spat at him. He says of the spit “He denied it and got away with it … but it’s all covered in the book.” Readers are advised to give the book a good wipe before reading.

Elsewhere, Oxford beat Banbury 5-0 in a friendly with a scrabble score of goalscorers in Agyei, Osei Yaw and another new signing, Dylan Asonganyi. Nick Harris is expected to announce his retirement within days.

Match wrap: Oxford United 1 Manchester City 3

Somehow, in the post-match reporting of our defeat to Manchester City, we achieved third billing in a two-horse race. On Radio Oxford people gushed about their pride in our performance as nationally Mikel Arteta’s move to coach Arsenal and Manchester City’s march towards the final pushed our contribution into the margins. 

I got to the ground early due to social media driven parking anxiety. I’ve never failed to park at the Kassam, but when messages filter through about how busy it is around the ground I find myself praying that I can squeeze in.

I headed, unecessarily, straight into the stadium. There was a smattering of people milling about; the East stand with its new mural and display cards looked resplendent, new animated advertising boards twinkled. There was a buzz of media, security and cameras. It was a little glimpse behind a curtain to see what we could become. 

Once the cameras were turned on and the nation, subject to a subscription, tuned in, the advertising boards promoted hair loss clinics, erectile dysfunction, beer and betting; jimmying away at male pre-occupations. You can buy the Manchester City kit via Amazon we were told, the modern world is a hellspace. 

In truth, I quite like Manchester City; at least I admire their dedication to perfection. But they seem like a lottery winner racked with guilt and anxiety at the status they’ve gained; trapped in their own world. Each goal was greeted with muted celebration; seconds after the ball had hit the net, their fans were still and quiet. These were the celebrations of an IT sales team after securing the renewal of a moderate contract. Winning is just business as usual. Their transformation over the last decade is like someone knocking down a ramshackle thatched cottage and building a boxy modern three bed house in its place. As they creep towards perfection, they become less interesting, perhaps less interested. 

The Carabao Cup has become such an odd competition; three games from Wembley and it’s still not about playing your best team. The aim is to play the weakest winning team you can get away with. The media talk about how the Premier League weaken their teams, ignoring our own starting eleven features several players who only feature sporadically in the league.

We’d had a fun ride; beating Peterborough, the late rally against Millwall, the annihilation of West Ham and edging past Sunderland while wondering how many wake up calls they need to realise and own their failings.

The quarter-final took the adventure to a new level, like a hang glider caught on a freak thermal edging towards the stratosphere. Exhilarating though it was, as the air thinned, we tipped from a thrilling risk to an inevitable death.

Beforehand, a tribute to Jim Smith. So often a minute’s silence, or its modern affectation, the minute’s applause can feel like it’s a forced duty. This felt necessary and authentic; declaring Jim Smith for ourselves, imbibing his spirit into the club where he can rest.

The template was set early; they were faster and more progressive, they didn’t stretch for over hit passes or fumble with the ball as though it were alive. It was all simple and incisive; the early goal looked ominous.

Time ticked by slowly; dragged by a creeping dread that we were going to get mauled. The conditions helped and hindered in equal measure. Crosses billowed out beyond the corner flag. Chances wafted away in the wind.

Half time was a relief; a 1-0 thrashing. A potential, though unlikely opportunity to re-group and address the imbalances, or at least contain the damage.

The tourists, the half-and-half scarves, the irregulars, the place was crawling with them, with the result settled, half-time was an opportunity for an extended midweek beer, they thought; the second half could wait.

Seconds into the half though, back on the pitch Daniel Agyei fell theatrically. Shandon Baptiste took a rolling free-kick that should have been called back, Matty Taylor cut across his marker, youthful talent beaten by streetwise experience. A swing at their glass jaw and a connection. 1-1.

Mayhem. Jubilation. Fear? We’d tapped the hornets nest. We were back in it and at the same time, we were also toast.

It wouldn’t last and didn’t. Sterling twice gets on the end of those precise, incisive moves which make us look like a park team. Then they lose focus, or perhaps we lose inhibitions. Encouraging forays forward merge into half chances, which merge into full chances, which merge into 20 minutes of attacking dominance.

If it were a tighter game, we probably wouldn’t have been given the opportunity, but after two flat performances, our swagger was back. And against the champions of England.

A second goal might have changed things, but it didn’t come, the window of opportunity closed. All told, no injuries, a competitive performance and an injection of confidence. The best defeat since losing the Middlesborough in 2017. Can it propel us through Christmas, the transfer window and our injury crisis? Could it catapult us through to promotion? Midst the talk of Arteta and City, maybe we walk away with nothing, perhaps, everything.

Midweek Fixture: Why the Manchester City fixture isn’t ‘the one’

Last week, I wrote about our 1983/4 League Cup run, inspired by this season’s run to the quarter finals. On one level, it’s very similar but in many more ways it’s very different. Admittedly, I was considerably younger, but back then I was very accepting of our wins over Newcastle and Leeds, as though they were both normal. When we drew Manchester United in the fourth round took us to another level of excitement and anticipation.

By comparison, the draw for the quarter-final of this year’s competition has seen us paired against Manchester City. The reaction was, shall we say, more muted.

If you’d ranked the remaining teams in the competition in terms of preference, City would have come far down the list. But, this is a giant of European football, the dominant team in the domestic game, some of the best players in the world. Are we being reasonable treating it with such disdain?

Possibly, having played City last year, it’s difficult to get excited by a re-run particularly as it’s likely to end in a similar result. But, there are few teams in League 1 that have entertained such illustrious hosts and fewer still that have done so this deep into the competition. So, it’s a big team in a big game and let’s face it, we’ve sold out in double quick time, so despite the sniffiness from some quarters, it’s not lacking in interest.

But, even then, it’s not comparable to the thrill of Manchester United in 1983, or Arsenal the following year.

The problem is not so much about the draw or the opponents, but more a reflection of the modern game as it evolves.

The first thing is that the growth of the Premier League and Champions League has resulted in the League Cup becoming so devalued that it struggles for high value sponsors and media interest. Sponsors and TV companies want as much bang for their buck as possible, and with the tournament on the wane, the Football League are not in a strong bargaining position.

The quarter-final draw almost certainly guarantees a semi-final, and final with big teams in it, which in turn ensures big TV audiences. This year’s competition has seen an abnormally high number of tasty match ups – the fourth round had Chelsea v Manchester United, Arsenal v Liverpool and Wolves v Villa. Prior to that there was Nottingham Forest v Derby, Southampton v Portsmouth, Salford v Leeds and MK Dons v Wimbledon. Is the draw fixed? I think there’s every chance that it’s ‘organised’ to ensure that it retains sufficient interest with sponsors and TV.

So, where in the past we’ve been excited by the fate of the draw – which is why we watch two middle aged ex-footballers pulling balls out of a bag on prime time TV – this year it feels a more contrived; as if we’ve been paired with a big team in order to swat us out of the way.

But also, whereas back in 1983 there was a sense that we might win the tie against Manchester United I don’t think anyone realistically thinks this is possible against City. They’re almost unbeatable, and certainly by the likes of us. The chasm is so big that it is no longer a sporting spectacle, but an entertainment product. Like watching WWE wrestling or the Harlem Globetrotters; the result is effectively decided, as consumers, we’re just expected to sit back and enjoy the ride.

I want to be wrong; and if we do find ourselves still in it with twenty minutes to go, I fully expect to be heavily invested in the game. But, as I’m sat here today, would I be disappointed with a defeat? No. Am I looking forward to the game? Not as much as I’m looking forward to a tasty, competitive, top of the table clash with Wycombe Wanderers three days later.

In the past, even the biggest teams could be beaten by lower league teams. Against Premier League teams outside the top six that’s still true as we proved against Swansea and West Ham, but Manchester City, and similarly Liverpool, are now transcending that, we’re all just bit part players in their play. 

For sponsors and TV this is all fine; having big unbeatable teams guarantees slick and beautifully produced ‘product’. It satisfies whatever motivation the owners have for their club as well. But it’s not a sporting competition. Teams like us get in the way, we might produce an upset that stirs the loins, but the chances are we won’t and TV can no longer afford to have a product with that kind of uncertainty.

So what we are now facing is our own infallibility; against West Ham, Millwall and even Sunderland we had a chance, we enjoyed the challenge and celebrated the success. Had we drawn, say, Aston Villa, then we would have been overjoyed because of the prospect of it being a sporting contest. In reality, we’re probably facing a routine elimination, and possibly by a large margin, which is no way to end a story.   

I don’t think any of this is deliberately corrupt; the arranging of the draw or the dominance of Manchester City, but it is corrosive. It’s like casual sexism or using single use plastics – people aren’t doing it to be deliberately damaging – it’s just how things have evolved and it’s not helpful.

There will be those who argue I should just sit back and enjoy it, even if the result is fairly predictable. But, the new Star Wars film opens the following day, and predictable enjoyment is what I expect from that. Perhaps it’s an outdated concept, one lost to the 80s, but with football, I want a sense of raw competition.

Midweek fixture: The 1983/4 Milk Cup run

While Jim Smith and Robert Maxwell were trying to affect a revolution at Oxford United, by 1983 progress towards a new dawn was still fairly slow. The previous season had seen the club finish a creditable 5th in the 3rd Division and, while hopes were growing, Jim Smith’s only addition to the squad had been Paul Hinshelwood, an elegant full-back from Crystal Palace. What nobody anticipated was the epic Milk Cup run that would help define the season and propel the club to a level never previously imagined.

Round 1 – Oxford United 1 Bristol City 1, Bristol City 0 Oxford United 1 (Agg: 2-1)

The Milk Cup was a more bloated affair in the 1980s with the early rounds played over two legs. Oxford opened their account in August with a 1-1 draw over 4th Division Bristol City at The Manor, Kevin Brock getting the goal. The second leg was nearly two weeks later, a 1-0 win with Andy Thomas scoring at Ashton Gate. Both had played in Jim Smith’s first game in March 1982, three years later, both would be in the squad at Wembley for the Milk Cup Final.

Round 2 – Newcastle United 1 Oxford United 1, Oxford United 2 Newcastle United 1 (Agg: 3-2)

Though we were top of Division 3, Round 2 was a major step up. We drew Second Division promotion seekers Newcastle United. There’s was a star-studded team, captained by England skipper Kevin Keegan and featuring Terry McDermott, Chris Waddle and Peter Beardsley in their ranks. 

Steve Biggins helped himself to a goal in a 1-1 draw at St James’ Park in the first leg. Back at The Manor, a ferocious attacking display saw a 2-1 win with goals from Neil Whatmore and Andy Thomas while Gary Briggs was sent off late on for a challenge on Keegan.

Round 3 – Leeds United 1 Oxford United 1, Oxford United 4 Leeds United 1

Second tier Leeds United at Elland Road was another huge draw featuring internationals Peter Barnes, Kenny Burns and Frank Gray. Buoyed by the Newcastle result, a Mick Vinter goal earned the draw which brought the Yorkshire team back to a freezing Manor ground where goals from Brock, Thomas, Vinter and Bobby MacDonald destroyed them 4-1. Jim Smith described the display as one of the best he’d ever seen.

Round 4 – Oxford United 1 Manchester United 1, Manchester United 1 Oxford United 1 (aet), Oxford United 2 Manchester United 1 (aet)

Round 4 was epic; Manchester United were FA Cup holders and second in Division 1. To add spice, they were managed by former Oxford United legend Ron Atkinson, an old friend of Jim Smith’s and the one who had helped get him the Oxford job in the first place.

An hour before kick-off, The Manor was already full. Mark Hughes scored his first professional goal for Manchester United in his first ever start, but Bobby MacDonald stabbed home for a 1-1 draw and a trip back to Old Trafford. Listen to The Manor roar.

Over 3,000 Oxford fans travelled north for the replay. Assuming the tie was a foregone conclusion; there was only minimal TV news coverage present to see Kevin Brock put us ahead at Old Trafford with 20 minutes to go. An equaliser by Frank Stapleton a minute later saw the game heading for extra-time and then a second replay.

Manchester United offered to host the tie, citing the financial benefits, but Robert Maxwell refused. There was talk about it being held at the neutral Villa Park. In the end, the venue was decided by the toss of a coin, Maxwell called it right and everyone headed back to The Manor. 

Six days before Christmas, Arthur Graham gave Manchester United the lead after 38 minutes but George Lawrence stabbed home to drag us back into it. The tie, again, went into extra-time, when Steve Biggins’ looped a header over the head of ‘keeper Jeff Wealands for the winner and one of the most famous wins in the club’s history.

Quarter-Final – Oxford United 1 Everton 1, Everton 4 Oxford United 1

Having slayed the biggest of giants over an epic three games, the draw against Everton seemed entirely winnable. With Aston Villa waiting in the semi-final – the team we’d face at that stage in 1986 – Wembley was actually in sight.

The Manor heaved with anticipation, exploding into life when Bobby MacDonald put us a goal up. Oxford threatened to extend their lead and looked comfortable as the game ticked into its final stages. Then Kevin Brock picked the ball up in midfield, under hit his back pass to Steve Hardwick allowing Adrian Heath to nip in and secure an equaliser. Steve Biggins missed an open goal in the last minute, meaning a replay at Goodison Park.

Jim Smith admitted that he got over-confident for the replay, underestimating his opponents. Brock’s backless seemed to pop our bubble, and in the replay, played in a blizzard, we succumbed 4-1 with Paul Hinshelwood getting the goal.

The result saved Everton manager Howard Kendell’s job and sparked them into a life which led to an FA Cup win, Cup Winners’ Cup and League title win. We went onto win the 3rd Division title at the end of the season, but as an adventure – eleven games, five months and three huge giant killings – few runs were bettered.