George Lawrence’s Shorts: Hally’s Crawley bally

Sunday 10 November 2019

The bragging rights were all ours on Sunday, as well as breezing to a comfortable 2-0 win over Hayes and Yeading in the FA Cup, it was the first time in nearly 20 years that Oxford United have played a first class game against a team with less stands in their stadium. Many Oxford fans sang ‘You’ve only got one side’ while secretly admiring the stadium’s fencework.

Goals came from Headington United’s Sam Long and the Aylesbury Ashley Young; Rob Hall.

Monday 11 November 2019

GLS was a student last time he spent a Monday night watching a part-time landlord caressing his velvet ball-bag expectantly. A quick dash to the cash machine to pay three months of rent arrears and the problem was solved. This time it was Dion Dublin who drew our name out of the bag for the FA Cup 2nd Round away to Walsall or Darlington

Tuesday 12 November 2019

Like wondering what it will take for people to realise that Nigel Farage is a self-serving narcissist, it is difficult to know what would dissuade some people from attending a dead rubber MySpace.com Trophy game against Crawley Town on a freezing Tuesday night.

But attend they did, 412 (FOUR HUNDRED AND LITERALLY TWELVE) of them, KRob fielded a team of such marginal players, Ross Weatherstone and Rob Folland were hoping for a game. The Aylesbury Ashley Young Rob Hall bagged a hat-trick in a 4-1 win.

Wednesday 11 November 2019

The press continue to look at hipster’s favourites John Lundstram and George Baldock with all the puzzled curiosity of a Massai tribesman returning a burgundy corduroy skirt at a moderately sized branch of FatFace. The Yorkshire Post can’t quite figure out how players who have played at lower levels are able to cut it in the Premier League – hard work and talent, perhaps?

Thursday 12 November 2019

Confidence is the habitual voyeur of what is known as Sports Park Life! The club have announced that they will be ensuring there’s no heavy petting or bombing, after they took over the lease of the Oxford Sports Park. As well as being the permanent training ground for the club, it’ll also host community activities. Grandma GLS has already signed up to Jamie Mackie’s over-60s badminton league.

There was a grrreat the Six Minute Thirty Seven Second Fans Forum with Tiger on Thursday. Brenda from Eynsham phoned up to ask whether pilates was on tonight before asking about the stadiumsituation (has never been asked about it before? We can’t remember).

Friday 13 November 2019

No game for Oxford this weekend, but that doesn’t mean the Oxford’s alumni have got a rest. Pocket racist Sam Deering is on the comeback trail, having signed for Dagenham & Redbridge following a period navigating the wastelands of the lower-leagues. Elsewhere, goal machine Sam Smith is enjoying his time at Oxford’s local rivals Cambridge having scored seven goals this season. 

Match wrap: Hayes and Yeading 0 Oxford United 2

TV companies probably need to stop looking quite so hard for the ‘magic of the Cup’. There are investments to repay and advertisers to satisfy, but constantly chasing the magic doesn’t really work.

I hadn’t realised before the Hayes and Yeading game that the tie represented the biggest gap between two sides in the draw. It’s almost as if it were selected on the basis that it was where the most magic was likely to be. Had there been an upset, it might have been but it was also the tie most likely to return a predictable result; which is ultimately what it did.

In reality, with five divisions between us, we would have had to drop our performance quite considerably, while they played at their very best to make it remotely competitive. The application of anything approaching a par performance on either side and the result was a foregone conclusion.

There was a degree of snottiness that we put out a strong team. There was concern about potential injuries and fatigue; as if fielding a strong team against weak opposition is belittling of your status.

Although Karl Robinson talked about respecting the competition; his selection was made easier with next week’s international break. With no game next Saturday; and a meaningless EFL Trophy game against Crawley in midweek, we could play a strong team in the cup with fringe players getting a leg stretcher on Tuesday. That still leaves time for players to rest and recover before things get meaningful again in a couple of weeks. It doesn’t happen often, but the fixtures are falling our way at the moment.

The first 45 minutes couldn’t have been more straight forward though we were a bit sloppy with the chances we had. The main culprits were those we have probably enjoyed most this season; with Henry, Fosu and Taylor all missing chances they should have put away.

The second-half was more competitive; we were a bit slow out of the blocks and they seemed to realise that they’d nothing to lose by taking some risks. But, despite Simon Eastwood doing some decent Simon Eastwood things, the biggest concern was just about the relative embarrassment of conceding, rather than the result going the wrong way.

In the end it was perhaps fitting that the goals came from Sam Long and Rob Hall. Both have had to keep things professional and play percentages in recent years; Rob Hall has to manage his effort carefully because of his injury record while Sam Long has learned his core value is his consistent reliability. In simple terms, it keeps him in a job.

It’s the Halls and Longs of the world that get you through these games. The ones who will always deliver a near par performance. In this great search for the magic of the cup; sometimes simple professionalism will do.

Midweek fixture: FA Cup 1st Round memories

On Sunday we head off on another FA Cup adventure with the trip to Hayes and Yeading. Previous 1st Round ties have conjured up a range of emotions from record highs to record lows. Here are seven of the best, and worst, from the last 24 years.

2016 – Merstham 5-0

Six months after promotion, we were the epitome of a team in a good place. A draw away to unknown commuter town Merstham was a great opportunity to try out our new status. TV cameras were there baying for an upset, but even with key players rested, we strolled to a classy win.

2013 – Gateshead 1-0

By 2013, our post-promotion glow had worn off and further progress up the divisions seemed just out of reach. The malaise tested the loyalty of the biggest fans. Following a desperate 2-2 draw with Gateshead at the Kassam, we travelled very very north for the replay. A postponement minutes before kick-off left fans stranded hundreds of miles from home. Still, two weeks later a Dean Smalley penalty sealed a workaday win.

2009 – Yeovil Town 1-0

An often forgotten and somewhat insignificant game in the context of the rest of that season, but important for other reasons. We were on a roll in the League, regaining confidence lost over a 10 year period. We were raucous off the pitch and aggressive on it. It was only the 1st Round, and it was only Yeovil, but it was also our first win over any league team for four years. We were on the way back.

2006 – Wycombe Wanderers 1-2

The significance of this game was the fact it happened at all. Relegated from the Football League we’d started the season well. For the first time in a generation we were required to qualify to the FA Cup. We did, with a win over Dagenham and Redbridge, drawing Wycombe Wanderers in the first round. A solid display and narrow defeat wasn’t as satisfying as the knowledge we registered our existence in the competition for another year. 

2005 – Eastbourne Borough 3-0

Labouring to a 1-0 lead at little Eastbourne Borough in the FA Cup, they introduced, to the obvious excitement of the locals, a whippet quick van driver from Nigeria. Yemi Odubade ran our lumbering centre-backs ragged, winning them a last minute penalty and earning a replay. In the replay, Odubade ran amok, but somehow a Steve Basham hat-trick saw us triumph. The result was a travesty. Days later Brian Talbot brought Yemi to the club, where he became a rare bright spot in a bleak time.

1995 – Dorchester Town 9-1

God we needed this; having failed to gain promotion the previous season, the 95/96 campaign was faltering. When Dorchester Town arrived in November some were doubting our credentials. The avalanche of goals was cathartic, keeping the baying hordes at bay, a major stepping stone towards finding our feet and heading for promotion.

1994 – Marlow Town 0-2

Perhaps the grimmest day in the club’s history. We were top of League 1 and looked to be heading for promotion. We drew the architects and IT consultants of Marlow Town, which featured Les Phillips and Peter Rhodes-Brown in their number. On a potato patch pitch we put on the most fancy-dan performance and were out battled. It popped any bubble of positivity. 

George Lawrence’s Shorts: That joke isn’t funny anymore

Saturday 19 October 2019

There are two things that are certain in life; Tariqe Fosu scoring the first, and Cameron Brannagain scoring the second. Oxford shrugged off the long flight to the New York stadium to eat pastrami on rye and beat Rotherham 2-1.

Monday 21 October 2019

GLS often spends Monday nights fumbling a sack of balls in an excitable way up until consumed by an overwhelming sense of melancholy. It was the FA Cup 1st Round draw on Monday with Oxford being drawn away to Poole Town, Hayes and Yeading. With so many teams playing, KRob fears the midfield could get crowded.

Tuesday 22 October 2019

There was a right Royal Rumble as Hayes, Yeading and Poole got together to decide who should face the mighty Oxford in the cup. After two floodlight failures, both Hayes and Yeading went through 3-2. The replay to find out whether it’s Hayes or Yeading in the next round has yet to be scheduled.   

Wednesday 23 October 2019

“Apart from Oxford United” said some bastard called Mighty Alan on the Guardian website “Which stadium has three stands?”. Oh right, thanks Mighty Alan, now we’re out of three-stand club are we? Anyway, apparently we’re not the only ones with a gaping rear end. There are stadiums in Australia, Scotland and Thailand with the same issue.

It turns out that the secret behind the All Blacks dominance of rugby is not a systematic doping programme after all. It’s down to Rhodes Scholar come former Oxford United mullet haired centre-back come psychiatrist Ceri Evans. KRob has been on the phone to Arthur Gnohere to see whether he can work similar magic on the squad.

If you don’t want to spend cash on a subscription you can read about him here. Evans, not Gnohere.

Thursday 24 October 2019

Giantkilling fetishists, BT Sport have donned their thigh length boots and put on their gimp masks to select Oxford’s game against Hayes and Yeading for TV. The dirty buggers have moved the fixture to Sunday where they’re either hoping for a humiliation for the league team, who have been very bad boys, or a spanking for naughty non-leaguers. 

There was more stadiumsituation chat during the Six Minute Seven Seconds Fan Forum with Niall, don’t call me Niall McWilliams. When asked about the stadium he said there was no news, about players he said there was no news and about the training ground, he said there was no news. It wasn’t all evasive, when asked about The Priory pub, he said he didn’t know.

Friday 25 October 2019

Babyfaced billionaire, Erick Thohir has been forced by the *squints* Indonesian government to step down from the Oxford United board after he became the sinisterly titled State-owned Enterprises Minister. This is the first appointment to government from the club since Kristaps Grebis was famously recalled to the Latvian government to sort out their fisheries policy.

He’s nice to his mum, tidies his room and makes the housewives of Witney come over all unnecessary; James Henry, has hoovered up a new two year contract.

The wrap – Brentford 1 Oxford United 0

Embed from Getty Images

As FA Cup ties go, the defeat to Brentford followed a familiar script. We were the plucky underdogs toiling away to little real effect against an obviously superior side. Our fans were excited by the novelty, theirs frustrated by the distraction. Eventually we made a mistake and they made us pay.

The reality is that most FA Cup ties follow this pattern – we all hope for a Swansea or Newcastle, but in the main you get a Sheffield United or Blackburn.

Of course, all of this was over-shadowed by the injury to Shandon Baptiste. Nobody is going to deny what a blow it is to the player, the squad and even the fans looking for a sign that things are going our way. The nature of the injury – minutes after coming on following a long period out – somehow makes it feel even worse.

What is perhaps most concerning is Karl Robinson’s reaction, it was like he’d lost his faithful dog. He was, he claims, crying during the game, Baptiste had ‘given him everything’ and claimed that he’d be out for a year before any medical assessment had been done.

Robinson prides himself on his honesty and openness; he won’t get much criticism from fans for sympathising deeply with Baptiste, most people would feel the same. But, as a manager, is that quite what we need?

When Robinson arrived at the club he declared Malachi Napa the ‘future of the club’ before he was loaned out to Macclesfield. This season Baptiste took the mantle so much so he was given the captain’s armband against Manchester City and again (more bizarrely) against Luton.

These are huge, sweeping declarations of faith, deep investments in the abilities of young players. Great in some senses, but these players can only fail to meet such expectations. No player can carry a whole club. Similarly, as the emotional response to Baptiste’s injury illustrates, it’s like he believes there’s some greater uncontrollable power writing prophecies and tearing them up.

This is troubling; there’s still a game to complete in. If he was crying on the touchline he’s lost control of his emotions. When that happens, you can’t make clear decisions. That’s not just about winning a game, but also about controlling the emotions of his staff, players and Baptiste himself.

Catastrophising the injury before anyone truly knows its impact makes is worse for the players and Baptiste. Sure, the immediate assessment was that it didn’t look good. But thinking of Cameron Brannagan being carried off against Wycombe in a neck brace or even Joe Skarz returning from a ‘season-ending’ injury to help our promotion push in 2016 show that injuries are imprecise things and you shouldn’t make big claims before knowing all the details.

I’m not suggesting any of this is easy, but the point is that it is not Robinson’s job to represent the emotions of the fans. Nor it is job to be a proxy for a distressed player whose season, and maybe more, is suddenly in jeopardy. it is definitely not his job to spread panic amongst those he leads.

His job is to provide calming guidance; a direction through chaos. Baptiste’s injury looks bad, but let’s wait to see what the diagnosis is. Before that, let’s get the game completed with the best possible outcome. I don’t know whether his emotions on the sideline had anything to do with John Mousinho’s lunging tackle which led to the penalty, but it cannot help instil the discipline needed to hold out when your manager has lost his.

The bigger concern is whether Robinson is capable of leading us out of a relegation fight if he’s in a state of permanent emotional flux. I can see him being the kind of manager who gets a team hyped for a single game – a big six-pointer, but I would like to see us safe before we get to any of those.

Games of Note: FA Cup Third Round

2017 – 3-2 Rotherham

Rotherham were on their knees in the Championship, we were buoyant in League 1, but there was still a giant killing to be had. Despite the scoreline, we swept them aside with panache.

2016 – 3-2 Swansea City

Michael Appleton’s finest moment? A true coming-of-age win over Premier League Swansea City.

2003 – 0-2 Arsenal

It wasn’t really about the result, it was about having a great day out at one of England’s great stadiums. That and what came before – a 1-0 win over Swindon and Jefferson Louis’ naked backside live on TV.

1997 – 0-2 Watford

It was the worst of times. The beginning of the end of a great team. The original tie was postponed because of a frozen pitch minutes before kick-off. The team had already been announced, notably omitting Matt Elliot from the starting eleven. He’d never play for us again, moving to Leicester City. In the re-arranged tie – delayed by a floodlight failure – we went out with a whimper.

1996 – 3-3 Millwall

The most fun you can have in East London is drawing with Millwall in the FA Cup with a last minute goal direct from a corner.

The wrap – Oxford United 0 Forest Green Rovers 0, Oxford United 1 Gillingham 0

I used to have a Commodore 64 and the game Rambo II First Blood. The gameplay was even more primitive than the plot of the film it was based on. Essentially, a notably blocky and top heavy eight-bit Rambo runs headlong into a hail of bullets surviving as long as he can before getting shot to shit. I wasn’t very good at it and barely lasted more than a minute. I wasn’t alone; there’s a 10 minute clip on YouTube of which 6 and a half are the load screen and credits. The gameplay is a mere side issue. 

The tactics on Saturday reminded me of that game; give the ball to Ricky Holmes or Marcus Browne and let them run headlong at the defence in the hope of affecting some kind of breakthrough. Pretty much every raid resulted in a predictable, Rambo-style failure until eventually, Browne managed to draw the keeper into a moment of madness and the game was ours. It was hardly sophisticated, but we’ll take the points where we can get them.

It’s not particularly entertaining and it won’t work against better teams, it clearly didn’t work in the draw against Forest Green last week. But, with a newly stingy defence, it’s aiding a recovery of sorts.

Earlier in the season I was complaining about the sheer chaos of our gameplay – players running into each other, defensive errors and the like. The system we have now is disciplined, but obvious. It is suited to a team full of strong personalities brave enough to embark on kamikaze raids into the opposition defence, which is something we have plenty of.

This is where I think Sam Smith struggles, he’s only a few months older than Harvey Bradbury, who many is think of as a raw prospect. In this team, you only get to play if you’re prepared to bully your way into the game and Smith is not that kind of player. I suspect Kemar Roofe would have struggled in this team due to the lack of service and team play. Jamie Mackie will demand to be involved because of his personality and experience, Smith doesn’t seem to have the personality or game to bully his way into a game.

Bradbury, as Sam Long said afterwards, is a big lump. Karl Robinson’s observation was exactly right when he said that while not offering an obvious goal threat, getting centre-backs booked and putting them on the back foot played an important role in securing the three points. I’m not sure about Robinson’s view that we should start looking at the top 10, but between Bradbury and Mackie, and looking at our upcoming fixtures, it feels like we just have enough to get us to the January transfer window in a solid state.

Only Robinson knows what who has lined up in the New Year, but for me, I think our recent form should mean we rule out a move for Nile Ranger. The morals arguments aside, Ranger is an opportunity, and also a risk, but now we have established a precarious stability and I would rather we focused on planned development rather than speculative opportunities.