Match wrap: Sunderland 1 Oxford United 1

I make no secret of not particularly liking the start of the season. I used to love it, I’d really feel the gap between the end of one season and the beginning of another. I loved the new kits and players and, above all, the renewed sense of hope and anticipation. Now, football is everywhere, all the time, so a new season is not really anything new. It’s just, well, the continuation of football.

What I’ve learned to enjoy more is the rolling narrative as the year progresses, the sense of emerging drama, the battle through the winter and the mad dash, exhausted and battered, to some kind of conclusion in May. In that sense, I prefer my football more Scandi-drama than The Fast and the Furious.

I was a bit split about what would make a good result on Saturday. We’ve had a good final week of the summer and there are signs of optimism. A win, while capping it off nicely, might also have tipped expectations too far. Beating anyone on the opening game of the season is positive, beating Sunderland away could have created a sense that we were fixed, when we are anything but. Anyone who remembers the 4-1 win over Portsmouth, or going back 20 years, a 2-1 win at Stoke where Steve Anthrobus scored the winner on his debut will know these results are meaningless.

Even when we took the lead, you could sense the immediate optimism; Rob Dickie had become an able replacement for Curtis Nelson, Ben Woodburn was a cut above in quality. Yes, perhaps, but judge them in 15-20 games, not on the basis of the opening twenty-five minutes when minds and bodies are sharp and the weather is good. The mark of a good team is not whether you can perform, but for how long you can sustain it.

Equally, a defeat could have popped our fragile ego, if it had been mid-season, we might have shrugged it off, but seeing ourselves sitting dead last in the table, as we did last year, could have sent us into a deep depression. A defeat also would have put greater pressure on the games coming up. Last year’s opening fixtures were tricky, this year is no different.

Of course, in the moment, during the ninety minutes I desperately wanted us to win, but in the grander scheme a draw is almost a better result. We’ve taken a point in one of the most difficult fixtures of the season, we only conceded because of a penalty and one of our new signings got the goal.

In a game of cricket, it’s a bit like opening an innings with a solid forward defensive rather than slogging the ball out of the ground for six. Now, we have to build.

George Lawrence’s Shorts: Karlma chameleon

Monday 29 July 2019

Like a religious leader in an inner-city riot, KRob has appealed for calm as the season opener against Sunderland approaches. “It’s a little bit dark right now.” said the man appealing for calm. “We know we need a striker, I don’t need people telling me that. We know we need a centre back and two wingers.” he added rubbing a soothing balm into our collective temples, “People will be shouting when they read this, saying ‘the season starts on Saturday’. We know, we’re not stupid.”

Just like a scented candle flickering by a bubble bath.

Tuesday 30 July 2019

*ching*

We live in an oasis of calm. Ah man, the news that Gavin Whyte has signed for Cardiff is, like, whatever man. The fee described as ‘north of £2m’ is, we assume, one of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s old-fangled imperial measures. Some say Whyte will be out of his depth, but we have video evidence that he can hold his own. 

Just as the sweat dried on Whyte’s number ten shirt, Ben Woodburn signed on a season long loan from Liverpool. The Welsh wunderkind has lost his way a bit at Anfield and so a year at Oxford will act as a form of immersion therapy to propel him out of his stupor. 

Elsewhere, there could be a new opportunity for the Us to go steaming into the Kassam on a matchday if plans to build a station near the stadium go ahead. It’ll be situated on the Science Park, who will no doubt lobby for it to close on a Saturday.

Wednesday 31 July 2019

KRob donned his headphones and hopped in a helicopter as he turned all Anneka Rice attempting to solve a world of riddles and problems in the space of an hour. The boilersuited beauty managed to end the day signing Anthony Forde, formerly of Rotherham, Rob Dickie on a longer term contract before picking up a new contract for himself

Across town The Britannia Inn in Oxford will soon have a blue plaque on the wall recognising it as the site of Oxford United’s founding 125 years ago. The plaque will act as a timely reminder that nothing good ever comes from a pub dream.

Thursday 1 August 2019

Good god, is there nothing KRob won’t ruin? The sludge pit of naysaying has dried up leaving the doomgoblins picking crust from between their toes. Following yesterday’s sickening cavalcade of good news, he’s now signed the millennial Jon Ashton; Elliot Moore from Leicester City. We are rapidly approaching that point where there is literally nothing to complain about.

But what news of Oxford United’s greatest ever Leichensteiner? We hear you ask. Benji Buchel kept a clean sheet as FC Vaduz turned around a 1-0 deficit to beat Hungarian’s Vidi 2-1 in the second leg of their Europa League tie. We have no idea what that means, but we’re pretty sure it’s good. They play Eintracht Frankfurt in the next round.

Friday 2 August 2019

KRob is strutting about like a management accountant whose wife has allowed him a rare foray into the martial bed for a fumble under her nightie. Having scored a couple of times this week, he wants more, two more strikers, in fact. We think we’ve got one of our headaches coming on.

Kemar Roofe has had his chips at Leeds, it seems, and plans to dip them in mayonnaise by signing for those unelected Brussels bureaucrats Anderlecht.

And with that, the summer is done; this is it; the Mark Angel derby awaits, football is back to ruin everything.

Midweek Fixture: 2019/20 season preview

Maybe I’m getting older, but the summers seem to be shorter and shorter. Perhaps the season is getting longer and longer. Either way, the window in which club’s are supposed to refresh and renew seems to get smaller as time passes.

Last year, the World Cup truncated the summer into a few short hysterical weeks; signings seemed rushed, preparations lacking in preparation. We toured Ireland where friendlies were adjusted to accommodate England games, everything seemed to crash on top of each other.

There have been no such distractions this year, but the summer has been short and quiet. Signings have come slowly, but they seem solid, unlike the follies of Ricky Holmes or Sam Smith. There hasn’t been the panic, nor the hysteria, though the disquiet has ratcheted up with the news that Gavin Whyte is off to Cardiff (and then appeased by the signing of Ben Woodburn). Perhaps fans are settling to our status; too small to go up, too big to go down.

We can search for someone to blame, but we’re suffering the consequences of something out of our control – hyper-inflation in the Premier League. We’re a club with the turnover of a reasonably sized supermarket trying to retain players who interest clubs with huge cash resources. Whyte, Curtis Nelson, Marcus Browne and even Tsun Dai are all heading for clubs benefitting from Premier League cash.  

Promotion seasons like 2010 and 2016 were characterised by a relentless pursuit of signings throughout the summer. That hasn’t been the case this year, and if that’s an indication of intent; a promotion tilt is unlikely. 

Those spending sprees were partly about organisation – good scouting – but also money. A club that can release cash at a time when it’s scarcely available, is a club that is more likely to have a successful season – or so it seems.

It seems fairly obvious that the cash isn’t available, at least not enough to make signings quick and easy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – the quickest way to do a deal is to overpay and the likes of Smith and Holmes should remind us of the impact of that mistake. 

Maybe the money doesn’t exist or is earmarked for other things. It’s possible that we have owners that are striking a balance between short term performance and long-term stability. Kassam starved the team of resource to fund his new stadium, Lenagan and Eales did the opposite (although admittedly there wasn’t a stadium to invest in). 

The Whyte situation has skewed the argument; we thought we’d keep him, and so losing has had a disproportionate impact on morale. But, looking at the squad, seven players that played more than 10 games last season have left including Smith and Holmes. Five (so far) have signed, with another couple coming back from injury. In terms of numbers, it’s not that different to the end of last year.

There are gaps, of course, it’s easy to pick a figure out of the sky as to the number of players we need and panic, but most obviously we lack a true striker (20 goals, 15 goals, whatever) and we still look thin at the back. We’re not robust enough to withstand the loss of senior players to long-term injury, but there remains a solid core, so we’re not quite as vulnerable as it might seem. Good seasons rely on luck, at the moment we would need more than our fair share. A couple more signings before the end of the month will help a lot.

The shape of the division has changed. Last year, there were one or two serious contenders and a raft of ‘others’. That was evident in our own performance, where we were able to sit at the bottom of the table throughout the year, and then, with a couple of wins suddenly find ourselves in mid-table.

This year, that top cabal has grown – Sunderland, Portsmouth and Ipswich look obvious contenders for promotion, Doncaster, Rotherham, Peterborough are well resourced and organised and should have enough to fight for the play-offs. The result will squeeze a team like us. At the bottom also, some of the positions appear to have been established – Bury are already 12 points in the hole and facing relegation or extinction, Bolton may follow. Who knows what will happen with Coventry? In addition, there’s a batch of teams – Wycombe, Rochdale, Wimbledon, perhaps Accrington who will eventually succumb to relegation due to a lack of resources and are probably on borrowed time. For football in general, this is not good, but for us and our prospects, it should act as the cushion we need.

What is left are teams like us – struggling to go up, with too much to go down. It’s probably a reflection of who were are, maybe who we’ve always been – a reasonable third-level club. 

Getting out of that trajectory is going to require effort and money, and perhaps that’s where the season’s focus lies. What Michael Appleton started to build was largely destroyed by Pep Clotet, Karl Robinson has wrestled to establish a platform – let’s not forget, this is only his third transfer window. Success next season might be about creating foundations.

But, while foundations are sensible, where are we going to get our kicks? In the league, perhaps we’ll be a disruptor, derailing a couple of promotion bids, sending a team down, that kind of thing. The odd last minute win, a couple of big away days. We should probably hope for a bit of a cup adventure to lighten the mood. Perhaps even a decent shot at the Checkatrade Trophy.

The immediate challenge will be establishing a decent start. Last year’s was a disaster and it took months to recover. The season is long, so a tricky start doesn’t mean catastrophe, but with Sunderland and Peterborough (twice) in the opening week, a poor start might tip the sense of acceptance into one of frustration. Karl Robinson doesn’t need that pressure again. 

Looking at the Absolute State of Oxford United Survey and what fans are looking for from the season; we want financial stability; no more winding up orders, greater ownership from the board and a reduction of influence from Firoz Kassam. There were a number of comments about removing Karl Robinson, some want Michael Appleton back although not many saw Robinson’s sacking as a goal. A squad with a decent striker is a must with the aim of achieving somewhere between consistency and promotion, last year’s rollercoaster is not needed. However, above all this were two aims for the season – to sort the stadium out and have a clear achievable plan for the future, and, reignite lost passion for the club amongst fans. Both of these things are the hardest to achieve, but, if anything can be done on those fronts, then the club will have had a successful season.

George Lawrence’s Summer Shorts: Ah, Whyte’s lemon trade

Monday 22 July 2019

What’s that noise wafting from the hazy embers of the weekend? Why, it’s a lute, which can only mean GLS The Bard is back. What stories do you have of the kingdom, The Bard…?

With a hey nonny, nonny…
KRob is excited, he might just get his man
Chris Cadden’s coming, that’s the master plan
Not a simple signing, a normal thing to do
He’s probably going to join us, via Columbus Crew
If he does come to us, we’d have to pay a fee
But if he goes to them, they’ll get their guy for free
In FIFA’s eyes at least, The Crew are rated poor
Where we are rated richer, so we’d be paying more
They’d loan the boy to us, avoiding paying fees
And Motherwell miss out, so they’re not very pleased
So, KRob is excited, he might just get his man
This is modern football, not a shyster scam
With a hey nonny nonny…

Tuesday 23 July 2019

Always trust a man with a lute and a pair of vacuum packed multi-coloured tights – unless they arrive unannounced at a primary school. GLS the Bard was right, Chris Cadden has signed on loan from Columbus Crew

Cadden went straight into the starting line up for a play-date with Fulham, with whom we drew 1-1. Despite Cameron Brannagan being The Boris Johnson – playing the number 10 role he’s not equipped for – his assist led to Jose’s son, John Mousinho, equalising on the hour. It was the most fun KRob has had with Cottagers since that night in those secluded woods in 1998.

Wednesday 24 July 2019

Like a mallet made of jelly, the city’s council are threatening to take Uncle Firoz’s lease for The Priory pub away from him. The Priory was rehab for fans wanting to drown their sorrows during Uncle Fizgog’s golden era of misery. As a metaphor for those times, the once loved pub has fallen into disrepair due to his neglect. Now fans are forced to use the authentic local coaching inn Ye Olde Bowlplex and the medieval Templar retreat Francis and Benedict’s for their pre and post-match wallow. 

Over in Europe, The Donkey of Dundalk – Pat Hoban scored a late equaliser for the Irishmen against Qarabag, from Azerbaijan. Interestingly Qarabag is old English for ‘carrier bag’. 

Thursday 25 July 2019

Once more into the fiery furnace of Lichensteiner football. Literally the greatest ever Lichensteiner to play for Oxford, Benji Buchel, was in goal for FC Vaduz’s Europa Cup tie against Hungarian’s Vidi. Sadly, Benji’s boys were defeated by a single goal in the 5th minute. All is not lost though, and the boys have an opportunity to claw back the deficit at Rheinpark Stadion next week.

Friday 26 July 2019

We all know that cosmopolitan sophisticat Çhrïštöphé Ŵíłdê can smoke Gaullist cigarettes, wear roll-neck jumpers and play pétanque until the sun sets, but underneath he is simply Neil Warncok rebooted. Well, the tables have turned, now professional curmudgeon Warnock is doing a Ŵíłdê and packing his squad with Oxford players. Following Curtis Nelson, rumours are abound that Warnock is keen on Gavin Whyte, he likes the cut of his jib, and the swing of his tackle.

Saturday 27 July 2019

It’s always a good idea to line up a friendly against a vastly inferior opponent a week before the season starts to administer a confidence boosting pasting before the serious stuff kicks off. That didn’t go to plan for Solihull Moors who were held to a draw by Oxford United on Saturday. KRob played his strongest, and only, eleven players.

George Lawrence’s Summer Shorts: A Chinese takeaway

Monday 8 July 2019

I will drive three-fifty miles 
And I will drive three-fifty more
Just to see my team get mullered by the Rangers 

5-0, that’s for sure.

Purple faces, a belly full of bargain lager and too many Embassy ciggies, and that was just the players after the pounding we got in the Steve Kinniburgh Invitational Shield on Sunday at Ibrox. ‘We’re not where we want to be’ explained KRob, presumably not referring specifically to Glasgow.

Tuesday 9 July 2019

The Scottish Sun, which meteorologists agree is a contradiction in terms, are reporting that a ‘fantasist stalker who loved the champagne lifestyle’ was seen at Ibrox on Saturday. In addition to KRob, loon-eyed Gers fan Jill Sharp, straight out of Loon-Eyed Central Casting, was pictured just behind the dugout with a flag referencing her so-called luxurious lifestyle. Sharp was given a restraining order after a three-year campaign terrorising another fan in 2019, but she was back looking for another victim for her affections. This probably explains why Jamie Mackie was absent having injured his back ‘doing a back heal’.

Wednesday 10 July 2019

And that sweet city with her dreaming spires
She needs not June for beauty’s heightening

It’s a shame that Matthew Arnold didn’t stick around for July, when one of the great ancient Oxford traditions happens. The amateur fellows of the City try to end the careers of the dandies of United. Like May Day in Oxford, where quadriplegia from jumping off Magdalen Bridge was once considered a right of passage, the modern tradition is a more sedate affair.

Nowadays it’s less about snapping your opponent’s ankle ligaments and more about ritual humiliation. The City fellows gave it a decent shot this year going 2-0 up before the dandies regained an ounce of respect dragging it back to win 5-3.

Thursday 11 July 2019

Pre-season friendlies are where Gammon Pride happens; there was another gathering of pasty overweight men in ill advised shorts at Thame United last night for another pre-season thrill-fest. The game ended with a 2-0 win after goals from Gavin Whyte and the Aylesbury Ashley Young Rob Hall.

Chinese brand expansion pack and bottomless pun bucket Tsun Dai has signed for actual Wolves for real money. Wolves fans greeted the news with the same Sunday puns we did last year. The consensus is that Wolves’ Chinese owners are stockpiling players of Chinese origin hoping to stumble across an Oriental Beckham to propel them into the Chinese market. KRob is currently in the Dragon’s Pearl in Witney, where he’s hoping to sign a couple of £30 million rated “full-backs” from their kitchens. 

Friday 12 July 2019

‘I wish it could be football every day’, sang Roy Wood in the little known follow-up to his Christmas classic. KRob is faithfully trying to make his wish come true having arranged their fourth friendly of the week, last night’s 2-1 win over Brackley Town. The world is so sick of Oxford United friendlies, even Twitter decided to shut down for a good proportion of the game. 

Saturday 13 July 2019

In what felt like the four hundred and thirty seventh game of the week, Oxford drew 1-1 with Woking in the Harvey Bradbury derby. KRob blamed a lack of cutting edge up front, ignoring the seven and a half hours of football and 1000+ miles of travelling he’s insisted the squad do this week.

George Lawrence’s Summer Shorts – Fosu’ll Fuel

Monday 1 July 2019

We open the week looking into a gaping chasm from here to the first friendly of the season – WHICH IS NEXT FRICKIN’ SUNDAY OR THIS SUNDAY IF YOU’RE READING THIS NEXT SUNDAY. We regret to inform you that there is no more go-to no-news news-carreon to feed off as Gino van Kessel’s Gold Cup quest is over. The USA finally put plucky Curacao to the sword with a 1-0 win in the second round of the tournament. We are bereft.

Elsewhere, in science, we’ve learned the largest unit of time is called a supereon. Previously determined by geological formations, scientists now describe this as the unit of time between everyone knowing that Tariqe Fosu was signing for us and the official announcement that he had. That day finally came on Monday.

Tuesday 2 July 2019

Deep fried pastiness ahoy, Sunday is the Steve Kinniburgh derby at Ibrox. Those thinking Rangers have been seduced by the glamour of a friendly against Oxfordshire’s finest need to think again. According their Head PT Instructor, Stevie G’s Tax Avoiding Army are wargaming the rigours of playing second rate European football followed by fifth rate domestic football every week until they’re knocked out by Maltese part-timers in mid-July. We don’t know if we’re Lazio or Cowdenbeath in their fetishised role play.

Wednesday 3 July 2019

Back home, things have gone a bit Thames Valley Royals as Oxford United director Horst Geicke has been announced as a Director of RFC Prop, a holding company of Royal Elm Park Development who are developing the land around the Madjeski Stadium in Reading. We’re sure this is absolutely fine.

Thursday 4 July 2019

Jamie Mackie has been giving a little insight into how preseason has changed “it’s all scientific now” said Mackie like a baffled pensioner trying to play Fortnite with his grandson “the balls are out straight away.” he added, looking knowingly at Gavin Whyte.

Our favourite Ghanaian football website, where everything is true, claims Tariq Fosu’s signing on fee was £500k which also claims “he made 27 appearances last season where he made 27 appearances” – that’s an encouraging ratio of 1 game per appearance.

Friday 5 July 2019

Hark! The gentle lilt of the lute, for it is GLS The Bard with songs of bafflement and bemusement, Bard, sing us a tale from the kingdom…

Hey nonny nonny…
KRob is frustrated, he doesn’t know what to do
He wants to sign Chris Cadden, The Mackems want him too
Sunderland can’t sign him, they’ve problems of their own
Red Bull want to buy their club, Stewy’s waiting by the phone
Until their deal is done, then Cadden’s is on hold
But Columbus want him also, or so we have been told
But, Crew can’t sign him either, too many from overseas
Cadden can’t be added, until another leaves
And yet they may still sign him, then loan him back to us
Or perhaps it’ll just collapse, because of all the fuss
So KRob is frustrated, he doesn’t know what to do
He thinks he might get Cadden, but he thinks he might not too.
With a hey nonny nonny…

Ah, thanks the bard, there he goes, on his merry way – those tights are a bit unforgiving, don’t you think? 

Elsewhere, wandering down the aisle of where they stock all the predictables at our local Co-Op, we find that MApp is being lined up by Doncaster Rovers to just miss out on their manager’s job.

Saturday 6 July 2019

KRob’s excited, but then what other mode does he have? The whiff of Tunnock Teacakes and Tenants Super is in the air as we head north for our first friendly of the summer. “They have some world class players” said KRob using a pretty liberal definition of the term – that is, players who can unequivocally be classed as living in this world. To illustrate the fact, among their number is Wes Fotheringham, who lest we forget, lost two derbies playing for Swindon against Oxford in 2012 before being released because it was deemed, and we’ll say this very slowly, he was not as good as The Red Card Ronaldo; Lawrence Vigouroux. 

Sunday 7 July 2019

To those who have made the trip up to Glasgow staring into a grey slate sky, squinting to make out the features of people sitting opposite you. Yes, this is what they call daylight. The day has come, let football reign and for the 700 mile round-trip to be rewarded with something more competitive than Peter Rhodes-Brown’s hurdling over advertising boards half-time relay race. Now, we don’t want to ruin anyone’s holiday to what the World Health Organisation once dubbed ‘Europe’s Murder Capital’ but while you’ve been away travellers have moved into the Kassam Stadium car park.

‘Giein it laldy, ya great bawbag!’ as they might say in the streets of Auchenshuggle.