Match wrap: Fleetwood Town 2 Oxford United 0

One of my favourite facts recently is that even after our defeat to Charlton on Tuesday, this season had been our best start in the league under Karl Robinson. This wasn’t an attempt to excuse our form, it was simply a curiosity given our meagre points total and league position.

It’s difficult to say exactly when the hoodoo was broken in 2018 given that there was also an eight-game sequence in October in which we didn’t win. Last year, there was a very clear change of direction in a 3-0 win over Tranmere. That was followed by a draw with Bolton and then a remarkable sequence of thirteen goals in 3 games which was the catalyst to a successful season.

Fleetwood away was never a likely candidate for such a revival and really just served to deepen the disquiet, or is it just apathy? The structural issues remain evident – defensively we’re lacking, we need the kind of steadying influence and leadership provided by people like John Mousinho and Jamie Mackie and the pressure on our potent attacking force – which is surely the answer to our defensive issues – is starting to tell. Against a unit as robust as Fleetwood, it would have taken something very special to turn the tide.

While it’s frustrating to hear Karl Robinson bemoaning his injured players – injuring midfielders is one area he excels at – we do need a bit of luck. The two games we have in hand are both winnable and at home; that would take us into mid-table. The opening sequence of games have included teams currently at the top of the table – Sunderland, Charlton, Fleetwood, Lincoln. I’ve said before that if we’re to harbour aspirations of promotion, these are teams we should be competing with, but I’m also increasingly of the view that survival rather than promotion is the first priority while the world wrestles with the pandemic.

We’re not even likely to survive on current form and we need a Tranmere-type game to jump start the machine. That first opportunity should come on Tuesday with Rochdale offering an opportunity to get a solid win under our belt. More importantly perhaps, we need to break the sequence of conceding two goals a game; even if we do register a MK Dons-style high scoring narrow victory, that defensive frailty will continue to eat away at our confidence. You could see the it ebbing away after just 45 seconds on Saturday when Fleetwood scored. 

But if we do get that boost it won’t be supercharged by the fans as it has been previously. Fans provide advocacy to the players, an encouragement that a system is worth pursuing. Moves rarely turn into goals, passes are frequently misplaced or intercepted – the key to a successful team is that they believe in what they’re doing and are able to pick themselves up and try again. The fans can help overcome those doubts.

Football is evidently a low priority for the government, so it seems unlikely they’ll be rushing to find a way to get fans into grounds even after the latest lockdown is eased. It seems likely to me that we’ll need more than a month to get on top of it, and any easing will be very slow. I don’t see us being back in stadiums before the spring at the earliest when the season is nearly done. So, if the advocacy doesn’t come from the fans, the resolve will need to come from within. 

The club, led by Karl Robinson, has been an exemplar in recognising the issues of mental health which can range from mild stress to chronic depression. But, recognising the issue is only half the story, when faced with a mental challenge, finding resilience to control and overcome it also needs to be part of the equation. 

In a sense, the first lockdown was easy, everyone was doing the same thing, keeping communications open were important for those moments when it all became too much. This second lockdown is likely to be more challenging; for some it will mean a return to the stasis of the spring, for others no change at all, for some professions, like football, a heavily adapted norm. The reason players keep making runs, keep trying passes is because of the lure of the rush of scoring and winning, something which is made more potent by the existence of fans. They need to find a reason to want to do that again, even when the prospect of success seems beyond them.

We are neither scoring nor winning, but we still need to make the passes and the runs, that isn’t going to come from an external source, it has to come from within the squad. Character, I think they call it.  

Midweek fixture: League 1 Kitwatch 2020/2021

There’s nothing better than a new kit; so the summer is new kit Christmas. Nearly everyone have revealed their kit for the new season. I’ll keep updating this post with new designs as they’re revealed. Here’s what we have so far…

Accrington Stanley

Accrington are punching above their weight adopting Adidas as their kit manufacturer. Thankfully they’ve managed to bring the tone down a notch or two with an experimental dotty sleeve. It’s let Accrington down, it’s let Adidas down, but most of all, it’s let the lovely white shirt down.

Blackpool

We’re all shocked to our core with Blackpool’s new shirt; tangerine with white trim, like every Blackpool shirt in history. That said, it’s a nice enough design. Eagled eyed among you will see this template replicated elsewhere. In the least shocking news ever the away shirt is a simple reverse out of the home version.

Bristol Rovers

The key to any artistic process is to know when to stop. Bristol Rovers have an iconic kit and it shouldn’t be difficult to pull a decent shirt out of the bag. This version has funny cuffs, collar, stripe down the arm, what appears to be some kind of camo shadowing. The second kit goes some way to redeeming things, but not much.

Burton Albion

Burton Albion may be the most forgettable team in the division, and their new home shirt lives up to that reputation. One of this season’s trends is the re-introduction of the button collar, which we can all agree is a travesty. And yet, the away kit is so awful, apparently modelled on the faux medical uniform of a cosmetic surgery nurse, that the button may just improve it.

Charlton Athletic

Without doubt Charlton have bigger problems than providing a decent new kit. The home shirt looks like every Charlton kit ever released, while the away shirt is probably a reflection of the mood around the club.

Crewe Alexandra

Crewe’s return to League 1 is marked by a retro red and black number, but it’s the away kit which is of most note, appearing to take inspiration from their shirt sponsor Mornflake Mighty Oats.

Doncaster Rovers

Thankfully Doncaster Rovers’ new shirt is identical to every Doncaster Rovers home shirt of the last decade. The red and white hoops are a classic not to be messed with. The away kit is also pretty sweet; maybe the best combo in the division?

Fleetwood Town

To some people, the fact that Fleetwood Town exist and are managed by Joey Barton is confusing enough. This kit, which seems to adopt about nine different styles in one, is a proper head scrambler. The away kit, however, works really nicely – silver and mint, who knew?

Gillingham

Bit of an odd one this; Gillingham are perhaps the most meh team in League 1, and it appears that they’re sticking with the same kit as last season. It’s OK, Macron, the manufacturer, have a nice style about them. You could describe this as a bit meh, really.

Hull City

Like all the teams coming down from the Championship, Hull have been slow to release their new shirt. The result is an unremarkable number, saved largely by the fact that it’s Umbro, giving it a nice traditional feel. The third kit (no second kit that I can ascertain) is a bit of an oddity; when I first saw it, I really liked it and thought it was one of the nicest in the division, then I looked again and find it a bit boring.

Ipswich Town

A tale of two shirts for Ipswich Town. An absolute beauty for the home shirt reminiscent of their heyday in the 1980s under Bobby Robson. The away shirt looks like someone has washed it with a tissue in the pocket.

Lincoln City

Lincoln City play a classic card with their new shirt. There are few teams that wear red and white stripes who haven’t gone for the disruptive inverted colourway at some point. There will be Lincoln fans everywhere tearing up their season tickets at the abomination, but I like it. The away number is solid but unremarkable.

MK Dons

A solid home option for MK Dons, but you can’t deny they work hard to be the most despicable team in the league, the away shirt is black with gold trim? What are they? A Bond villain? Yes, yes they are.

Northampton Town

I’ve always felt that Hummel offer a hipster’s choice when it comes to shirt manufacturing; typically because of their excellent work on the Danish national shirts in the mid-80s. I’ve also always liked Northampton’s colours. So, put together should be a sure fire winner. the away kit is OK until you look more closely, the strange central dribble, the fading pin stripes. They get away with it, but only just.

Oxford United

Look closely, well not that closely, and you’ll see the new Oxford shirt is the same Puma template as Blackpool and Swindon. Rumour has it that in real life it adopts the geometric pattern of the Peterborough shirt. It’s OK, for a title winning shirt.

Peterborough United

Last season Puma made a big deal of their sublimated flux shirt designs, this year seems to have some kind of geometric update. There are randomised white flecks in there as well. A real nearly, but not quite design, a bit like Peterborough. The away shirt utilises the 437th Puma template of the division, and it’s a bit of a cracker, while nothing screams ‘Revenge season’ then a neon pink third kit.

Plymouth Argyle

Plymouth return to League 1 with a couple of scorchers. The home shirt is spoilt a bit with what appears to be a button collar, the away kit is absolutely magnificent. It’s difficult to imagine under what circumstances they would need a third kit, but it ticks some boxes.

Portsmouth

One of the big favourites for the League 1 title next season have opted for a pretty conservative upgrade. What the heck is with that collar though? I quite like the away shirt with its white shadow stripes, it reminds me of our own away kit from the mid-eighties. Was there a three for two offer at Sports Direct? The unnecessary third kit looks like a reboot of our 2013/14 Animalates shirt.

Rochdale

You might call it armageddon chic; there’s a theme in a lot of kits where they’ve taken their standard design and given it a twist. Quite often it’s such a twist it comes off completely. Rochdale are just about the right side of acceptable with the blurred lined and shredded but at the top.

Shrewsbury Town

Aficionados of League 1 kit launches will know that Shrewsbury specialise in producing terrible promotional photography. For evidence try this, this or even this.This year is no different. Still, they get bonus points for adopting Admiral as their kit manufacturer. The away shirt takes inspiration from Oxford’s purple years when we were sponsored by Isinglass.

Swindon Town

Our friends up the A420 have selected yet another Puma kit variation. How many templates does one manufacturer need? It’s a nice and simple design, ruined by the addition of a Swindon Town badge. The away shirt could not be less imaginative if it tried.

Sunderland

Let’s not kid ourselves; all teams use standard templates, but Sunderland’s new Nike shirt absolutely screams ‘park football’. The away shirt is Portsmouth’s home shirt in a different colour way, but that’s OK, I quite like it.

Wigan Athletic

I was genuinely sad when I saw this; Wigan’s kit feels like a club that’s fallen apart with the off-the-peg template and the ironed-on ‘sponsor’ (let’s assume the Supporters Club have not paid a penny for this).

AFC Wimbledon

Have Wimbledon given up? They seem so bored with life they can’t be bothered to feature a decent logo of their sponsor and what can you say about the diagonal shadow stripe? They seem to trump it with the away shirt, which is going some. A shirt that screams relegation.

George Lawrence’s Shorts: International bright young things

Saturday 7 September 2019

There was a right old punch in the guts on Saturday and for once it wasn’t administered by Joey Barton. A late goal against Barton’s Fleetwood Town saw Oxford go down 2-1.

Sunday 8 September 2019

Oxford’s greatest ever Lichensteiner, and hero of George Lawrence’s Summer Shorts, Benji Buchel returned to the white hot heat of international football on Sunday with a 1-1 draw against Greece in Athens. The 68,000 seater stadium was throbbing for the encounter being just 65,000 fans short of a sell-out.

Monday 9 September 2019

Having missed the opportunity to miss Saturday’s Fleetwood game, Jedward orphan Mark Sykes missed the opportunity to sit on the bench for Northern Ireland’s plucky 2-0 defeat to Germany in Belfast. Sykes sat in the stand while his fellow former Oxford Jedward, Gavin Whyte, came off the bench after the Irish back-stop had been breached.

Giving a new slant on the term ‘international break’, Ben Woodburn also didn’t play in Wales’ 1-0 win over Belarus. It’s a shame really, we think he’d have asked some searching questions of the opposition. Questions like: ‘Would you like me to introduce you to Gareth Bale?’

Tuesday 10 September 2019

Operation YellowCadden has revealed that Motherwell’s hopes of sunlit uplands is likely to end in a great pile of dung while venal rich fatcats make a financial killing. Cadden is, of course, on loan from Columbus Crew having left Motherwell in an entirely legitimate move which wasn’t in any way designed to avoid making a solidarity payment in lieu of Cadden’s development in Scotland. Motherwell’s boss has revealed he is in dispute with the Crew and is not expecting any resolution in the next couple of years.

Wednesday 11 September 2019

It was centre-back central on Wednesday as two former Oxford defenders opened up about their latest career moves. The top man’s top man Jakey Wright wright wright explained why moving to Bolton is the right right right move for him. In Leicester, Phil Gilchrist was chased down the street for an interview for their club website revealing that he nearly left Oxford at the same time as Matt Elliot, but wasn’t allowed to until they got in a suitable replacement. In the end, they didn’t get one, so they signed Brian Wiiiiiillllllsterman instead. 

Thursday 12 September 2019

KRob was in the hot seat for Radio Oxford’s Six Minute Eighteen Seconds Fans’ Forum, which ended up sounding like the lottery numbers being announced. The stadiumsituation played second fiddle as fans wanted their say on the club’s woeful form. Maureen from Witney thinks we should play 4-3-3 while Brian from Abingdon prefers 4-2-3-1, perhaps KRob should go with Beverly Hill’s 9-0-2-1-0, though Flavor Flav phoned to say that 9-1-1’s a joke in our town.

Friday 13 September 2019

The club said there was good news and bad news on the injury front. Matty Taylor who has had so many Oxford comebacks he might be Benedict Come-ber-back, could feature against Tranmere on Saturday while Jamie Hanson will be out for three and a half months. They didn’t say what the bad news was.

No, you’re a cheap shot, mate.

Match wrap: Fleetwood Town 2 Oxford United 1

Let’s face it, a 2-1 defeat away to Fleetwood is not, in isolation, an unexpected result, but it means just one win in seven and 20th place in the division. It’s opened all the old debates about Karl Robinson’s suitability and our prospects for the season.

It’s not a simple question of Robinson’s competence, or if he’s likeable or not. I can see both sides of those arguments. For me it’s about the compitablity between his approach, and the club more broadly.

Robinson wants to play a fast, all action style, but with late summer signings and the loss of Gavin Whyte, we currently have a squad trying to bed in while travelling at a thousand miles an hour.

Had we been in League 2, I think he could deliver a season in the vein of 2015/2016; fast, exciting, full of goals; sweeping all before us including a few higher league scalps in the cup. To ape an old Viz comic strip; we’d be all special weapons and no tactics.

But, League 1 is more savvy and we’re being undone by solid, streetwise teams – Fleetwood, Burton and Bristol Rovers. It reminds me of the scene in Indiana Jones where faced by the swashbuckling swordsman skilfully wielding his weapon, Jones simply pulls a gun out and shoots him dead.

We don’t yet have the cohesion to wield our sword skilfully and execute the kill. Worse, we don’t have the bedrock of Curtis Nelson at the back and even Simon Eastwood seems shakier, particularly with shots from distance.

All this against a backdrop of a ownership which, tentatively, seems to be finding its feet. The emergence of Zaki Nuseibeh as a calming voice of reason – talking about building sustainably and responsibly has replaced the eery silences of last year. In addition, we have enjoyed some good PR with the squad numbers, the symbolic signing of Kash Siddiqi and Zaki himself talking about the regulation of clubs in the light of what has happened to Bury.

But despite that steadying hand, Robinson pursues his campaign to please with a maddening thrill-ride of entertaining, but ultimately unproductive football.

Based on last year, the results should come. With Bury’s demise and Bolton’s points deduction, the trapdoor is significantly smaller. But, if we are to do more than simply survive then we seem to have gone the wrong way about it. Wycombe are currently top; a team who specialise in working within their limitations and not over-stretching. The fantasists may have one eye on the Championship at the moment, but I suspect internally they see each point now as a step towards survival from relegation in May. If they’re in a similar position at Christmas, perhaps they’ll readjust their expectations.

At the moment we’re not recognising our limitations – cohesion, fitness, a shaky defence – as a result, we’re over-stretching and being picked off. Stopping the rot should be the focus, even if it means abandoning some of our principles.

George Lawrence’s Shorts – A yabba Dabo doo

Saturday 31 August 2019

There was a right old ding dong at The Kassam on Saturday. Coventry were first to ding going 1-0 up, then donged along to double their lead. Jamie Mackie dinged a 20 yarder just after the hour before Fantaky Dabo donged one into his own net for 2-1. In the last minute they danged in what looked like the winner before Dabo dinged into his own net again for 3-3, four minutes into injury time.  

Monday 2 September 2019

KRob’s wife went mad when he turned up at home with another midfielder to add to his gargantuan collection. ‘THAT’ she said pointing an accusatory finger, ‘IS NOT STAYING IN MY HOUSE’. Oussama Zamouri is a Moroccan who has joined until Christmas. ‘I think I’m quite a technical player’ said Zamouri with a surprising lack of self-awareness. KRob’s has yet to tell his wife that he’ll be going to MidfielderCon in the summer to hang out with all the other midfield nerds dressed as Simon Clist.

The top man’s top man, Jakey Wright, Wright, Wright has signed for Bolton Wanderers on loan from Çhrîßtøphē Ŵîłdę’s Sheffield United. He’ll go right, right, right into the squad to face Oxford on the 17th.

Tuesday 3 September 2019

It’s an ill-conceived battle no one cares about fought by grown men acting like toddlers in which nobody ultimately wins. The Brexit of football tournaments, the MySpace.com Trophy, vomited into action with a 2-1 over Premier League Muppet babies; The Norwichlets. After going a goal down, Oxford’s equaliser came from Cameron Branagain-again with the winner coming from Shandon Baptiste, who KRob has labelled the best player in the whole damn universe.

Meanwhile, Tony McMahon has left the club by mutual disinterest.

Wednesday 4 September 2019

Jedward orphan, Mark Sykes will be donning his neon orange winkle pickers and making self-conscious peace signs to every available camera when he joins up with Northern Ireland to miss their games against Luxembourg and Germany. As a result he’ll miss the game against Fleetwood that he was never going to play in.

Thursday 5 September 2019

It was the Six Minute Thirteen Seconds Fans’ Forum on Radio Oxford with Zaki Nuseibeh on Thursday. There was a question about the stadiumsituation which was good because we hadn’t heard anything about the stadiumsituation since it was mentioned four and a half minutes ago. ‘It’s key to our sustainability’ claims AlanOUFC738472 #FPBE  in Wantage, who has really been thinking about it.

Reluctant commuter and former Oxford United assistant shoutsman Shaun Derry has resurfaced as Head of Isotonic drink distribution at Crystal Palace. Twinkletoed turncoat Gavin Whyte twinkled his toes in Northern Ireland’s 1-0 win over Luxembourg while Mark Sykes watched longingly from the bench.

Friday 6 September 2019

Tomorrow Oxford head north to play Fleetwood Town, who are managed by misunderstood nasty piece of work Joey Barton, a thoughtful thug who has read books without pictures in.

Oxford are looking for their second league win of the season, and first ever over Fleetwood, but KRob’s not worried. If we maintain our performances , he said, we’ll climb the league, thus demonstrating an alarming misunderstanding of the fundamentals of how league tables work. We just need to stick to our principles, he said; one of which appears to be to concede a goal roughly every half-an-hour.

The wrap – Fleetwood Town 2 Oxford United 2

At the start of the season I suggested that in a division which, bar one or two clubs, there is much of a muchness in quality, it’ll be those who are best organised, tactically and financially which will succeed, and by definintion, the least organised will fail. Obviously, I assumed that would be someone else.

Take, for example, Luton Town – a team with a very similar profile to ourselves. We’re a similar size, have similar resources and have faced similar challenges. They are second and we are not.

There’s a Mitchell and Webb sketch where, dressed as Nazis, David Mitchell looks at his uniform and its sinister iconography and says in slow realisation; ‘Are we… the baddies?’

At half-time on Saturday, I was thinking about my early season thoughts as tweets about ‘shambles’ and not signing a striker fluttered onto my timeline. We were facing our fourth successive league defeat, five if you include Brentford, we hadn’t scored a goal and we had no strikers on the pitch, let alone coming in.

You live life as a football fan hoping; for wins, turnarounds, convincing yourself that something good will be round the corner. You may think Karl Robinson is hopeless, but you still live in hope he’s got a striker up his sleeve. You have faith in the people you have least faith in.

But then, facing another defeat and even the potential to drop to the bottom of the division, it dawned on me in a David Mitchell-like way – what if we are the least organised team in the division?

You hope not, sometimes you know you’re punching above your weight so success is a bonus and failure, when it comes, is broadly accepted. I don’t think anyone thought our years in the top flight during the 1980s were sustainable. More often, you hope you’re a good team but you can’t definitively say. People talk about us having ‘Championship-potential’; but we haven’t been there for nearly 20 years. If you look at the evidence of more recent times, League 1 is punching above our natural level.

And then we scrape a point and some of the hope returns. In five games we’ve taken two points – one from a seventh minute injury time goal, the other coming back from two-down away from home. These are not normal results, they happen once or twice a season, they don’t indicate any kind of turnaround. Last year Bury did the double over us, but were still relegated 15 points from safety. Even terrible teams pick up points sometimes.

So, yes, I think we are one of the least organised teams in the division, and that puts us in real peril. Our worst patches of form have come during transfer windows – why? Is it just how the fixtures have fallen? Is Karl Robinson too stretched – preparing for games and chasing down signings? His post-match ramblings become more bizarre when he’s trying to sign players. Is it because his mind is elsewhere and he’s stressed and not prepared? For some, a ‘bad transfer window’ is about not signing your primary target, for us it seems to seep onto the pitch.

Periodically people mention that Michael Appleton is out of a job. Can he come back and bring back the glory days? I genuinely don’t think so; Appleton was part of a machine which involved Darryl Eales and Mark Ashton but also an effective scouting network and a communication and engagement strategy. Plus, there was consistent cashflow, a key priority for Eales, something his successor has yet to achieve. The Eales-world is not the environment Appleton would be coming back to, at times it felt like he waved a magic wand, but it just wasn’t that simple. We should put the Appleton fantasy to bed and focus on fixing now.

In fact, it’s slightly worse than that. If Tiger could persuade Appleton return he may believe what the fans are telling him and that success is a gimme. That’s when complacency will really set in.

We’re not relegated yet, regardless of what happens in the transfer market, we can still stay up; but that’s where the ambition lies now; avoiding relegation. It’s hugely frustrating, but perhaps it’s time to realise at the moment, we are just one of those teams.