Midweek fixture: 2010 play-off winners – where are they now?

Ryan Clarke

A goalkeeper who saved his team more times than any other player is ironically most well known for dropping the ball into his own net with the score at 2-0. Clarke went on to play more than 200 times for the club before moving to Northampton Town. His career stalled a bit and he failed to make a single appearance, later admitting to depression. After a brief spell at Wimbledon he moved to Eastleigh and Torquay and is currently at Bath City.

Damian Batt

A full-back with pace and a prodigious engine, Batt played on for three more years before briefly claiming a move to Vancouver Whitecaps. It came to nothing and he announced his retirement allowing him to focus on his business Alexander Du’Bel. He made a brief return at Eastleigh and then Dagenham and Redbridge before fully retiring in 2015. In 2017, the Telegraph raised a series of concerns about his dubious claims to be raising money for charity.

Mark Creighton

The Beast who kick started the season with a last minute winner over York was a wall of a central defender. Almost as soon as the following season started Creighton was loaned out to Wrexham, before moving to Kidderminster Harriers permanently. After two years he retired due to injury and set up his tattoo business Raw Ink Studios.

Jake Wright

Signed midway through the season to replace Luke Foster, Wright evolved into a formidable centre-back and leader. Wright steered the club through the League 2 years and into the Appleton era where he captained the team to promotion in 2016. He signed for Sheffield United, rejoining Chris Wilder during that summer and promptly won promotion with them to The Championship.

Anthony Tonkin

A sanguine full-back signed in the January before the play-off final. Tonkin drifted out of the team after promotion, but had a moment in the sun against Swindon Town. In 2012 he moved to Aldershot Town before moving onto Frome Town. A business graduate, he had a sideline as a property developer during his playing days. He became a Financial Advisor on retiring before becoming a Quantity Surveyor.

Dannie Bulman

Bulman was signed at the start of the promotion season after leaving Crawley Town. He had already played over 350 games for Wycombe, Stevenage and Crawley. Bulman was quickly moved on back to Crawley following promotion; Chris Wilder’s biggest mistake. After that he moves to Wimbledon where he was the Football League’s oldest player in 2018. Currently back at Crawley.

Adam Chapman

Signed from Sheffield United, Chapman took over from the injured Adam Murray as the creative force in midfield. Immediately before the final it was announced that Chapman was set to stand trial for killing someone in car accident. He was convicted and spent a year away in a young offenders institute. He returned and played spasmodically before moving on, at one playing a game against Wycombe with a burnt his nipple from baby milk. He now plays for Sheffield FC.

Simon Clist

An invaluable water-carrier in the middle of midfield. Clist became our unlikely first goalscorer on our return to the Football League. In 2012 Clist moved to Hereford on loan and then permanently. The trail runs cold at this point, although he reappeared as guest of honour at the club in 2018.

Jack Midson

A player with a deft touch and great poise; Midson was another player who undeservedly was moved out of the club by Chris Wilder following promotion. He eventually settled with Wimbledon, taking them back to the Football League and having the honour of scoring against the Dons’ nemesis MK Dons. Following a number of moves he became assistant manager at Concord Rangers. He’s also a director of M&M Sports Coaching with his team mate Sammy Moore. Recently appointed manager at Hemel Hempstead Town.

James Constable

A bona fide club legend. Constable scored over 100 goals and just one short of the club’s goalscoring record left for Eastleigh. After four years he moved to Poole Town one loan, recently announcing his semi-retirement and became a patron of Oxford United in the Community. Left Eastleigh permanently in May 2019.

Matt Green

A peculiar career which started at Cardiff, he had a brief loan spell at Oxford before controversially moving to Torquay. He came back in 2010 and became part of a formidable three pronged attack. Another player who was moved on a little too quickly, in 2013 he scored a bucketload at Mansfield earning him a move to The Championship and Birmingham City. Injury stalled his career and he moved back to Mansfield before moving to Lincoln and Salford.

Subs:

Billy Turley

A character and a dying breed, Turley lost his place to Ryan Clarke at the beginning of the season. He was released immediately after the final before spending some time at Brackley Town.

Kevin Sandwith

An early Chris Wilder Signing, he lost his place to Anthony Tonkin at Christmas. Released after the final he went to Mansfield before drifting around the non-league and disappearing.

Alfie Potter

Potter came on to score the iconic third goal at Wembley. He played on until 2015 enjoying moments in the sun such as a winner over Swindon and a leading part in a 4-1 win over Portsmouth. Joined Chris Wilder at Northampton in 2015 before moving to Mansfield and Billericay Town.

Rhys Day

Day came on with three minutes to go and won the header which set up the breakaway for the third goal. Another player who played briefly for Mansfield before popping up at Hyde. Currently an Operations Manager in Manchester.

Sam Deering

A diminutive forward who set up Alfie Potter for the third goal. Deering drifted in and out of the team until 2011 before moving to Barnet. Enjoyed an FA Cup giant killing with Whitehawk before ending up at Billericay.

Manager: Chris Wilder

Battled on with the club until everyone forgot what a remarkable job he had done. Left acrimoniously in 2014 for Northampton who were, at the time, bottom of League 2. He saved them by beating us on the last game of the season. He followed it up by winning the title while we came second. Shortly after, he moved to Sheffield United where he won promotion to the Championship and then, in 2019, The Premier League.

Midweek Fixture: The 2016 JPT Final team – where are they now?

Before it was infested by Under 23 Premier League teams, the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy was a half decent tournament. At least when you got to the final. The last to maintain its integrity was 2016 where we faced Barnsley in the final. It was a joyous affair, despite the 3-2 defeat. Where are those brave men now?

Benji Büchel

Likeable weak link in an otherwise relentlessly effective team. Shared glove-based responsibilities with Sam Slocombe for most of the season. Replaced by Simon Eastwood once promotion was confirmed. Eventually went to Barnet on loan where he was briefly announced as playing for their ladies team. Now at FC Vaduz, he’s been capped by Lichenstein over 20 times and recently played against Italy.

Jonjoe Kenny

More than capable right-back signed on loan from Everton filling a not inconsiderable hole left by George Baldock. Slotted seamlessly into the team under the tutelage of Alex MacDonald. Headed back to Everton, playing the final game of the 2015/16 season. He was part of the England team which won the Under 20 World Cup in 2017. Has spent most of his time since in and out of their starting eleven at The Toffees.

Johnny Mullins (captain)

Started the season as a first choice centre-back before falling down the pecking order. Captained the side due to Jake Wright not being fully fit. Headed for Luton at the end of the promotion season where he won promotion, before joining Cheltenham.

Chey Dunkley

Cheyenne Amarni Keanu Roma Dunkley cemented a place in Oxford United folklore at Wembley by doing a Cruyff turn in his own box. Also managed to score Barnsley’s first goal. Spent most of the season overcoming Johnny Mullins in the centre of defence. Scored a decisive goal against Wycombe to seal promotion, dominant in our first year in League 1 before signing for Wigan Athletic. Won promotion to The Championship the following season.

Jordan Evans

Signed on loan from Fulham in January 2016, played only nine games before heading back. Started due to an injury to Joe Skarz. A Welsh Under-21 international, his professional career petered out, playing for Wrexham and Bala Town before ending up at Cefn Druids, A man with hidden talents, Evans is a qualified hairdresser and plays in the band Faded Strangers.

Alex MacDonald

Lovable tireless winger signed from Burton at Michael Appleton’s lowest ebb. Boundless enthusiasm for the game dragged us out of the fug and into the 2015/16 season. A regular through the promotion year before being unceremoniously sold to Mansfield Town.

Josh Ruffels

Oxford United survivor originally signed by Chris Wilder from Coventry City. Made the starting eleven due to a lunging John Lundstram tackle which gained a red card and a ban. Players came and went, as did managers, but Ruffels stayed. Mostly played in midfield, but converted to full-back under Karl Robinson, became a specialist in spectacular last minute goals.

Liam Sercombe

Wide shouldered marauding midfielder whose goals from midfield were critical to pretty much everything we did well that season. Scored a decisive goal at Carlisle at the end of the season. The following season in League One he continued his good form until he fell out with Michael Appleton, possibly over his reaction to only being a substitute in the JPT Final against Coventry the following season, where he also scored. Signed for Bristol Rovers in the summer.

Callum O’Dowda

Career-minded local boy flitted in and out of the team throughout the promotion season. Scored the opener in the final to wild celebration. Also scored the last goal of the season against Wycombe before flouncing off to Bristol City in the summer. A Republic of Ireland international.

Kemar Roofe

Ethereal goal machine who initially joined on loan from West Brom. Heralded a new era when he was announced as a permanent signing the following summer, smashed in over 20 goals before joining Leeds United for £4m.

Danny Hylton

Precise, analytical, focussed – everything that Michael Appleton was, Danny Hylton wasn’t. Signed by Gary Waddock weeks before the Darryl Eales revolution took hold. Stuck to the first team like chewing gum on your shoe. Scored the second goal which briefly raised hopes of a revival. At the end of the season, he headed for Luton Town where he won promotion. More recently spent most of his time cheerleading from the sidelines as Luton head for the Championship.

Substitutes:

Sam Slocombe

Initially signed to replace Ryan Clarke, Slocombe’s patchy form saw him chopping and changing with Benji Buchel throughout the season. Missed out on Wembley, but played in our 3-2 giant killing over Swansea. The signing of Simon Eastwood pushed him out the door to Blackpool. Lasted a year before going to Bristol Rovers. Loaned to Lincoln in 2019.

Jake Wright

A leader of men who was signed by Chris Wilder in 2010. Won promotion to the Football League at the end of that year. Injury meant he missed out on being the first Oxford United player to play at Wembley twice. Led the team to promotion, but re-joined Chris Wilder at Sheffield United in a defensive re-shuffle when Curtis Nelson arrived. Won promotion with the Blades where he still is, albeit now sidelined by injury.

Sam Long

A player who seemed to be so frequently injured, successive managers didn’t have the heart to release him. Survived Michael Appleton, Pep Clotet and became a regular in Karl Robinson’s starting eleven.

Josh Ashby

Once heralded as the future of the football club; Ashby achieved just seven appearances before being released. Signed for Oxford City.

George Waring (replaced Callum O’Dowda)

A proper unit signed on loan from Stoke City, flitted in and out of the team scoring once. Following a series of loan moves he headed for Tranmere before joining Chester in 2019.

Chris Maguire (replaced Alex MacDonald)

Enigmatic magician signed on loan from Rotherham. Sulked from one club to another, disgusted by the mediocrity around him. At Oxford, however, he bloomed and signed permanently in 2016. Scored twice in a derby win over Swindon and generally oozed genius. Appleton’s departure scuppered chances of a renewed contract where he made a disasterous move to Bury. Following their relegation he was signed by Sunderland where he initially regained form. Slipped out of the reckoning as the season progressed.

Jordan Bowery (replaced Danny Hylton)

One of numerous target men that Michael Appleton signed. Unlike most of the others, he weighed in with seven goals during his time with the club including a critical winner at Portsmouth. Dropped to the Conference with Leyton Orient where he failed to find any form. Signed on loan with Crewe before being made permanent, scoring twenty goals for the club.

Midweek fixture: Michael Appleton’s Forty-Two

Michael Appleton’s time in charge at Oxford will be remembered as nothing but glorious. It didn’t start that way though. He lost his first four league games in front of an increasingly suspicious home crowd, flirted with relegation and chugged along to finish 13th in his first season. During that time he played no less than 42 different players, performing what he now calls ‘major surgery’ on the squad as the season progressed. Have you ever wondered what happened to them all?

Josh Ashby

Once so much the future of the club (yes, another one) Chris Wilder named him on the bench of a Conference game just so ensure we could maximise any transfer fees we might get for him. Made a total of seven appearances before being released. Now at Oxford City.

Jamie Ashdown

An old mate of Michael Appleton’s from Portsmouth and former FA Cup winner. Ashdown came in late in the season to replace Ryan Clarke. Made a decent fist of it as we started to turn the corner. Now retired.

George Baldock

Gorgeous George was brought in with the help of Dave Jones from Sky Sports from MK Dons. Signed for another year on loan in 2015, but only lasted until January when one Karl Robinson dragged him back to help out with their relegation fight from the Championship. Bought by Sheffield United in 2017 by Chris Wilder.

Tyrone Barnett

For a short while Barnett was the answer to all our problems. The big strong target man that Michael Appleton had been looking for. At the end of his loan period, despite efforts to sign him permanently, he moved to Shrewsbury. Now at Cheltenham.

Richard Brindley

Sometimes there are players who play for minutes before disappearing, and for some reason you remember them when everyone else forgets. Richard Brindley is one of those players for me. Made 3 appearances on loan from Scunthorpe, now plays for Bromley.

Junior Brown

Part of an original batch of signings at the start of the Appleton era. Showed precious little, lasted eleven games, including a half decent performance against West Brom in the league cup before being shipped out to Mansfield. Moved to Shrewsbury and was part of the team that nearly won promotion in 2018. Moved to Coventry City at the end of that season. Great hair.

Wes Burns

A little glimmer of hope when signed from Bristol City showing plenty of pace down the flank. Lasted nine games before heading back to his parent club. After a series of loan moves, he eventually settled with Fleetwood.

John Campbell

Perhaps the weirdest of all the signings that season. Rumoured to have joined from Jarrow Roofing, it was announced that he’d gone on loan to Torquay before anyone had confirmed he had signed. Lasted three games before heading back north. Now at Whitby Town.

Ryan Clarke

A club legend in the twilight of his Oxford career. Appleton stuck with him for most of the season before passing the gloves to Jamie Ashdown. Clarke joined Northampton Town the following year, but despite winning promotion, didn’t play a single game. He joined Wimbledon and Eastleigh before settling with Torquay and then Bath City.

Michael Collins

One of the inherited players having been signed in 2014. Saw his contract out and left at the end of the season in 2016. Headed out to India for while before returning to play for Halifax and Leyton Orient. Eventually ended up coaching at Bradford and was somewhat thrown under a bus when he became head coach briefly in 2018

Max Crocombe

Perpetual understudy to Ryan Clarke, Crocombe was a New Zealand international whose highlight at Oxford was keeping goal in a heroic League Cup defeat to West Brom at the start of Appleton’s reign. Moved to Carlisle after being released, then ended up at noveau riche Salford in the National League.

Chey Dunkley

Came from Kidderminster but spent much of his early career on the bench. He described himself on his Twitter account as the club mascot. Eventually overhauled Johnny Mullins for a first team spot, did a Cruyff turn at Wembley, scored a goal that clinched promotion, played his part in everything we did that was good for two years before going on to play for Wigan in the Championship.

Armand Gnanduillet

A player with legs like out of control fire hoses. Seemed to specialise in finding new and interesting ways of not connecting with crosses or misreading through-balls. Went back to Chesterfield where he joined Blackpool.

Aidan Hawtin

Most famous for being the ball boy who got in an altercation with a Swindon player during the 2012 derby win. Played just 1 game before moving to Norway. Retired due to injury in 2017 aged just 21 and became a personal trainer.

Patrick Hoban

A battering ram of a striker who came from Dundalk with a decent goalscoring reputation. Never really got going at Oxford, although scored a critical equaliser in a draw at Luton in the promotion season. Went to Mansfield before heading back to Dundalk where he’s started banging in the goals again. Very much found his level.

Tareiq Holmes-Dennis

Yet another bright young thing signed on loan from Charlton. Holmes-Dennis started with a man of the match performance against Tranmere, but in his subsequent 14 games ran out of steam. Headed back to Charlton before going to Huddersfield. Managed a handful of games before heading to Bristol Rovers.

Will Hoskins

Arrived from Brighton with a decent reputation but only managed four games before being released at the end of the season. Played for Exeter City, Hemel Hempstead and is now at Northcote City.

Brian Howard

Signed on a short term contract after leaving Birmingham City, expected to be the player who would run the team. Only made seven appearances before disappearing off to Eastleigh. Last heard of at Whitehawk.

Sam Humphreys

One of many youth team products who rotated through the first team. Made one first team substitution before having his contract cancelled so he could move to Norway. Returned to Hayes and Yeading, then Banbury.

David Hunt

When Michael Appleton talks about doing major surgery on the squad David Hunt frequently springs to mind (also see: Tom Newey). A tediously dependable full-back in a slowly decaying squad, he was eventually shipped out to Barnet and slipped into non-league with Margate and Wealdstone.

Danny Hylton

A strange bearded wizard, signed by Gary Waddock and adopted by Michael Appleton. Appleton described him as not very bright, but he carried him through the early months with an prodigious work ethic. Joined the glory train in 2016, winning promotion before joining Luton to everyone’s dismay that summer. I love Danny Hylton.

Alex Jakubiak

A too-much-too-soon loan signing from Watford teenager Jakubiak made nine games before being recalled by his parent club. The Hornets have persisted with him loaning him to a variety of teams, most recently to Bristol Rovers where he’s scored two goals. Both against us.

George Long

Goalkeeper who signed on loan from Sheffield United to cover Ryan Clarke’s injury. Played 10 games before returning to Yorkshire. Played a season at AFC Wimbledon on loan before being signed by Hull City.

Sam Long

A true survivor, despite crippling injuries and changes of management, Long is still with the club in 2019 despite only ever making very occasional appearances.

Alex MacDonald

A little bowling ball of a winger from Burton and an early sign that things were going to improve. Became integral to the team that clinched promotion in 2016. Inexplicably moved on the following season to Mansfield.

Jonathan Meades

Adopted by Michael Appleton having been signed in 2013 by Chris Wilder. Crippled with injuries meant he was limited to just seven appearances before being released. Played nearly 100 games for Wimbledon, winning promotion to League 1 in 2016, but retired in 2018 following a persistent injury.

Carlton Morris

The first of many big strong target men Michael Appleton tried. Signed on loan from Norwich, the job of leading the line in a formative team was too much for the teenager. Scored in an early League Cup success over Bristol City, he returned to Norwich after seven games. Still at Norwich now and has had a range of loans, most significantly at Shrewsbury in 2017/18 when he nearly got promoted to the Championship.

John Mullins

A dependable leader and a rare beacon of consistency. Mullins partnered Jake Wright for a majority the season and a good chunk of the promotion season in 2015/16 before being slowly overhauled by Chey Dunkley. Ended the year on the bench, was released in 2016 where he signed for Luton Town. Won promotion in 2016/17 before slowly falling out of favour. Signed for Cheltenham in 2018.

Tom Newey

An icon of Chris Wilder’s latter years at Oxford, a soul-destroyingly dependable full-back. Followed Wilder to Northampton Town making no more than a dozen appearances over two years. Retired due to injury and turned to coaching. Currently back with his first club Leeds as Under 16 coach.

Callum O’Dowda

One of many juniors rising through the club’s ranks at the time. Looked lightweight in 2014/15, but bulked up considerably the following season. A marginal rather than key player of the promotion squad, he was signed by Bristol City in 2016 and capped by the Republic of Ireland.

Alfie Potter

Lovable, jinky winger, Alfie Potter is the boy who never grew up. Signed by Chris Wilder, he seemed to have a knack of scoring memorable goals including the winner at Wembley in 2010, one in the opening game of the season against Portsmouth and a JPT winner over Swindon. Lost his way under Michael Appleton. Moved to Wimbledon, then Northampton Town back with Wilder. Now at Billericay Town. If you want to feel old; he’s thirty.

Giorgio Rasulo

Signed from MK Dons, played one game and leaves a legacy of being one of those players fans reference when trying to make an ironic point. Chugged along with MK Dons until 2018 when he joined Bracknell Town.

Michael Raynes

Perpetual bridesmaid centre-back, but one who put his heart and soul into everything he did. A graduate from Manchester Metropolitan University and brother of England Cerebral Palsy Goalkeeper Jordan, Raynes left for Mansfield, had a good couple of years at Carlisle before moving to Crewe. Currently on loan at Hartlepool.

Joe Riley

A full-back signed on loan from Bolton, played over 30 games before joining Bury just as we thought we’d found a decent player. Signed for Shrewsbury in 2016, one of a number of players who became important to their unlikely promotion push in 2018. Left for Plymouth in the summer of 2018.

James Roberts

Perpetually the answer to all club’s goalscoring problems for three years, Roberts scored a couple of top class goals in about 30 games. His brother was tragically killed in a car accident in 2017, Roberts’ career slowed and stalled following a series of loans. Left in 2018 for Hereford.

Kemar Roofe

Arrived from West Browm almost undercover in a blizzard of loan signings, initially Roofe looked like he was just another lightweight destined to disappear. Then scored two in a win over Wycombe and couldn’t stop scoring. Signed permanently in 2015/16 scoring over 25 goals as we were promoted to League 1, scored against Swindon and Swansea in the FA Cup. Bought by Leeds United for over £4m in 2016. After a bit of a slow start, grew to become an integral part of Leeds’ push for promotion to the Premier League.

Danny Rose

Originally joined as a teenager in our first season in the Conference from Manchester United. Enjoyed promotion to the Football League with Newport and Aldershot before returning to Oxford in 2013. Chalked up over 80 games, but never really enjoyed a consistent run in the team. Briefly followed Chris Wilder to Northampton before moving to Portsmouth. Played a marginal role in their promotion to League 1. Went to Swindon on loan in January 2019. Urgh.

Josh Ruffels

Signed from Coventry City as part of a policy of solving the club’s financing problems by nurturing youth. Ruffels became one of the squads most dependable players, winning promotion with the squad in 2016 and playing at Wembley twice. Still with the club where he’s enjoying an extended period in the team at a full-back.

Joe Skarz

The best defender in the land was signed in 2015 from Rotherham. Became an integral part of the promotion winning back-four, heroically playing through injury to get us over the line in 2016. Slowly fell out of favour and left to join Bury, his previous club, in 2017. Dogged by injury, he’s yet to play a dozen games in the in the two years he’s been at the club.

Kyle Vassell

Played a mostly forgettable six games towards the end of the season, his only goal being a critical winner against Carlisle which was a great stride towards safety. Enjoyed a productive two years at Blackpool where he won promotion from League 2, joined Rotherham in 2018.

Andrew Whing

A grizzled old pro signed by Chris Wilder, all we wanted was a team of Andy Whings. Injuries and age slowly crept up on him, and he announced his retirement to take up a coaching role with the club in 2015. Left the club in 2017 to coach Kidderminster Harriers. Last year joined Coventry City as an academy coach.

Jake Wright

Surly, mercurial centre-back Jake Wright joined in 2010, won promotion to the Football League. Led the team through Chris Wilder’s reign and the chaos that followed. Was Michael Appleton’s captain during the 2015/16 promotion season, voted best player of the first 10 years of Oxblogger that year. Left for Sheffield United in what looked like a reshuffle that had gone wrong. Enjoyed promotion to the Championship before injury limited his game time with the Blades.

Liveblog: January transfer window

The January transfer window is open, and keeping up is a bit of a pain, so rather than trying to write a new post with every rumour, I’ll keep updating this post with bits and pieces.

1 February: Jonte angle

NO WONDER IT’S SO BLOODY COLD, SOMEONE’S LEFT THE WINDOW OPEN!

The rules around transfer windows are complex, and while Mick Brown might have problems operating a fax machine, he has had no problem finding an obscure sub-clause called ‘Oh screw it, it’s only Oxford’. This has allowed us to make our fifth signing of the window, outside the window. Bermudan Jonte Smith has joined in what the club called ‘a low-risk’ signing from Lewes. This is either code for ‘proven goalscorer at this level’ or ‘really very cheap’. Which could it be?

Anyway, he seems very happy to have joined, so we’re happy to have him.

31 January: The Vaughan identity?

This is the denouement of a month exhilarating rumour mongering, the thrilling climax of the January transfer window. That is, if drilling your eye-sockets brings you to a thrilling climax. OK, let’s go:

When James Vaughan was called by his agent this morning and was told ‘you’re going down’, he assumed, like us, he was signing for Oxford. It turns out he was going down to the south coast, missing the junction off the A34 with the big brown football sign on it and heading straight to Portsmouth.

Still, after rumours lasting, ooh, nearly seven minutes, it was confirmed that Jerome Sinclair has signed on loan from Watford. “That’s not Antoine Greizmann” said Oxford fans experiencing expectation hyper-inflation your average Venezuelan greengrocer would describe as a bit toppy.

The Ivo Pekalski saga is rapidly becoming Oxford United’s Brexit; KRob is demanding things he has no power to enforce or that Pekalski has any incentive to accept. KRob’s unicorn solution was to tell the Swede to GET ANOTHER CLUB by the 8th January or face ‘lots of running’. 22 solid days on from a red line so passable, it might have been defecated by UKIPs racist-in-chief Gerard Batten, Pekalski is sitting tight asking for money to leave, KRob’s response is to not give it him so he’s going to, um, pay him his salary until the end of the season instead. That’ll show him.

The prospect of KRob’s ‘wow’ signing grew considerably smaller as the transfer window’s witching hour crept unrelentingly closer. We were linked with Bermudan international Jonte Smith from *adjusts glasses and reads at arms length like your mum trying to focus on a Chinese takeaway menu* Lewes. Lewes are currently in the *turns page, turns page, turns page, turns page, scans down* Isthmian League, which for those of you who don’t know is in 1974. Now, before you start scoffing, Smith was a big money signing for Lewes. He was paid for using funds raised through the club’s PayPal account. Seriously.

Then, like a fat kid on a school cross-coutnry run, we gave up on Smith. Where did the rumour come from? We’re not sure, but we reckon Tiger’s involved, so we’re investigating the Bermuda Thai-angle (h/t Keith Harris on Twitter for the inspiration).

Then just as we were microwaving our Ovaltine, suffering man-buns, Batman! Ricky ‘Retirement’ Holmes becomes Ricky ‘Mobile’ Holmes. After posting one of those insufferable Twitter statements about how sorry he was to be leaving Oxford due to his crippling injuries, Ricky Holmes has taken his carefully sculptured beard and gippy back to Gillingham on loan.

And that’s it. No wait. Rather like going to a U2 concert only for them to do an encore of ill-considered homophobic country classics, we close with a story of blank bemusement. Jonathan Mitchell, who left at the start of the month, has gone to Shrewsbury. It’s been that kind of window, I guess.

30 January: He’s not the Messiah…

le

It was fantasy transfer window signing day on Tuesday when Danny Hylton was suddenly floated by one website and a million ambulance chasing Twitter accounts claiming to have the ‘inside gossip on everything EFL’.

I know I’m not the only one who would willfully entrap Hylton in my basement, spend several hours rutting up against his bare thigh before flaying him from head to foot and smothering his entrails all over my naked torso, but calls for his return feel like a crowd appeasing populist move which can only end badly. But then, I’m still scarred by the Nigel Jemson’s second – eighteen games, no goals – spell with the club.

So, if Hylton isn’t the saviour; what about James Vaughan was also briefly floated as a possible signing from Wigan?

Meanwhile, up in the cold wastelands, ex-loanee, mini-goal grabber Conor McAleny, who ignored our advances to choose Fleetwood Town in 2017, has been slung over to Kilmarnock in the SPL to while away the remaining months of the season.

In, Oh, I Forgot About Him news; Newcastle striker Elias Sorensen signed for Blackpool last week having briefly been courted by KRob.

January 28: Barrel scraping news

You know when you’re expecting a phone call and the phone doesn’t ring; so you pick it up to test if it’s working? Well, that was last week’s frenzied transfer news, a week that was so devoid of anything, we thought the something terrible had happened, like David Kemp delivering Brexit, or something.

Everyone’s second favourite Martinez; Damian/Emiliano, whose record of conceding 3 goals for every Oxford United game he played in is only bettered by the doyenne of butterfingers goalkeeping; Mike Salmon, has gone to injection moulded plastics Reading on loan from Arsenal.

Nicky Wroe; briefly of this parish and purveyor of an absolute zinger away to Wycombe in 2014, has signed for Boston United from Bradford Park Avenue for a fee of four Wagon Wheels and an Etch-a-Sketch.

And finally, Callum O’Dowda, at one point this month a target for Leeds, which got him a contract extension, is being linked to a ‘host’ of Premier League clubs according to a new article in the Bristol Post. The Post don’t go as far as naming any of them, of course. We’re pretty certain that the source of this rumour isn’t O’Dowda’s agent agitating for a panic-buy move to the big leagues, because that’s the sort of thing they’ve never done before.

January 19: Holmes under the hammer

The only bit of transfer news coming out of Saturday’s game against Portsmouth was that Ricky Holmes, the only player whose fitness is measured in minutes, is going back to Sheffield United. While dumping the man-bun maverick, Robinson also left the door open for him to come back at some point in the season. ‘Even though we’re not lovers anymore, I’m sure we can still be friends.’ said Robinson, who was always hopeless at dumping his girlfriends.

As a little bonus, who doesn’t love a bit of Toni Martinez news? He’s gone on loan to Lugo after West Ham recalled from Rayo Majadahonda. We are led to believe these are both football clubs in Spain.

January 18: Norman’s conquest

Football fans are well known for their calm objectivity. The announcement that Cameron Norman had signed for Walsall was met with predictable circumspection. I think we can all agree that there has been an absolute barrage of calls for Norman to be returned to the team to arrest our alarming decline. Not on Twitter, it seems, Norman before the announcement there hadn’t been a single mention of Norman by any Oxford fan since the turn of the year.

Meanwhile, Sam Smith has taken his shooting boots and a bucketful of blanks to Shrewsbury after being signed by Sam Ricketts.

January 17: Bought for Kashi

You know when your mum texts you asking for your bank details so she can transfer your birthday money? And you know how the amount drops every year because she’s forgotten that you’re not nine anymore, that everything is more expensive than she thinks it is and that she’s forgotten how much she gave you last year?

And you know, that despite all this as soon as you get the text you start a process in your brain where the amount jumps by multiples of five with every passing minute until you convince yourself that for reasons that defy logic, she’s about to transfer at least £10,000 into your account.

And you know the feeling when you see the £25 in your bank serving no purpose but to make you fractionally less poor than you were just a few minutes previously? And that you make plans to buy a new pair of trainers knowing you’ll use it for Findus Crispy Pancakes, a four-pack of lager then put the rest towards the £45 you need for your mum’s birthday present next month?

You know that feeling?

Well, Oxford United’s much anticipated quest for a proven goalscorer ready to propel the club out of the relegation zone and on a collision course with an unlikely tilt at the play-offs took a thrilling turn with the signing of Troyes defensive midfielder Ahmed Kashi on loan.

In alumni news; when you’ve captained a Manchester United team and watched the players in your charge become international stars and when your achievements are eclipsed by someone with the same name as you, you know you’ll eventually find yourself at Swindon Town. The man they call ‘The Sexy Simon Clist’, Danny Rose, has rocked up at the County Ground following his release from Portsmouth.

January 15: Robin Raglan

With all the tax avoiding and cock dangling going down this week, Charlie Raglan skipped over the fence end at the Kassam and headed down the A40 to Cheltenham. There, he’ll spend his time battling to keep the Robins in the great noiseless vortex of nothingness they’ve have always existed in until the end of the season. What with the ongoing daily tasks of finding internet connectivity and clean water, it’s a pretty exciting challenge.

Leeds (or, to use their full name Why is it Always Leeds?) are apparently interested in taking Callum O’Dowda from Bristol City because they’re struggling to get a deal for Swansea’s Daniel James over the line. Always nice to know you’re second choice.

We live in hope that there’s a sell-on clause in the O’Dowda deal which took him to Bristol in 2016, or more specifically, HMRC live in hope there’s a sell-on clause.

Meanwhile, we’ve made an enquiry about Elias Sorensen, a free scoring Under 23 from Sports Direct’s Newcastle United. Karl Robinson only went in for a pair of British Knights high-tops and a pair of Lonsdale tracksuit trousers.

January 14: One, two, three, four…

Toni Martinez, Toonii Martinez, Toni Martinezzzz Toni Martinezzzzz

What. A. Tune.

We’re not sure what’s happening to the fondly remembered loanee and hero of That Minute at Middlesborough, but we do have news of namesake Emiliano Martinez.

Who? You might justifiably say. Well, according to the Oxford United dementia sufferers’ best friend, Rage Online, Emiliano (or Damian, as he was known back then) spent 90 minutes on loan at the end of the 2012 season when he conceded three at Port Vale.

The man who puts the ‘eh?’ in L-eh?-gend is being considered for a loan move from Arsenal to Leeds.

January 11: Marginal news

The sword of Damocles hangs over Ivo Pekalski. Last week KRob donned a black hood, stripped to the waste and slathered grease over his curvaceous moobs threatening the Swede with ‘lots of running’ if he didn’t find a new club by Tuesday.

Well, it’s run time baby! No deal has been forthcoming although this website revealed he’s been training with Swedish League 1 side Lund.

Meanwhile, Charlie Raglan, who has been stuck in a box labelled ‘Never did much wrong – ignore anyway’ for the best part of two years is set to leave to make way for an unknown defensive midfielder.

January 11: Deal done!

In What The Actual Fudge? news, it turns out we’ve paid a handsome 5-figure sum for a player. Nice one KRob and Ti-Grrr!

So, is it a proven League One striker?

Well, no.

Which team does he play for?

Um. Oxford United.

Wait, WHAT? Is it one of those ‘triggering a clause in his contract because of appearances things’? How many games has he played for us?

None.

Riiight, we’ve paid five figures for our own player who hasn’t played any games?

OK, FIFA – that’s F.I.To The Flippin’.A. have judged that we should pay a compensation fee to Peterhead for the development of Fiacre Kelleher who we signed not from Peterhead, of course, but from Celtic. No, I don’t know either.

Kelleher is most famous at Oxford for being the player whose publicity photo became an analogy of the club’s silence over rumours that Michael Appleton was leaving in 2017. Since then he’s played for Solihull Moors and is currently on loan, along with every other Oxford player you’d forgotten about, at Macclesfield

7 January: Sam Surridge on the radar

Karl Robinson loves nothing more on Sundays than roasting a lump of meat and 10 vegetables; not unlike his Saturdays. He sacrificed it all this weekend to watch Cottagers exposing themselves in front of disbelieving onlookers in West London. Kinky.

‘Karl, what were you doing at Fulham?’ asked a hack with a line of questioning so crafty it could have spent the afternoon fashioning a full-sized Jamie Mackie out of macramé.

Robinson confirmed he was looking at Oldham’s goalscorer Sam Surridge, who is on loan from Bournemouth. Or was, until he was recalled this afternoon.

Robinson sees Surridge as an obvious replacement for Sam Smith, just with more goals. And shots. And touches of the ball. More importantly, he can use Smith’s monographed training kit; it’s not like it ever got dirty.

4 January: Ivo given the heave-ho

Karl Robinson has given Ivo Pekalski until 8 January to find a new club. He’s had a nightmare since Pep Clotet signed him. You might argue that as he spent Christmas in Sweden rather than in a futile fight for first team football given half the chance he would happily to leave by Tuesday, if not before. Robbo’s punishment for not achieving what everyone wants is for Ivo to listen to Charlie Pride’s Crystal Chandeliers on a loop while receiving Chinese burns from Faz. No, sorry, misread that, the consequence for the professional athlete trying to regain his fitness is ‘lots of running’. Talk about bringing a sponge to a knife fight.

Little Armani Little and more-than-little Harvey Bradbury have gone back to Woking on loan. Malachi Napa, Karl Robinson’s ‘future of the club’, has returned from his loan spell with Macclesfield. Major news for those of us who didn’t know he was on loan at Macclesfield.

Oh, and Jake Wright, currently out injured at Sheffield United, isn’t going to Scunthorpe because he’s currently out injured at Sheffield United.

4 January: Carroll to Swindon

Canice Carroll, who joined Brentford in the summer, has gone on loan to plucky defeat monkeys Swindon Town. Carroll’s key role at Oxford was as a substitute providing good luck fist bumps to players at half-time. Swindon, looking to solidify their relegation credentials, could do with a bit of that.

3 January: McMahon to Scunthorpe

Tony McMahon has gone to Scunthorpe on loan. The Iron are making a decent fist of avoiding relegation also signing Adam Hammill – our nemesis in the JPT Final in 2016. While the McMahon move comes as no surprise, prepare yourself for a tsunami of criticism if they also confirm the signing of Jake Wright in the next few days.

1 January: Mitchell goes home

Our subs’ bench has been replaced with a trestle table table as the yard sale of the squad continues. Jonathan Mitchell, who came in as emergency cover for Simon Eastwood in August is going back to Frank ‘Lamps’ Lampard at Derby. Meanwhile, Jack Payne must have been a cat burglar in a previous life – he sees an open window and moves. The ex-Oxford assist-sausage is currently on loan at Bradford from Huddersfield, but is being linked with yet another move, this time to Luton or Peterborough.

1 January: Mark Sykes signs from Glenavon

Glenavon in the Irish Premier League have announced that we’ve signed their midfielder Mark Sykes who has played with Gavin Whyte in the Irish Under 21s. It seems he was heading for Port Vale, but, reassuringly we managed to outbid them. All this is subject to a medical and personal terms, whatever that actually means.

1 January: Jake Wright on the move?

More promotion squad alumni news; Jake ‘Jakey Wright, Wright, Wright’ Wright, captain of our promotion winning team in 2016 and more importantly voted Best Player of the First Ten Years of Oxblogger, has been linked with a move to Scunthorpe or Doncaster or Fleetwood, or maybe Barnsley. Which clears that up.

31 December: Kemar Roofe to Newcastle?

Not really related, but according to The Mirror Kemar Roofe has been targeted by Newcastle United. Whether Roofe will want to go from Leeds, who are top of the Championship and heading for promotion, to Newcastle, who are towards the bottom of the Premier League and maybe heading the other way, will depend on money, no doubt. I can’t find any references to sell-on fees we might be due, so it’s probably best to assume we’re not due a windfall.

29 December: Smith and McMahon to leave

A surprise to nobody is that Sam Smith is going back to Reading. Karl Robinson’s prize signing of the summer hasn’t really worked out, scoring a handful of goals in the Trophy that shall not be named, but little else. Tony McMahon, who has weighed in with a few assists here and there is heading back up north for personal reasons.

26 December: Jordan Graham on loan from Wolves

He’s been training with us for weeks, so nobody was shocked by Tiger’s ‘Christmas present’ announcing the signing of Jordan Graham on loan from Wolves. Graham had a brief spell with us in our promotion season, showing himself to be a classic Michael Appleton player. Since then, however, he’s managed just seven appearances in nearly four years due to injury. He could be the signing of the season or we may need to move Ricky Holmes on to make space in the physio’s room.

Jake Wright – Oxblogger Player of the Decade

At the end of last season someone said to me that they were surprised that Johnny Mullins had been released and not Jake Wright. I said that I thought it was probably a question of timing; if Wright’s contract had been up and it was Mullins’ with another year to run, then Wright would probably have gone. Now, unexpectedly, he has.
The fact he featured in this season’s kit launch suggests Wright’s departure wasn’t planned. When Curtin Nelson signed, Wright’s fellow centre back Chey Dunkley posted an angsty tweet implying that four centre-backs into two slots didn’t fit. Logically, either Dunkley or Wright’s future at the club were suddenly under threat. 
My guess is that Wright wasn’t due to leave, but when the wheels began to turn on Roofe’s move to Leeds, and Curtis Nelson became available, suddenly the money and the will to land Nelson were both in place, despite meaning we would be desperately overloaded in the centre of defence.
With Aaron Martin already on-board and with Chey Dunkley’s form, age and wage, things were tipping against Jake Wright.
Wright’s time at the club was not universally a happy one. He was pretty shaky when he initially joined, replacing the very popular Luke Foster. He was generally better in an equal partnership or where he was the prime organiser. With the more dominant Michael Duberry he was more prone to mistakes, but with Mullins or Mark Creighton he was far better. His partnership with Dunkley was excellent, but Dunkley is becoming a commanding presence on the pitch and I can only see that growing next season. That could have affected Wright’s form. He was also a particular target in the aftermath of Chris Wilder’s departure to Northampton although Wright’s under-par performances were more likely due to a lingering back problem than a lack of motivation.
But, Wright could be an absolutely majestic defender, he timed tackles perfectly and read the game beautifully. He adapted brilliantly when we shifted from Wilder’s direct style and Appleton’s more technical, passing approach. If he needed to do the dirty work, then he could do that too. 
Above all, though, his overriding quality was as a leader. He was an enigmatic presence; serious and focussed. He didn’t have Twitter or Instagram, you only saw him on the pitch doing his work. When he did reveal his passion, when Alfie Potter scored in the last minute against Swindon in the JPT or after the final whistle against Wycombe, you felt privileged to have been allowed into his world. It was a rare quality and one that will be hard to replace.
On the pitch his influence was huge. Compare two incidences from last year. Against Orient at home, with Johnny Mullins as captain, an argument broke out between Chris Maguire and Kemar Roofe over a free-kick. Mullins didn’t interject and things got heated and players were left frustrated. Against Stevenage, it was Roofe and Sercombe, with Jake Wright wearing the armband, he strode up to the duo, squabbling over who would take a penalty, and made a decision that everyone accepted without a word.
In May I celebrated the 10th anniversary of this blog with a Twitter tournament to find the best player of the last decade. Despite competition from the likes of James Constable, Kemar Roofe and Danny Hylton, Wright romped to victory. It seems he benefitted from the ‘tournament’ format which forced people to think, and re-think about their choices. Perhaps in a straight vote he wouldn’t have won. Maybe that sums Wright up, not an immediate choice for a club legend, but a considered one, and no less deserving because of it.

Wright would almost certainly have left at the end of the season anyway. This season, he may have faded to third choice or further, which would have been a sad way to end his time with the club. Perhaps it’s better that he leaves while his reputation is intact. Yes, as a player his time was probably coming to a natural end but as a leader and captain, he is pretty much irreplaceable.

Close season round up – part 1 – on the field

I don’t really like the summer. I don’t relish the prospect of having to expose flesh. I don’t like the way the world slows down and cricket becomes the epicentre of excitement. I like the safety of layers of clothes, I like the tetchy-ness of the cold; the quickened pace to get everything done before the dark. Summer, for me, is really just preparation for winter. It is the close season.

The first month of the summer has been more exciting than the season itself. The euphemistically termed ‘retained list’ was released, which could just as easily be the redundancy list. That’s what it is. No major shocks there, I don’t think. There rarely are with these things as it simply acts as a method to discard the shrapnel of the squad. Those who are getting game-time are usually quite happy to get another couple of years. There’s always one or two that hang in the balance, in this case it appears to be Andy Whing.

I remember once telling someone that Barry Quinn wouldn’t be offered a contract in the summer and he started treating me like Ewoks treat C3P0. But it stood to reason; Quinn had been out for the season and it was fairly obvious the club wasn’t going to risk the guarantee of a couple more years. Same with Whing, he knows, we know, the club knows that he probably hasn’t got much left in the tank. I hope the club can find him something.

Wright, I’m pleased about, I think he gets a bad rap. He broods, but commands the respect of the squad. Just don’t ask him to play like Johan Cruyff as Appleton tried to do earlier in the season. Rose’s retention I’m less convinced about; his late season form was essential for our surge to safety, but it was out of character with the rest of his time at the club.

Then, unexpectedly, Kemar Roofe signs on a three year deal. I say unexpectedly, because I was expecting one of those long fruitless slogs, excuses about him being on holiday, or in the toilet, or on his way to sign before appearing in a Chesterfield shirt or some such. Mark Watson did it, Matt Green did it, surely Kemar Roofe was going to do it. But no, Michael Appleton wanted his business done early and that’s exactly what he’s done.

Roofe’s signature means we already have an interesting mix of strikers for next year; Roofe himself is the creative type, Hoban a battering ram who, I hope, will benefit from a proper pre-season. Hylton will let no-one down with his effort (although, as much as he was obviously the only choice as player of the season, it will be interesting to see whether he replicates his goalscoring next season. Goals haven’t been his strong point previously, last season’s total was a quarter of his entire decade long career haul). Finally we’ve got a goal poacher in James Roberts. As a mix of strikers, that’s as good as you can get in this division. Men for all seasons.

The signing of Ryan Taylor, then, was a bit of a surprise. In some ways, he is reminder of the risk of getting carried away with all of this. On one hand, he scored 10 goals last year, which is a respectable return at this level and would have proved handy had they been for us. He’s also a strong target man, which is often useful at this level.

However, on the other hand, I know about him because he looks like Dave Kitson. And he used to play for Portsmouth, who look like a Premier League team, when in reality, they are still wrestling the failures of their past, like everyone languishing in these pits of hell.

In other words, it’s a signing that looks like Dave Kitson from the Premier League, but is, in fact Ryan Taylor from League 2. A rough facsimile of something far better. That’s not to say that Taylor isn’t welcome or can be a success, but it’s easy to get carried away with how things immediately appear.

Of course, one of the challenges is getting the ball to these players in the first place, so the signing of Liam Sercombe seems like a solid choice. I don’t know much about him, but as a product of Paul Tisdale, he’s been well schooled and he’s knows how to get out of this league; which is, let’s face it, what it’s all about.

Shooting sacred cows

Gary Waddock put on a brave face in front of the television cameras as we were annihilated by Southend on Monday night. Deep inside he must have been wondering what he’s inherited, and more importantly; where does he go next?

It’s pretty easy to get carried away by any defeat; especially one that’s been magnified through the medium of TV. It’s easy to think that the world spent all day thinking about the game and how it might pan out when in reality many will probably have been unaware it was even on.
However, it’s fair to say that if the Southend defeat confirmed anything at all, it’s that if we do get promoted this season, it is most likely be down to the collective incompetence of the division rather than the brilliance of our play. 
So, while the season remains, astonishingly, all for the taking, it leaves you wondering what misery might be waiting for us in League 1 next season if we do make it.
A quick look at the current League 1 table suggests to me that the highest we might hope to finish should we get there is around 19th or 20th. Teams above that position just look too good for us to be able to trouble.
It seems pretty clear that changes will be needed regardless of where we are next season. With endless talk of ‘new eras’ under Gary Waddock (I think we’ll let history decide whether his reign might be considered an ‘era’), it may be time to think the unthinkable and shoot some of the sacred cows of the squad.
I’m not suggesting that there should be a arbitrary cull, but those you might think of as permanent fixtures, shouldn’t be above scrutiny.

Mickey Lewis and Andy Melville
Call it the power of TV, but shots of Waddock hunched behind hoardings in the away dugout flanked by Mickey Lewis and Andy Melville looked like the three ‘see no evil’ wise-monkeys. Waddock, we shouldn’t judge (although many did), but his new face did make Lewis and Melville’s presence seem a little odd. Like trying to explain to a new girlfriend why your settee make a noise like a loud fart when you sit on it, it was almost as if Lewis and Melville were apologetically explaining to Waddock the failings of squad. It was like when you decorate a room in a house and all the other rooms suddenly look tired and in need of a refresh. Will Lewis and Melville add value to the new set up? It didn’t seem as though they learned much from Chris Wilder, which might suggest their key benefit was in carrying out instructions of the man in charge. Perhaps that’s a good thing, everyone needs able foot soldiers, but it would be nice to think we weren’t reliant wholly on Waddock for ideas and insight.

James Constable
Constable is an interesting one, he’s approaching the goalscoring record and he’s a bona fide club legend. To get rid of him would be a massive risk to Waddock’s credibility. Despite his goalscoring record, he missed two excellent chances against Southend and scores only fitfully now he’s in League 2. Waddock may also view him as a relic of the past, and that moving him on would be symbolic of any change he might want to instigate. However, as is often the case, Constable was a rare positive with his work rate and commitment compensating for any failings in front of goal. My view is that Constable is worth keeping, but he needs pace and goalscoring ability to play off. I’ve no doubt he is willing to play any role, but his position as a key source of goals – and with it his right to a shirt – has to be under threat.

Jake Wright
There were times last season when Jake Wright was almost Bobby Moore-like in his command of the defensive arts. He didn’t put a foot wrong all season. This season injuries have taken their toll along with the change of management. It’s easily forgotten but Jake Wright, along with Constable and Ryan Clarke were lolling around in reserves teams or the non-league before Chris Wilder turned them into exemplary professionals. Wright has looked much shakier this season, perhaps a consequence of playing alongside so many different players, but it may be that injuries are getting the better of him, or the discipline Wilder instilled in him is on the wane. Can we afford to find out whether he’ll shake off his current shakiness? Waddock may decide that Wright is, in fact, wrong.

Ryan Clarke
Only Sky’s convention of awarding man of the match to someone from the winning team prevented Ryan Clarke from taking the accolade. Given that he also conceded 3, and he gave away an unnecessary penalty, that’s a damning indictment of those who were playing in front of him. Waddock cannot have failed to be impressed by Clarke’s performance; a minor bright spot in a bleak evening. Regardless of Max Crocombe’s potential, it would be hard to see why Clarke’s position would come under any threat.

Alfie Potter
Oh Alfie, when do you become the complete product you’ve always threatened to be? Potter enjoys a lot of protection due to his goal at Wembley and his ever present ‘promise’, but there is a point when promise needs to be converted into something more productive. On a good pitch and given plenty of space, Potter will excel, but in the rutted envrions of Southend and the like he tends to bimble along around midfield without much end product. How much time do you give him? When should we expect him to put in a season (or even half a season) of game changing wing-play? It pains me massively to say it, but of all the sacred cows, Potter could easily be the first to go.

2012 squad review – goalkeepers and defence

With the post-season hysterics starting to subside, clubs up and down the country are going through the cathartic process of shedding themselves of deadweights. This process of renewal – soon to be followed by a slew of new signings – encourages everyone to return in August with renewed vigour and enthusiasm.

Reading some views of our squad, it’s a wonder that we have any players left at all. Some would have preferred a  frenzied mass slaughter with no player spared the pyre. One of the few exceptions was Ryan Clarke, who gets the Oxblogger Player of the Year Award for the second year running. It is to our massive advantage that other clubs seem too dopey to look at Clarke. His presence, or not, has defined our season. With him in goal we were dependable and effective. Then, when injured he palmed the ball into his own net against Torquay which was a pivot in our and his season.

In came Wayne Brown, who I’d envisaged had spent most his time doing odd jobs around the stadium. He proved himself to be more than a worthy replacement. Just as we thought we’d got away with it he too got injured. Connor Ripley came in and looked shakey beyond belief. We completed the season with four keepers in five games. It was hardly the bedrock upon which to sustain an effective promotion chase. If people want to blame Chris Wilder for any failure; they might want to consider how good Ryan Clarke was up to the point he got injured and how much we missed him at the moment we needed him most.

The hand-ringing that surrounded our failure to reach the play-offs masks the fact that defensively this season has been a vast improvement on last. Last season we looked porous and niave. The introduction of Michael Duberry has transformed the back-four. His influence, assurance and experience made a critical difference. For a period he was neck and neck with Clarke in terms of player of the year, but he seemed to fade marginally as the season progressed.  Phil Gilchrist was similarly dominant when he returned to the club in our first Conference year, but his performances fell away as a career of wear and tear took their toll. The only concern about Duberry, given his age, is that he could blow up spectacularly at any point next season.

Jake Wright is a great leader and clearly respected by his team mates, but he still gives me the heebie jeebies. He has been caught out many times over the last couple of years trying to be too clever; glancing back headers or playmaking from the back-four. I do wonder whether Harry Worley, whose brief appearances this season have shown him to be a more than able deputy, might feature more regularly next season.

With the introduction of Liam Davis our full-backs have looked more balanced. Davis is pacey and strong, although his crossing could be improved and he always seems to want to beat one too many players. On the other side, Damien Batt, fresh from being voted the best right-back in the division at the end of 2010/11, seemed a more subdued. Perhaps he was fulfilling his pledge to work on his defensive work, perhaps age is beginning to catch up on him a little. It’s a tricky balance because Batt is a potent force going forward; but it does leave us with a gap at the back when he does.

Wembley romantisists will be saddened by the inevitable departure of Anthony Tonkin. Oddly, Tonkin has looked more aggressive than in previous years, with his performance against Swindon being his standout display for Oxford. The emergence of Davis and the largely absent Capaldi did leave Tonkin with little future at the club.

Constable and Wright going nowhere, for now

So, James Constable is going nowhere… currently. And neither is Jake Wright.

That’s the overwhelmingly underwhelming news from BBC Radio Oxford’s interview with Kelvin Thomas today. Constable’s position is consistently under scrutiny, with a persistent fear that he may end up at Swindon.

There are two factors at play here. Firstly, there’s Constable’s position as representing the soul of the club, without him we will become ‘soulless’. Secondly, there’s Swindon’s billing as the devil. So, the fear is that we’ll end up selling our soul to the devil.

We can take the emotion out of this nightmare scenario by looking at Jake Wright’s (non)-situation. Wright has contributed more than his fair share in our success, but unlike Constable, he’s not quite dragged us from the dark to the light in the same way. It’s easier, therefore, to assess Wright’s situation in an objective way.

It is some time since we had players like Wright who have a market value. For many years our best players were pretty much everyone else’s worst. During the Conference years, we either had players nobody else wanted, or that nobody – at that level – could afford. We’ve been at the top or bottom of our food chains for at least a decade, perhaps longer. Now we’re right in the middle. We have players we want to buy, and we have players others want to buy from us. This is a new experience that we’ll have to get used to.

Presumably Constable is as likely to sign for Swindon as he is any other club prepared to stump up the cash for him. Wright, likewise. And that this could happen at any time, regardless of rumour or gossip. Objectively, however, neither is irreplaceable, even within the current squad we have adequate back up.

As Vitalstatistix, the Gaulish chief from the Asterix books used to say “We have nothing to fear; except perhaps that the sky may fall on our heads tomorrow. But as we all know, tomorrow never comes!!” We need to stop worrying about tomorrow.

Kassam All Star XI – Centre backs

Gareth Southgate has a lot to answer for. In 1996 he was heralded as representative of a new wave of centre back. No more Tony Adams or Terry Butcher with their noses splattered all over their faces. Southgate was the new intelligent ball-playing centre back who spoke nicely and slowly; he couldn’t be anything but a thinker.

But, I’m a traditionalist. I like my centre backs big, ugly and prepared to put their faces in other people’s boots. Mark Wright’s first move when he arrived at the Kassam was to replace a couple of lightweight Gareth Southgates: Jon Richardson and Darren Patterson with a couple of trusted war horses from his successful spell with Chester. Scott Guyett and Phil Bolland offered a proven combination that he could trust.

But Ian Atkins needed more, and I don’t just mean a third centre back. He brought in a genuine leader in Andy Crosby. In an ever-volatile situation at the Kassam, Crosby kept the players focussed on winning games. He was such a pro, he knew exactly when to step away from the madness and took up residence at Scunthorpe where he did a Ricketts and won a couple of promotions.

Crosby was accompanied by similarly gnarly old pros; Matt Bound and latterly Paul McCarthy. It wasn’t the most handsome of back lines, but it was effective. Jon Ashton was drafted in, offering a Phil Gilchrist to Crosby’s Matt Elliot. While Crosby was the epitome of consistency, Ashton’s form bobbed around in the sea of failure that was the Kassam.

Leo Roget was brought in by Graham Rix to play the Crosby role and nurture the back line. Roget was a notable victim of the ‘Kassam Spiral’ whereby his first season he looked awful, the second, when the rest of the team had descended below his limited abilities, he started to look like a pivotal figure.

In the desperate search for a stabilising influence Brian Talbot brought in Chris Willmott. Willmott was, for a period at least, a reassuring big chunk of British centre-back. The Willmott/Ashton/Roget combination – Talbot chose two from those three almost at random – looked like it should be good enough. But the season quickly turned from disappointment to alarm to crisis to disaster and we were relegated.

Standing around in midfield thinking ‘I could do better than that’ was Barry Quinn. It wasn’t until we reached the Conference that he drifted back into a back-five. At first he covered Willmott who was a long-term injury victim, but eventually the role became permanent. I maintain to this day that he was never a defender despite being a regular fixture until 2008.

Alongside Quinn was a true defender, Phil Gilchrist. Gilchrist was one of the best centre-backs the club has ever had, but by 2006 he was a bag of bones and muscle held together with sellotape. At the start of the season his experience carried him through, eventually, like so many other members of the squad, he was in bits. With Gilchrist and Quinn was Matt Day – perhaps the stupidest footballer in the history of the game. He had a kick like a mule and regularly blasted them in from 25 yards. For a period, we could forgive him. His ability to return for pre-season 4 stone overweight counted against him somewhat.

With one defender falling apart, another having no brain of any note and a third who wasn’t a defender at all (alongside Willmott who was in the treatment room) something had to be done. Luke Foster arrived, apparently, via a letter from his dad. Foster was quick, strong and reliable, but, if rumour is to be believed, his extra-curricular activities were getting the better of him and to the dismay of many, he was shipped out by Chris Wilder.

By that point, Foster’s partner in the back four was Mark Creighton. Before kick off he’d be seen bouncing 5-10 yards outside his own box seething in preparation for the battle ahead. Creighton was significant because he was the first signing of a bewildering close season in 2009. It was an aggressive move (Creighton was captain at Kidderminster) and a signal of intent from Chris Wilder. The momentum Creighton’s signing offered propelled the team to the top of the Conference and eventually back to the league.

Following Foster’s controversial departure, when the team were top with the best defensive record in the division, Jake Wright arrived. Wright’s performances, which improved from a very shaky debut, probably didn’t outstrip Foster’s, but he was a less disruptive influence off the field. Certainly, Wright’s leadership skills were evident when the pressure was on.

Once we returned to the League, a smarter more streetwise style was needed. Creighton’s brief, but significant, stay was over once Harry Worley came in to partner Wright. The partnership, though far from perfect, was more finessed than what had been in the Conference.

For the Kassam All-Star XI, I want two dependable obelisks in the middle. So, therefore, we have two icons of the back line. Andy Crosby and Mark Creighton. Just don’t ever expect them to catch Yemi Odubade in a foot race.