George Lawrence’s Shorts: Parker, Pens

Saturday 24 August 2019

Like your gran after she’s eaten her bodyweight in Turkish Delight, there was some pretty obnoxious Gas around on Saturday. The club put on extra security for Matty Taylor’s return to his former club, Bristol Rovers. Fantasies around Taylor’s return turned out to be just that as he limped off after half-an-hour and we went down 3-1

Monday 26 August 2019

Like a railway announcer during autumn leaf fall; KRob has pinpointed why we’ve gone 3 games without a win – the wrong kind of goals. Our problem is that we’re scoring great goals, not scruffy ones, ‘if you take away the goals, we dominated’ he said possibly ignoring a key aspect of professional football.

Tuesday 27 August 2019

Oxford entertained East London millennial snowflakes Mi’Woh in the Type 2 Diabetes Cup on Tuesday. After going 2-0 down, two super-late goals from Jedward orphan Mark Sykes and James Henry forced the game to penalties which were won by Jose’s son John Mousinho who broke the net to settle the tie. They didn’t like that, but they don’t care, though they really do, because they’re actually very sensitive.  

Wednesday 28 August 2019

Dean Saunders is a former Oxford United goal machine turned TalkSport shock jock – the shock being how little he knows about football. On Wednesday Deano followed a well trodden path for Oxford goalscoring legends like Steve Anthrobus and John Durnin by being sent to prison, this time after refusing to take a breath test when stopped by the police. Saunders is appealing the decision on the grounds of diminished intelligence. 

In less incarcerated news, The Type 2 Diabetes Cup draw had an extra shot of insulin in it when we drew bubble-based buffoons We’stam at home in the next round

Thursday 29 August 2019

Former Leicester City player and Kidlington local Garry Parker, has been appointed Head of Setting Up The Reserves To Play Like The Opposition. The new role will be a blessed relief to Parker, who – if his club photo is anything to go by – got lost on a holiday trek through the jungle wearing just shorts and a pair of flip flops this summer only to be found looking tired and bewildered by local tribesmen.

This year’s Tsun Dai Remind Me Why We Signed Him has been announced as Kash Siddiqi. Siddiqi is a 33-year-old Pakistani international who will instantly be sent out on loan and forgotten. A sub-continental Tony McMahon. 

Friday 30 August 29

Tomorrow sees the visit of Coventry City in which Oxford are hoping to break a losing league streak longer than Jimmy Hill’s chin. Meanwhile in last night’s Six Minute 29 Second Fans Forum on Radio Oxford it was Tiger who came to tea. On the stadiumsituation nothing has changed since the club were asked about the stadiumsituation last week, but Mr Chairman did imply another signing might be on his way.

Match wrap: Bristol Rovers 3 Oxford United 1

For all the brouhaha around Matty Taylor’s return to Bristol Rovers with the personal security and amnesty bins, the real issue for Oxford United was probably nearly two hundred miles away.

Curtis Nelson hasn’t started a game at Cardiff City, he’s been sat on the bench waiting his chance. Meanwhile, after an encouraging start, we’re shipping goals like there’s no tomorrow – nine in a week. It’s possible his greatest impact this season is our defensive problems.

Although we can’t really hope to replace Nelson like-for-like, his departure was no surprise. It was nearly a year ago that Karl Robinson took the captaincy off him because of his reluctance to sign a new contract. Even before then, it was difficult to see him; given that it’s the most important contract decision of his career, choosing us over a chance to play in a higher division.

John Mousinho’s age is similarly predictable, age is like that. He was brought in principally as an emergency cover for Nelson when he damaged knee ligaments in 2017 – a leader without doubt – it’s clear he would have physical limitations. Also, let’s not forget that Robinson didn’t really have him in his plans, offering him a coaching role during the summer.

Rob Dickie is at the other end of the spectrum; an excellent prospect and developing well, but with some way to go before becoming the commanding presence of his defensive partner from last year.

In fact, after nearly 18 months in charge, Elliot Moore is the first centre-back Karl Robinson has signed. And that was days before the start of the season. Moore may become the towering defensive unit we’re looking for. He’s certainly got the physicality, but there’s more to being a top class centre-back than being called Elliot and having a Leicester and Oxford connection.

The issue goes further; our first choice full-backs are Josh Ruffels and Chris Cadden. Ruffels is a converted midfielder and, although I haven’t seen much of Cadden, I can see what Radio Oxford match summariser Steve Kinniburgh means when he says he prefers Cadden’s attacking threat to his defensive capabilities. Few will want a return to the days of Hunt and Newey, but something a little more defensively minded – think Ford and Robinson – might give more confidence. Or perhaps the Baldock and Skarz approach of one bombing forward while the other provides cover.

Whereas in midfield we’ve built a bit of a dynasty from Lundstram to Ledson to Brannagan, in defence we seem to have ignored all the signs that we were always likely to run into difficulties. It’s a far cry from 2016 when we released Jake Wright because we had too many central defenders.

Perhaps Karl Robinson has been too eager to please, bringing in exciting talent like Gavin Whyte or Tariqe Fosu, and trying to fulfil the endless bleating about needing a ‘twenty goals a season striker’, while ignoring the more mundane realities of our defensive capabilities.

There’s more to come from Dickie and Moore, but there’s little cover if that goes wrong. Mousinho can’t play every game and it isn’t his best position anyway. I still think we’ll surprise the good teams with our attacking threat and overwhelm the poorer ones. However, beating teams like us, like Bristol Rovers and Burton, are going to need more balance between our attacking threat and defensive ability. Everyone is so similar, the wins will come in the margins.

There’s still a week to go until the transfer window closes but those who are available are likely to be in the mould of Moore or Mousinho – youngsters looking for game-time, or older players who are moving to the margins of their squad. It looks like we’ll have to deal with what we have. It’s time to get organised.

George Lawrence’s Summer Shorts: Zebroski’s away goals count trouble

Sunday 2 June 2019

There was a Twitter takeover on Chris Zebroski’s socials this weekend. The Big Zebroski was on loan from Millwall in 2007 contributing a missed penalty in the Conference play-off semi-final defeat to Exeter City. He’ll be expecting more penalties after he met someone called Layla, who got him on his knees (probably). He’ll ‘be begging darling please’ after his wife tweeted from his account a series of incriminating messages between the man she is soon to call her ex and the women she called ‘Ugly Fat C***’ Layla’; which coincidentally was the working title of the Eric Clapton classic whose lyrics are painfully laced throughout this paragraph. Despite her posh quadruple barrelled name, we doubt she’ll ‘ease his worried mind’.

And in other news, Zebroski doesn’t have Twitter anymore.

Monday 3 June 2019

The club used Josh ‘Ruffles’ Ruffels to reveal next season’s home kit; thereby labelling him the player good enough to get game-time next season, but not good enough to be sold before August. According to the Puma marketing drones, the design includes a sublimated flux, which is either the faulty component of the Delorean in Back to the Future or the unintended consequence of consuming a jar full of pickled cucumbers.

Tuesday 4 June 2019

First West Brom now Middlesbrough are reported to be wafting a plate of smoked kippers in an attempt to lure Christophé Wïlldê back into the Championship. Wïlldê is unhappy that off-the-field problems may scupper Sheffield United’s relegation preparations and reports suggest that Boro are desperate to be brought down a bit after a year of Tony Pulis’ special brand of miserablism.

Wednesday 5 June

The club have announced that they’re to play a prestige friendly against Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers. If you’re not familiar with Scottish football, it’s a bit like The Conference, if two of the teams had a massive hang up about 5th century Scottish church reform. The Tax Avoidance Derby also offers an opportunity for entrepreneurial photographers to get KRob and Steven Gerrard pictures, which would make a great ‘before and after’ shot when promoting dangerous weight loss pills on the web.

Thursday 6 June

John Mousinho may be about to follow his dad Jose into management as KRob has told him that he won’t play much next season despite an appearance related contract extension. That’s like doing your marriage vows then leaning across to your beloved and whispering ‘that’s all just a figure of speech, right?’ KRob would like to offer Mousinho the opportunity to become a player-coach, or as he’ll be known ‘a coach’, or to use its technical term; cone management technician.

Friday 9 June

Grab a spatula, this news barrel won’t scrape itself. The club’s Head of Star Jumps Chris Short has signed a new contract for next season. Short, who is as handsome and rugged as Bear Grylls’ arsehole, is credited with improving the team’s fitness leading to a slew of 94th minute winners in the closing weeks of the season. He’ll be working on improving the other 93 when the players get back together in a few weeks.

Saturday 8 June

We’re assuming it was due to the relentless jumping about in silver drainpipes and orange winklepickers, but the Oxford United Jedward Gavin Sykes and Mark Whyte, or whatever, were split up for Northern Ireland’s game against Estonia. Whyte – who Sky reckoned is now worth £4 million – made his first competitive start for the national team in their 2-1 win whereas Sykes didn’t make the bench.

The wrap: Oxford United 2 Scunthorpe United 1

There’s a point every week where I think ‘well, this is a microcosm of our entire season’ then something comes along and changes that. If you look at the table, you can see why it is so difficult to figure out exactly what our season has become – we’ve only had one less defeat and scored five more goals than Coventry in eighth, we’ve only conceded one more goal than Wycombe in 14th, and yet we’re 19th, at half-time yesterday, we were in the relegation zone. It doesn’t seem to matter how they come, winning is what makes the difference.

It is not only difficult to remember a first-half as pedestrian and impotent as yesterdays, it’s hard to imagine how any game of football could be worse. There were moments in which I reflected on our days in the Conference, was it ever as bad? Is this what we’ve become?

The highlight, if that’s the right phrase, was Jordan Graham, our most dynamic player, dribbling just inside our half, unchallenged with space to move into and players available, turning and putting the ball out for a corner. 30 yards out and under no pressure. The corner, then drifted over everyone and bounced out harmlessly for a goal kick. The sequence had ‘gif of how terrible football is’ written all over it.

Inevitably, there were questions about team selection. Luke Garbutt on the wing, Sinclair rather than Mackie, Browne and Whyte on the bench. Mark Sykes split fans down the middle – some thought he looked bright and dynamic, others thought he was a liability and naive. He was a bit of both, his interview afterwards probably explained it best – his instinct is to get forward and seek opportunities as he had done when he was in Ireland. In League 1 you have to be disciplined and he’s still learning that, principally from John Mousinho. There was one point where he broke through, even before his heavy touch wasted the chance, you got the feeling he didn’t have the composure to finish it. It reminds you that professional football is far harder than it looks.

It was hard to believe that the second half could be as bad as a spectacle, although it was easy to see us falling to a similar sucker punch to the one we got against Peterborough.

It did pick up; Whyte came on with his typical spirit. Sykes supplied for Sinclair for the first, John Mousinho’s breathtaking cross had pinpoint accuracy for Sinclair’s second. You know this.

Then, of course, as the unfamiliar feeling of having a comfortable lead was sinking in, Scunthorpe fans were drifting out of the ground and Sinclair was brought off in order to receive his applause, we concede, the referee adds five minutes to the game despite there being almost no action of note and panic sets in. Is that our season in microcosm? Frustration punctuated by moments of joy underlined by periods of farce?

The question has to be what comes next – more joy, more frustration or more farce? It’s hard to tell. What is interesting about yesterday is that despite reservations about the starting line-up, and the significant role Mousinho and Gavin Whyte played turning things around, most of our January transfer window signings played their part. Sykes supplied the first goal, Sinclair scored twice and was cleverer in his general play than most give him credit for, Jordan Graham has been high impact from the moment he got here.

Jerome Sale started comparing Sinclair’s situation to that of Kemar Roofe – a loanee without much of a track record who emerged to be a star. That might be overstating things a little, Roofe is a once-in-a-decade signing, but in the same way that the January transfer window in 2015 played a key role in our survival and then promotion the following year, maybe there are fragments of that here. In the most confusing of seasons, perhaps there is a pattern emerging.