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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.