Wingers’ Week Part 4 – The resurrection of the winger

Darren Patterson didn’t enjoy a great deal of success on the pitch, he was stymied by a precarious financial situation and burdened by having the man he replaced sitting on his shoulder watching every move.

He could, however, spot a player; it’s easy to forget that he brought in James Constable for one. Sam Deering was another that he nurtured into first team action. Deering like Courtney ‘shit shit shit’ Pitt, he was ‘from Chelsea’, which always sounds impressive (like Danny Rose, Manchester United reserve team captain) but is a bit like hiring a 17 year-old gardener as chief executive of a small software company on the basis that he once pruned the borders at Microsoft HQ.

But, Deering, like Pitt could have been, became totemic in the club’s revival. As a winger, he already had our interest, he was small and could beat a player, and that’s all we wanted. When Chris Wilder arrived he announced Deering as our best player (he’d just broken his leg in Wilder’s first game at Salisbury). Where were times when he couldn’t reach the penalty box with his corners. We even forgave him for a racist post on Facebook, that’s how desperate for something to love we were. 

‘Suntan’ Lewis Haldane was another of Patterson’s signings in 2008. Like all good wingers he was frustrating but punctuated this with moments of thrilling. Not least a strike against Cambridge that was as clean as you’d hope to see. The club couldn’t quite make a permanent move stick, and Craig Nelthorpe, brought in by Wilder to help ignite a remarkable turnaround, couldn’t stop fighting with people. We ended the 2008/9 season with a renewed hope, but still no winger to get behind.

Alfie Potter came in during that summer. He’d already gained popularity when on loan at Havant and Waterlooville where he scored in a remarkable cup tie at Anfield. With his recent injury, it would be tempting, but slightly overstating it to say that he was pivotal in our promotion season. He certainly played an important role along with Deering, in stretching tiring defenders or offering new angles when things got stagnant. But then, like now, he frustrates with his lack of finishing and occasional dribbles into nowhere. That said, he offers something that no other players does. And while he does that, Oxford fans will have infinite patience to allow him to develop.

It seems fitting that in the last minute of the play-off final, what would become the last minute of a decade in the doldrums, that it was Deering and Potter, the two most traditional wingers at the club, breaking out from a melee to exchange passes for more than half the length of the pitch, like children playing in the park, before Potter slotted home. If anyone ever doubted the importance of wingers in Oxford’s history, that moment alone, nearly 30 years on from George Lawrence, Kevin Brock and Andy Thomas, proved that this club, its fortunes and wing play are a key part of its history and spirit.

Kassam All Star XI – Midfield part 2

The Conference era opened with the signing of Eddie Hutchinson a player that always seemed to need another chance. He looked big and strong, he looked able, but when you expected him to be big, strong and able, he didn’t quite pull it off. So you gave him another chance to see whether he could do it. And he invariably didn’t.

Hutchinson’s ultimate claim to fame was to be the player who, despite being with the club for 3 years, in his final season was unregistered while playing for us. That cost us 5 points, and conceivably a place in back in the League a year before we actually did it.

Another member of the new crew was Carl Pettefer, a tenacious gerbil signed from Southend. With Chris Hargreaves dictating tempo and Andy Burgess offering creativity, for a moment it looked like, for the first time, we had a balanced and productive midfield.

Like all good things, this came to an end. Like all good Oxford things, it came to an end nanoseconds after it started. Burgess was fleetingly brilliant while the pitches and weather were fine, thereafter he plodded on in the hope that he would regain his early season form. Hutchinson ran around slightly behind the play. Pettefer had an excellent first season, but faded with injury.

It’s difficult to know what went wrong with Chris Hargreaves, perhaps it was the shambles around him. As the season progressed his challenges became more lunging and late. The last we saw of him was kicking over a water bottle as Exeter won the play-off penalty shoot out. It was the cleanest strike he’d had in months. He left at the end of the 2006/7 season, where he did a Ricketts and got promoted with Torquay.

As the money ran out, players like the ‘budget busting’ Michael Standing and Phil Trainer came in. Trainer had his moments, but had the unenviable habit of getting slower as he got fitter. Joe Burnell arrived with the promise of much needed bite and leadership. But despite creating the acorn that sprouted an oak, he offered little.

Darren Patterson’s reign was also notable because of the raft of loanees he brought. This including the peculiarly coloured Lewis Haldane, a strong, orange, winger who frustrated and dazzled (in more ways than one) in the way lower league wingers always do.

Chris Wilder adopting a midfield consisting of Haldane, Trainer and Adam Murray; who could pass a ball with some style, but like Hargreaves before him, was often left chasing shadows as a result of the ineptitude around him.

By the end of the season, we had a new look; Simon Clist and Adam Chapman came in alongside The Fighting Dwarf – Craig Nelthorpe. Nelthorpe was released at the end of 2008/9 to be replaced by Dannie Bulman. Clist offered unspectacular reassurance which you don’t see when it’s there, but miss when it’s not. Bulman was the magic piece of the puzzle and the Kassam years were blessed with its first and only seminal midfield.

Bulman, Clist and Murray were the perfect mix of aggression, control and creativity. When Murray was sidelined with injury, and following a crisis of confidence, Chapman joined the battle and re-pointed the trajectory of our season to promotion. Promising, following his arrival from Sheffield United, Chapman had been surprisingly subdued throughout the season but found form at just the right moment. Days before Wembley it was announced had been charged with death by reckless driving; which explained everything. With a year’s chokey hanging over his head, he put in a match winning performance at Wembley which took us up.

The Clist/Bulman/Murray/Chapman midfield lasted less than a year. Murray left for Luton, Chapman was doing his time, Clist suffered a series of niggly injuries. To the surprise of everyone, Dannie Bulman was shipped out to Crawley. He got too involved in games, said Chris Wilder, although there were times when we could have done with a bit of that during the League campaign.

From the settled trio of the promotion campaign to the tossing and turning of the first League season. Asa Hall and Simon Heslop came in from Luton, but neither could hit the consistency needed to sustain a whole season in the middle. Josh Payne suffered similarly. Paul McLaren was eventually brought in to offer experience and proved a valuable asset to the squad by anchoring a midfield full of youthful nervous energy. Although the 2010/11 midfield model saw lots of good quality attacking football, there was still a missing ingredient to take us into the play-offs and beyond.

Only Dean Whitehead made the Kassam Years All-Star XI from our first period of League football at the stadium, it seems fitting that the other two members of the squad are drawn from the seminal promotion midfield. Dannie Bulman and Simon Clist, welcome both.

News round-up: loan stars

I was going to open this post by making out that I was slapping myself in the face trying to resist the temptation of being optimistic about the coming season. Luckily the Brackley result poured the necessary cold water on that.

Friendlies are horrible; if they’re meaningless then why do all teams play them? Fitness is one obvious reason; which is why Matt Day should expect to play a lot this summer. How do you manage to be a professional footballer and put on (as rumoured) a stone in weight during the close season? Especially shortly after being publicly told that he was on his way out of the club if he didn’t change his attitude. How stupid is Matt Day? Or is this why we love him so?

The other reason for friendlies is an opportunity to walk through some patterns of play – which is why James Constable’s winning goal against Oxford City is encouraging. At least he and the ball were in the right place at the right time to score.

Most of the week was taken up with the flurry of signings 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 although none of them are actually ours. I’m not sure of the ins and outs of the loan system. It seems we pay the salary and get a decent player – but we don’t get to keep them. I’m not comfortable with this idea because it seems to dilute the club’s identity (e.g. its best players aren’t really its players at all). On the other hand, I’ve never professed to being totally au fait with modern football and – like people using lower-case text message language in work emails – perhaps it’s the way things are done nowadays. It is, I suppose, a short term investment in a long term future.

Certainly Lewis Haldane and James Constable seem to have the backing from the fans of their parent clubs, which is a good sign. Jamie Guy, on the other hand, appears to be yet another ‘bad-boy’ (Robinson, Jeannin, Zebrowski). Although if he turns out to be a John Durnin, then who cares? Nicky Wire from the Manic Street Preachers once said of the Italians “As long as the manager wins the title it doesn’t matter if he’s caught sniffing cocaine out of the arsehole of a whore” which is kind of how I feel about Guy. One of the benefits of the loan system is that if he does make us successful, its because we’re a great club – if not, he’s from Colchester.

I wonder whether the signing of Jake Cole suggest that cracks in Billy Turley have started to show. Certainly Turley had is eccentric moments last season, although in the main he was excellent. The length of Cole’s signing suggests that Turley’s injury may be worse than originally perceived. Although goalkeepers are able to play into their forties, you have to question whether an injury that keeps him out for a total of five months throughout the summer and first two months of the new season may actually signal the beginning of the end.

News round-up: So much news it makes you giddy

Signings, fixtures and a new kit; a new season is on its way. Thankfully, perhaps, it’s still over a month away. In between is the pre-season programme, which is a bit like watching Big Brother. Much as you try to avoid it you can’t help but take some notice and then when you do you find yourself wrapped up in the minutiae of what it all means.

Friendlies are, gulp, 2 days away. In the meantime, let’s bask in the summer sun, enjoy the sound of leather on willow and taste the strawberries and cream at Henley.

Fuck that, let’s check out the new kit. John Murray who presumably couldn’t be arsed to go to the Family Fun Day tantalisingly described the new shirt as ‘traditional yellow’. Photos don’t give much away but it does look like it has standard issue Carlotti styling similar to the away kit. Hopefully this means it will have better quality workmanship than the last iteration. I only hope that we’ve ditched the faded in the wash yellow for something brighter. I’ve always thought; if you’re going to go yellow – it might as well be bright yellow.

What’s more, it appears two more signings have been made – Chris Carruthers and (apparently) Lewis Haldane. Caruthers has been sprung from Bristol Rovers, although it’s no shock to see some Northamptonshire in his blood. Given the typical career path of an Oxford player expect him to sign for Torquay at the end of his contract. Carruthers might be a bit shy, because he’s brought Haldane with him from The Gas. Haldane appears to have no links to Northamptonshire, which can’t be right and maybe the reported sticking point in his contract negotiations.

What is probably most shocking of both these players is that with a little research, you find there is good will amongst the fans towards both of them. Which might mean they’re good players. And that just can’t be right.