George Lawrences Shorts: MApp reading

Saturday 21 December 2019

Divorced dad at a PTA Disco Gareth Ainsworth hasn’t been this disappointed since he failed to seduce Cabbage Karen, the school’s dinner lady, last Christmas. He brought his table topping Wycombe team to the Kassam and like that fateful night, left with his tail between his legs after a 1-0 defeat. The goal came from James Henry, but the game pivoted when The Mr T of the Chilterns, Ade Akinfenwa, was sent off for throwing John Mousinho over the North Stand.

Sunday 22 December 2019

It’s Christmas, which means family, friends and avoiding creepy Uncle Alan and his wandering hands. So if you want to pretend to be engrossed in something, The Roker Report remembers Sunderland’s 1975 win over Oxford. I mean, don’t we all?

Monday 23 December 2019

MApp has been reflecting on his time with Oxford. The three years of promotions, giant killings and derby wins has really brought a smile to his face. For MApp this requires a complex mechanical contraption attached to a winch.

Tuesday 24 December 2019

When we say MApp’s back, we mean it; it may be Christmas, but for the new Lincoln manager it’s business as usual as he prepares to face his old club on Boxing Day. Obviously it’s still a special time; following a turkey protein shake on the big day he’ll be dusting off the novelty festive dumbbells readying himself for the game. 

Wednesday 25 December 2019

Do they know it’s Christmas time at all? KRob gave the squad the day off on Christmas Day knowing that there was a box of Celebrations and a DVD of Skyfall with his name on at home. Depressed sixth former Rob Dickie got a chemistry set, but told the lads he got a Sam Fox calendar, Jose’s son John Mousinho got socks and the Top Gear Annual, Jamie Mackie broke his record for stuffing sausage meat stuffing balls up his nose. 

Thursday 26 December 2019

I don’t know if we mentioned it; Mr Big Guns was back in town on Thursday as MApp brought his Lincoln team to the Kassam. Ecclesiastical genius Shandon The Baptiste scored the only goal in a 1-0 win. KRob felt the pressure throughout the game; holding your gut in with MApp rippling three feet away really takes it out of you.

Friday 27 December 2019

No football tomorrow, but the team is preparing to meet The Crazy Gang of Wimbledon on Sunday. With the busy Christmas period, KRob is planning to rest a few players. Jamie Mackie will return to face elbowing duties up front while a number of the midfield are expected to be rested by standing in the middle of the pitch watching the ball sail over their heads for ninety minutes.

Match wrap: Oxford United 1 Lincoln City 0

Growing up, we had an unwritten family rule on Christmas Day; you didn’t leave the house. Leaving the house would be a waste. It would be dedicated to wholesome family pursuits of present opening (about 12 minutes) and TV (about 12 hours). Boxing Day was all about blowing away the thin film of dust that caked us as we sat around in our centrally heated house eating chocolate, staring at our presents and generally stagnating.

If we could, we’d go to the football. Before we moved to the area, we’d visit my grandparents in Abingdon and my dad would take me to The Manor. That novelty alone made it special. Afterwards, I’d thaw out with whatever Subbuteo accessories I’d been given, reenacting the day’s game as best I could with teams in Celtic and Motherwell colours, using my programme as a reference.

When I got older, I started to play football in the morning so Oxford games in the afternoon were associated with aching legs. I remember going to Molineux in 1996 with my dad to watch us lose to Wolves; a proper dads and sons day out. Going to football with dad pretty much ended five years later in 2001 when he moaned his way through our 2-1 defeat to Luton at the Kassam.

Most recently, Boxing Day games have been with friends, in 2003 I tore ankle ligaments playing in the morning, but decided to run it off. About ten of us managed to see Julian Allsop’s last minute winner against Leyton Orient which kept us top of the table. Sitting for two hours with the pain in my foot growing, I hobbled out of the stadium, but couldn’t make it back to the car. I couldn’t walk on it for over a week and still feel the pain now.

In 2015, I showed off our promotion winning team with pride as we swept past Exeter, the friend I was with asking eagerly who each player was, in awe at what he was watching.

But Boxing Day games have lost their attraction in the last few years. I enjoy the big crowd and its weird mix; whole families with excitable, but perplexed girlfriends and distant relatives bolted on. People sharing their left over Quality Street around during a lull in play. On Saturday I saw a bloke order a coffee go to the end of the counter to pick it up as though he was in Starbucks. There was a couple innocently drinking beer in the stand, something that’s been illegal for 35 years. But, knowing that results haven’t gone for us in recent years, the anticipation left me flat.

We’ve had three big crowds in the last week, so that novelty was gone, and a bit like Christmas Day, I now realise in my mind Boxing Day football is basically an amalgam of all the best previous Boxing Day experiences. No one game will ever surpass it.

Shandon Baptiste’s howitzer aside, the game felt flat. At times it played like an extended set of training drills with both sides playing good quality possession football. We know Michael Appleton is a great coach, but he can be too much of a purist. Karl Robinson has added that edge to our game, which is what allows us to compete against teams like Wycombe. Baptiste’s strike, Mousinho’s cynical, but necessary, foul and a Jamie Mackie cameo were the only signs of it. Otherwise we looked a bit tired.

There was a large group of non-regulars behind me during the game, groaning and shouting to ‘get it in there’ whenever we got close to the final third of the pitch. It was unusual to hear that kind of frustration as more frequent visitors are getting used to the idea of being patient in possession looking for the angles and the moments that make all the difference.

I guess if you haven’t seen us play often, accepting that the goalkeeper will roll the ball out to centre backs stood barely outside the six yard box is part of the challenge. Only with time can you be assured that this is all part of the plan.

I would miss Boxing Day football if it didn’t exist, I like the novelty and it’s place in the Christmas holiday period. I like the new faces. But, where us regulars are having to learn what good football at this level looks like, the day-trippers’ impatience for entertainment can be disruptive. It’s good to bag the three points and move on; to get back to something a little more normal. The three big crowds have been great, but we’re now at a point where performing in a one-off occasion isn’t our goal, our goals are more long term.

George Lawrence’s Shorts: Hammered Time

Saturday 21 September 2019

When challenged in the box he floats like a butterfly, but in front of goal he stings like a bee; Tariqe Fosu crushed a hat-trick against Lincoln City on Saturday in a record breaking 6-0 away win. This beat our previous best which was probably a scrappy defensive 1-0 smash and grab. Lincoln’s humiliation was compounded by the fact that they were being watched their next manager, MApp, thereby giving them the greatest fear known to man.

Sunday 22 September 2019

As Danny Rose and Canice Carrol will tell you, playing football in a dangerous and unpredictable town is no fun at all. Thankfully, Kashif Siddiqi is not heading for Swindon, but the relative tranquility of war-ravaged Kashmir. Oxford’s 20-goals-a-season peace envoy has been loaned out to their local team where he’ll be blocking shots, and ducking grenades. 

Monday 23 September 2019

Chris Cadden has been talking to his wee pals at the Scottish Record about his secret sadness; an inability to iron his clothes. No doubt interviewed while wrapped in toilet paper, the full-back has revealed that he’s moved into a ‘village called Bicester’, no Chris, that’s Bicester Village and you can’t live in a Helly Hansen factory store. ‘I put my first washing on yesterday’ said Cadden from trapped inside his tumble drier.

Tuesday 24 September 2019

The man KRob has labelled the future of English football, Shandon Baptiste, has been called up to play for Grenada against St Kitts and Nevis. Baptiste is due to fly out for two games at the beginning of November, but if KRob keeps going on about him; he’ll probably be able to walk on water to get there.

Wednesday 25 September 2019

It was Hammered Time on Wednesday as Oxford marmalised W’Stam in the League Cup. A 4-0 annihilation provided the biggest shock in East London since Dirty Den left Ange. Oxford’s Greta Thurnberg, Shandon Baptiste completed the rout after goals from Elliot Moore, Matty Taylor and Tariqe Fosu. W’Stam won’t be playing the old Joanna down the rubber-dub after that performance because they were bucking derrible.

Thursday 26 September 2019 

Thursday means it’s the Six Minute Eighteen Seconds Fans Forum in which every member of the backroom staff scrambled to put themselves forward after last night’s mullering. In the end Tiger was the man in the hot seat, but spent the entire time leaning out of the Radio Oxford windows flicking the V’s at passers by, noisily telling them to stick their effing bubbles up their arse, sideways.

Friday 27 September 2019

Gillingham tomorrow who are managed by criminal Stay Puff Marshmallow Glaswegian Steve Evans. Evans has been playing ‘oooh, cleeevvveerrr’ mind games with Karl Robinson claiming that last Saturday’s Lincoln result was down to two lucky goals. I dunno Wobbles McBloaty, I reckon it was the other four we smashed in that made the real difference.  

Match wrap: Lincoln City 0 Oxford United 6

It’s fair to say that Karl Robinson splits opinions; even within individual opinions, there are split opinions. It’s not uncommon to hear things like ‘I can’t stand the man, but I don’t think he should be sacked’ or ‘I respect what he does, but he can’t go on like this’.

Whether it’s the start of a season, game or interview, it’s difficult to figure out Robinson’s modus operandi. There seems to be a common theme of there being a blizzard of confusion followed by some kind of clarity or success. Is that deliberate? Is it luck? Is the assumption that if you throw enough Karl Robinson at a wall, some of it will stick? Is there a science to all this that we can’t see?

It’s almost, and I use this comparison advisedly, Trump-esque; it is near on impossible to figure out whether Robinson is a stable genius, or wanton lunatic.

The result is similar to Chris Wilder’s time at the club; Jamie Cook once described him as a polarising figure; ‘a great coach but a terrible man’. The result was streaks of poor form, followed by unlikely wins and unbeaten runs. Whether Karl Robinson can be defined in quite such a binary way, I don’t know, but he’s consistently inconsistent.

On Saturday, Michael Appleton was in the stand preparing to take over our opponents Lincoln. Appleton is a methodical theoretician, a scientist of the game. He’s a good fit for Lincoln who seem to have learnt through the appointment of the Cowley brothers about the power of building.

It was Robinson’s worst nightmare; following the debacle against Bolton, he not only had to get us back on track, but do it with one of Oxford’s greatest managers glaring down on him.

And then he goes out and does this. Seven shots, six goals, all of the highest quality. A record breaking win, the win we thought we might get on Tuesday, and a moment of utter razor sharp clarity in a sea of confusion.

Tariqe Fosu, as we’re regularly reminded, has known Robinson for years. You could argue that not only does he understand Robinson’s methods, he’s a product of them. Perhaps it’s of no surprise that he seems to have settled so quickly in a way that others haven’t. Where Luke Garbutt, Sam Smith and perhaps Ben Woodburn made slower starts, Fosu is flying because he knew what to expect and what was expected.

The Lincoln result is no more an indicator of our prospects for the season than the Bolton result was, finding the new normal under Robinson feels like an endless quest.

While doing a little side project on the best players of the 1990s, I found a surprising fact. Between 1990-1999 Oxford United fielded 107 players, between 2000-2009 that number doubled with a similar number for 2010-2019. If Robinson is to succeed, he needs players to understand his methods, and if you’re new to that, it can take time. Without that, you’re always playing catch up.

The challenge is that modern football doesn’t offer stability. The turnover of players is so great, the onus is on the manager to be clear about his intentions and for them to respond. Last season it took months to get the message over and while this season it seems to have settled more quickly, the contrasts between Bolton and Lincoln show, it’s still not clear which Oxford United we are.

Yellows 2 Lincoln City 1

Republicans think Monarchists are unthinking blue rinsed morons incapable of analysis. But to dismiss a royal wedding is to fundamentally misunderstand how this country works.

Think of the monarchy as an organisation constrained by a complex web of evolving anachronistic protocols. The family itself has little influence, in fact no one person can hope to understand it, let alone change it.

In its trust are the country’s most valuable assets including its armed forces and its independent media. The establishment own them, government run them, we fund them. These assets can’t be used unless all three parties agree. It’s not perfect, but the split responsibilities offer unparalleled stability.

A royal wedding is an advert for this key cornerstone of society. If it didn’t come alive it would whither away and the armed forces, media and other key institutions would be under the full control of ideological governments and market forces. Couldn’t happen? Look at Italy. The lesson? Don’t judge Royal Wedding by a Royal Wedding.

It is very easy to over react to a single, isolated event. Certainly anyone following Oxford since the turn of the millennium will be well schooled in over reaction. The Wilder Years have changed that, and Saturday was evidence of the more considered and mature analysis of our position that has taken over the club.

Gone are the histrionics of the past. We have learnt not to judge a bad run when the general direction of travel is good. We’ve learnt, as with Saturday’s win over Lincoln; that a scratchy and soporific first half is no reason to expect a poor second half. Eventually The Imps ran out of ideas, puff, and not a little nervous energy, we were able to exploit their failings with a clinical and comfortable second half execution.

We’ve improved, of that there is no doubt, we’ve play attractive positive football all season and whilst on occasions we’ve taken a bath for our openness, if we continue to improve at the same rate, we should be expecting a play-off place, maybe more, next season. In fact, the only lesson that still needs to be learnt is that possession is not something to get frustrated about and a backward pass is not necessarily negative. If we learn that next season, we could end up taking the league by storm. In the meantime we should be very satisfied with a job well done this year.

Lincoln City 3 Yellows 1

The capitulation of Lincoln was Bradfordian in its breadth, Macclesfiedlian in its depth. It was yet another freak, unexplainable incident in an otherwise professional and earnest season. We’re the first football club whose playing style is best described as having a dry sense of humour.

We’ve had slapstick seasons, we’ve had dramatic seasons, we’ve had seasons that have been a glorious cinematic experience. I cannot remember a season where the disparity between our glorious best and nonsensical worst to be so great.

If we were to throw this season up in the air and let the fixtures fall to the ground in a random order, these results might look more coherent, but as it stands we seem to careering from one extreme to another.

In fact, the current form is probably just a readjustment from the overachievements of the season so far. Like we’ve hit an air pocket causing us to drop like a stone. We will, no doubt, eventually start to climb again and by May we’ll have found our natural level. In the meantime the swooping and diving makes us all a bit queasy.

Personally, I think that it’s likely we’ll eventually find ourselves just above mid-table. The way we defend, the way we scrape by, the way we entertain. They say you know you’re a good side when you play badly and win. More accurately you know you’re a good side when you play boringly and still win. We don’t seem to have boring in our DNA.