This equivalent weekend six years ago we beat Swansea City in the FA Cup. For me, it was the most perfect performance in an almost perfect season. Suddenly the national press took an interest in what was happening at the club; there was a flood of stories about the secret revolution that was happening; the innovative recruitment of Premier League academy players who’d hit a dead end and the introduction of sports science and analytics to a level of football that was in the dark ages. I thought we were on the road to becoming one of those über modern clubs like Swansea, Bournemouth and Brentford, able to succeed without selling their soul.
At the heart of it all, of course, was Michael Appleton; steely eyed with rippling muscles, looking like no other manager in football. It’s an interesting aesthetic to workout to build muscles beyond what might be considered to be natural. It’s like having a breast enlargement so large and obvious that it doesn’t so much create confidence or an attractive shape as scream, ‘Look, I’ve put five grand in my bra’. It’s not like Appleton needs to be physically, excessively, strong to be a football manager, he’s not going to biff anyone on the nose or do that thing on World’s Strongest Man where they have to lift giant stones onto barrels.
But Appleton was a man of extreme investment; you can’t imagine that he ever doom scrolls on his phone while watching Homes Under The Hammer. The sleeve tattoo, the Masters degree, the need to prove himself and succeed practically bursts out of him. His face, a rictus concrete grimace, looks like it’s straining to contain a primal scream that says ‘I have value’. We love him, but it’ll never be enough. The intensity eventually wore him out at Oxford, mentally he couldn’t sustain it, nobody could. He admitted, at the end of the 2016/17 season, that he needed a rest, then he was gone to act as an assistant and get out of the limelight.
Karl Robinson, by contrast, is an avalanche of emotion, whatever pressures, desires and enthusiasm that flows into him, almost immediately flows back out again. Where Appleton is like a dam ready to burst, Robinson is a free flowing river. The biggest challenge he has is trying to ensure that the flow doesn’t burst its banks and flood everything.
The defeat to Lincoln means we’ve now won just one in the last four, or perhaps we’ve lost just two in the last thirteen, or perhaps it was only our first away defeat since Cheltenham in September. There were people immediately after the whistle almost calling for an overhaul of the squad despite us still being fifth.
It didn’t help that in addition to those in the ground, we could also watch the game unfolding live on iFollow. It’s true we weren’t at our best, but then it was like that at MK Dons and we turned it around. If Matty Taylor’s early chance had gone in, it would have been very different, his disallowed goal, although a correct decision, shows we weren’t that far away.
Herbie Kane’s red card was obviously a blow. Whether it was justified or not was hard to say. Steve Kinniburgh and Jerome Sale tried to articulate the issue with it, it was a punishment for a previous fouls or something that tends to only happens when you’re away from home. I think the issue is that up until that point the referee hadn’t issued a yellow card despite there being moments that would have warranted it – the little set-to between Chris Maguire and Mark Sykes. The players had no idea where the line of acceptabilty was; a full blooded challenge was generally fine in most cases, then suddenly it wasn’t.
The introduction just after the hour of James Henry and Nathan Holland was a timely reminder that as good as Ryan Williams and Gavin Whyte have been, it’s players like Henry and Holland that have given us the edge in the past. The mass of covid changes we had to make against Fleetwood and Rotherham saw the squad being quickly recalibrated, then there was the relapse against Wigan. The loss of Thornily, Brannagan and Kane is another lurch.
Runners call it ‘flow’, cyclists call it ‘form’; a sense of effortlessness, that everything is working just so. For most of us, if we’re lucky, it lasts until we become conscious of it. That’s the point when we become aware of a pain in our leg, a need to go to the toilet or that one of our socks is slipping down.
For the most successful sportspeople, it lasts much longer, but it’s a precarious thing. Cyclist Chris Boardman once said that when you’re in a time trial, you’re constantly asking yourself ‘can I sustain this effort?’. If you say ‘yes’ you’re not trying hard enough, if it’s ‘no’ you’re going too fast; the answer you’re looking for is ‘maybe’. Reading about the Novak Djokovic case in Australia, it doesn’t seem that he’s quite the anti-vaccination freedom fighter as he’s sometimes portrayed. It’s more that through his successes he’s managed to reach a mental state where he has complete self-confidence in his own often unconventional ways. Nothing – including vaccinations, pandemics or even national border policies – can or should disrupt his status quo. It is utterly selfish, but he’d argue that the ends justify the means.
A few weeks ago I talked about our ability to constantly evolve our midfield – Gorrin, Kane, Brannagan, McGuane, Sykes, Henry could be brought in, play a few games, have an impact, then be given a rest. In recent weeks we haven’t been able to rotate the squad like that, great chunks of it have been ripped from us. We’ve survived, but it’s disrupted our flow and form, we’ve gone from drought to flood and back again.
Michael Appleton’s response, you suspect, would have been to stand firm and let the crisis pass. There is no Plan B; it’s a rigidity which nearly did for him in his first season at Oxford and he’s under similar pressure at Lincoln despite their success last year. The risk for us now is that the more free-flowing Karl Robinson over-compensates, that he tries to inject his energy directly in the veins of the squad; bringing players back before they’re ready or trying some tactical revolution to jump start us. As much as form feels like a magical, ethereal energy, we need to manage our way back into it. No panic, but not ignoring the issue. With Wycombe next week and Sheffield Wednesday the week after, there’s no down time to re-set ourselves and find our form. Robinson needs to think clearly, as much as the here and now might demand his attention, he needs to think how he manages the squad over the next few weeks to steer us both through the current challenges and back into the form that we enjoyed earlier in the season.
Having frantically tried to address the leftbacksituation, KRob suddenly remembered he had more cover than he’d ever need with injured right-back Sam Long, injured midfielder Jamie Hanson, Derek Fazackerley and club historian Martin Brodetsky all able to cover if necessary. So, that’s OK then.
It’s not been much of a summer, but do I sense that there’s already a slight chill in the air? I was out for a walk the other day and noticed a few golden leaves had fallen from the trees. It’s still August, but already it’s starting to feel like the early onset of Autumn.
I find the turning of the seasons a bit of a relief; if I could choose between excessive heat and excessive cold, I’d always choose the latter. Football fans are the people of the gloaming; we don’t bask in an endless sunshine, we huddle. While others hibernate, we come out to forage through the harshness of the winter months.
I’m a functioning adult, but I don’t feel I have the emotional maturity to make independent decisions about whether to wear a coat during August. What to wear to football is a source of underlying anxiety in the early weeks. It can be positively balmy at home but baltic in the South Stand Upper; which could be a psychosomatic reaction to Jerome Sale’s assertion that the Kassam Stadium has its own microclimate. For me, any chill in the air signals a much welcomed opportunity to wrap up; working my way through from a light jacket in September through to my ‘big coat’ for the darkest months.
And although I’ve started to look longingly at the coat cupboard and even the box in which the hats and scarves are bundled, it’s easy to forget that it’s still August. I was reminded yesterday as I couldn’t go to Lincoln due to one of those family commitments that gets arranged before the fixtures come out. Asking to defer your decision to attend seems disingenuous, so you accept through gritted teeth knowing you’re playing roulette with home games.
The discernable autumnal chill means that things are getting serious – perhaps it’s significant that this seems to have come earlier this year. Convention says that you shouldn’t look at the table until you’ve played ten games (unless you’re top, even after two games, in which case you can stare at it constantly).
After ten games, we’ll have seen enough to work out who had a good summer and who is in crisis. Any short term form or favourable fixture sequence that artificially puts a team at the top of the division will have dissipated into the ether and the real picture will start to emerge.
None-the-less, Lincoln provided, perhaps, the first early test of our longer term prospects. In some ways, they’re hard to judge – they had injuries and their fans will be wondering if they can replicate the heights of last year but Michael Appleton will always bring a competitive team. For us, with two defeats in a week under our belt, the potential for things to become awkward was quite high. A third consecutive loss, and the first at home, may have raised more questions about the strength of the squad and our inability to start seasons well.
Instead, we seemed to cruise, as we always do when James Henry is fit and in form. He quietly gets on with things – I’ve never considered him an out and out goalscorer, but it’s quite conceivable he’ll creep into our top 10 all-time goalscorers this season. Where Karl Robinson injects a boundless enthusiasm into our play channelled via players like Gavin Whyte, Henry regulates us, ensuring we have the intensity and penetration to get the results without snatching and lurching at opportunities.
The table, that we don’t look at, already looks like you might imagine it will at the end of the season. This year, more than most, the division seems to split quite starkly between the haves and have-nots with it more difficult for dark horses to creep into contention. The question for us is which side of the divide do we fall? We might be getting more used to the idea of being a have, but we’re not Sheffield Wednesday or Sunderland, and yet, that’s who we sit with at the moment.
Having navigated one, and not taking Wimbledon next week for granted, there’s another early-season marker in a fortnight when Wycombe come to the Kassam. September will be here and awkward family commitments will be in the past, it’s likely to be a day for coats. The end of the beginning of the season; if we can win that, then by the time the big coats come out, we could be in a very interesting position indeed.
It’s Saturday and you’re settling down for an afternoon with Jeff Stelling, who’s about to take you through the day’s action. Except this weekend’s fixtures only feature Oxford United and our correspondents are dotted around the country and throughout time. Sit back and enjoy an afternoon of Oxford United goals from the first minute to the last.
Jeff Stelling: ‘Welcome to The Manor, Highbury, Griffin Park, The Kassam Stadium, White Hart Lane, The Madjeski Stadium, Kenilworth Road, Stamford Bridge, Wembley, The County Ground, Ninian Park, Broadfield Stadium, Nene Park, Maine Road, Brisbane Road, Fratton Park, Adams Park, The New Den, Field Mill, Sincil Bank, Meadow Lane, Sixfields, Old Wembley, Villa Park, Prenton Park, The Memorial Ground, Roots Hall, Old Trafford, The Pirelli Stadium, Brunton Park and The New York Stadium, Rotheram. We’re looking forward to an afternoon of cup wins, promotions, relegations, giant killings, memorable goals and milestone moments. How do you feel it’s going to go today Paul Merson?’
Merse ‘Well Jeff, y’know…’
Hold that thought Merse, we head straight over to The Manor in 1999. An early goal for Oxford United…
1st minute: Jamie Lambert, Colchester United, 1999
Oh, what a start for Oxford United at The Manor against Colchester United. Jamie Lambert has put the ball in the back of the net after just 20 seconds. By my watch, that’s the fastest goal in Oxford United history. Mickey Lewis’ first league game in charge, what a way to stake a claim for the top job.
2nd minute: Steve Basham, Arsenal, 2003
And now we have a major shock on our hands at Highbury. This afternoon has gone off with a bang; Steve Basham has just wriggled free to give Oxford United the lead against Premier League leaders Arsenal in the FA Cup. The massed ranks of Oxford fans at the Clock End have gone wild. No, wait, it’s been flagged for offside. I’m not sure, that looked very tight.
3rd minute: Joey Beauchamp, Chelsea, 1994
This one counts, back at The Manor in 1994, Joey Beauchamp has bundled through the Chelsea defence and slotted home past the onrushing Chelsea keeper Dimitri Kharine to put Oxford 1-0 up. The London Road are going wild, is a shock on the cards in this FA Cup tie?
4th minute: Kevin Brock, Leeds United, 1983
Oh, yes. And now Kevin Brock has just given Oxford the lead in their League Cup second leg tie against Leeds United at The Manor. Mick Vinter controlled the throw-in just inside the box, knocking it back to the onrushing Brock who slammed it home in front of the London Road. Oxford lead 1-0 on the night, 2-1 on aggregate.
5th minute: Liam Sercombe, Brentford, 2015
Meanwhile, over in the capital, Oxford have started off like a train at Griffin Park in the League Cup in 2015. Liam Sercombe has just put the visitors in front, a really well worked goal with Sercombe driving the ball into the bottom right hand corner. They look really up for this tonight. 1-0.
6th minute: David Leworthy, Tottenham Hotspur, 1986
It’s like an ice-rink at The Manor in 1986 where Tottenham are the visitors for this FA Cup Third Round tie. But, Kevin Brock has just crossed for David Leworthy to head home the opening goal past Ray Clemence. Oxford lead 1-0.
7th minute: Rob Folland, Reading, 1999
OOOOOh, great goal at the Madjeski Stadium. Young Welsh full-back Rob Folland has cut inside and fired home to give Oxford the unlikeliest of leads in their first ever visit to the Madjeski. They’re looking right at home in the derby.
8th minute: Nick Cusack, Newcastle United, 1992
Oxford are in dreamland; just eight minutes gone and Nick Cusack has poked home Joey Beauchamp’s cross to put them 2-0 at The Manor. Great work from Cusack, but that was all about Beauchamp, silky skills and a pinpoint cross.
9th minute: Mike Ford, Dorchester Town, 1995
Opening goal at The Manor in the FA Cup where non-league Dorchester Town have travelled up the A34 to face their illustrious league opponents. Mike Ford headed home the rebound from Joey Beauchamp’s cross. Despite having former-Oxford keeper Ken Veysey in goal, Dorchester are looking really shaky here, this could be a long day for the minnows.
10th minute: Phil Edwards, Luton Town, 2017
Goal at Kenilworth Road in the semi-final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy now. Oxford United have been under a bit of pressure in this one, but some great work from Liam Sercombe saw the ball fall to loanee Phil Edwards who was sitting on the floor from an earlier challenge and has swept the ball home. Are Oxford heading to Wembley for the second year in a row?
11th minute: Peter Rhodes-Brown, Chelsea, 1986
No time to answer that, over to West London now where there’s been a bit of a shock on the cards in the 1st Division at Stamford Bridge. Oxford United, without an away win all season are leading Chelsea who had been hoping to go top. And to really rub it in, the goal is from former Chelsea winger, Peter Rhodes-Brown.
12th minute: James Constable, Swindon Town, 2011
Is history being written at The County Ground? Maybe. James Constable has just darted in at the near post to put Oxford 1-0 up against Swindon Town. Swindon boss Paolo DiCanio claims Constable is a Swindon fan, I think we know the truth now.
13th minute: Tony Jones, Blackburn Rovers, 1964
Oh I say, now Oxford United have taken the lead against Blackburn Rovers in the fifth round of the FA Cup at the Manor in 1964. Over 20,000 jolly good fellows have packed into the little ground in Headington. It looks like we have a major shock on the cards.
14th minute: Eric Sabin, Leyton Orient, 2006
Lifeline at The Kassam Stadium! Oxford United need to beat Leyton Orient to retain their League status. Striker Eric Sabin has just got on the end of Andy Burgess’ free-kick to give the hosts the lead. The atmosphere in the stadium wild. Orient need to win to go up, so there’s a long way to go on this. But, that’s the early goal Jim Smith’s were looking for to settle the nerves.
15th minute: Alex Dyer, Leeds United, 1994
And now Oxford have taken the lead against Leeds United in the FA Cup. Attacking down the slope towards the London Road, Joey Beauchamp fed Jim Magilton down the right who fired in a low cross to Alex Dyer arriving in the middle. 1-0 Oxford.
16th minute: Jamie Cook, Luton Town, 2009
What. Have. I. Just. Seen? Goal of the season? Goal of the century? Jamie Cook just scored from 25 yards against Luton Town in this battle of the Conference giants. The game was delayed because of crowd congestion trying to get nearly 10,000 fans into the stadium. That goal was worth the entrance fee alone.
17th minute: Kevin Brock, Oldham Athletic, 1985
Oxford are putting on a show at The Manor in front of the Match of the Day cameras now, Mark Jones has just broken down the left flank crossing deep for Kevin Brock to slot home a fine opening goal. The champions-elect are on the goal trail once again.
18th minute: Oli Johnson, Swindon Town, 2012
Oh. My. Word. Injury ravaged Oxford United have had their star striker sent-off against the League leaders, who are unbeaten in ten games, they’ve taken the lead with Asa Hall scoring from close range, now two minutes later, they’re two up from young loanee Oli Johnson. Oxford are racing towards a famous derby double.
19th minute: Neil Whatmore, Newcastle United, 1983
1-0 to Oxford at The Manor in 1983, and it’s nothing more than they deserve. Star-studded Newcastle United featuring Kevin Keegan, Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle and Terry McDermott are being overwhelmed here. Oxford should already be two-up already, but the breakthrough has come from the biggest name of the lot; striker Neil Whatmore.
20th minute: James Constable, York City, 2010
Oh, magnificent, Oxford United have started this play-off final at Wembley like a train, Matt Green gave them the lead in the 15th minute, now James Constable has doubled their advantage, blasting it in from twelve yards. 2-0, difficult to see York coming back from this, they look shellshocked.
21st minute: Matt Murphy, Everton, 1999
Everton looking at sixes and sevens in the League Cup and Matt Murphy has capitalised on their lax defending by heading in for the lead. The ball hit the net and trickled along the goal line before being awarded, but they all count.
22nd minute: Trevor Hebberd, Luton Town, 1987
Big goal at Kenilworth Road. Oxford needing a result here to secure another season in Division 1 and the breakthrough has come from Trevor Hebberd. Still a long way to go but they’ve got something to work with.
23rd minute: Matt Green, Bristol Rovers, 2010
What a way to announce yourself back as a League team. It’s the first game back from the Conference and Matt Green has just doubled Oxford’s lead after Simon Heslop’s thunderbolt. Oxford are right in the mood here, it could be a cricket score by the time we’ve finished.
24th minute: Mike Ford, Swindon Town, 1997
Are Oxford about to break their 24 year hoodoo at The County Ground? Great work by Nigel Jemson on the flank and an inviting cross onto the back post and there’s Mike Ford to nod home. He nearly collided with the post there, but I don’t think he cares. Great start for Oxford.
25th minute: Rob Hall, Sunderland, 2019
Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant from Rob Hall. Sunderland hit the post in this League Cup tie, Oxford react with a blistering counterattack, the ball breaks loose to Rob hall who arrows it into the back of the net. 1-0.
26th minute: Nigel Jemson, Barnsley, 1997
They may be heading for the Premier League, but Barnsley look like they’ve been over-doing the celebrations a bit. Just 26 minutes gone and Oxford are two up with a brave header from Nigel Jemson. Barnsley look all at sea here, I don’t think that’s the end of the goals today.
27th minute: Yemi Odubade, Exeter City, 2007
Yemi Odubade has put Oxford United a goal up at the Kassam in the Conference semi-final play-off. You have to say, it’s against the run of play, but with an away goal in the bag from the first leg, the yellows are fully in charge in this one.
28th minute: Paul Moody, Cardiff City, 1994
Goal! I can’t quite believe what I’ve just seen, 28 minutes gone at Ninian Park and Paul Moody, Oxford’s big lumbering striker has danced his way past five defenders, running half the length of the field to given Oxford the lead. It was like watching Maradona in ’86, great movement from big man.
29th minute: James Constable, Rushden & Diamonds, 2010
Breakthrough goal at Nene Park now in the Conference semi-final first leg and who else but James Constable? Great work in the box, firing home on the turn. That’s the away goal they wanted. 1-0 Oxford.
30th minute: Nigel Jemson, Manchester City, 1996
Just half-an-hour gone and it’s already 2-2 at Maine Road after Nigel Jemson’s looping header dropped in just under the crossbar. Manager-less Manchester City look all over the shop. Lovely goal from the Us.
31st minute: Wes Thomas, Chesterfield, 2016
Great moment, Oxford have announced their return to League 1 after a fifteen year absence with a goal from new signing Wes Thomas who’s just tapped home Alex MacDonalds shot.
32nd minute: Andy Thomas, Newcastle United, 1983
Oxford are making second placed Newcastle look second rate here at The Manor in the Milk Cup. Andy Thomas made the first and now he’s scored the second. They don’t look like they’re finished yet.
33rd minute: John Lundstram, Leyton Orient, 2015
Big deflection, but they all count. It’s been billed as a bit of a revenge mission for what happened in 2006, and Oxford are bang on track as John Lundstram scores his first goal for the club to extend their lead. 2-0 to Oxford and just half-an-hour gone.
34th minute: Dean Saunders, Luton Town, 1988
Something’s going on at Kenilworth Road, just 34 minutes gone and Dean Saunders has pulled one back from the spot to make it 1-2. Both sides seem to be struggling with Luton’s plastic pitch, this could end up like a basketball score.
35th minute: Gary Briggs, Manchester United, 1988
Four years ago Oxford dumped Manchester United out of the Milk Cup, now they’re at it again. Gary Briggs has just launched himself through the United defence to connect with John Dreyer’s cross and head Oxford two-up. Fantastic diving header from Briggs, the real United are in the boss seat now.
36th minute: Tommy Caton, Liverpool, 1987
Over at The Manor in 1987 Tommy Caton has equalised for Oxford against champions Liverpool. Despite two great saves from Bruce Grobelaar, there was nothing he could do to prevent Caton forcing it home from two yards. Can Oxford pick up their first win over the Merseyside giants?
37th minute: John Aldridge, Arsenal, 1984
Mixed news from The Manor in 1985. Striker, John Aldridge has just equalised for Oxford United against Arsenal in the Milk Cup. He headed home George Lawrence’s fine cross but was clattered by Pat Jennings. The stretcher is coming on, great goal by Aldridge, but at what price?
38th minute: Alfie Potter, Portsmouth, 2013
We leave The Manor as we’re getting news of an important goal for Oxford United at Fratton Park in 2013. Having gone a goal down, they equalised with Dean Smalley and have now taken the lead with a well taken goal from Alfie Potter latching onto Sean Rigg’s cross.
39th minute: Chris Maguire, Crawley Town, 2016
Equaliser at Crawley Town in 2016, good work down the right from Alex MacDonald, with Chris Maguire driving home from just inside the box. What’s the significance? We don’t know, this is much harder than it looks.
40th minute: Gary Briggs, Leeds United, 1984
BRIGGS! Oxford are on the comeback trail against Leeds United at The Manor. Two down, Gary Briggs connected with a fine Kevin Brock corner to make it 2-1. This team has goals in them, that’s really put Oxford on the front foot.
41st minute: David Rush, Wycombe Wanderers, 1996
Big breakthrough at Adams Park, Oxford are on quite a charge at the moment and David Rush has just connected with a deep cross from Les Robinson to open the scoring against Wycombe Wanderers. Big moment in breaking their duck against Wycombe, bigger moment in their promotion chase.
42nd minute: Billy Hamilton, Arsenal, 1984
Hold on a minute, let’s cross back to 1984. Oxford are down to ten men following John Aldridge’s injury for their first goal against Arsenal in the Milk Cup. And now they’ve done the unthinkable and taken the lead. The Manor is rocking after Northern Ireland international Billy Hamilton connected with Dave Langan’s perfect cross.
43rd minute: Kemar Roofe, Millwall, 2016
With half-time around the grounds and throughout time looming, things are looking rosey at the New Den for the JPT semi-final first leg. Kemar Roofe has just nodded home his second goal latching onto John Lundstram’s audacious drive which cannoned off the underside of the crossbar. That’s 2-0 and you’ve got to say Oxford have one foot in the final.
44th minute: Joey Beauchamp, Manchester City, 1998
Football’s a rollercoaster isn’t it? Oxford have already lost Stuart Massey to what looks like a bad injury, then on the stroke of half time a goal forged in the furnace of the Oxford United academy; Jamie Cook forced the defender into a mistake, the ball was picked up by Paul Powell who played it to Kevin Francis to square for Joey Beauchamp for the opening goal. No sugar in my tea, mum, that’s sweet enough.
45th minute: James Constable, Mansfield Town, 2013
Major goal at Mansfield in 2013. Moments after Mansfield Town had equalised James Constable latched onto Ryan Williams’ cross with the deftest touch to steer the ball into the far corner off the post. 2-1 Oxford, but more importantly, that’s Constable’s 100th goal for the club. What a milestone to reach.
And that’s half-time. A first half full of action and drama. Oxford United will go in very satisfied with their first forty-five minutes’ work. Managers Chris Wilder, Mickey Lewis, Jim Smith, Maurice Evans, Denis Smith, Michael Appleton and Karl Robinson will be looking for more of the same in the second half.
Paul Merson, you were going to say something before the game, any thoughts on how Oxford might approach the second half?
46th minute: Kane Hemmings, Newcastle United, 2017
Sorry Merse, but we’ve got a goal at The Kassam already in the FA Cup against Newcastle United. Chris Maguire collected the ball on the right, crossed it to Chey Dunkley on the back post and Kane Hemmings was on hand to prod home the knockdown from close range. 1-0 Oxford and another cup giant killing is on the cards.
47th minute: John Durnin, Swindon Town, 1992
It’s a goalfest in the derby at the Manor, John Durnin has just got on the end of Chris Allen’s cross to make it 3-2. Big goal for Johnny Lager.
48th minute: Jamie Mackie, Lincoln City, 2019
Oxford cruising now at Sincil Bank as Jamie Mackie adds a third goal. A deft finish from the veteran striker, it’s like his foot was a sand wedge. With former manager and new Lincoln boss Michael Appleton watching on, everything they touch is turning to goals this afternoon.
Brilliant stuff from Joey Beauchamp at The County Ground, he’s just latched onto a Nigel Jemson header and volleyed it past the keeper for the opening goal.
50th minute: Alfie Potter, Northampton Town, 2014
I don’t quite know how he’s done it, but that one feels really sweet. Oxford are 2-1 up against Chris Wilder’s Northampton Town, Alfie Potter has just weaved his way into the box and lobbed the ‘keeper from the tightest possible angle. What a way to stick it to your former boss.
52nd minute: Ray Houghton, Queens Park Rangers, 1986
Wonderful stuff now at Wembley, Oxford United in dreamland with a brilliantly worked goal that’s put them 2-0 up in the Milk Cup. Trevor Hebberd feeding Ray Houghton, beating the QPR offside trap to fire home. A goal to grace any final, we might want to prepare the yellow and blue ribbons now.
53rd minute: Andy Whing, Rochdale, 2013
Stop the count, stop the steal, I’ve seen it all now. It’s the last home game of the season and midfielder Andy Whing has just scored the goal of the season a bicycle kick from four yards out. He looks as shocked as everyone else.
54th minute: Martin Aldridge, Swindon Town, 1996
But, no time to dwell as we head back to The Manor where Martin Aldridge has just punished some poor goalkeeping to make it 2-0 against their deadly rivals.
55th minute: Jack Midson, Yeovil Town, 2009
They’ve looked the better team from the off and now they’ve made the breakthrough. Lovely through ball from Adam Murray and Jack Midson nips in between the ponderous Yeovil defence to lob the keeper. 1-0 and we have a giankilling on our hands.
56th minute: John Aldridge, Aston Villa, 1986
Penalty at Villa Park! Huge moment in this Milk Cup Semi-Final, just sixty seconds after Simon Stainrod had given Villa the lead, John Aldridge has been brought down by Alan Evans and now has a chance to equalise. Aldridge, bounces the ball on the spot as Steve Hodge does his best to put him off. And…
2-2! A massive goal in this tie, Oxford have a second away goal to take back to The Manor.
57th minute: Mark Sykes, Wycombe Wanderers, 2020
What was that? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a cross? Is it a shot? Who knows? Mark Sykes has just blasted spectacular equaliser as Wembley in the play-off final.
58th minute: John Durnin, Tranmere Rovers, 1992
Lifeline at Prenton Park, Oxford have turned their domination into goals. The ball ricochets off an Oxford player and falls to John Durnin to runs through to give Oxford the lead. Blackburn are keeping their side of the bargain at Plymouth, can Oxford make it count and stay up?
59th minute: Kemar Roofe, Swansea City, 2016
Wonderful, wonderful stuff from Oxford as Kemar Roofe puts Oxford 3-1 up against Premier League Swansea City at the Kassam. A blistering break by Chris Maguire set up Roofe finish off the move with a neat finish. We’ve got a big FA Cup giant killing on our hands here.
60th minute: Kemar Roofe, Wycombe Wanderers, 2015
Roofe, again, on his debut this time. How does that work? It’s taken him ten games to get his first, now he’s got two against Wycombe at Adams Park. It was a bit of a daisy cutter, but you’ve got to say that’s going to give the young West Brom loanee confidence.
61th minute: Chris Maguire, Swindon Town, 2016
Oh my goodness, calamitous defending from Swindon Town at the Kassam Stadium. They work the ball back to ‘keeper Lawrence Vigouroux, who tries to launch the ball downfield, but instead it canons off Oxford striker Chris Maguire in the net. What a shambles that club is. Oxford United 2 Swindon Town 0.
62nd minute: Kemar Roofe, Bristol Rovers, 2015
That’s just different class. That boy Roofe is going places. Picks up the ball from Pat Hoban’s knock down 25 yards out and smashes it into the top corner.
63rd minute: Paul Moody, Swindon Town, 1995
Equaliser at The County Ground, and it’s a bit controversial. Les Robinson delivers a fairly innocuous cross into the box which Wayne Allison tries to control. He comes together with Matt Elliott and the ball runs loose to Paul Moody to fire home. Was that a foul by Elliott? We don’t know that we care at the moment.
64th minute: Peter Leven, Port Vale, 2012
Oh, oh, OH! You don’t save those. Only Peter Leven can do that. He’s just won the ball inside his own half, looked up and lobbed the ‘keeper from sixty yards out. Forget about goal of the season, that’s a goal of a lifetime.
65th minute: Jefferson Louis, Swindon Town, 2003
I don’t know how it happened, but it happened. Oxford lead in the FA Cup derby at The Kassam. Jefferson Louis has got the slightest touch on a long Scott McNiven throw and it’s crept through a crowd of players and into the net. Did Steve Basham get a touch on the line. Who knows? But, frankly, who cares?
66th minute: David Rush, Peterborough United, 1996
The shirt is off, it’s party time at the Manor. David Rush has just latched onto a long Mike Ford ball and poked it home for four-nil. That’s the clincher and that’s promotion. And doesn’t Rush know it, he’s got the corner flag out and is waving with triumph. And why not?
68th minute: Mark Rawle, Southend United, 2003
Miracles do happen. It’s been eleven years since Oxford went home with three points from Roots Hall, but Mark Rawle’s strike may just have ended that voodoo. Who wouldn’t bet against Oxford putting together a long winning streak against The Shrimpers in the future?
69th minute: Kevin Brock, Manchester United, 1983
Majestic. Kevin Brock has silenced Old Trafford with a brilliant free-kick in the Milk Cup. Manchester United must have thought this replay was just formality after the scare at The Manor a few days ago, but they know they’re in a game now. Manchester United 0 Oxford United 1.
70th minute: Adam Chapman, Burton Albion, 2009
What a party-pooper. 7000 Burton fans packed into the Pirelli Stadium expecting to celebrate their promotion to the Football League and Adam Chapman has just curled in a wonderful free-kick into the top corner to put Oxford a goal up. Twenty minutes to go, 1-0 to Oxford and the only noise you can hear is from the Oxford fans behind the goal.
71st minute: Dave Langan, Arsenal, 1985
Oxford are at it again, we’ve got another giant killing in the offing after Irish full-back Dave Langan just drove the ball in from 30 yards through the hands of Pat Jennings. I mean, you’ve got to expect him to do better than that, but that’s 3-2 with 19 minutes to go.
72nd minute: John Aldridge, Arsenal, 1986
Relax Oxford fans, the Us are staying up. John Aldridge has made it three-nil against Arsenal in this must-win game at The Manor. Two weeks after the euphoria of Wembley, the goal pretty much secures them a second season in the top flight.
73rd minute: Rob Hall, Swindon Town, 2017
Wow, that’s just about broken the net. Rob Hall’s just picked the ball up from 30 yards out and fired a howitzer into the top corner. Oxford have turned it around here at The County Ground. Swindon 1 Oxford 2 and that’s seven in a row.
74th minute: Liam Sercombe, Carlisle United, 2016
Phone your mum and tell her the Us are going up. Liam Sercombe has just given Oxford a 2-0 lead here at Carlisle with a low drive into the bottom corner sending the thousands of Oxford fans who have made the journey north into raptures. There are hotdogs everywhere.
75th minute: Liam Sercombe, Coventry City, 2017
And again, Sercombe seems to be everywhere at the moment. After being left out of the starting line-up for the trip to Wembley, Liam Sercombe has come on and is playing like a man possessed. He’s just bundled the ball home from close range to pull a goal back for Oxford against Coventry. Coventry 2 Oxford United 1. Game on!
76th minute: Danny Hylton, Barnsley, 2016
Lovely goal, and nothing more than they deserve. For long periods Oxford have been the better team in this JPT Final, and Danny Hylton has just headed home to make to 3-2 to Barnsley. Can they force extra-time here at Wembley?
77th minute: Dean Windass, Chelsea, 1999
Now then. Oxford United are on the verge of going bust and Dean Windass has just scored from the near post with thirteen minutes to go against the aristocrats of Chelsea. Can the paupers beat the princes in the FA Cup tonight?
78th minute: Roy Clayton, Manchester United, 1972
Manchester United have brought their triple threat of Denis Law, George Best and Bobby Charlton to The Manor, but nobody thought about Roy Clayton, whose just put Oxford in front at The Manor.
79th minute: Neil Slatter, Manchester United, 1986
Nightmare start for former Aberdeen manager Alex Ferguson at Manchester United here at The Manor, Neil Slatter has surely settled this making it 2-0 from close range. At this rate, Ferguson won’t last long at Old Trafford.
80th minute: Phil Edwards, Rotherham, 2017
Oxford have been absolutely magnificent against their Championship opponents in the FA Cup, and now they’ve just gone 2-1 up with Phil Edwards latching onto a Alex Macdonald cross.
81st minute: Les Phillips, Everton, 1986
There’s nothing Oxford United love more than spoiling a party. They’re at it again under the lights at The Manor, Les Phillips has just side-footed it home from just inside the box for 1-0. That’s put a massive dent in Everton’s title dreams and kept Oxford’s survival hopes alive.
82nd minute: Paul Moody, Dorchester Town, 1995
It’s a goal rush at The Manor. Paul Moody has just completed his hat-trick, blasting in Oxford’s ninth goal against Dorchester.
83rd minute: Joey Beauchamp, Blackpool, 1996
Is that goal of the day? Of this and any other day. Joey Beauchamp, hero of the London Road just collected the loose ball in midfield and sent it back from 40 yards out with interest. 1-0 Oxford, that’s a big statement in the promotion race.
84th minute Liam Kelly, Newcastle, 2020
Hang on a minute. Just when you thought it was all over, Liam Kelly has scored a brilliant free-kick to pull one back against Newcastle at The Kassam in the FA Cup. That’s got the crowd up again, I don’t think Oxford are quite finished yet.
85th minute: Marvin Johnson, Luton Town, 2017
My word, they’re flying in at the moment. That’s quite a strike from Marvin Johnson, cutting in from the left and sending a rocket into the top corner. Luton Town 2 Oxford United 3. It’s going to take a massive effort for the Hatters to pick themselves up again and prevent Oxford from heading to Wembley for the second time in two years.
It’s been a tense game at The Manor against Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup, but Nigel Jemson may have just snatched it in the dying moments prodding home Paul Moody’s knockdown from three yards. Four minutes left and Oxford are on track to knock the Premier League team out.
87th minute: Alan Kennedy (OG), Liverpool, 1985
Oxford are going to need a stroke of luck to stay in the First Division this season and they’ve just had some against the biggest team in the country. They’ve been hanging on for the whole game, but Peter Rhodes-Brown’s hopeful through ball has been put into his own net by Alan Kennedy for 2-2.
88th minute: Alfie Potter, Swindon Town, 2010
There’s been a breakthrough at The Kassam in the EFL Trophy, James Constable, who has been quiet all game, pounced on a Swindon defensive error squared the ball to the back post for Alfie Potter to slot home. Swindon can’t buy a win against their deadliest rivals.
89th minute: Todd Kane, Charlton Athletic, 2018
Brilliant stuff. Oxford United have no manager and no recognisable striker on the pitch, they’re 2-1 down as we enter the last minute. Great determination from Josh Ruffels on the flank who squares it to Todd Kane to side foot home. I don’t know if they can sneak a winner now, but they deserve it after this performance.
90th minute: Callum O’Dowda, Notts County, 2016
What might that mean come May? Alex MacDonald has just laid it off for Callum O’Dowda to drill the ball into the top left hand corner to make it Oxford United 3 Notts County 2 at Meadow Lane. A great way to start the New Year for the Yellows.
O’Dowda! Again! Is there a more fitting way of securing promotion than seeing a hometown boy weaving his way through the Wycombe defence to fire home from close range. That’s three. And that’s promotion.
92nd minute: Shandon Baptiste, West Ham United, 2019
They’ve left the best ’til last at The Kassam, Shandon Baptiste has put icing on the cake of a magnificent performance weaving through West Ham’s beleaguered defence and slotting home from the left. The gulf in class has been massive.
93rd minute: Pat Hoban, Luton Town, 2015
Yes! No! Yes! Just when you thought the drama was over. Late late equaliser at Kenilworth Road for Oxford United, after Kemar Roofe dragged Oxford back into the game two minutes ago, with the board showing three minutes of injury time, a scramble in the box saw the ball drop to Pat Hoban who scuffed at it and then prodded home at the second attempt for 2-2. Crazy scenes in the away end.
94th minute: Jamie Mackie, Bradford City, 2019
OOOOOOOOHHHHHHH! Massive, massive goal at the Kassam Stadium in the League 1 relegation battle against Bradford City. Bradford have spurned a glorious chance, completely missing an open goal. From the resultant goal kick, Josh Ruffels sent a raking ball to Gavin Whyte whose shot popped up, then Jamie Mackie came marauding through on the volley and slammed it home. Sensational scenes here.
No, wait, what’s happening now? The ref’s not allowed it. What’s going on? A Bradford penalty? Oxford are surrounding the ref pleading with him. Now he’s talking to his linesmen. And. And. It’s a goal, Oxford have snatched this at the death. What a finish.
‘Merse, it’s been such a hectic afternoon, we didn’t even get a chance to find out your thoughts about today’s action.’
‘No problem Jeff, the thing is Jeff. I just can’t see where Oxford’s goals are going to come from this afternoon. I fear for them, I really do.’
Northampton Town are Oxford’s opponents on Tuesday and manager Jon Brady has unveiled his sophisticated new strategy to get them back to being League 2’s second best team: “We want to win football matches playing to our strengths” he said scrawling maniacally on a chalkboard, underlining the words WE, WANT and STRENGTHS. Saturday’s defeat to Crewe was a blip, he said, in a season which has been pretty much blipping all the way to relegation.
Tuesday 23 March 2021
Fans have been moaning about inconsistency – beating the lower teams and losing to the better ones. Well, we’ve nailed that particular problem now we’re consistently losing to everyone. On Tuesday night it was Northampton Town. “If you’re going into the lions’ den don’t put meat in your pocket.” summarised KRob, pulling a mouldy pork pie from a coat he last wore in a family trip to Cotswold Wildlife Park.
Good Friday came a week early as Oxford beat MApp’s misfiring big guns, Lincoln City. The Imps took the lead in the fourth minute. MAppy wasn’t happy when Matty’s arm went flappy to give the ball a tappy, Fordey looked snappy to leave Lincoln feeling crappy. Matty Taylor added a second to put Oxford on the verge of the play-offs.
I’ve often wondered why Sky choose to broadcast lower league games. If last night’s game hadn’t involved us, I wouldn’t have known it was happening. It’s hard to imagine a neutral really wanting the get the latest on the lower echelons of the League 1 play-off race.
Granted, it’s probably part of their contract to cover a certain number of games and the international break, when it doesn’t get in the way of other fixtures, is a good time to show them. But still, when you consider the cost against the benefits, you’d think it would be more cost effective just to give the EFL and the clubs money not to show them.
Gambling probably plays a role, people will gamble on anything nowadays, so even if the TV audience and advertising money isn’t there, there was probably some poor soul betting his weekly rent on the number of throw-ins Jamie Hanson took in the opening twenty minutes.
Whatever the rationale, the reality is that games like this are going to be broadcast on a tight budget. Sky can’t even be bothered to run an ambient crowd noise probably because it would mean paying someone to press the ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ button when there’s a chance.
Those involved are not going to be as thorough in their research of the teams involved, so what tends to emerge is a narrative; an accepted story that gives the game purpose and context. It’s not bias as such, just a short cut that’s easier than finding out the true stories behind the game. A form of groupthink emerges and the presenters tend to follow the narrative regardless of what’s happening on the pitch.
The narrative of last night’s game was the story of Lincoln City and their plucky pursuit of promotion to the Championship. Except, since the game was announced, they’ve fallen away quite badly, picking up just one win in eight.
Michael Appleton has been skittled by injuries and a Covid outbreak leaving him lacking in bodies. The strategy he’s followed at Lincoln is similar to the one that got us promoted in 2016, his squad is focussed on quality not quantity with ex-Premier League academy players who have become stuck and are looking for a new way into the Championship or beyond. We also know that this strategy puts a massive strain on a squad; back in 2016 despite everything that was achieved, we still needed three wins on the trot and Joe Skarz playing on one leg to gain promotion by a point. It’s was a narrow tightrope to what now seems like pre-destined glory.
We got caught up in a similar narrative with last year’s interlopers Wycombe Wanderers. Having topped the table, they too were falling away with eight of the nine losses coming after Christmas. The intervention of the pandemic saved them and by the time they got to Wembley, the narrative was all about their remarkable achievements.
Despite attempts by the commentators to stick to the script that Lincoln, with its team of young talented players, were on the brink of a run to take them back to the top and fulfil the prophecy of their remarkable promotion, it was pretty evident that we were, by some distance, the better team.
It’s clear they’re tired; they opened well, taking the lead, and then blew up. With Michael Appleton lacking options from the bench, they simply faded away. In the second half the commentators kept talking about how they uncharacteristically gave the ball away. There was nothing uncharacteristic about it, it’s a classic characteristic of tiredness. In truth, it was out of character compared to the story they really wanted to tell.
We too are being challenged with tiredness and injury, the win artificially takes us to the brink of the play-offs, but it would take a remarkable set of results for us to be there by the end of the weekend, and that’s before Blackpool, Doncaster, Portsmouth and Ipswich play their games in hand.
But, it’s reassuring to see we’re still fighting; the return of James Henry, along with the brains of Anthony Forde and Matty Taylor were the bedrock of the win and if we can keep them on the pitch there’s still a possibility that we’ll be an awkward presence in the dust-up.
But, brains and experience are boring, we overlook it too often ourselves preferring speed, dynamism and raw unfettered talent for our kicks. Jamie Mackie, in the studio, made the point at the start of the game alluding to his own departure and John Mousinho’s injury as destabilising factors in our post-play-off form which has made this season more difficult. We haven’t replaced that experience, and in areas where we have it, for example James Henry and Sam Long, we’ve struggled to keep them on the pitch.
Despite Sky’s attempt to drag the story back to the exciting talents in the Lincoln team and their pursuit of glory, it was a victory of brains over brawn, not something you can often say about the way we play. It’s something that’s been missing in patches throughout the season; now that everyone is tiring, it’ll be those able to retain clear heads and draw on their deep muscle memory will most likely prevail.