George Lawrence’s Shorts: Up Pompey!… Ooh you are awful

Saturday 2 November 2019

Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Portsmouth was preceded by a Remembrance ceremony so shambolic, it made the First World War look like an episode of Great British Bake-Off. After a minute’s silence, which lasted for well over three, the teams appeared for yet another minute’s silence. Then, in the 90th minute, Matty Taylor popped up to nod home Oxford’s equaliser. Portsmouth fans then meticulously observed several more minutes of silence as they trudged home.  

Sunday 3 November 2019

It’s been debated for years and divided families, but finally it seems to be happening. Yes, Lincolnshire sexiest people have been ranked. Our own Mr Big Guns, and new Lincoln manager, Michael Appleton muscled in at number 11. 

Who is he sexier than? it’s…… Rebekah Vardy (45th), Nicholas Parsons (31st) and Rob Lowe – an America who once played a policeman from Lincolnshire.

Michael isn’t as sexy as Sergeant Mike ‘Tempo’ Templeman from Channel 5’s Police Interceptors or number 1 – Bhasha Mukherjee who is A beauty queen! A woman! and a Doctor! A combination we all know is not actually possible.

Monday 4 November 2019

We were thrust into the vice-like jaws of Big Football on Monday as it was announced that our Type 1 Diabetes Cup Quarter-Final against cash bores Manchester City will be Live! On! Sky! On! Wednesday! 16! December! This will allow the club to suckle on the teat of Sky’s cash cow to the tune of £125000. The game they’re calling ‘Man City Covets Thy Neighbours Ox’ or something, accommodates City’s big game against Arsenal on Sunday, which Sky are billing as ‘The Big Man’s Arse’ – which we all thought was Scott McNiven. 

Tickets are on sale to season ticket holders and members, and will be available to half-and-half scarf wearers in a couple of weeks. 

Tuesday 5 November 2019

We’re not suggesting that Lancashire has slow internet, but The Lancashire Post were reporting a game from 49 years ago on Wednesday. The game between Oxford and Preston resulted in an outfield player in goal and a goalie on the wing in a sling. 

Former Oxford captain John Lundstram is rapidly becoming hipster’s choice in the world of Fantasy Football. Once celebrated as a master of the passing craft, he’s now revered for being cheap and mistakenly labelled as a ‘defender’ in the fantasy parallel world, thereby clocking up plenty of unexpected points. What a life.

Wednesday 6 November 2019

Ipswich are on the run from the rampant Yellows after they (Ip)switched the game between the two sides on the 16th November due to international call-ups. The international break would have seen the Ipswich Galacticos stripped of their Cypriot international, a Tunisian Under 23 and Albanian Under 19.  

Thursday 7 November 2019

It was the Six Minute Ten Seconds Fans Forum on Thursday with Jamie Mackie. ‘Who winds you up in training?’ was the first question which caused Mackie to collapse on the floor holding his head, theatrically check his forehead for blood and moan for the rest of the interview about how he’s not getting any protection from the rough-housing.

Friday 8 November 2019

You have to feel for Sunderland, it’s like they live in a parallel universe. One website has suggested that the benevolent failure-magnets could be good enough to take Cameron Brannagan off our hands in January. This is due to us ‘punching above our weight’ (aka punching above Sunderland). The Mackem’s would walk League 1 if less entitled clubs would get out of the way and let them do it.

Saturday 9 November 2019

Going to football is cold and miserable; we should just stay at home with a spreadsheet. That’s what data driven Five Thirty Eight have done; they’ve plugged all their numbers into Excel and predicted that we’ll finish third behind Ipswich and Sunderland. A lot of factors are considered; expected goals, defensive qualities, number of seats in your stadium, Charlie Methven’s loafers, that sort of thing.

Match wrap: Oxford United 3 Gillingham 0

Steve Evans’ comment that our win over Lincoln last week was the result of two lucky goals was either an act of gross complacency or a bungled attempt at spooky mind games.

Either way it showed Evans up to be spent force he is. Once upon a time he was an intimidating character capable of squeezing out results from average teams and gaining an edge by unsettling officials and opposition managers. 

Now he’s just a slightly daft, dangerously overweight, old man ranting to no great effect on the sidelines. He reminds me of those fans you see at away games acting like testosterone fuelled teenagers even though they’re on the wrong side of fifty. Just a bit silly, really.  

The lucky goals comment was so obviously wrong, it was impossible for anyone to be derailed by it. As long as we focussed on the same things that brought us the wins over Lincoln and West Ham, we were good enough to win comfortably.

But keeping it simple has not always been Karl Robinson’s strong suit. You could have predicted Mark Sykes dropping out of the squad despite a near man of the match performance on Wednesday. For some managers, resting players seems to be a way of showing fans that you’re operating on a higher plane. It seems there are Premier League managers would only be happy if their best players were permanently rested, as if there are no games important enough for them to be risked.

Unless you’re Manchester City, where you can make eleven changes and still field a title winning side, changing players always risks derailing a winning team. But, some managers can’t resist the temptation of making destabilising adjustments to prove a point about how it is them, not the players, who are winning games.

So when Karl Robinson made the changes he did; it felt like rather than focus on simply beating Gillingham, he was setting out to prove how astute a manager he was. How he didn’t need to rely on lucky goals.

In some ways Gillingham was a tougher test than West Ham. Against a Premier League club there’s no expectations, you can lose and retain respect as long as you’ve put in maximum effort. In the league effort accounts for nothing, results are everything.

But, we have a core of experience – Eastwood, Ruffels, Mousinho, Henry and Taylor (or Mackie) which anchors the squad. These players are less susceptible to the ups and downs of a season and know that for all the highs of Lincoln and West Ham, they count for little against the likes of Gillingham. As a result, we were calm and purposeful and it gave us openings; we took them early and suddenly everything was comfortable.  

Apart from James Henry trying to complete his half hat-trick when better options were available, and Simon Eastwood getting in a muddle on the edge of his box at the start of the second half, it was the most straight forward and well-managed win we’ve had at home for a long time. The calm heads after the thrill ride of the last week was particularly encouraging.

I’ve been thinking recently about our 1996 promotion season and the last 17 games were we lost one and drew two. There was an avalanche of goals then as well. It felt like flying down hill on a bike; it was exhilarating but there was the nagging knowledge that the slightest wobble could see us mangled up at the side of the road. It feels like that at the moment; we won’t keep scoring bucketloads of goals for the rest of the season; so the real questions are – how long can we keep it going and more importantly, how well will we manage it when we don’t?

Match wrap: Oxford United 4 West Ham United 0

The League Cup is our competition; we’ve beaten some of the biggest clubs in the country in it; Manchester United, Arsenal, Newcastle, Leeds, Everton. We’ve even won it, of course; it agrees with us in a way that the FA Cup doesn’t.

But, it’s mutated into a curious beast; a trophy that’s still worth winning but that clubs dismiss with weakened teams. It’s like the EFL Trophy, but where its esoteric rules are applied to each position – the left-back is an Academy player, the right-back a first choice international, the playmaker is someone you vaguely remember from another club and another time. If you’re a lower league team, playing weakened Premier League opponents devalues your achievements, but in the League Cup, are they genuinely weakened? It’s hard to know.

The difference between us and West Ham is best illustrated by our stadiums. Ours, a three-sided concrete mess in the vice-like grip of its cruel landlord. Theirs, a world class facility acquired for a fraction of its value due to the bungled negotiations of Boris Johnson. Their team, weakened or not, was bought for £157 million, ours wasn’t.

Like last season’s game against Manchester City, the match was approached as an enjoyable diversion. The atmosphere was a contented buzz, the crowd bigger than normal, but not, you know, big big.  

After two minutes of unremarkable posturing, there was an audible groan as a combination of passes down the left cut us to pieces. The noise was familiar; from a hum of hopefulness, there was a sudden collective recognition of our inferiority. It suggested a template typical of this kind of tie; we’d play well, we’d be brave, but we’d lose. Or so it seemed.

Then after a few more minutes of harmless jousting, their back-four were pushing the ball between themselves. I looked into our half – there it was, like a murmuration; the perfect form of two banks of four. They couldn’t go round us, they couldn’t go through us, and Premier League lore says you mustn’t go over us.

We were enveloped by a moment absolute clarity; a perfect defensive formation, not the confusing nine-dimensional chess Karl Robinson tries to employ to beat likes of Rochdale or Burton. It was the old Ian Atkins adage of winning the right to play. Our conservatism was aided by our selection; Sam Long will never be a quantum full-back, Elliot Moore likes nothing more than to defend. Passes are straight and short, deliberate and moderate; we weren’t just resisting West Ham, we were throttling the life out of them.

Their £157 million team was supposedly weakened with nine changes from Saturday. But, we made six including Rob Hall fresh from a year out injured and Mark Sykes, who a few weeks ago was being mooted for a League 2 loan deal. And then there was Jamie Mackie, who can count on one hand how many more chances he’ll have for games like this.

Minutes tick by and we look increasingly comfortable, but comfort means nothing; a narrow plucky defeat would be quickly forgotten, even a narrow win would be put down to their complacency, if we want to win, and for it to mean something, we needed to win properly.

Cameron Brannagan finds himself in front of goal but scuffs the ball badly wide. Rob Hall clips the top of the bar from a free-kick. We break their defensive line on a couple of occasions; Forde has a chance which rolls harmlessly wide.

Half-time comes, it’s 0-0 and we’re the better side; but half time is always critical in these games; it’s when the adrenalin drains from the legs, concentration seeps from the mind. You’re suddenly faced at the re-start with leadened limbs and slowed reactions. Like the JPT Final against Barnsley – we were brilliant for 45 minutes, but the break broke us.

Not this time; Elliot Moore spins in a crowded box to slot in the first. It’s a tight turn and the finish is threaded through the only narrow channel available to him. The nimble manoeuvring of his hulking body is reminiscent of the craft of Matt Elliot. 1-0.

Then, Jimenez saves miraculously from Mackie. Sykes passes a ball to the back post finding Matty Taylor for number two. Everyone chases Taylor down to celebrate in front of the fans; Sykes trots across the pitch to join them, but realises he’ll never get there and turns back. To think, he might have been turning out for Mansfield or Cheltenham and here he is drilling a world class cross for 2-0 and nobody’s there to congratulate him.

West Ham are woeful, you can tell from the movement amongst their fans they’re incandescent with rage. The humiliation illustrates the gap between the Premier League players and their fans – for the players this is a distraction from their millionaire lifestyles. To the fans, it’s an afternoon off work, an expensive train journey, a decent chunk out of a weekly wage. Their sacrifice is being rewarded with a performance utterly lacking in imagination and effort.

We, on the other hand, are fully committed. For Jamie Mackie, there will be few nights like this between now and retirement, for Sam Long and Josh Ruffels, this is their calling, for Cameron Brannagan and Shandon Baptiste it’s another step towards greater things. Together, we are all in.

The commitment drives a rare perfection. Every passing play becomes more pure. We’ve won the right to play; it gives Tariqe Fosu a platform to pounce on a mistake to sprint half the length of the pitch, round the keeper and slot home for number three.

And then, as the game drifts into its final moments; the result is beyond doubt; the score illustrates the dominance, the ‘weakened team’ caveat is fully extinguished – this is not just a simple anomaly.

The ball works its way to Shandon Baptiste; the future of Oxford or of football or some other absurd Karl Robinson platitude. Above all, it’s a boy with a talent that has been blighted by a year of injury. He clips the ball over the first defender and drives into the box, feints to go past the second and rolls the ball deftly into the far post for a conclusive fourth.

It’s the bluest sky, the perfect silence, the purest diamond; Baptiste wheels away. It’s unfettered perfection. These are moments of rare fleeting beauty. Eventually a cloud will spoil the perfect sky, a noise will break the perfect silence, but right there and then in that very moment, it’s magical. These gifts, in our hard and unpleasant times, are rare and so fleeting, you owe it to yourself to simply drink it in.

George Lawrence’s Shorts: International bright young things

Saturday 7 September 2019

There was a right old punch in the guts on Saturday and for once it wasn’t administered by Joey Barton. A late goal against Barton’s Fleetwood Town saw Oxford go down 2-1.

Sunday 8 September 2019

Oxford’s greatest ever Lichensteiner, and hero of George Lawrence’s Summer Shorts, Benji Buchel returned to the white hot heat of international football on Sunday with a 1-1 draw against Greece in Athens. The 68,000 seater stadium was throbbing for the encounter being just 65,000 fans short of a sell-out.

Monday 9 September 2019

Having missed the opportunity to miss Saturday’s Fleetwood game, Jedward orphan Mark Sykes missed the opportunity to sit on the bench for Northern Ireland’s plucky 2-0 defeat to Germany in Belfast. Sykes sat in the stand while his fellow former Oxford Jedward, Gavin Whyte, came off the bench after the Irish back-stop had been breached.

Giving a new slant on the term ‘international break’, Ben Woodburn also didn’t play in Wales’ 1-0 win over Belarus. It’s a shame really, we think he’d have asked some searching questions of the opposition. Questions like: ‘Would you like me to introduce you to Gareth Bale?’

Tuesday 10 September 2019

Operation YellowCadden has revealed that Motherwell’s hopes of sunlit uplands is likely to end in a great pile of dung while venal rich fatcats make a financial killing. Cadden is, of course, on loan from Columbus Crew having left Motherwell in an entirely legitimate move which wasn’t in any way designed to avoid making a solidarity payment in lieu of Cadden’s development in Scotland. Motherwell’s boss has revealed he is in dispute with the Crew and is not expecting any resolution in the next couple of years.

Wednesday 11 September 2019

It was centre-back central on Wednesday as two former Oxford defenders opened up about their latest career moves. The top man’s top man Jakey Wright wright wright explained why moving to Bolton is the right right right move for him. In Leicester, Phil Gilchrist was chased down the street for an interview for their club website revealing that he nearly left Oxford at the same time as Matt Elliot, but wasn’t allowed to until they got in a suitable replacement. In the end, they didn’t get one, so they signed Brian Wiiiiiillllllsterman instead. 

Thursday 12 September 2019

KRob was in the hot seat for Radio Oxford’s Six Minute Eighteen Seconds Fans’ Forum, which ended up sounding like the lottery numbers being announced. The stadiumsituation played second fiddle as fans wanted their say on the club’s woeful form. Maureen from Witney thinks we should play 4-3-3 while Brian from Abingdon prefers 4-2-3-1, perhaps KRob should go with Beverly Hill’s 9-0-2-1-0, though Flavor Flav phoned to say that 9-1-1’s a joke in our town.

Friday 13 September 2019

The club said there was good news and bad news on the injury front. Matty Taylor who has had so many Oxford comebacks he might be Benedict Come-ber-back, could feature against Tranmere on Saturday while Jamie Hanson will be out for three and a half months. They didn’t say what the bad news was.

No, you’re a cheap shot, mate.

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.

George Lawrence’s Shorts: Lip up Matty

Saturday 17 August 2019

A hatful of easy opportunities, too much wood, then a return home full of regret. That’s always been GLS’ experience of a weekend in Blackpool. It was much the same on Saturday as Oxford went down 2-1 to The Seasiders, whose winner was scored by  Armand Gnandulliet, a player so unplayable even he doesn’t know what his legs are going to do next.

Sunday 18 August 2019

Cosmopolitan sophisticat Čhrïßtòphė Ŵîłdê’s Oxford United skipper fiddling fetish peaked on Sunday as former Oxford captain John Lundstram gave Sheffield United a 1-0 over Crystal Palace, in what was their first, and probably only win of the season.

Meanwhile the Daily Mirror, a tabloid so highly principled it allows page 3 girls to wear a bra, did a takedown of teenage loanee wunderkind Ben Woodburn. They report Liverpool’s youngest ever goalscorer has been ‘reduced’ to playing as a substitute in front of 3,000 fans. The paper neglects to mention that it was a League Cup game he was being rested for, or that he started in front of 33,000 fans 10 days earlier – two thousand more fans than his parent team did on Sunday.

Monday 19 August 2019

Matty Taylor, who you’ll remember from two Setanta Shield campaigns in the late 2000s, has signed from Bristol City on loan. Taylor will wear the number nine shirt previously worn by the man who put the ‘meh’ in Sam S-meh-th. Taylor joins a long line of illustrious Oxford number 9’s, begging the question; he’s good, but is he Tim Sills good?

*knock knock*
Hello?
Hello mate, can I help you?
I’m George Thorne, on loan from Derby.
Right, OK, suppose you’d better come in.
*Shuffles in forlornly*
Oh, George.
*hopefully* Yes?
We’ve just signed Matty Taylor.

Tuesday 20 August 2019

No Carol, Fairy Liquid isn’t a good alternative to screenwash, it doesn’t have the necessary antifreeze or biocides. KRob’s fully operational battleship proved to have a few teething troubles on Tuesday night as Oxford went down 2-4 to Burton. Matty Taylor was the photon beam designed to destroy all-comers, but it needs a good dousing of WD40 as he was left frustrated.

Wednesday 21 August 2019

The Mirror’s favourite failed footballing teenager, Ben Woodburn has been called up to keep a welcome in the hillside with the Welsh national side. It means he’ll miss the opportunity to be rested for the EFL Trophy game against Norwich Juniors as well as the league game against Fleetwood Town.

Thursday 22 August 2019

Wearing silver drainpipes and doing peace signs has clearly become intolerable to John Mousinho and James Henry as they discuss the intricacies of the Irish backstop over a cup of herbal tea. Recently orphaned half of the Oxford United Jedward, Mark Sykes, has been made available for loan. Fans on Twitter were calling for Rob Hall to go on loan, which wouldn’t achieve the stated opportunity of giving Mark Sykes more game time.

Friday 23 August 2019

A packet of Twiglets, the half-tub of ice cream I left in the freezer for pudding that SOMEONE HAS EATEN and Piers Morgan will all have a place to go before tomorrow’s game against Bristol City. Bristol police announced that it would be supplying an amnesty bin for anything likely to incite hatred or abuse before Saturday’s game.

Match wrap: Oxford United 2 Burton Albion 4

I have to confess I’m not bought into the Matty Taylor narrative, at least not the romance of his homecoming. There are two reasons for this; the first is that once a player leaves our orbit I tend to lose track of them. I don’t remember Taylor’s initial stint at the club and I’m only vaguely aware of his movements since. I sometimes think I should be more aware of the comings and goings of clubs and players, but I think, in reality, everyone knows a little bit which when thrown into the social media melting pot, makes it feels like everyone knows everything. 

The second is that I remember the return of Joey Beauchamp, as far as I can remember the last genuine Oxford boy returning home. I expected the streets to be lined with well-wishers and the stands to be packed to the rafters. And then for Beauchamp to sweep all before him. In truth, his first game back was a workaday league fixture and his performance was muted. That’s because he’s human and not a cartoon character. 

I wonder to what extent Karl Robinson bought into the story. He gets the sentimentality in football clubs – but is it a rational or emotional understanding? He said before the defeat to Burton he’d planned to use Taylor from the bench – a more conventional approach with new signings – but the striker insisted he wanted to play; the emotional response. The story arc was Taylor’s triumphant return which would be capped with, obviously, with a thrilling winner.

But, this isn’t Taylor slotting into familiar surroundings; he left the club ten years ago, everything has changed. To expect him to suddenly transform us was always asking too much.

On Tuesday we started at a blistering pace with balls pinging about from one player to another. I saw a statistic recently that we have made more passes than any other team in the division by some distance. It’s a hallmark of the way Robinson wants us to play.

This approach may surprise good teams and should overwhelm limited ones, but Burton are a diesel – sometimes they fall behind, sometimes they creep ahead, but the pace of progress is steady. In essence, they allowed us to make mistakes and picked up the scraps and turn them, with greater efficiency, into chances. 

We improved after conceding the first goal; which was probably down to the fact there had to be a lull after the high energy opening. The urgency to move the ball and ultimately give Taylor the chances he wanted receded, but as a result, the passing was more accurate and purposeful and the chances, converted by Cameron Brannagan and Anthony Forde.

But it didn’t last; it struck me how short passing was, five or six exchanges would only gain a few metres. Burton could cover great swathes of the pitch in three or four. It wasn’t long-ball, it was just that their passes meant things more often. Only Brannagan really passed with any efficiency; continuing his phenomenal early season form.

Had we started with Mackie perhaps we’d have been less eager to fulfil the prophecy of Taylor’s triumphant return. I’ve no doubt that Karl Robinson is right when he says that Taylor improves the squad, and his experience should ensure he doesn’t dwell too much on the result or where his first goal will come from. But he won’t transform the team, he needs to grow into it and the team into him.