George Lawrences Shorts: Shotts-on target

Saturday 14 December 2019

In a vacuum, nobody can hear you scream. A 0-1 defeat to legal commercial sports entertainment entity MK Dons brought Oxford United’s 18 game unbeaten run to an end. Oxford fans made up over 2,500 of the crowd with the home support made up of over 8,000 soulless ghouls whose disinterest in the game seemed to suggest they’d taken a wrong turn looking for the soft furnishings section of the Ikea next door.

Sunday 15 December 2019

We live in Christophe Wilde’s world now; a world of real men, straight talking, real talking and straight men. Now Brexit’s getting done, bar decades of debilitating trade negotiations, Christophe’s Premier League sophistication slipped as he talked about gritty northern real stuff and Jim Smith to the Yorkshire post.  

Monday 16 December 2019

Now Charlie Methven has hung up his brown suede moccasins, Sunderland are looking to the future. The struggling League 1 minnows are interested in Feyenoord midfielder Liam Kelly to support their push to mid-table. But, if Kelly prefers to get a four to six week mid-season break with a spurious soft muscle injury KRob is also interested.

Meanwhile, do you remember the time Hull City goalkeeper Alan Fetis scored against us in 1994? Us neither, but you can read about it here.

Tuesday 17 December 2019

It was the Fans’ Forum on Tuesday. Tiger turned up in a pair of slippers and braces, like your dad wearing all his Christmas presents at the same time while watching Raiders of the Lost Ark. Zaki the Unstoppable Sense Machine threatened to record a club song with a local musician. We look forward to Jamie Mackie spitting sick bars over Radiohead’s ethereal electronica underlaid by moody static and spartan syncopated beats; a real terrace anthem.

Malcolm Shotton spoke to The Daily Mail about his days as Oxford captain. Ah, the 80s – a team of attacking flare and joie de vivre, or as Shotts remembers it, an opportunity to assault some of the era’s finest football talent. 

Back in the real world, every morning KRob conducts daily press briefings and interviews. With Manchester City visiting on Wednesday; this time there were people there to listen to him. Everyman KRob, spoke to vegan sandal wearing cosmopolitan elitists The Guardian and the racist, small minded Brexit elitists The Telegraph.

Wednesday 18 December 2019

Football club as produced by Artificial Intelligence algorithm, Manchester City, strolled into town for the Type 2 Diabetes Cup quarter final, securing a 3-1 win. Matty Taylor delivered a flesh wound to the marauding monster seconds into the second half.

Preceding the game, the Oxford Ultras put in an impressive display as a tribute to Jim Smith. The original plan was for an image of the legend’s face, but catastrophe struck when three ultras collapsed in exhaustion during the set up after getting lost in the middle of the great man’s bald head.  

Thursday 19 December 2019

We woke up with a sick feeling in our stomach on Thursday morning. Not because of last night’s result, but because of the mental image of KRob soaking in a warm bath with an Andy McNab novel, his man breasts gently bobbing in the lapping warm water, soapy bubbles coalescing around his nipples. KRob’s pre-match bathing routine was one of many things we learnt after a Telegraph reporter was embedded in the Oxford camp in the run up to our game against Manchester City.

Friday 20 December 2020

Tomorrow we are visited by plucky non-leaguers Wycombe Wanderers, led by divorced dad at the school disco Gareth Ainsworth. The Chairboys, whose nickname comes from the fact they often sit at the bottom of the table, feature Ade Akenfenwa, who has the reputation of having the world’s fattest ego. Oxford will still be without wunderkind Ben Woodburn, who has contrived to break his foot while recovering from breaking his other foot.  

Match wrap: MK Dons 1 Oxford United 0

I went to my work Christmas party on Friday; it was fine. Fine is about the highest rating possible for a work party. The food was good but there was no choice, there was a casino but with fake money, a disco but with neutral, inoffensive pop standards. Work parties have a very restricted sense of fun, it looks good on paper, but is no more than fine in practice.

MK Dons are the office party of the football world. Stadium MK is convenient, comfortable, clean and efficient. It’s also the dullest experience. An early rendition of Yellow Submarine on Saturday in tribute to Jim Smith evaporated into the sky, absorbed in the vacuum of nothingness that’s the MK experience.

It’s hard to imagine the appeal of supporting a team like that, though in many ways that’s Milton Keynes all over; and if that’s all you’re used to, perhaps it’s all you need.

On and off the field we struggled with the bleach clean experience; the fans were quiet where they are normally raucous, the team were flat where they’re normally buoyant.

As a result, we made it pretty easy for them in the dullest first half in living memory. What we needed was more edge, to make it a bit more wild, less corporate; but it was a lot to ask Cameron Brannagan to provide the dynamite in his first game back. He needed to find the pace of the game, we needed him to set it.

Second half was better, but even a full on Jamie Mackie assault was likely to have limited effect. What was left was a narrow corridor between the clean, ineffective, anodyne football of the first half and Trevor Kettle’s idiosyncratic interpretation of laws of the game. Only after their goal did we look like we were negotiating to any effect.

Both Shrewsbury and MK Dons have benefitted from the fact the onus is on us to make the game. We are no longer a dangerous secret, we were like the school weed who has been taking secretly taking karate lessons. You only need to give the school bully a hiding once and the world takes on a different dynamic. It might be a relief to play Manchester City on Wednesday who will surely dictate and dominate the play.

In the New Year the quality of our opponents won’t let up but Christmas and the transfer window determines whether we do it from a position of being contenders or simply antagonisers in someone else’s promotion race. Saturday may have been our first defeat in months, but at the moment, with injuries and the changing landscape of our role in the division, that hangs in the balance.

George Lawrences Shorts: Ooh, my Dickie ticker

Saturday 7 December 2019

There was a lot of camaraderie on the touchline on Saturday as both managers agreed their team was best after the 0-0 draw with Shrewsbury. With injuries to Anthony Forde and James Henry, Oxford ended the game with so many casualties, Boris Johnson promised to build 426 new hospitals on the moon to treat them all, and people believed him too. 

Sunday 8 December 2019

Angle faced Shrewsbury manager Sam Ricketts felt his team were well worth their point; “You could hear the home supporters getting frustrated.” he said. This is a familiar sound to the former Oxford player who heard it every time he appeared at the Kassam.

Monday 9 December 2019

Bad news from Saturday after it was revealed that Anthony Forde popped his lung resulting from his broken ribs. It’s possible that James Henry’s injury is not as bad as first thought; so we can all breathe more easily about that. Unless you’re Anthony Forde, of course.

Tuesday 10 December 2019

Sad news as it was announced that dome bonced managerial genius Jim Smith had died. Smith was responsible for unprecedented success at the club, signing legends like John Aldridge, Billy Hamilton, Trevor Hebberd and Gary Twigg. He was also the man responsible for George Lawrence pulling on a pair of unnecessarily tight shorts for the club. We love you Jim.  

The Milton Keynes Jim Smith, KRob, is still sorely missed at MK Dons. In six years he guided them to The Championship, developed players like George Baldock and Deli Ali and literally didn’t steal another club’s place in the league.

Wednesday 11 December 2019

Potty mouthed KRob has been charged by the FA. He’ll contest the accusation because he thinks it’s a fucking pile of cunting bollocks.

Thursday 12 December 2019

Pocket racist Sam Deering has been talking to something called the World Football Index about his ‘career’. The best player he’s played with is Ricky Holmes who is currently plying his trade in the (physio’s treatment room of the) Premier League. Sadly there was no tribute to any ‘Paki nurses’ who looked after him when he was injured.

There is no obstacle we can’t overcome after it was revealed that in FIFA 20 not only do Oxford United need to beat Championship Millwall in the virtual world, they have to do it with a zombified version of Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford standing in the centre-circle.

He’s a cryin’ talking’ sleepin’ walkin’ livin’ haystack; Boris Johnson has swept to victory in the General Election. We can reveal the secret to his baffling success – his campaign bus of lies was the Oxford United’s first team’s coach. It’s got that winning vibe.

Friday 13 December 2019

It’s the Crazy Gang on Saturday as we head for footballing pariahs MK Dons for the start of the 12 Days of Footballmas. Bookie monster Alex Gorrin is back and James Henry might make the bench, so while the our midfield woes could be clearing up, our defensive troubles may be just around the corner; Derby County are apparently interested in sulky sixth former Rob Dickie. Oh good.

The wrap – Gillingham, Bradford and MK Dons

It was generally acknowledged that December and the Christmas period would define our season and so it has proved to be. It seems most likely that the play-offs are beyond us, and even if we manage to sneak in, then the last few games seem to prove we are still not ready for the Championship.

Whether this is a good thing or not is open to endless debate and probably depends on how impatient you are to see the club achieve its ambitions. The four Christmas games were, of course, overshadowed by the Wigan thrashing. But, looking objectively, they are league leaders and look well equipped to be in the same position at the end of the season, then we played sure-fire play-off contenders Bradford away. Plenty of other teams will lose both those fixtures this season. The problem with them being so close together is that it put pressure on the Gillingham and MK Dons games to pick up points. Four points (and three minutes from taking six) is actually a respectable, if not thrilling points total. So, although Wigan was a humiliation, as a block of results they were probably not wholly unexpected or as disastrous as initially perceived.
Defensively there are issues, of course, if you think that last year we had Edwards, Johnson, Dunkley and Nelson – three of whom can comfortably play in a division above. The back-four we have now is makeshift, each can compete in League 1, but together as a quartet there are issues. 
While MK Dons oscillated gently from boring organisation to blythe incompetence, our performance did show glimpses of what we saw earlier in the season. We were far more mobile in attack, something that has only become possible in the last week or so with the return of van Kessel, Obika and Mehmeti. You could also see the intention to keep moving the ball to pull teams out of shape. English fans are notorious for their affliction to passes going backwards, but it draws the opposition on, helping us to attack on the break. How many times in the last 15 years have we complained about not being able to break teams down at home? This can be a very effective way of doing it.

Of course, the ultimate ambition is to be competitive with the teams at the top of the division. But, there is little doubt that the Eales project was significantly disrupted during the summer, so being on par with last year is not an unrealistic ambition in the circumstances and, despite the disruption, that’s pretty much where we are.
Pep Clotet’s arrival coincided with the gutting of Michael Appleton’s squad. He filled the gap with people he knew he could trust and, more importantly, were available. He’s implied in interviews that he didn’t expect to have to fill so many holes in the squad. So, what we we have seen to date is not so much the end state, but glimpses of Clotet’s philosophy.

If December was a test of our current credentials on the pitch, January may be more important off it. While it’s unlikely that we’ll fix all the weaknesses in the squad, the nature of any signings we make could give us a clearer indiction of the real Pep Clotet model. 

MK Dons wrap – MK Dons 1 Oxford United 1

We now live in a post-Johnson world. With the Lundstram, Maguire and Sercombe deals preceding it, it seems an age since the only thing we had to talk about was football. Games happened between signings and speculation rather than the other way around. Take Saturday’s game against MK Dons, last year there was hyperbole around the size of following we took, this year there was barely a mention. The distraction is all with good reason; Experimental 361 blog says that there are only 5 clubs in the top five divisions with more churn in their squad.

Now we can hopefully begin to settle, not just until the next transfer window, but until the end of the season. The draw with MK Dons suggested that Johnson’s departure has been a good thing. In the games I’ve seen this year, there’s been plenty of talent on show, but little cohesion. A plan B without a plan A.

How might Johnson’s situation have impacted that? Obviously there’s the simple factor that all the while he was at the club but unavailable, there was potentially a Johnson sized hole in any plan, but also when a player gets a reputation as a multi-million pound man, he takes on a different guise. Up until the point he has a price tag, he’s just another player. Then he’s a £3million pound player; his ability has a quantity. Are players then a little more inclined to look to him for a solution? Do they miss him when he’s not there, cursing their bad luck on the fact that their star man is absent and therefore the cause of any problems or struggle?

Quite possibly. Certainly for once we looked better as a collective, greater than the sum of our parts. That’s because good teams are built not so much on talent, but on options. When one option eclipses all others, then it becomes much easier for your opponents to counter your threat.

Pep Clotet needs to develop a better understanding of the buttons he has to push to win games. His hand was forced to some extent by the relatively early loss of Tiendelli, although Aaron Martin looked solid when the defence was reshuffled. But, Clotet should have reacted more quickly to Dons’ growing threat as the second half wore on. But who to turn to? And when? And that is, currently, the challenge.

Certainly van Kessel and Obika need to learn to play together; there’s a partnership in there somewhere with Obika’s power and van Kessel’s pace, but is there the temperament to make it work? Ultimately Clotet has plenty to play with, with more still to come. The opening chaotic phase of reshaping his squad is now over, now is the time to find a groove, if it can be done before the clocks go back, then the season will start to look very promising.

MK Dons wrap – Oxford United 1 MK Dons 0

It’s hard to remember given the 42 days since our last home league game, but Fans Day felt a little like every other day to me. It was ironic that it was played against a team whose fans have the shallowest roots in the country. Perhaps it was a sly dig rather than a club promotion.
Irony is somewhat lost on MK Dons fans given their sledging of Rob Hall for turning down a contract in favour of us during the summer. The club practically re-wrote the book when it comes to betrayal in football. Not only is there the well documented looting of Wimbledon, surely most of their fans have betrayed other clubs to follow the Dons at some point.
Hall is one of the remarkable stories of the season. I wasn’t hopeful when he signed; he’d had a pressure-free cameo at the club a few years ago on loan from West Ham but had never become the ‘new Jermaine Defoe’ that was promised at the time. Coupled with a long term injury, it seemed likely that he’d end up wallowing on the fringes like Danny Rose did in his second stint at the club. 
But, his recovery from injury and instant return to form has been stunning. A few years ago, he would have been out for far longer and would have had to remodel his game to accommodate any residual effects of his injury. But, he’s come back as if nothing had happened, his pace and guile being a key reasons we’ve hit the form we have.
Dons are a functional if uninspiring unit, fitting given that’s how you might describe the retail parks and shopping centres that characterise their city. They compressed the game into a third of the field and left little space down the flanks creating a gravitational force that the players, let alone the ball, struggled to escape from.
At the start of the season we were being caught out by competent physical teams, but it’s a different story now. Ryan Ledson relishes the muck and bullets of a midfield battle, even John Lundstram seems more comfortable in a dog-fight than he used to. Curtis Nelson became a deep-lying ball-carrying midfielder – it takes some guts to dribble into such a melee knowing the gap you’re leaving behind, but he’s looking more comfortable with every game. Even Toni Martinez, who on paper – a Spanish loanee from the Premier League – should not, by rights, want to get involved in anything so quintessentially English – battled away.
Marvin Johnson was re-deployed to left-back presumably to manage the threat of George Baldock. In the end they spent most of their time revving their engines like two high performance sports cars, neither quite having the guts to truly challenge the other just in case they were caught out.
With Martinez proving a handful dragging defenders to the floor and leaning into them, Kane Hemmings was the perfect replacement for half-an-hour of renewed harrying. When fired up he has the ability to cause weary centre-backs all sorts of problems and he came on and made a proper nuisance of himself. 
Ultimately someone needed to break out of the compact mass of bodies. Johnson occasionally patrolled his flank like Frank Poncherello in CHiPs, Chris Maguire beavered away as he does, but it was Hall who finally found the angle that allowed him to cross for Hemmings to glance home. A fittingly ironic way to settle the game.

Milton Keynes wrap – MK Dons 0 Oxford United 0

This week I saw a photo of the 1980/81 squad. Although my first ever Oxford game was five years earlier, the 1980 squad is the first I consciously remember. In the picture were Malcolm Shotton, Gary Briggs, Kevin Brock and Andy Thomas who in six short years would be part of our greatest ever triumph.
It was a reminder that our success wasn’t just about Robert Maxwell’s money or Jim Smith’s genius. Among those unassuming legends-in-waiting were also some of my early heroes; Roy Burton, whose shorts fell down when he took a goal kick, John Doyle, who enthralled me with his ability to reach the half way line his clearances and Joe Cooke, who I remember being impressed by because he was black. I was very young at the time.
On Saturday we headed for MK Dons, a club who are younger than Facebook and who didn’t exist when we last lost to Swindon. Oxford fans, like many fans, sneered at the Stadium MK experience. But this was really just retro-fitting their experience to match their pre-conceived prejudices.
In fact, the stewards were friendly, the traffic was well managed, the stadium facilities are top class; it is a very nice place to watch football. One person said that it was a great stadium, but not for football. So what was it great for? Powerboating? It might be a templated modern stadium bowl, but people who think football should only be played in a Victorian goliath are the same people who think our modern rail system should be steam powered.
I don’t like MK Dons’ history any more than anyone else, no club should be able to buy its way into the Football League. But they are not the only football club to be born out of controversy. Take Liverpool; they were formed by the owner of Anfield after he evicted Everton from his ground and set up his own club, also called Everton (later renamed Liverpool). Nobody thinks of Liverpool as the ‘real’ Everton in the way that people think that Wimbledon are the rightful owners of MK Dons’ place in the league. The MK Dons controversy just happened in a time when people were particularly focussed on protecting the game’s perceived heritage.
Blinded by the moral issues, people conveniently ignore that when Peter Winkelman took over the club, Wimbledon were £30m in debt, falling to the bottom of the league and without a stadium of their own. Merton council were disinterested in helping save their local club as it plummeted into the abyss. Their fanbase weren’t that much more interested. Relocating to somewhere with better market conditions was a logical, if uncomfortable, option.
The Dons will always carry a stigma, there was a time when people wouldn’t even enter the ground, and even now When Saturday Comes magazine will not talk about them, but in the main they are a pantomime villain rather than a moral travesty.
But, it is difficult to imagine how they will realise whatever vision they have for their future. When they’re winning games and playing big teams, I imagine that going regularly to the stadium is an enjoyable experience for locals. But do the roots go deeply enough into the city to keep the club going when times are tough?
It seems not, you don’t get much sense that Dons fans are urging their team to glory given how few were in the stadium on Saturday. The official attendance was over 12,000, but that would mean the stadium was nearly half full, which seems very generous. You get no sense of a rich history binding the club together, a sense of purpose, a real desire to survive and thrive. Probably because there is no rich history to protect.
Karl Robinson’s approach to football is as one dimensional as his club. It reminded me of a good second division side. He maintained a rigid shape which gave little away and tried to knock the ball beyond our back-four for Agard to chase, a tactic that never really worked, but which he religiously stuck to none-the-less.
Of course, we know George Baldock, and it was telling just how shackled he is in Robinson’s system. Maybe he was simply pinned back by Marvin Johnson, but there were opportunities for him to bomb forward like he did for us last season, but instead he skulked around on the halfway line while another attack broke down.
We went through periods of not being much better, and looked dead on our feet in the closing minutes. But, by-and-large, I thought we’re looking increasingly comfortable at this level and we can start feeling optimistic about the season.

Karl Robinson laughably claimed his team were the better side, ignoring that his goalkeeper had won man of the match and only one of the four or five action replays shown on the big video screens featured a Dons attack. But then, this is the Karl Robinson who reneged on a season-long loan deal for Baldock before being apparently aghast when Rob Hall walked out on the club to sign for us. He’s a funny chap, just like his club.