Match wrap: Oxford United 3 MK Dons 2

I don’t know which way is up anymore. The hours seem to drag, but the months fly by. It’s nearly November and the football season’s just started. Last night we watched MK Dons’ operate a suicidal ploy of playing from the back using their goalkeeper as a right-back. It was like something Barcelona would try, but in the hands of lower league footballers, the move was so telegraphed, they ended up in a panic each and every time. You wonder how many times their manager might have to look at it before deciding it’s a bad idea. More than twelve, judging by last night.

As if that wasn’t confusing enough, last night’s win has made this Oxford United’s best start to a season under Karl Robinson. That’s Oxford United who were bottom, are now 20th and who are shipping an average of two goals a game. I repeat, never at this stage of the season have we had it so good. 

What that shows is that Karl Robinson’s Oxford are traditionally slow starters. I don’t buy the idea that we should all just accept that, relax and wait for the inevitable tsunami of glory. Coventry lost three games last season on the way to the title, Luton, Wigan and Sheffield United won their League 1 titles with only six defeats. If you have ambitions for the title, you can’t throw four of your six lives away in the opening few weeks.

Admittedly, the play-offs are more forgiving, historically you can make the top six with more 13-15 defeats, such is the inconsistency of teams further down the ladder. But, it’s the height of arrogance to assume you can take a few punches in the face and not find yourself lying on the canvas with your teeth in the lap of a gangster’s moll at ringside. You can’t just accept these things, you have to question why they happen.

Management guru Peter Drucker coined the phrase ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’; you can have the best plans, processes and targets, but if you don’t have the right norms and behaviours your plans are meaningless. 

Michael Appleton was a strategy guy, he famously had Plan A and no Plan B. He literally played things by the book – and that book is Legacy by James Kerr. Pep Clotet was so strategy orientated, he was blind to the impact it had on everything from culture to results. Like Jeremy Corbyn claiming he’d won the argument during the last election when he’d, metaphorically at least, conceded seven at home to Wigan. 

Karl Robinson is more a culture guy; he’s all about developing the whole player and by extension the whole club. But while strategies are written, cultures are grown, they take time, need a lot of tending and protecting and can be unpredictable.

I’ve always thought that Robinson’s slow starts have been down to his hectic way of playing football. New players end up hanging onto the coattails of their teammates as the ball pings round and players switch from one shape to another at a bewildering rate. 

Think of Alex Gorrin last year, he was booked in his first four games for the club with his late lunging tackles. His time at Motherwell hadn’t prepared him for life under Karl Robinson. Then he looked like a liability, now, judging by his performance last night, he looks like the lynchpin to our defensive security. 

Sean Clare, who has looked out of sorts, had a much more assured game against Peterborough, and was better still against MK Dons. Marcus McGuane was similar; last night he had his best game in an Oxford shirt having looked off the pace in the first few weeks of the season.

I wouldn’t want to suggest that Karl Robinson is unique, but short termism in football is likely to promote a more strategic, command and control approach to a team. The average length of a football manager tenure in the Football League is a fraction over a year. That’s all you’re given to make a mark. In most clubs, the only chance the manager has is to drill their players like an army to get them to perform. There simply isn’t the time to develop a productive culture.

So new players perhaps need more time to settle into a culture which wants them to take responsibility for their role and doesn’t treat them like unthinking automatons. Perhaps that’s why we tend to start more slowly, players simply need to grow into their new club. 

Tiger is an important factor in all this; there have been a number of times when he would have been justified in getting rid of Robinson because the results haven’t been good. But we should benefit from the patience he shows, offering Robinson the space to grow the culture he needs. That can only benefit the club; not only in short term goals of play-offs and promotions, but in the longer term by creating a rolling programme of good quality players to enhance the first team and generate transfer revenues. In a world full of distant foreign owners with a short term views of success, I’m constantly impressed by Tiger’s strategic foresight.

That’s not to say we’re out of the woods just because of a win over MK who, let’s not forget, have gone 13 months without winning on the road. We still look shaky at the back and won’t be helped by Rob Atkinson’s injury. This is a microcosm of the issue; there were times that he looked excellent, a worthy replacement for Rob Dickie, but the question is whether we can keep him on pitch.

None-the-less, a weight has lifted a little, particularly when considering what’s coming up on Saturday, if we can ignore the occasion – which will be much easier to do without a crowd – and continue to evolve the culture and embrace the new players into it, then things will begin to look hopeful.

Midweek fixture: League 1 Kitwatch 2020/2021

There’s nothing better than a new kit; so the summer is new kit Christmas. Nearly everyone have revealed their kit for the new season. I’ll keep updating this post with new designs as they’re revealed. Here’s what we have so far…

Accrington Stanley

Accrington are punching above their weight adopting Adidas as their kit manufacturer. Thankfully they’ve managed to bring the tone down a notch or two with an experimental dotty sleeve. It’s let Accrington down, it’s let Adidas down, but most of all, it’s let the lovely white shirt down.


We’re all shocked to our core with Blackpool’s new shirt; tangerine with white trim, like every Blackpool shirt in history. That said, it’s a nice enough design. Eagled eyed among you will see this template replicated elsewhere. In the least shocking news ever the away shirt is a simple reverse out of the home version.

Bristol Rovers

The key to any artistic process is to know when to stop. Bristol Rovers have an iconic kit and it shouldn’t be difficult to pull a decent shirt out of the bag. This version has funny cuffs, collar, stripe down the arm, what appears to be some kind of camo shadowing. The second kit goes some way to redeeming things, but not much.

Burton Albion

Burton Albion may be the most forgettable team in the division, and their new home shirt lives up to that reputation. One of this season’s trends is the re-introduction of the button collar, which we can all agree is a travesty. And yet, the away kit is so awful, apparently modelled on the faux medical uniform of a cosmetic surgery nurse, that the button may just improve it.

Charlton Athletic

Without doubt Charlton have bigger problems than providing a decent new kit. The home shirt looks like every Charlton kit ever released, while the away shirt is probably a reflection of the mood around the club.

Crewe Alexandra

Crewe’s return to League 1 is marked by a retro red and black number, but it’s the away kit which is of most note, appearing to take inspiration from their shirt sponsor Mornflake Mighty Oats.

Doncaster Rovers

Thankfully Doncaster Rovers’ new shirt is identical to every Doncaster Rovers home shirt of the last decade. The red and white hoops are a classic not to be messed with. The away kit is also pretty sweet; maybe the best combo in the division?

Fleetwood Town

To some people, the fact that Fleetwood Town exist and are managed by Joey Barton is confusing enough. This kit, which seems to adopt about nine different styles in one, is a proper head scrambler. The away kit, however, works really nicely – silver and mint, who knew?


Bit of an odd one this; Gillingham are perhaps the most meh team in League 1, and it appears that they’re sticking with the same kit as last season. It’s OK, Macron, the manufacturer, have a nice style about them. You could describe this as a bit meh, really.

Hull City

Like all the teams coming down from the Championship, Hull have been slow to release their new shirt. The result is an unremarkable number, saved largely by the fact that it’s Umbro, giving it a nice traditional feel. The third kit (no second kit that I can ascertain) is a bit of an oddity; when I first saw it, I really liked it and thought it was one of the nicest in the division, then I looked again and find it a bit boring.

Ipswich Town

A tale of two shirts for Ipswich Town. An absolute beauty for the home shirt reminiscent of their heyday in the 1980s under Bobby Robson. The away shirt looks like someone has washed it with a tissue in the pocket.

Lincoln City

Lincoln City play a classic card with their new shirt. There are few teams that wear red and white stripes who haven’t gone for the disruptive inverted colourway at some point. There will be Lincoln fans everywhere tearing up their season tickets at the abomination, but I like it. The away number is solid but unremarkable.

MK Dons

A solid home option for MK Dons, but you can’t deny they work hard to be the most despicable team in the league, the away shirt is black with gold trim? What are they? A Bond villain? Yes, yes they are.

Northampton Town

I’ve always felt that Hummel offer a hipster’s choice when it comes to shirt manufacturing; typically because of their excellent work on the Danish national shirts in the mid-80s. I’ve also always liked Northampton’s colours. So, put together should be a sure fire winner. the away kit is OK until you look more closely, the strange central dribble, the fading pin stripes. They get away with it, but only just.

Oxford United

Look closely, well not that closely, and you’ll see the new Oxford shirt is the same Puma template as Blackpool and Swindon. Rumour has it that in real life it adopts the geometric pattern of the Peterborough shirt. It’s OK, for a title winning shirt.

Peterborough United

Last season Puma made a big deal of their sublimated flux shirt designs, this year seems to have some kind of geometric update. There are randomised white flecks in there as well. A real nearly, but not quite design, a bit like Peterborough. The away shirt utilises the 437th Puma template of the division, and it’s a bit of a cracker, while nothing screams ‘Revenge season’ then a neon pink third kit.

Plymouth Argyle

Plymouth return to League 1 with a couple of scorchers. The home shirt is spoilt a bit with what appears to be a button collar, the away kit is absolutely magnificent. It’s difficult to imagine under what circumstances they would need a third kit, but it ticks some boxes.


One of the big favourites for the League 1 title next season have opted for a pretty conservative upgrade. What the heck is with that collar though? I quite like the away shirt with its white shadow stripes, it reminds me of our own away kit from the mid-eighties. Was there a three for two offer at Sports Direct? The unnecessary third kit looks like a reboot of our 2013/14 Animalates shirt.


You might call it armageddon chic; there’s a theme in a lot of kits where they’ve taken their standard design and given it a twist. Quite often it’s such a twist it comes off completely. Rochdale are just about the right side of acceptable with the blurred lined and shredded but at the top.

Shrewsbury Town

Aficionados of League 1 kit launches will know that Shrewsbury specialise in producing terrible promotional photography. For evidence try this, this or even this.This year is no different. Still, they get bonus points for adopting Admiral as their kit manufacturer. The away shirt takes inspiration from Oxford’s purple years when we were sponsored by Isinglass.

Swindon Town

Our friends up the A420 have selected yet another Puma kit variation. How many templates does one manufacturer need? It’s a nice and simple design, ruined by the addition of a Swindon Town badge. The away shirt could not be less imaginative if it tried.


Let’s not kid ourselves; all teams use standard templates, but Sunderland’s new Nike shirt absolutely screams ‘park football’. The away shirt is Portsmouth’s home shirt in a different colour way, but that’s OK, I quite like it.

Wigan Athletic

I was genuinely sad when I saw this; Wigan’s kit feels like a club that’s fallen apart with the off-the-peg template and the ironed-on ‘sponsor’ (let’s assume the Supporters Club have not paid a penny for this).

AFC Wimbledon

Have Wimbledon given up? They seem so bored with life they can’t be bothered to feature a decent logo of their sponsor and what can you say about the diagonal shadow stripe? They seem to trump it with the away shirt, which is going some. A shirt that screams relegation.

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.