George Lawrences Shorts: Pep-etual emotion

Saturday 23 November 2019

GLS is an aficionado of the game’s finer points; so it wasn’t the four goals that impressed us against Southend on Saturday, it was the build up play. The Southend defence managed to cut themselves to ribbons before playing in Matty Taylor for our first after just 53 seconds. Consistency is the mother of perfection, and they did it again twenty minutes later for James Henry to score. Matty Taylor added a third before Dan Agyei hoovered up the fourth to polish off a 4-0 win.

Sunday 24 November 2019

Southend fans needn’t worry, in Brexit Sol Campbell they’ve got one of the finest minds in football at the wheel. “It’s work in progress and it’s not easy.” said the man who previously said “it’s not like it’s rocket science to run a football club, especially when you get to that level.”

The fans are certainly enjoying Brexit Sol; and have taken to the Southend Echo to sing his praises “Gutless, spineless performance. No fight or passion. Gone beyond embarrassing now.” said one.

Monday 25 November 2019

Old Braveheart himself, Chris Hargreaves has been linked with the vacant Grimsby job. He’s a long-haired lunger from Liverpool Cleethorpes who made millions from signing-on fees having played for nine clubs including two spells with Oxford. After retiring, he wrote the celebrated journal ‘Where’s Your Caravan’ a book about the racial stereotyping of the travelling community.

Tuesday 26 November 2019

There was some proper yellow-on-yellow warfare going down on Tuesday as former Oxford loanee Garry Monk unloaded on his ex-colleague and former Oxford United environmental disaster, PClot, ahead of Birmingham City’s draw with Sheffield Wednesday.  

Monk, who played five games on loan at The Manor in 2000, said of Clotet “You show them [his staff] complete trust and you hope they repay that trust with hard work and loyalty. Sadly not everyone has those values in their character”.

Tough stuff. Of course, there are two sides to every story, so in his defence, PClot had Dwight Tiendelli at full-back. 

Wednesday 27 November 2019

The Argentine Alfie Potter, Diego Maradona, has taken to Instagram to praise long ball merchant Peter Leven who has assistant-steered Dynamo Brest to the Belarussian League title. Leven admits that on being offered the job he had to Google the word ‘Brest’. He’d have got away with it if he hadn’t also claimed to have been offered a job at Sweet Ass Bromwich Albion.   

Thursday 28 November 2019

It was the Eight Minute Fans Forum on Radio Oxford with KRob, who managed to keep a straight face when he revealed the club had put in a bid for Chris Cadden, whose loan deal from Columbus Crew was definitely not a cynical move to avoid paying Motherwell development compensation. KRob also suggested that now he’s retired, James Constable could open a coffee shop, he makes a lovely Damian Batt-enberg Cake.

Friday 29 November 2019

Worrying news as Oxford United’s injury crisis deepens ahead of their FA Cup tie against Walsall. 30-goal-a-season peace envoy Kashif Siddiqi looks set to be out for a few weeks. Siddiqi is on loan at East Bengal, a region of India dogged by war and political instability. Apparently the injury was considered fairly mild until he heard their next opponent had a dangerous winger and a striker who was deadly in front of goal, he could feel his hamstring tightening by the second. 

George Lawrence’s Shorts: For Leven’s sake

Saturday 16 November 2019

If you’re an Oxford fan; when the fun stops, don’t stop. There was no game on Saturday, but the draw for the MySpace.com Trophy more than made up for that. Like the FA Cup draw being on BBC prime time TV, this was given all the prestige it deserved; being made during a 2003 re-run of Top Gear on Dave. We play Exeter away.

Elsewhere chisel faced millennium guy Dean Whitehead left his role at Huddersfield to become coach at Shrewsbury, who are managed by chisel faced millennium guy Sam Ricketts.

KRob had no one to talk to, so he talked to the Blood Red Podcast. He talked about coaching Ben ‘Woody’ Woodburn, Trent ‘Trento’ Alexander-Arnold and Deli ‘Delo’ Ali. It’s so difficult to keep track of all his previous charges, if the players KRob coached were his children, he’d give Boris Johnson a run for his money.

Monday 17 November 2019

When he played for Oxford his head wrote cheques his legs couldn’t cash, but that won’t worry Armand Gnadulliet, who is being linked with Derby County and been added to a team of the season in front of a yellow wall of James Henry, Cameron Brannagan and Tariqe Fosu.

Meanwhile, he may look like he’s just been caught smoking behind the music block, but The Mirror has hailed sulky sixth former Rob Dickie as the new Harry Maguire

Tuesday 18 November 2019

He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice; KRob has asked for a GoPro and a Stretch Armstrong for Christmas, or failing that Matty Taylor. It’s one of three areas he feels need addressing in the January transfer window. 

The claim that Oxford United are by far the greatest team the world has ever seen is a bit of a stretch. But it turns out we do effectively run New Zealand. After the revelation that Ceri Evans is the secret behind the All Blacks miserable semi-final exit in the Rugby World Cup, former Oxford coach Des Buckingham has been talking about taking the footballing Kiwis he’s leading to next year’s Olympics.

Wednesday 19 November 2019

The FA Cup is full of magic, as Walsall and Darlington fought it out for the right to host the Mighty Yellows in the second round. A wave of the wand and slight of hand resulted in all skill and entertainment disappearing in a puff of smoke. In the end Walsall triumphed 1-0.

Elsewhere, a penalty shoot out between Taunton and Truro nearly toppled Oxford’s record after it took thirty-four kicks to settle Southern League Challenge Cup tie.

Thursday 20 November 2019

It was the Six Minute Forty-Six Second Fans Forum with marketing hotrod Matt ‘Kenny’ Everett on Thursday. He answered fans questions in the best possible taste. He announced the intention to have a Student Night in the New Year. The themed game will serve Snakebite for £1, have discounts for dungarees, while a Levellers tribute act will play at half-time. The concern is that with the game kicking off at 7.45pm, it may be a struggle for many of the students to get out of bed in time. 

Friday 21 November 2019

It’s Mark Rawle Day tomorrow as we’re back in action against Southend who are managed by stable genius Sol Campbell. Campbell famously said how easy it is to manage in the lower leagues. His job must be getting easier every week as the Shrimpers plummet down the table.

Meanwhile, Tap-in Tarquin, Peter Leven is on the verge of the Champions League with outsiders Dynamo Brest in Belarus where he now coaches. Leven compares the achievement to Leicester winning the Premier League. Well, we know how much Peter Leven likes a long shot.

Midweek fixture: Eight moments that remind us why we support Oxford United

Most of the time supporting Oxford United is a miserable experience. Then, every now and then, there’s a moment which reminds you why you do it. Here are eight moments which make it all worthwhile.

2009 Jamie Cook versus Luton

The aim for the season is promotion back to the Football League. The division’s other fallen giant, Luton Town, are in town. Over 10,000 turn up for this clash of the titans, we take the lead, then Jamie Cook sells the stadium a dummy and goes for goal.

2012 Peter Leven versus Port Vale

A so-so game against a so-so team in a so-so season. Mercurial playmaker Peter Leven breaks down a Port Vale attack in his own half, nudges the ball forward, then looks up. He hasn’t, has he? Yes, I think he has.

2013 Alfie Potter versus Portsmouth

Relegated but rejuvenated, Portsmouth sell out the opening game of the season; billed as a celebration of their club’s re-awakening. We’re the stooges for the occasion, there to be sacrificed for the entertainment of the locals. The script says they take the lead which they do, then Alfie Potter tears the script up and throws it in a bin fire.

2014 Nicky Rowe versus Wycombe Wanderers

Despite dominating our game against Wycombe at Adams Park, we can’t make the breakthrough. Then, with two minutes to go, Nicky Rowe picks the ball up just outside the box and lets fly with the sweetest strike you’ll ever see.

2016 Liam Sercombe versus Carlisle

Despite a season of highlights, with three games to go we need three wins to secure promotion. Hundreds make the journey north for the last game of the season against Carlisle. We take the lead early, but the signature moment of the game, of the season, of the decade, is Liam Sercombe’s marauding second. Absolute limbs.

2017 Toni Martinez versus Middlesborough

Limbs (part 2). An enjoyable run in the FA Cup is all set to end as Middlesborough take a two goal lead. It’s all over. Or is it?

2018 Ryan Ledson versus Charlton

Nothing seems to be going right; we’ve lost our manager and seem unable to get a new one. We head to Charlton, managed by Karl Robinson, who are threatening the play-offs and lose our only recognised striker to injury. With two minutes to go, we’re 1-2 down. Seconds later, we’re all square and heading for a decent, and important point. That’s never enough for Ryan Ledson.

2019 Jamie Mackie versus Bradford

We’re in the 94th minute of a relegation six pointer and Bradford are just about to score the winner to tear our hearts out and potentially send us down. They miss, we take the goal-kick, and seven seconds later, the ball drops for Jamie Mackie for a goal for the ages. Then things get really weird.

Good Friday agreements

The last minute draw against Morecambe brought the most vocal complaints yet from the East Stand. However, the more concerning thing has to be the fact that come the end of the season, we’ll have something like 18 players free to leave. 

The temptation, after Friday’s draw with Morecambe, is to launch into another debate about the future of Chris Wilder. But his fate is surely sealed one way or the other; whichever side Ian Lenagan falls on, he’s not likely to need anymore evidence to aid his decision. Friday’s performance was not bad, it was average and massively frustrating, like our season.

I do take some exception to two key criticisms of Wilder, however. The first is the complaint that his interviews on the radio are full of excuses, when in fact they are merely explanations. His explanation of the mistakes that were made in the lead up to the equaliser were descriptions of fact not excuses.

I also doubt that Wilder is not aware of the link between the players’ performances and his responsibility as manager. So while he talked about his players actions – not taking the ball into the corner, Constable getting caught offside – he’s not simply absolving himself of his ultimate accountability to deliver performances.

The question that Lenagan needs to answer is whether Wilder can establish forward momentum and more crucially, what impact his presence might have on the club in the short term, not least in terms of season ticket sales.

So, that’s me not debating Chris Wilder. The more concerning thing is the number of players who are about to go out of contract. By my reckoning 19 players can walk away come May.

The club have options on Crocombe, Marsh, Potter and Davis, and it seems fairly logical that they will be taken up. Crocombe and Marsh are a sign that there have been improvements, at least, in youth development. Davis can be a bit heavy footed, but he has pace and strength and gives options down the left. Potter’s form is fitful, but he offers creativity and, though its often difficult to see it, something approaching a goal threat.

You’d expect Damian Batt and Andy Whing to be offered new deals. However, I think Whing may go; he’s not stupid and will know that he has value in the market at League 1 or 2 level. The club’s potential is not what it was when he originally signed, there’ll be no Leven or Duberry type signings this summer, will he want to stick around to see whether things improve when there’s a risk he’ll spend another two years treading water? He’ll be 32/33 at the end of another contract, so you’d think this was his last chance at commanding a reasonable salary before he retires. Batt seems settled at Oxford, he’s got other interests, the manager likes him, and it’s difficult to see why he wouldn’t sign.

Last season, alongside Whing, there was a glut of comparatively big time signings. Tony Capaldi barely featured in his first year due to injury, and has done little to suggest he’ll be the first in the queue for a new contract. Deane Smalley has had a torrid time, although there’s something about his general application  that makes me think that he’s worth another year. Jon-Paul Pittman whose injuries suggest he hasn’t got the robustness we need; I can’t see him staying.

The big two from 2011 were Peter Leven and Michael Duberry. If Leven is offered a new contract, then it’s surely going to be on terms that reflect his general lack of availability. I doubt he’ll take that sort of offer and, while he still maintains some kind of reputation, will move on. Duberry, I think, may be interested in another season, especially as this season as been so wretched for him. I think there’s a chance the club may oblige in the vein hope that he’ll recreate the commanding form of his first season. I think that’s a mistake. When fit, he’s the best defender in the club and can be one of the best in the league, but age plays against him. Duberry was part of a strategy to have accelerated success, this doesn’t seem to have worked, it’s time to move to something else.

We’re also seeing the expiration of the post-promotion contracts with Tom Craddock, Simon Heslop and Harry Worley all up for renewal. I still think Craddock is a class act, but his style (less aggressive than Constable and Smalley) and his injury record play against him. His future, I think, is based on whether alternatives can be found, but I also think that his goalscoring record will see him getting other offers. I’d be surprised if he was at the club next year.

Simon Heslop has continuously flattered to deceive. Scorer of howitzer goals in his first season in particular, he now looks like someone who doesn’t even want to play football anymore. Worley also just doesn’t seem to have the extra gear in his development. He was part of a error prone defence in the first year back, it seemed Duberry could come in and steady the ship while Worley found his feet. While I think that he may have a future as an impact striker, there’s no way the club will take the time to test that theory. Neither will be at the club next year.

Which leaves more recent signings; I like Scott Davies and think it worthy of a new contract, and O’Brien offers reliability we’re looking for. Parker is willing, but replaceable. And I can’t see the club using up unnecessary wages on McCormick if Ryan Clarke is coming back with Crocombe and Brown as cover.

All of which could leave us with a gaping hole next season. All of which suggests summer risks becoming a massive scramble just for bodies let alone the class we need or that Wilder will be going and the decisions are being delayed to give his replacement more options.

The next Peter Fear?

After quite a bit of searching, I finally found a fact I’ve been looking for. A statistic that judges the true performance of a referee.

Referees’ performances are typically judged on a self-selected sample of what the cabal of pundits, players and managers call ‘Crucial Decisions’. The hypothesis is that referees tend to get the Crucial Decisions wrong. This is useful rues for managers, after all, how can they be at fault when referees, tend to get Crucial Decisions so wrong?

But it’s easy to say that a referee gets all his decisions wrong, if you the sample you’re getting this from is both subjectively chosen and based on a bunch of marginal calls (which you think are going to be wrong in the first place).

What would happen if you measured every decision? Given that every decision has some baring on the outcome on the game, each is, in its own way, crucial. Obviously there’s a degree of subjectivity in what constitutes a right and wrong decision, but research suggests that on average referees get between 92% and 99% of all decisions right.

This stands to reason; football would have been hoisted by its own petard long ago if results were entirely at the mercy of random refereeing decisions. The skills of players, so central to the attractiveness of the game, would be an irrelevance. In the end, the good teams end up winning, the bad teams end up losing. The referee doesn’t have much influence on the outcome of the game, he keeps things from becoming a brawling mess and he’s a convenient target for frustration.

It is reliant, then, on teams to manage games to their own advantage rather than rely on referees to help them win by making the ‘right’ Crucial Decisions. It is this savvyness which is missing from our game at the moment. Parts of what we’re doing are fine; but at the same time we seem so brittle. We get biffed by Chesterfield in the last minute of the first and second halves. The first half we were beyond designated injury time, the second half they took a quick free kick while we dozed. It’s not the referee’s responsibility to protect us. The moments at which we seem to rely on the referee to help us survive are the moments when the players should be taking responsibility for the situations they find themselves in.

At Barnet on Tuesday, in horrible conditions, we should have had enough to shut the game up once Andy Whing had put us ahead. We never really seemed to be in control; we just seemed to hope we’d survive the remaining 44 minutes of the game. We always looked vulnerable throughout, particularly from corners and crosses. Not so much that we’re not very good at defending set-pieces, more ilke that we don’t actually believe we can defend set-pieces.

It’s easy to blame Chris Wilder; it makes us feel better when there’s someone to blame. But, the reality is rarely that simple. We have geared ourselves heavily towards experienced players able to take responsibility on the pitch. A Wilder decision, no doubt, but you buy experience to give you experience. If you are in your late 20’s or older and you’ve sustained a professional football career, you shouldn’t have to rely on the manager to tell you what to do.

The player most frustrating with this regard is Peter Leven. Apart from That Goal and a couple of neat flicks in the games around that, Leven is not acting like a senior pro.

Last night, when the game needed to be slowed, the weather suggested the ball needed to be kept on the floor. Leven could have been slowing the pace, playing keep-ball. But, for some reason, he and Chapman let them run at us, through us, putting pressure on the back-four. The frustration I have is not so much what he does when he’s on the ball, it’s what he does when he’s not on it.

Leven, of course, was quickly branded a genius by Oxford fans. He could do anything. But he’s been injury prone and drifted in and out of the team. His purple patch seemed to last only a few games last season, we keep expecting the genius to re-emerge. But could we be waiting a long time? Is he just another Peter Fear; a player with the reputation of mercurial talent that persistently fails to deliver.

He’s no more the single point of weakness than Wilder is, but it’s another fracture in the way we are at the moment. The brittleness extends into the stands; gallows humour on the terraces may be funny, but we don’t seem to have the heart for the fight. The Ultimate Support Saturday couldn’t come at a better time, as The Boys From Up The Hill exude in a recent post.

What to be done? You could fire the manager, but you’d have the same players. You could spend more money on players, but that puts us into a financial mess. For me, one thing that could be done is to look at one of the successes of Kelvin Thomas’ era. Thomas could have been a bit of a maverick, but he knew how to draw together club and fans. If I were Ian Lenagan, recognising the constraints that surrounds the club at the moment, I’d look towards some initiatives in the vein of the 12th Man which made fans a contributor to the solution, not a critical outsider picking away at everyone’s confidence. Cohesion between fans and club will help give the players strength, like at the end of the season in Wilder’s first year; where a bunch of moderately talented players suddenly felt invincible. That’s the missing ingredient at the moment.

2012 squad review – midfield and attack

On stable defensive foundations can a successful squad be built. In midfield and up front, however, despite having a decent pool for fish from, Chris Wilder struggled to find the right formula, at least not one that he could keep on the field for any length of time. The crucible of the argument about Wilder’s worth centres on whether the seasons failings were one of incompetence or bad luck.

Peter Leven showed moments of genius; not least his 40 yarder against Port Vale and the flick to play in Liam Davis at Barnet. Injury didn’t help him, but he lacked the consistency you get from the more industrious types like, say, Dannie Bulman.

Or Andy Whing; Whing’s Supporters’ Player of the Season award is wholly understandable. There are stories of people with anaemia who chew on metal in a vain attempt to get iron into their system. The Whing vote reflected a call for dogged consistency. He let nobody down and you suspect he never will.

While Leven, when fit, and Whing, when not deputising in the back four, probably makes up two of our first choice midfield three, the final member of the team is somewhat less clear. Paul McLaren, who was the steadying hand during 2010/11 faded from view. Not unexpectedly, his age suggested that he was only ever a stop gap while the club found itself a firmer footing in the league. Perhaps that was the role expected of Mark Wilson when he arrived, though he failed to make any impact.

Simon Heslop started in fine form, but was one of the early victims of this year’s curse of the folk hero – Leven ‘doing what he wants’, Ryan Clarke’s penalty saves, Asa Hall’s goals – as soon as their feats were verbalised, they stopped doing them. Heslop was struck by only moderate form and then injury; the two of which may have been related.

Perhaps the most interesting combination was that of Chapman and Hall. They were, in many senses, less explosive, but more consistent. Chapman’s return was remarkable he had a composure and awareness that others just don’t seem to have. His only problem is whether he can hold it together mentally; which is often the difference between good and great players. Hall had less crafted, but benefited hugely from the base that Chapman offered. Hall’s form also benefitted from having a bit lump, like Scott Rendell up front to follow up on knock-downs.The fact Hall has decided not to sign is disapointing; he and Chapman seemed to have a partnership that could be built on.

James Constable needs a break; not in terms of a goal off his backside, but a break from being James Constable; Oxford Icon. Last season he was the focal point of most of the drama involving Swindon; three transfer bids, two goals, one sending off. He seems mentally fatigued by it all, the sparky aggression that gained him so many bookings, but also so many goals in the Conference has been replaced by a subdued and isolated figure. There’s a point in every player’s career when they need re-engineer their game. Constable needs to be less of a focal point. A glimpse of what might be was seen on the arrival of Scott Rendell. Momentarily, Constable was freed from all his responsibilities, he was able to feed off the balls from the ever willing Rendell. That was blown apart with Constable’s sending off against Swindon. It may give us some clues as to how to play next season.

Controversially, amongst fans at least, Chris Wilder’s preference is to play 4-3-3. Which either means you end up with a proven goalscorer playing out of position (Midson during the Conference years) or you have players that frustrate and delight with equal measure. John-Paul Pittman had a curious season with his loan to Crawley, momentary spike of form, then – again due to injury – anonymity. Although I have a huge amount of affection for Alfie Potter as a member of the promotion squad, he seems to be rated more highly by others than me. He has his moments, but he puts lots of pressure on the likes of Constable. When Potter was injured, and Craddock struggle to return, Wilder turned to Dean Morgan – who wasn’t as bad as people say, but is clearly a bit of an oddball and Christian Montano – who was raw and inconsistent. Oli Johnson, however, was the most surprising omission from Wilder’s retained list. He of all the flanking strikers combined a decent supply of creativity with a reasonable number of goals.

For different reasons, we missed Tom Craddock and Dean Smalley. Craddock isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I saw him as being an essential component to the season’s success. His sustained absence could easily have cost us 10-15 goals, which would have made all the difference. Similarly, Smalley should have contributed double digits in terms of goals. He didn’t seem to do much wrong, but similarly he didn’t do much right. If he lasts the summer, let’s hope we’ll seem him rejuvenated come August.