A long time ago, I asked for your favourite games of the 2015/16 season, then the pandemic hit and everything went belly up. That season had everything – derby wins, giant killings, a Wembley visit and, of course, promotion. There was a lot to choose from, but vote you did. Here are the seventeen best games from that unforgettable year.
17. Morecambe 2 Oxford United 4
A hard won away win in a lovely kit, apart from that, it’s not obvious why this was such a significant game. But, if you’re in the pub, a job interview or hostage situation and someone asks what was the 17th most memorable game of the 2015/16 season; this is it.
Had it really come to this? After the derby, Wembley, giant killings and all the winning, we were faced with the prospect of three games and three wins for promotion. This was the first, Joe Skarz returned from what was thought to be a season ending injury to help drag us to three points against a stubborn Hartlepool side. One down, two to go.
Sometimes, everything just clicks. When the club designated the game at Teddy Sheringham’s Stevenage a family away-day special, they couldn’t have hoped for a better game than this 5-1 annihilation. It was the first time in nine years we’d scored five away from home and was, at the time, a record equalling away victory. One for the record books, but more importantly, one for the kids.
Sometimes games are less about the performance and more about the result. The atmosphere was ugly, the game was tense for this JPT Semi-Final Second Leg against Millwall. All we needed to do was protect our 2-0 first leg advantage. A 1-0 defeat made things uncomfortable, but still meant we were heading for Wembley.
The season turned into a farewell tour of the clubs we’d considered equals for a decade or more. This dominant display at Barnet with two goals from Callum O’Dowda had a strong ‘we’ll never play you again’ vibe about it.
Roofe, Dunkley, Hylton, MacDonald, Wright, Baldock, Lundstram, Maguire – the list of great names from that season live long in the memory – Skarz. See? Was Jordan Bowery the great forgotten player from that season? Maybe. With JPT, FA Cup and league interests, things were getting hectic. A trip to Portsmouth looked daunting, but Bowery’s second half winner secured a memorable and crucial three points.
Wembley; the JPT Final was a true game of two halves. In the first 45 minutes we were, by far, the better team and went in 1-0 up with a goal from Callum O’Dowda and a Cruyff turn from Chey Dunkley. In the second half we came out heavy legged and conceded three. A Danny Hylton goal pulled it back to 3-2, which wasn’t quite enough. But, what a day out.
We needed this; after two frustrating league draws and a defeat at Wembley, we just needed to give someone a good pummelling. It’d taken nine years for us to score five away from home and five months to do it again. Crawley, it was nothing personal.
Days after knocking Swansea City out of the FA Cup, we headed to The New Den for our JPT Semi-Final First Leg against Millwall. After the Lord Mayor’s Show? Not a chance. Two giant killings in four days? Yes please.
There may have been a good feeling around the place, but the obliteration of Championship Brentford in the League Cup ignited the season. The opening was rampant with Oxford three up inside 15 minutes, including a wonder strike from Kemar Roofe, Johnny Mullins’ second half goal saw us stroll to a 4-0 win.
The Kassam Stadium can feel like a soulless concrete brick, but when Oxford’s Ultras unveiled a giant flag of an ox impaling a robin which stretched from the top of the stand to the bottom, it felt like the Curva Sud. We were absolutely dominant for this JPT derby; two Kemar Roofe goals swept Swindon aside in a true changing of the guard in the rivalry.
Did someone order a Family Bucket of limbs? The penultimate game of the season saw us 270 miles to Carlisle and owner Daryl Eales dishing out free hot dogs. Chris Maguire’s early penalty was a settler, but it was Liam Sercombe’s trademark surge into the box which cemented this as the third best game of the season. Now, where have my shoes gone?
When you’ve got Premier League opponents; keep it tight, see if you can nick a goal. Right? Wrong. Despite conceding early, we put on a scintillating display of attacking joie de vivre to sweep away Swansea City in the FA Cup. If we didn’t know something special was happening before, we did now.
The pinnacle, the denouement, the culmination of a wonderful season, the sun shone, the crowds came, promotion was won. Chey Dunkley physically, emotionally and psychologically broke the deadlock, Chris Maguire made it certain, then it was over to the local boy Callum O’Dowda to weave his way to an injury-time third. For O’Dowda, Jake Wright, Danny Hylton and Kemar Roofe, it was their last appearance in an Oxford shirt. A magical spell had been broken.
It’s Saturday and you’re settling down for an afternoon with Jeff Stelling, who’s about to take you through the day’s action. Except this weekend’s fixtures only feature Oxford United and our correspondents are dotted around the country and throughout time. Sit back and enjoy an afternoon of Oxford United goals from the first minute to the last.
Jeff Stelling: ‘Welcome to The Manor, Highbury, Griffin Park, The Kassam Stadium, White Hart Lane, The Madjeski Stadium, Kenilworth Road, Stamford Bridge, Wembley, The County Ground, Ninian Park, Broadfield Stadium, Nene Park, Maine Road, Brisbane Road, Fratton Park, Adams Park, The New Den, Field Mill, Sincil Bank, Meadow Lane, Sixfields, Old Wembley, Villa Park, Prenton Park, The Memorial Ground, Roots Hall, Old Trafford, The Pirelli Stadium, Brunton Park and The New York Stadium, Rotheram. We’re looking forward to an afternoon of cup wins, promotions, relegations, giant killings, memorable goals and milestone moments. How do you feel it’s going to go today Paul Merson?’
Merse ‘Well Jeff, y’know…’
Hold that thought Merse, we head straight over to The Manor in 1999. An early goal for Oxford United…
1st minute: Jamie Lambert, Colchester United, 1999
Oh, what a start for Oxford United at The Manor against Colchester United. Jamie Lambert has put the ball in the back of the net after just 20 seconds. By my watch, that’s the fastest goal in Oxford United history. Mickey Lewis’ first league game in charge, what a way to stake a claim for the top job.
2nd minute: Steve Basham, Arsenal, 2003
And now we have a major shock on our hands at Highbury. This afternoon has gone off with a bang; Steve Basham has just wriggled free to give Oxford United the lead against Premier League leaders Arsenal in the FA Cup. The massed ranks of Oxford fans at the Clock End have gone wild. No, wait, it’s been flagged for offside. I’m not sure, that looked very tight.
3rd minute: Joey Beauchamp, Chelsea, 1994
This one counts, back at The Manor in 1994, Joey Beauchamp has bundled through the Chelsea defence and slotted home past the onrushing Chelsea keeper Dimitri Kharine to put Oxford 1-0 up. The London Road are going wild, is a shock on the cards in this FA Cup tie?
4th minute: Kevin Brock, Leeds United, 1983
Oh, yes. And now Kevin Brock has just given Oxford the lead in their League Cup second leg tie against Leeds United at The Manor. Mick Vinter controlled the throw-in just inside the box, knocking it back to the onrushing Brock who slammed it home in front of the London Road. Oxford lead 1-0 on the night, 2-1 on aggregate.
5th minute: Liam Sercombe, Brentford, 2015
Meanwhile, over in the capital, Oxford have started off like a train at Griffin Park in the League Cup in 2015. Liam Sercombe has just put the visitors in front, a really well worked goal with Sercombe driving the ball into the bottom right hand corner. They look really up for this tonight. 1-0.
6th minute: David Leworthy, Tottenham Hotspur, 1986
It’s like an ice-rink at The Manor in 1986 where Tottenham are the visitors for this FA Cup Third Round tie. But, Kevin Brock has just crossed for David Leworthy to head home the opening goal past Ray Clemence. Oxford lead 1-0.
7th minute: Rob Folland, Reading, 1999
OOOOOh, great goal at the Madjeski Stadium. Young Welsh full-back Rob Folland has cut inside and fired home to give Oxford the unlikeliest of leads in their first ever visit to the Madjeski. They’re looking right at home in the derby.
8th minute: Nick Cusack, Newcastle United, 1992
Oxford are in dreamland; just eight minutes gone and Nick Cusack has poked home Joey Beauchamp’s cross to put them 2-0 at The Manor. Great work from Cusack, but that was all about Beauchamp, silky skills and a pinpoint cross.
9th minute: Mike Ford, Dorchester Town, 1995
Opening goal at The Manor in the FA Cup where non-league Dorchester Town have travelled up the A34 to face their illustrious league opponents. Mike Ford headed home the rebound from Joey Beauchamp’s cross. Despite having former-Oxford keeper Ken Veysey in goal, Dorchester are looking really shaky here, this could be a long day for the minnows.
10th minute: Phil Edwards, Luton Town, 2017
Goal at Kenilworth Road in the semi-final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy now. Oxford United have been under a bit of pressure in this one, but some great work from Liam Sercombe saw the ball fall to loanee Phil Edwards who was sitting on the floor from an earlier challenge and has swept the ball home. Are Oxford heading to Wembley for the second year in a row?
11th minute: Peter Rhodes-Brown, Chelsea, 1986
No time to answer that, over to West London now where there’s been a bit of a shock on the cards in the 1st Division at Stamford Bridge. Oxford United, without an away win all season are leading Chelsea who had been hoping to go top. And to really rub it in, the goal is from former Chelsea winger, Peter Rhodes-Brown.
12th minute: James Constable, Swindon Town, 2011
Is history being written at The County Ground? Maybe. James Constable has just darted in at the near post to put Oxford 1-0 up against Swindon Town. Swindon boss Paolo DiCanio claims Constable is a Swindon fan, I think we know the truth now.
13th minute: Tony Jones, Blackburn Rovers, 1964
Oh I say, now Oxford United have taken the lead against Blackburn Rovers in the fifth round of the FA Cup at the Manor in 1964. Over 20,000 jolly good fellows have packed into the little ground in Headington. It looks like we have a major shock on the cards.
14th minute: Eric Sabin, Leyton Orient, 2006
Lifeline at The Kassam Stadium! Oxford United need to beat Leyton Orient to retain their League status. Striker Eric Sabin has just got on the end of Andy Burgess’ free-kick to give the hosts the lead. The atmosphere in the stadium wild. Orient need to win to go up, so there’s a long way to go on this. But, that’s the early goal Jim Smith’s were looking for to settle the nerves.
15th minute: Alex Dyer, Leeds United, 1994
And now Oxford have taken the lead against Leeds United in the FA Cup. Attacking down the slope towards the London Road, Joey Beauchamp fed Jim Magilton down the right who fired in a low cross to Alex Dyer arriving in the middle. 1-0 Oxford.
16th minute: Jamie Cook, Luton Town, 2009
What. Have. I. Just. Seen? Goal of the season? Goal of the century? Jamie Cook just scored from 25 yards against Luton Town in this battle of the Conference giants. The game was delayed because of crowd congestion trying to get nearly 10,000 fans into the stadium. That goal was worth the entrance fee alone.
17th minute: Kevin Brock, Oldham Athletic, 1985
Oxford are putting on a show at The Manor in front of the Match of the Day cameras now, Mark Jones has just broken down the left flank crossing deep for Kevin Brock to slot home a fine opening goal. The champions-elect are on the goal trail once again.
18th minute: Oli Johnson, Swindon Town, 2012
Oh. My. Word. Injury ravaged Oxford United have had their star striker sent-off against the League leaders, who are unbeaten in ten games, they’ve taken the lead with Asa Hall scoring from close range, now two minutes later, they’re two up from young loanee Oli Johnson. Oxford are racing towards a famous derby double.
19th minute: Neil Whatmore, Newcastle United, 1983
1-0 to Oxford at The Manor in 1983, and it’s nothing more than they deserve. Star-studded Newcastle United featuring Kevin Keegan, Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle and Terry McDermott are being overwhelmed here. Oxford should already be two-up already, but the breakthrough has come from the biggest name of the lot; striker Neil Whatmore.
20th minute: James Constable, York City, 2010
Oh, magnificent, Oxford United have started this play-off final at Wembley like a train, Matt Green gave them the lead in the 15th minute, now James Constable has doubled their advantage, blasting it in from twelve yards. 2-0, difficult to see York coming back from this, they look shellshocked.
21st minute: Matt Murphy, Everton, 1999
Everton looking at sixes and sevens in the League Cup and Matt Murphy has capitalised on their lax defending by heading in for the lead. The ball hit the net and trickled along the goal line before being awarded, but they all count.
22nd minute: Trevor Hebberd, Luton Town, 1987
Big goal at Kenilworth Road. Oxford needing a result here to secure another season in Division 1 and the breakthrough has come from Trevor Hebberd. Still a long way to go but they’ve got something to work with.
23rd minute: Matt Green, Bristol Rovers, 2010
What a way to announce yourself back as a League team. It’s the first game back from the Conference and Matt Green has just doubled Oxford’s lead after Simon Heslop’s thunderbolt. Oxford are right in the mood here, it could be a cricket score by the time we’ve finished.
24th minute: Mike Ford, Swindon Town, 1997
Are Oxford about to break their 24 year hoodoo at The County Ground? Great work by Nigel Jemson on the flank and an inviting cross onto the back post and there’s Mike Ford to nod home. He nearly collided with the post there, but I don’t think he cares. Great start for Oxford.
25th minute: Rob Hall, Sunderland, 2019
Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant from Rob Hall. Sunderland hit the post in this League Cup tie, Oxford react with a blistering counterattack, the ball breaks loose to Rob hall who arrows it into the back of the net. 1-0.
26th minute: Nigel Jemson, Barnsley, 1997
They may be heading for the Premier League, but Barnsley look like they’ve been over-doing the celebrations a bit. Just 26 minutes gone and Oxford are two up with a brave header from Nigel Jemson. Barnsley look all at sea here, I don’t think that’s the end of the goals today.
27th minute: Yemi Odubade, Exeter City, 2007
Yemi Odubade has put Oxford United a goal up at the Kassam in the Conference semi-final play-off. You have to say, it’s against the run of play, but with an away goal in the bag from the first leg, the yellows are fully in charge in this one.
28th minute: Paul Moody, Cardiff City, 1994
Goal! I can’t quite believe what I’ve just seen, 28 minutes gone at Ninian Park and Paul Moody, Oxford’s big lumbering striker has danced his way past five defenders, running half the length of the field to given Oxford the lead. It was like watching Maradona in ’86, great movement from big man.
29th minute: James Constable, Rushden & Diamonds, 2010
Breakthrough goal at Nene Park now in the Conference semi-final first leg and who else but James Constable? Great work in the box, firing home on the turn. That’s the away goal they wanted. 1-0 Oxford.
30th minute: Nigel Jemson, Manchester City, 1996
Just half-an-hour gone and it’s already 2-2 at Maine Road after Nigel Jemson’s looping header dropped in just under the crossbar. Manager-less Manchester City look all over the shop. Lovely goal from the Us.
31st minute: Wes Thomas, Chesterfield, 2016
Great moment, Oxford have announced their return to League 1 after a fifteen year absence with a goal from new signing Wes Thomas who’s just tapped home Alex MacDonalds shot.
32nd minute: Andy Thomas, Newcastle United, 1983
Oxford are making second placed Newcastle look second rate here at The Manor in the Milk Cup. Andy Thomas made the first and now he’s scored the second. They don’t look like they’re finished yet.
33rd minute: John Lundstram, Leyton Orient, 2015
Big deflection, but they all count. It’s been billed as a bit of a revenge mission for what happened in 2006, and Oxford are bang on track as John Lundstram scores his first goal for the club to extend their lead. 2-0 to Oxford and just half-an-hour gone.
34th minute: Dean Saunders, Luton Town, 1988
Something’s going on at Kenilworth Road, just 34 minutes gone and Dean Saunders has pulled one back from the spot to make it 1-2. Both sides seem to be struggling with Luton’s plastic pitch, this could end up like a basketball score.
35th minute: Gary Briggs, Manchester United, 1988
Four years ago Oxford dumped Manchester United out of the Milk Cup, now they’re at it again. Gary Briggs has just launched himself through the United defence to connect with John Dreyer’s cross and head Oxford two-up. Fantastic diving header from Briggs, the real United are in the boss seat now.
36th minute: Tommy Caton, Liverpool, 1987
Over at The Manor in 1987 Tommy Caton has equalised for Oxford against champions Liverpool. Despite two great saves from Bruce Grobelaar, there was nothing he could do to prevent Caton forcing it home from two yards. Can Oxford pick up their first win over the Merseyside giants?
37th minute: John Aldridge, Arsenal, 1984
Mixed news from The Manor in 1985. Striker, John Aldridge has just equalised for Oxford United against Arsenal in the Milk Cup. He headed home George Lawrence’s fine cross but was clattered by Pat Jennings. The stretcher is coming on, great goal by Aldridge, but at what price?
38th minute: Alfie Potter, Portsmouth, 2013
We leave The Manor as we’re getting news of an important goal for Oxford United at Fratton Park in 2013. Having gone a goal down, they equalised with Dean Smalley and have now taken the lead with a well taken goal from Alfie Potter latching onto Sean Rigg’s cross.
39th minute: Chris Maguire, Crawley Town, 2016
Equaliser at Crawley Town in 2016, good work down the right from Alex MacDonald, with Chris Maguire driving home from just inside the box. What’s the significance? We don’t know, this is much harder than it looks.
40th minute: Gary Briggs, Leeds United, 1984
BRIGGS! Oxford are on the comeback trail against Leeds United at The Manor. Two down, Gary Briggs connected with a fine Kevin Brock corner to make it 2-1. This team has goals in them, that’s really put Oxford on the front foot.
41st minute: David Rush, Wycombe Wanderers, 1996
Big breakthrough at Adams Park, Oxford are on quite a charge at the moment and David Rush has just connected with a deep cross from Les Robinson to open the scoring against Wycombe Wanderers. Big moment in breaking their duck against Wycombe, bigger moment in their promotion chase.
42nd minute: Billy Hamilton, Arsenal, 1984
Hold on a minute, let’s cross back to 1984. Oxford are down to ten men following John Aldridge’s injury for their first goal against Arsenal in the Milk Cup. And now they’ve done the unthinkable and taken the lead. The Manor is rocking after Northern Ireland international Billy Hamilton connected with Dave Langan’s perfect cross.
43rd minute: Kemar Roofe, Millwall, 2016
With half-time around the grounds and throughout time looming, things are looking rosey at the New Den for the JPT semi-final first leg. Kemar Roofe has just nodded home his second goal latching onto John Lundstram’s audacious drive which cannoned off the underside of the crossbar. That’s 2-0 and you’ve got to say Oxford have one foot in the final.
44th minute: Joey Beauchamp, Manchester City, 1998
Football’s a rollercoaster isn’t it? Oxford have already lost Stuart Massey to what looks like a bad injury, then on the stroke of half time a goal forged in the furnace of the Oxford United academy; Jamie Cook forced the defender into a mistake, the ball was picked up by Paul Powell who played it to Kevin Francis to square for Joey Beauchamp for the opening goal. No sugar in my tea, mum, that’s sweet enough.
45th minute: James Constable, Mansfield Town, 2013
Major goal at Mansfield in 2013. Moments after Mansfield Town had equalised James Constable latched onto Ryan Williams’ cross with the deftest touch to steer the ball into the far corner off the post. 2-1 Oxford, but more importantly, that’s Constable’s 100th goal for the club. What a milestone to reach.
And that’s half-time. A first half full of action and drama. Oxford United will go in very satisfied with their first forty-five minutes’ work. Managers Chris Wilder, Mickey Lewis, Jim Smith, Maurice Evans, Denis Smith, Michael Appleton and Karl Robinson will be looking for more of the same in the second half.
Paul Merson, you were going to say something before the game, any thoughts on how Oxford might approach the second half?
46th minute: Kane Hemmings, Newcastle United, 2017
Sorry Merse, but we’ve got a goal at The Kassam already in the FA Cup against Newcastle United. Chris Maguire collected the ball on the right, crossed it to Chey Dunkley on the back post and Kane Hemmings was on hand to prod home the knockdown from close range. 1-0 Oxford and another cup giant killing is on the cards.
47th minute: John Durnin, Swindon Town, 1992
It’s a goalfest in the derby at the Manor, John Durnin has just got on the end of Chris Allen’s cross to make it 3-2. Big goal for Johnny Lager.
48th minute: Jamie Mackie, Lincoln City, 2019
Oxford cruising now at Sincil Bank as Jamie Mackie adds a third goal. A deft finish from the veteran striker, it’s like his foot was a sand wedge. With former manager and new Lincoln boss Michael Appleton watching on, everything they touch is turning to goals this afternoon.
Brilliant stuff from Joey Beauchamp at The County Ground, he’s just latched onto a Nigel Jemson header and volleyed it past the keeper for the opening goal.
50th minute: Alfie Potter, Northampton Town, 2014
I don’t quite know how he’s done it, but that one feels really sweet. Oxford are 2-1 up against Chris Wilder’s Northampton Town, Alfie Potter has just weaved his way into the box and lobbed the ‘keeper from the tightest possible angle. What a way to stick it to your former boss.
52nd minute: Ray Houghton, Queens Park Rangers, 1986
Wonderful stuff now at Wembley, Oxford United in dreamland with a brilliantly worked goal that’s put them 2-0 up in the Milk Cup. Trevor Hebberd feeding Ray Houghton, beating the QPR offside trap to fire home. A goal to grace any final, we might want to prepare the yellow and blue ribbons now.
53rd minute: Andy Whing, Rochdale, 2013
Stop the count, stop the steal, I’ve seen it all now. It’s the last home game of the season and midfielder Andy Whing has just scored the goal of the season a bicycle kick from four yards out. He looks as shocked as everyone else.
54th minute: Martin Aldridge, Swindon Town, 1996
But, no time to dwell as we head back to The Manor where Martin Aldridge has just punished some poor goalkeeping to make it 2-0 against their deadly rivals.
55th minute: Jack Midson, Yeovil Town, 2009
They’ve looked the better team from the off and now they’ve made the breakthrough. Lovely through ball from Adam Murray and Jack Midson nips in between the ponderous Yeovil defence to lob the keeper. 1-0 and we have a giankilling on our hands.
56th minute: John Aldridge, Aston Villa, 1986
Penalty at Villa Park! Huge moment in this Milk Cup Semi-Final, just sixty seconds after Simon Stainrod had given Villa the lead, John Aldridge has been brought down by Alan Evans and now has a chance to equalise. Aldridge, bounces the ball on the spot as Steve Hodge does his best to put him off. And…
2-2! A massive goal in this tie, Oxford have a second away goal to take back to The Manor.
57th minute: Mark Sykes, Wycombe Wanderers, 2020
What was that? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a cross? Is it a shot? Who knows? Mark Sykes has just blasted spectacular equaliser as Wembley in the play-off final.
58th minute: John Durnin, Tranmere Rovers, 1992
Lifeline at Prenton Park, Oxford have turned their domination into goals. The ball ricochets off an Oxford player and falls to John Durnin to runs through to give Oxford the lead. Blackburn are keeping their side of the bargain at Plymouth, can Oxford make it count and stay up?
59th minute: Kemar Roofe, Swansea City, 2016
Wonderful, wonderful stuff from Oxford as Kemar Roofe puts Oxford 3-1 up against Premier League Swansea City at the Kassam. A blistering break by Chris Maguire set up Roofe finish off the move with a neat finish. We’ve got a big FA Cup giant killing on our hands here.
60th minute: Kemar Roofe, Wycombe Wanderers, 2015
Roofe, again, on his debut this time. How does that work? It’s taken him ten games to get his first, now he’s got two against Wycombe at Adams Park. It was a bit of a daisy cutter, but you’ve got to say that’s going to give the young West Brom loanee confidence.
61th minute: Chris Maguire, Swindon Town, 2016
Oh my goodness, calamitous defending from Swindon Town at the Kassam Stadium. They work the ball back to ‘keeper Lawrence Vigouroux, who tries to launch the ball downfield, but instead it canons off Oxford striker Chris Maguire in the net. What a shambles that club is. Oxford United 2 Swindon Town 0.
62nd minute: Kemar Roofe, Bristol Rovers, 2015
That’s just different class. That boy Roofe is going places. Picks up the ball from Pat Hoban’s knock down 25 yards out and smashes it into the top corner.
63rd minute: Paul Moody, Swindon Town, 1995
Equaliser at The County Ground, and it’s a bit controversial. Les Robinson delivers a fairly innocuous cross into the box which Wayne Allison tries to control. He comes together with Matt Elliott and the ball runs loose to Paul Moody to fire home. Was that a foul by Elliott? We don’t know that we care at the moment.
64th minute: Peter Leven, Port Vale, 2012
Oh, oh, OH! You don’t save those. Only Peter Leven can do that. He’s just won the ball inside his own half, looked up and lobbed the ‘keeper from sixty yards out. Forget about goal of the season, that’s a goal of a lifetime.
65th minute: Jefferson Louis, Swindon Town, 2003
I don’t know how it happened, but it happened. Oxford lead in the FA Cup derby at The Kassam. Jefferson Louis has got the slightest touch on a long Scott McNiven throw and it’s crept through a crowd of players and into the net. Did Steve Basham get a touch on the line. Who knows? But, frankly, who cares?
66th minute: David Rush, Peterborough United, 1996
The shirt is off, it’s party time at the Manor. David Rush has just latched onto a long Mike Ford ball and poked it home for four-nil. That’s the clincher and that’s promotion. And doesn’t Rush know it, he’s got the corner flag out and is waving with triumph. And why not?
68th minute: Mark Rawle, Southend United, 2003
Miracles do happen. It’s been eleven years since Oxford went home with three points from Roots Hall, but Mark Rawle’s strike may just have ended that voodoo. Who wouldn’t bet against Oxford putting together a long winning streak against The Shrimpers in the future?
69th minute: Kevin Brock, Manchester United, 1983
Majestic. Kevin Brock has silenced Old Trafford with a brilliant free-kick in the Milk Cup. Manchester United must have thought this replay was just formality after the scare at The Manor a few days ago, but they know they’re in a game now. Manchester United 0 Oxford United 1.
70th minute: Adam Chapman, Burton Albion, 2009
What a party-pooper. 7000 Burton fans packed into the Pirelli Stadium expecting to celebrate their promotion to the Football League and Adam Chapman has just curled in a wonderful free-kick into the top corner to put Oxford a goal up. Twenty minutes to go, 1-0 to Oxford and the only noise you can hear is from the Oxford fans behind the goal.
71st minute: Dave Langan, Arsenal, 1985
Oxford are at it again, we’ve got another giant killing in the offing after Irish full-back Dave Langan just drove the ball in from 30 yards through the hands of Pat Jennings. I mean, you’ve got to expect him to do better than that, but that’s 3-2 with 19 minutes to go.
72nd minute: John Aldridge, Arsenal, 1986
Relax Oxford fans, the Us are staying up. John Aldridge has made it three-nil against Arsenal in this must-win game at The Manor. Two weeks after the euphoria of Wembley, the goal pretty much secures them a second season in the top flight.
73rd minute: Rob Hall, Swindon Town, 2017
Wow, that’s just about broken the net. Rob Hall’s just picked the ball up from 30 yards out and fired a howitzer into the top corner. Oxford have turned it around here at The County Ground. Swindon 1 Oxford 2 and that’s seven in a row.
74th minute: Liam Sercombe, Carlisle United, 2016
Phone your mum and tell her the Us are going up. Liam Sercombe has just given Oxford a 2-0 lead here at Carlisle with a low drive into the bottom corner sending the thousands of Oxford fans who have made the journey north into raptures. There are hotdogs everywhere.
75th minute: Liam Sercombe, Coventry City, 2017
And again, Sercombe seems to be everywhere at the moment. After being left out of the starting line-up for the trip to Wembley, Liam Sercombe has come on and is playing like a man possessed. He’s just bundled the ball home from close range to pull a goal back for Oxford against Coventry. Coventry 2 Oxford United 1. Game on!
76th minute: Danny Hylton, Barnsley, 2016
Lovely goal, and nothing more than they deserve. For long periods Oxford have been the better team in this JPT Final, and Danny Hylton has just headed home to make to 3-2 to Barnsley. Can they force extra-time here at Wembley?
77th minute: Dean Windass, Chelsea, 1999
Now then. Oxford United are on the verge of going bust and Dean Windass has just scored from the near post with thirteen minutes to go against the aristocrats of Chelsea. Can the paupers beat the princes in the FA Cup tonight?
78th minute: Roy Clayton, Manchester United, 1972
Manchester United have brought their triple threat of Denis Law, George Best and Bobby Charlton to The Manor, but nobody thought about Roy Clayton, whose just put Oxford in front at The Manor.
79th minute: Neil Slatter, Manchester United, 1986
Nightmare start for former Aberdeen manager Alex Ferguson at Manchester United here at The Manor, Neil Slatter has surely settled this making it 2-0 from close range. At this rate, Ferguson won’t last long at Old Trafford.
80th minute: Phil Edwards, Rotherham, 2017
Oxford have been absolutely magnificent against their Championship opponents in the FA Cup, and now they’ve just gone 2-1 up with Phil Edwards latching onto a Alex Macdonald cross.
81st minute: Les Phillips, Everton, 1986
There’s nothing Oxford United love more than spoiling a party. They’re at it again under the lights at The Manor, Les Phillips has just side-footed it home from just inside the box for 1-0. That’s put a massive dent in Everton’s title dreams and kept Oxford’s survival hopes alive.
82nd minute: Paul Moody, Dorchester Town, 1995
It’s a goal rush at The Manor. Paul Moody has just completed his hat-trick, blasting in Oxford’s ninth goal against Dorchester.
83rd minute: Joey Beauchamp, Blackpool, 1996
Is that goal of the day? Of this and any other day. Joey Beauchamp, hero of the London Road just collected the loose ball in midfield and sent it back from 40 yards out with interest. 1-0 Oxford, that’s a big statement in the promotion race.
84th minute Liam Kelly, Newcastle, 2020
Hang on a minute. Just when you thought it was all over, Liam Kelly has scored a brilliant free-kick to pull one back against Newcastle at The Kassam in the FA Cup. That’s got the crowd up again, I don’t think Oxford are quite finished yet.
85th minute: Marvin Johnson, Luton Town, 2017
My word, they’re flying in at the moment. That’s quite a strike from Marvin Johnson, cutting in from the left and sending a rocket into the top corner. Luton Town 2 Oxford United 3. It’s going to take a massive effort for the Hatters to pick themselves up again and prevent Oxford from heading to Wembley for the second time in two years.
It’s been a tense game at The Manor against Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup, but Nigel Jemson may have just snatched it in the dying moments prodding home Paul Moody’s knockdown from three yards. Four minutes left and Oxford are on track to knock the Premier League team out.
87th minute: Alan Kennedy (OG), Liverpool, 1985
Oxford are going to need a stroke of luck to stay in the First Division this season and they’ve just had some against the biggest team in the country. They’ve been hanging on for the whole game, but Peter Rhodes-Brown’s hopeful through ball has been put into his own net by Alan Kennedy for 2-2.
88th minute: Alfie Potter, Swindon Town, 2010
There’s been a breakthrough at The Kassam in the EFL Trophy, James Constable, who has been quiet all game, pounced on a Swindon defensive error squared the ball to the back post for Alfie Potter to slot home. Swindon can’t buy a win against their deadliest rivals.
89th minute: Todd Kane, Charlton Athletic, 2018
Brilliant stuff. Oxford United have no manager and no recognisable striker on the pitch, they’re 2-1 down as we enter the last minute. Great determination from Josh Ruffels on the flank who squares it to Todd Kane to side foot home. I don’t know if they can sneak a winner now, but they deserve it after this performance.
90th minute: Callum O’Dowda, Notts County, 2016
What might that mean come May? Alex MacDonald has just laid it off for Callum O’Dowda to drill the ball into the top left hand corner to make it Oxford United 3 Notts County 2 at Meadow Lane. A great way to start the New Year for the Yellows.
O’Dowda! Again! Is there a more fitting way of securing promotion than seeing a hometown boy weaving his way through the Wycombe defence to fire home from close range. That’s three. And that’s promotion.
92nd minute: Shandon Baptiste, West Ham United, 2019
They’ve left the best ’til last at The Kassam, Shandon Baptiste has put icing on the cake of a magnificent performance weaving through West Ham’s beleaguered defence and slotting home from the left. The gulf in class has been massive.
93rd minute: Pat Hoban, Luton Town, 2015
Yes! No! Yes! Just when you thought the drama was over. Late late equaliser at Kenilworth Road for Oxford United, after Kemar Roofe dragged Oxford back into the game two minutes ago, with the board showing three minutes of injury time, a scramble in the box saw the ball drop to Pat Hoban who scuffed at it and then prodded home at the second attempt for 2-2. Crazy scenes in the away end.
94th minute: Jamie Mackie, Bradford City, 2019
OOOOOOOOHHHHHHH! Massive, massive goal at the Kassam Stadium in the League 1 relegation battle against Bradford City. Bradford have spurned a glorious chance, completely missing an open goal. From the resultant goal kick, Josh Ruffels sent a raking ball to Gavin Whyte whose shot popped up, then Jamie Mackie came marauding through on the volley and slammed it home. Sensational scenes here.
No, wait, what’s happening now? The ref’s not allowed it. What’s going on? A Bradford penalty? Oxford are surrounding the ref pleading with him. Now he’s talking to his linesmen. And. And. It’s a goal, Oxford have snatched this at the death. What a finish.
‘Merse, it’s been such a hectic afternoon, we didn’t even get a chance to find out your thoughts about today’s action.’
‘No problem Jeff, the thing is Jeff. I just can’t see where Oxford’s goals are going to come from this afternoon. I fear for them, I really do.’
Meanwhile, Luton Town boss Nathan Jones has backed former Oxford striker Danny Hylton, saying he’d have scored more that ten goals this season despite a goal drought stretching back nearly two years. He just needs games, says Jones, and to stop living in a badger hole wearing shoes made of straw.
Tuesday saw us slide to a narrow 1-0 defeat to Portsmouth. Oxford fans are aghast at our dramatic collapse in form following our best run of wins in 128 years. Is it too much to ask that we break that record twice in the same season?
Brandon Barker’s loan is in crisis according to Rangers News. They’ve expressed their concern that Barker is not getting game time at Oxford when he could be not getting game time back up north. Barker has only featured in six of the last six games and none of them against part-timers Tunnock Teacake Academicals. How is that going to prepare him for the structural unfairness of the Scottish Premier League next season?
It’s the KRob derby on Saturday at MK Dons. The Oxford manager is considered a god in Milton Keynes after guiding them to The Championship in 2015. Current manager, Russell Martin was asked whether the return of The Roundabout Bill Shankly added a bit of spice to the game “Not for me,” he said staring up at a bronze statue of KRob stripped to the waist astride a mighty stag outside the stadium “Coming back here probably adds a little bit for him – but it’s the same for me.” It really doesn’t bother him does it? And it’s absolutely fine that his wife calls out ‘Karl’ when they’re making love. Absolutely. Fine.
I went to Las Vegas years ago, I didn’t gamble much, I found the experience too intimidating with people slumped over the fruit machines unable to move and pneumatically enhanced women serving free drinks to keep the punters lubricated and spending.
There was one experience that stood above everything else. Wandering through one of the casinos, I found myself watching a game of blackjack at a table. Everyone looked very serious with chips stacked high next to every player. I gradually found myself at the front of the crowd of onlookers with nothing between me and a vacant chair. The croupier caught my eye, gesturing for me to sit. My blood ran cold, couldn’t be sure how to play, didn’t have much money and everyone looked tense and intimidating. I wasn’t ready to take my seat at the table. Thankfully, someone was ushered into the spot before I found the right words.
It was years later I realised what was going on. The players were hardened gamblers, Nevada gambling laws mean that private games are illegal and I’d found myself standing next to a high roller table which required a mere $10,000 to join a game.
Last season, I felt we were ill-prepared for The Championship, a high roller table with a minimum stake beyond our means. Promotion would have been bitter sweet, as Wycombe are finding this season. Our notional fourth place finish last season was largely due to the points-per-game calculation and the quirk of our five winning game run that preceded the curtailing of the season. We still had Coventry, Wycombe, Fleetwood and Portsmouth to play, and in all likelihood we’d have dropped back by the end of the season.
That early ending gave us a false picture of our status in the division, which created a surge of optimism and expectation. Something that was eventually readdressed when the new season started.
While last night’s defeat seemed to confirm that we’re still not a sure-fire high stakes play-off contender, there’s no reason to be concerned. Only two teams in the top 10 – Peterborough and Sunderland – have won more games than us in their last five, Lincoln and Hull have both stumbled in recent weeks. Teams around us seem to be feeling the fatigue of an intense and disrupted season as much as we are.
Last night was typical of defeats we saw earlier this season; Portsmouth hurried and harried, forcing us to play at a pace that made constructing anything meaningful very difficult. We play at pace anyway, but it leaves little time to think. If we don’t slow the game down, then we need the opposition to tire to give us space. Perhaps that’s a reason for our slower starts to the season; when opponents are fresh, regardless of their ability, they can sustain the disrupting tempo that makes it harder for us to control the game. As the season wears on those at the bottom of the table lose that ability and we benefit.
It was close, we could easily have come away with a point; which would have been our sixth consecutive draw against Pompey. We’re not yet out-performing the best in the division, but we’re staying with them.
Beating the better sides is definitely a goal to aim at before the end of the season, it’s a slight obsession that we’ve not had a win against a top six side, although that’s another way of saying that we beat the teams we’re better than and don’t win against those who we aren’t. Which is pretty obvious really, I’d be more frustrated if it were the other way around.
Still, beating top six sides will help enforce the belief that we should be competing at that level. The idea that we can sit at the same blackjack table is becoming an increasingly comfortable reality, it’s a mindset that needs to soak in.
It’s possible that we’re ready for the play-offs and promotion, but not yet equipped to play in The Championship. Culturally, I think we’re very close, but structurally we’re a long way off, we need to build that infrastructure, which takes time and Covid has been a massive distraction. The alternative springboard to the next level is a super-rich benefactor, but I’m not ready to sell my soul yet.
We should still be hopeful for this season, for all the concern, the result was our second league defeat in sixteen off the back of a record breaking run of wins. It took 128 years to achieve that feat, fans expecting a return to that kind of form in a matter of weeks are kidding themselves, we were always going to fall back a bit.
It is quite normal for teams at our level, competing for play-off and promotion spots, to go on strange runs of good and bad form. We saw it last season with Wycombe whose form was abject when the season ended, but benefitted from a quirk of maths. We also saw it with us and the run which got us into play-offs in the first place.
I think we have another run left in us this season; we don’t have an excess of injuries and our two defeats to Doncaster and Portsmouth were very close against good sides. Whether it’s enough to sneak us into the play-offs may be determined by the timing of that run. Getting into the play-offs may not mean we’re good enough for the high roller table that is the division above, but that’s a concern for another time.
The Absolute State of Oxford United Survey in the summer was conducted at the height of our post-season optimism. When asked where people thought we’d finish this season, most went for second. But, when asked who would win the title, we only ranked eighth, outside the play-offs.
This showed that while we have a lot of faith in our squad, our biggest challenge is the competitiveness within the division. We’re good, but so are Hull, Ipswich, Charlton, Sunderland, Portsmouth, Peterborough, Doncaster, and well, the list goes on.
This seems to have been more a shock to the players than the fans. It’s like we’ve been relegated from the Championship and expected an easier ride in a lower division. After four seasons in League One, it shouldn’t be a surprise that even the likes of Crewe and Lincoln have ability way beyond their brand might suggest.
That’s perhaps a little unfair, we’ve also had to cope with the unique combination of a short pre-season, the disappointment of a Wembley play-off defeat and the everyday mental challenges of the lockdown and pandemic.
Either way, we’ve seemed bewildered and under-prepared, like we’ve been catapulted into this wasteland of a season not ready for the emotional and physical emptiness. As a result, we’ve seemed lost and listless, feeling a bit sorry for ourselves.
Before the game on Tuesday against Portsmouth, there was a shot of the players arriving stadium, the first player to walk through the gate was carrying a Sainsbury’s bag. It reminded me of the peculiarly casual nature of games nowadays with players getting changed in makeshift changing rooms and appearing on the pitch via a side gate rather like a park team might.
The splendour of professional football, even at our level, has been stripped away. The intensity of gladiatorial combat, the ceremony, the baying crowds all gone. Motivation has to come from within.
But then, last night that all seemed to change. Maybe the win over Wigan helped spark a little mental revival, a renewed love of the competition even without its trappings. Portsmouth may have been the best follow-up; they’re a club we’ve played more than any other in the Football League and, judging by my recent poll of the club’s biggest rivals, hold a unique place in our psyche – not a traditional derby, but not an inconsequential fixture. It’s almost a sibling rivalry, both friendly and edgy.
In some ways, it’s like Portsmouth are the club we want to be, something that was reflected in our performance. Although there were no crowds to please, there was something else driving us to a renewed intensity; an inner resolve to avoid defeat. The line-up helped, it reminded me of our League Cup games last season; the apparent weakness on paper helped to us to focus and be sharp from the get-go.
With that sense of resolution, the game felt like a genuine away game; we needed to be aggressively competitive to avoid being swamped. The back-four were patient with the ball, something we haven’t seen enough of this season, the midfield were aggressive in the tackle and Dan Agyei up front knew his role was as much about stretching the play and occupying their defence as it was about scoring goals. Suddenly we looked both more solid and, at the same time, more threatening.
It was even satisfying to see the players squaring up to each other at the end of the game. In such a soulless environment; it is hard for passions to run riot like they might have done if there’d been a full stadium. The chest bumping and snarling, whatever caused it, helped conjure up an atmosphere and camaraderie, it was good to see Marcus McGuane squaring up to support Sam Long, the new and established combining as one. We’re not treading water until things get better, we’re working together.
The result helps to create the intensity that we’ll need if we’re to get out of the difficult position we’re in and perhaps even drive us to where we want to be. If we’re starting to acclimatise and enjoy this new world, then a derby on Saturday may be just what we need to come next.
How do you measure a rivalry? Location? Envy? Superiority? Or is it just a feeling? A few weeks ago, I asked you who you thought were our biggest rivals. Well, here’s the top nineteen.
19. Peterborough United
Let’s not get carried away; it doesn’t take many votes to become our 19th biggest rival. This one is the result of a brooding dislike following the curtailing of last season and the antics of the Peterborough hierarchy.
18. Cambridge United
Really? I’m surprised so many lazy Sky Sports commentators voted. The tenuous varsity link between the two cities has never turned made it into the stands in terms of a rivalry.
17. Queen’s Park Rangers
While many of these lower rivals are based on a single issue, any rivalry with QPR is surely based on a single game, 34 years ago at Wembley.
16. Coventry City
Maybe a bit of a surprise to some, but if you live in the north of the county, you may be more familiar with Coventry fans than other parts.
The biggest team in our division probably attracts a few ‘pick me’ votes, but the added link of Stewart Donald, Charlie Methven and Chris Maguire, mean that Sunderland make the list.
The team that denied us promotion from the Conference in 2010, but most likely, any rivalry is down to one man and his drinks break; Graham Westley.
Familiarity breeds contempt, Oxford and Wimbledon have shared many seasons together over a very long time. Alongside Luton, they’re the only team we’ve played in both the top flight and the Conference.
12. Bristol City
I can’t fathom this one, we’ve played each other once in the last eighteen years.
11. Crewe Alexandra
In almost any other season, Crewe wouldn’t attract a vote, but the vitriol surrounding their double postponement earlier this season adds a bit of spice to an otherwise dormant relationship. The only rivalry based on not playing any games.
10. Cheltenham Town
Into the top ten and we’re beginning to touch on more sensible rivalries. Cheltenham Town’s relationship must be down to location.
9. Leyton Orient
Some will never let it go; some fourteen years ago Leyton Orient came to the Kassam looking for a win to secure promotion. They did it in the last minute, which sent us down to the Conference. They danced on our pitch, apparently, though I’d left by then. Some will never forget or forgive.
8. MK Dons
The newest rivalry in the list. It’s not exactly what you’d call white hot, but geographical location has always promised a good large following and made MK Dons a decent away day.
Portsmouth sat on their own in terms of votes – some twenty ahead of MK Dons, and a similar number behind Northampton. We’ve shared many seasons with Portsmouth, I think secretly we’re a bit envious of their size and history, which makes beating them all the more sweet.
6. Northampton Town
Now we’re into the real rivalries. First up Northampton Town, another team whose path we’ve crossed countless times. Added spice came from Chris Wilder leaving us for them in 2014, then keeping them up. Then two years later, Wilder took them up as champions despite Michael Appleton’s assertion we were the better team.
5. Luton Town
There’s a genuinely visceral dislike for Luton Town, we’ve played them in the top division and the Conference, we’ve been promotion rivals and they’ve poached our manager. All of which adds up to a relationship with a bit of bite.
4. Bristol Rovers
A team we’ve played with almost monotonous regularity, any rivalry is spiced up by the fact we’re both very capable of winning away in the game. Matty Taylor helped turn the heat up a notch, he hates the Gas, pass it on.
3. Wycombe Wanderers
It’s not a derby, but of all the non-derbies out there, this is the biggest one for us. We won decisively in a key game on the way to promotion in 1996, they beat us in the FA Cup when we were on a roll in 2010, six years later we secured promotion against them, and last year they secured promotion against us at Wembley. It’s not a derby, but it’s getting there.
Perhaps at the expense of Reading? We haven’t played each other in 16 years and not as equals in 19. But, a rivalry still exists, apparently, though it’s kind of like the Korean War – it’s still technically happening, but in reality it’s made up of irritating each other on social media.
1. Swindon Town
The big one. But, this list wasn’t really about finding out who our biggest rival were.