Coming up: Morecambe

The drop

Nothing to worry about, not yet at least. If you look at the table, you’d say we were comfortably in third, four points clear with games in hand. What’s more, there’s not a great deal of form amongst the teams directly below us. Mansfield, who seem to have surged up the table recently, have only won 5 in 10. Wycombe have lost four in six.
All the form in the division is being absorbed by Northampton who have taken 36 points 42. Which is where the pressure comes from. The Cobblers are our guests on Tuesday, and we could really do without going into that with the perception of being off-form. 

Old game of the day

Coming Up – Swansea City

The drop

Kassam’s First Law: If we’ve played you at the Kassam in the league, you’re not a big team, so said one wag on Twitter.

I remember Swansea coming to the Kassam looking like they would be heading out of Football League, now they’re the biggest team we’ve faced since Aston Villa in the League Cup in 2002. I overheard someone say recently that they thought we could beat Swansea, but didn’t think we will. I thought that summed it up nicely.

What is going for us is that we have the best team we’ve ever had at the Kassam. That’s not saying much, but it’s a good start. Also, we handle the big Kassam occasion much better than we used to as the game against Swindon and Exeter show.

Swansea are struggling and their minds will surely be on their game against Sunderland on Wednesday, as well as their ongoing survival battle. I’m guessing they’ll play a weakened team; the stakes are too high in the league for them to be concentrating on FA Cup at the moment. It’s also an interesting decision for them not to have properly replaced Gary Monk. It feels like a ‘survival’ decision to me – they want someone to organise and not lose too many points rather than a new manager who is going to turn the place upside down (which may be what is needed). We showed at West Brom last year – who had Alan Irvine in charge at the time – how it’s possible to rattle a Premier League team that’s struggling, I’m hopeful we can do the same again.

But, are we just a bit too Premier League-light? Our passing style wouldn’t look out of place in the top flight, but obviously there’s more to it than that. Have we got the pace, strength, tactical guile and consistency to  impose our style on them? More importantly, do we have the defence, particularly in the middle, to cope with their attack?

I hope so, but I’m also hoping for a result either way. Neither team needs a replay.

Old game of the day

We were once subject to a micro-giant killing against Swansea in the Third Round 23 years ago. The video doesn’t show it, but I’m fairly certain that Chris Allen was the Oxford player who missed the decisive penalty in the shoot-out. Time for revenge?

Coming up: Exeter City

The drop

It’s Football Christmas Day! Is there a football fan in the country that doesn’t love Boxing Day? There’s a real sense of togetherness, family and friends, some coming to their only game of the season, coming with a sense of collective excitement. 
This is a game that sells itself, and it is probably a good thing that the club haven’t put in the effort they has in the past – I’m thinking of the disappointments of Plymouth and Woking. We need to approach it, as much as possible, as a normal game. 
Last week’s defeat to Wycombe and the announcement that Mark Ashton is leaving the club has added weight to the game. I would love us to put on a show against Exeter, and then again against Swansea in the Cup, but there’s a piece of me that just wants all this period of the season to be over as soon as possible so we can get our heads down and really deal with the issue of promotion in May.

Old game of the day 

Deep down I still feel a certain animosity towards Exeter who ‘stole’ our place in the Football League in 2007. It’s funny how things play tricks on your mind. Looking through this (recorded in a form which appears to be about 13 grades down from HD), we went into the second leg a goal up, went two goals up, conceded our lead, allowed Rob Duffy to roll the ball harmlessly into their keepers’ arms when clean through in extra time and then our goalkeeper tried to ‘right the wrong’ of our relegation by taking a penalty. He missed, of course. Suicide.

Coming up: Wycombe Wanderers

The drop

I couldn’t get a ticket for Wycombe; I can’t remember the last time I failed to get a ticket for a game I wanted to go for. It’s only the second Wycombe game I’ve ever missed home or away. I guess that’s what success does for you.

Wycombe have fallen away a little after last year’s heroics and a decent start. Had they maintained their form, this could have been the fixture to tip it into the category of ‘derby’. Familiarity has bred an increasing degree of contempt between the two clubs, but it still needs something to light that spark. It may be this game, but if not, then the final game of the season at the Kassam has potential to ignite the fuse.

Old game of the day

It’s not a derby, but existing animosity makes a pretty good starting point when developing a rivalry. We’ve had plenty of good times at Adams Park. None better than this from 1996.

Coming up: Carlisle United

The drop

Bogsnorkling Cumbrians Carlisle come to the Kassam on Saturday. It should be the biggest test we’ve faced in quite a while. They specialise in soaring and capitulating with alarming regularity, at the moment they seem to be on the up, but just as they begin to find their feet, they’ve found themselves under 8 feet of rainwater. Bloody typical.

Apparently they’ve been able to train this week, but with Brunton Park under water, the wider infrastructure around the team must have been effected. And that, surely, should be to our advantage.

On the other hand, they’ve been helping in the local community and it might be that they will be galvanised by a Dunkirk spirit and come to the Kassam determined to bring three points back to their stricken community. Wellies and buckets might be more effective.

So, who knows? I think we need a test; January is measuring up to be an absolute doozy; Swansea, Millwall, Bristol Rovers, Northampton and Portsmouth are all in the New Year. It may go as far as deciding our season, we need a decent warm up to hit that period as hard as we can.

Old game of the day

Although Sky have tried letting fans commentate on games, all it really produced was a sanitised version of what people thought football fans do when they go to games. Authentic fan commentary, should involve mostly muttering and swearing. And then, when the ball rolls out to your centre-back it should go something like “MATT ELLIOT HOLLLLLYYYYYY CCCRRAAAAPPPP”.

Coming up: Forest Green Rovers

The drop

Forest Green Rovers are a funny little club; for a period they looked like one of those clubs that would come piling in, in a hail of money – Histon, Greys – before burning to dust when it all becomes too expensive and difficult to sustain. Perhaps they could have been the next Fleetwood or Crawley; the kind of team that followers of the Premier League are shocked to find are in the Football League at all.

But rather than soaring high or crashing to the floor, they seem to have stabilised and are progressing rather nicely. I recently caught some Conference football on BT Sport and it seems the days when pretty much every club featured an ex-Oxford player are all but over. Eastleigh, of course, are a museum to our conference years, but otherwise it’s difficult to judge just how good a team they are at the moment.

What is true is that they started the season off like a train and now sit second behind Cheltenham. That suggests this isn’t going to be easy, but I also think that Michael Appleton will throw the kitchen sink at the game; it’s been 13 years since we had a Premier League team in the FA Cup and 15 since we had one at home, the law of averages dictates that the prospect of Premier League opposition in the next round is increasingly likely.

Newport wrap | Coming up: Hartlepool

Oxford United 1 Newport County 1

Home advantage isn’t what it used to be, pitches are better, players’ preparation is better; traveling distances is less of an issue, all seater stadiums make away games less intimidating. Altogether playing away is no more a chore than being at home.

For all the talk about this being the best football we’ve seen in decades, we’ve only scored more than one goal in a home game in the league once since August, and that was the defeat to Barnet. The last time we’ve taken points and scored more than two at home was Yeovil, which feels a while ago now.

This leaves us vulnerable; if we’re only likely to get one goal, then we’re one defensive mistake or piece of magic away from conceding points. Against Newport we were hit by a world class strike from Lenell John-Lewis; a moment in which the tectonic plates aligned, timing, positioning and technique. You could tell even John-Lewis was surprised the way he trotted around the pitch aimlessly trying to comprehend what he’d achieved.

Newport were a decent side; their recent form implied that it wasn’t going to be the walk-over that it may have been when Terry Butcher was in charge. It does make you wonder what Butcher did to make them quite so inept. I have images of him standing in the changing rooms, eyes bulging, pressing a razor blade into his arm in a hopeless attempt at engendering some Butcher-style passion into their play.

Whatever Butcher was doing wrong, Sheridan is doing right, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they eventually worried the lower reaches of the play-offs come the end of the season. But Tuesday showed how little it can take to turn an average side into a decent one. And if that happens, then our inability to score goals, and the vulnerability that comes with that, could cause a problem.

Coming up: Hartlepool United

Our tour of the lower reaches of the table concludes with a trip up to Hartlepool on Saturday. A curious team; they looked destined for the Conference last year before going on a mind boggling run that saw them avoid relegation. Along the way they gobbled us up in what looked like Michael Appleton’s darkest and, what at the time could have been, last hour.
But, while we have turned ourselves around in remarkable fashion, their revival seems only temporary. They appear to be regressing back to where they originally were. We should be reasonable confident that points can be taken here, which will make up for the disappointing result on Tuesday night. 

Old game of the day

Last year Hartlepool looked like the most inept team in history. Of course, they beat us, at home, on a Tuesday night. Who is more the inept? The inept or the team that’s beaten by the inept? It wasn’t always like that, of course. In 2013, we couldn’t stop winning away, this was a cracker.