George Lawrence’s Shorts – Stormsy

Saturday 11 January 2020

*Stomp, Stomp, Stomp*

Fee Fi Fo Fum,
Forty minutes gone, 
It’s three-none. 

The monstrous colossi of Rotherham stomped all over Oxford with a blistering first-half display on Saturday. Marcus Browne’s goal being a consolation in a 1-3 gubbing.

Sunday 12 January 2020

KRob’s not paranoid, I mean you can’t be both KRob and self-aware, but he’s beginning to think that ‘they’ are listening to him via his iPhone. Just days after suggesting that the club were interested in a pre-season training camp in southern Spain, he was linked with a move to coach Malaga. KRob’s panic set in when it also emerged that he’s been linked with a move to Hot Grannies Being Spanked and is currently clearing his internet search history as we speak. 

Rotherham manager Paul Warne came to Oxford to park the bus on Saturday, then found that Creepy Uncle Firoz hadn’t unlocked the ground leaving his team stranded.

Monday 13 January 2020

Luke Garbutt has spoken glowingly about his year with Oxford last season. So much so that he took the opportunity to give his old club an insight into Ipswich’s tactical plans tomorrow. “It could be a case of us letting them come on to us.” he said before adding, “We don’t want to sit back and let them dictate the play.” While not sitting back and sitting back, he confirmed that they plan to be on the front foot winning the ball high up the pitch. Sitting back and not sitting back while on the front foot, this is proof that Garbutt is either a tactical genius or more confused than your mum when you explained she still needed virus software despite being with BUPA.

Tuesday 14 January 2020

It was all go in the 0-0 draw with Ipswich Town after a storm nearly resulted in the game being called off. A brief suspension in play allowed the players to change into dry kit. Unfortunately with the club shop sale starting the team were left a bit short of options. Elliot Moore was in a sponsor-free shirt for 3-5 year olds while Sam Long had to make do with Ollie The Ox’s foam mascot suit.  

Elsewhere, in three-for-two Slazenger jogging bottoms news, we’re off to Sports Direct’s Newcastle United in the 4th Round of the FA Cup after they beat Rochdale 4-1.

Wednesday 15 January 2020

Sam Smith has admitted that going to Oxford on loan last year was a massive learning experience. Principally he learned that not scoring goals is not a good look for a striker. “You can only score goals if you’re playing” said the man who played five league games without scoring. He looks back on his time philosophically “I think first loans can go either way, you can either do really well or have an absolute stinker. It wasn’t a stinker.” he said re-defining the term ‘do really well’. 

Thursday 16 January 2020

It was the Seven Minute Seventeen Second Fans’ Forum with Tiger on Thursday. Regarding the stadiumsituation; ‘there might be some good news soon.’ he said reading from a file called ‘things to say in 2004’. He also wished Sam Long happy birthday, giving him the best birthday present ever by confirming that the club are trying to find a replacement for him.

KRob has organised an intra-squad practice match to get everyone match fit. The game offers an ideal opportunity for everyone to use the term ‘intra-squad’.

Friday 17 January 2020

Tomorrow we visit Gillingham who are managed by big-boned ball breaker Steve Evans. The Gills are on a reasonable run in challenging circumstances. “I have always been at a club which has been well resourced and I have never hidden that.” said the man literally convicted of tax fraud by hiding his club’s resources in 2006.

Match wrap: Oxford United 1 Rotherham United 3

It’s funny how a pair of slim fitting trousers and a nice new stadium can influence your perception of a club. I always had Paul Warne and Rotherham down as a progressive bolthole, someone for us to aspire to being like. As is patently obvious, I don’t follow the fortunes of other teams that closely, I’d read about our clash of styles and their reliance on set plays but I was still surprised at their sheer physical presence on Saturday. I had to look it up; on average we conceded nearly 4cm in height per player.

Matt Crooks, their number 17, was case in point. Officially standing at 6 ft 3 inches (but looking bigger) you’d expect him to be in the centre of defence, or attack, or in goal, not in the centre of midfield towering over Cameron Brannagan. It was like a stunt you see in the Conference, where physical freaks are played in unusual positions to flummox the opposition.

This wasn’t anti-football though, Crooks can play as could the others, it was a souped-up version what we have seen previously from promotion winning teams at this level – physical, direct, organised. Unusually physical, but not a total abomination. It wasn’t complicated, but it was overwhelmingly efficient. There was a lot of talk about our failings, but much less about how good they were, it was as close as we’ve seen to a title winning side as anyone this season.

They double-teamed constantly, attacked with pace and aggression and when they didn’t have the ball, they expanded to make it impossible to get around them. Conceding early was only part of the story, the physical mismatch meant we were playing two teams – the actual team and the team that was in our heads. That’s what happens with bullying; it goes beyond the physical.

As a result, we were less committed in the tackle, less assured in the passing, less vociferous with the referee. Generally, the confidence drained out of us and there was nobody able to take control of the situation.

It was all done and dusted by half-time, so the post-mortem was a long one. Did Karl Robinson make the wrong selections? I could see the logic of keeping the same core side as we’ve had all season. Jamie Mackie was the more obvious selection in a physical match-up. Simon Eastwood looked understandably rusty and Cameron Brannagan was out of sorts, but the thinking was sound and that’s all I ask.

3-0 down at half-time, Karl Robinson did exactly the right thing, rather than trying to play them at their game, we played them at a completely different one. Mark Sykes was the only player in the first half that looked like he was getting any joy, so pace was clearly something that they would struggle with. We doused them with it with the introduction of Browne and Holland and suddenly they looked a little more human. The result was a reassuring display which occasionally teetered on a comeback. Had Matty Taylor put away his one-on-one and the referee been a fractionally less inconsistent we may even have scraped an unlikely point. In Rotherham we may actually be watching the title winners, but we’re not done yet for promotion or the play-offs.  

The other positive is that it’s out of the way and that future threats we face are more obvious. When the Rotherham fans were singing about being top of the league, I had to look it up; they’ve arrived at the top by stealth. Like League 1 is a Trojan horse; Wycombe were supposed to be the physical industrial unit that were streaking to the title, suddenly they collapse and there’s a new threat. We just happen to be the first team to properly face it. We knew they were good; I think we were surprised at just how good. 

What comes next is no less straight forward, but at least we know that. Our League Cup run benefitted from players like Sam Long and Elliot Moore, straight forward percentage players who wouldn’t leave us vulnerable when faced with quality. Games against Ipswich, Sunderland and Portsmouth may be more like League Cup ties than some of our more swashbuckling League displays of earlier in the season, but, let’s face it, that served us OK.

George Lawrence’s Shorts: That joke isn’t funny anymore

Saturday 19 October 2019

There are two things that are certain in life; Tariqe Fosu scoring the first, and Cameron Brannagain scoring the second. Oxford shrugged off the long flight to the New York stadium to eat pastrami on rye and beat Rotherham 2-1.

Monday 21 October 2019

GLS often spends Monday nights fumbling a sack of balls in an excitable way up until consumed by an overwhelming sense of melancholy. It was the FA Cup 1st Round draw on Monday with Oxford being drawn away to Poole Town, Hayes and Yeading. With so many teams playing, KRob fears the midfield could get crowded.

Tuesday 22 October 2019

There was a right Royal Rumble as Hayes, Yeading and Poole got together to decide who should face the mighty Oxford in the cup. After two floodlight failures, both Hayes and Yeading went through 3-2. The replay to find out whether it’s Hayes or Yeading in the next round has yet to be scheduled.   

Wednesday 23 October 2019

“Apart from Oxford United” said some bastard called Mighty Alan on the Guardian website “Which stadium has three stands?”. Oh right, thanks Mighty Alan, now we’re out of three-stand club are we? Anyway, apparently we’re not the only ones with a gaping rear end. There are stadiums in Australia, Scotland and Thailand with the same issue.

It turns out that the secret behind the All Blacks dominance of rugby is not a systematic doping programme after all. It’s down to Rhodes Scholar come former Oxford United mullet haired centre-back come psychiatrist Ceri Evans. KRob has been on the phone to Arthur Gnohere to see whether he can work similar magic on the squad.

If you don’t want to spend cash on a subscription you can read about him here. Evans, not Gnohere.

Thursday 24 October 2019

Giantkilling fetishists, BT Sport have donned their thigh length boots and put on their gimp masks to select Oxford’s game against Hayes and Yeading for TV. The dirty buggers have moved the fixture to Sunday where they’re either hoping for a humiliation for the league team, who have been very bad boys, or a spanking for naughty non-leaguers. 

There was more stadiumsituation chat during the Six Minute Seven Seconds Fan Forum with Niall, don’t call me Niall McWilliams. When asked about the stadium he said there was no news, about players he said there was no news and about the training ground, he said there was no news. It wasn’t all evasive, when asked about The Priory pub, he said he didn’t know.

Friday 25 October 2019

Babyfaced billionaire, Erick Thohir has been forced by the *squints* Indonesian government to step down from the Oxford United board after he became the sinisterly titled State-owned Enterprises Minister. This is the first appointment to government from the club since Kristaps Grebis was famously recalled to the Latvian government to sort out their fisheries policy.

He’s nice to his mum, tidies his room and makes the housewives of Witney come over all unnecessary; James Henry, has hoovered up a new two year contract.

Match wrap: Rotherham 1 Oxford United 2

I’ve struggled with the idea of teams gaining momentum. Every game starts at the same point with its own unique set of challenges – injuries, suspensions, opponents, tactics. The idea that it’s possible to transfer something from one game into another, and for that to accumulate – thereby having momentum – doesn’t seem to make sense.

I can see that good results change things – slight injuries are more likely to ignored, players are more likely to commit to systems that appear to work, they believe in each others’ abilities; if I was a striker, I’d more likely get into the box knowing Cameron Brannagan was crossing it than, say, Courtney Pitt.

It seems, then, that momentum is fundamentally a product of trust. When you start to trust something, then you’re more likely to commit to it. If you commit to it, it’s more likely to be successful.

It’s taken time to trust the latest incarnation of the club. That’s not surprising; we spent a good proportion of last year near the relegation zone and went through four winding up orders. In addition, it’s easy to forget what Karl Robinson inherited; a few remnants of Michael Appleton’s years – many of whom were on the verge of leaving – and Pep Clotet’s legion of oddbods.

But, trust is coming and perhaps it’s here. The Rotherham result might be the most significant piece in the jigsaw puzzle yet. They are exactly the type of club we aspire to be; apparently well run off the field and a robust capable team on it. Without denigrating the West Ham win, strange results happen in cup competitions, and something like the 6-0 win over Lincoln can be viewed as once in a life time aberration. The game against Rotherham, like the Doncaster game last week, are the workaday league games which determine which end of the table we end up at.

The clocks go back next week, which is when the season really starts; the top eleven teams – with us in fifth – all look like they could threaten the play-offs. Of the others, Portsmouth are the only team you might think capable of joining the scrap.

This is not dissimilar to last year; where we were in a large batch of teams separated by a few points, only that was at the other end of the table. I might be alone in constantly looking down, but when I look at the National League table – which we were in only few years ago – I see teams like Woking, Solihull and Bromley. I can no longer imagine us being amongst them. Even looking at League 2, it no longer feels like a group of clubs like us. My latest breakthrough, and this has only been in the last few weeks, is that we are more naturally aligned to Doncaster and Rotherham than we are teams towards the bottom in League 1.

There’s a point where we have to trust we’re part of that group of genuine play-off and promotion contenders and not there by virtue of a set of short-term freak results. Whether you are ever actually ‘there’ is difficult to say, I suspect many fans of most clubs look down before they look up, we know more than most that past performance is no indicator of future performance.

The last few weeks and our resulting League position have bought Karl Robinson the space he’s needed. His system is working, the players are bought into it, the fans are being absorbed by it. The circle of trust grows – which is also what will grow crowds – and that’s where momentum starts to kick in. If we can settle into this new status; who know where that will take us?

Games of Note: FA Cup Third Round

2017 – 3-2 Rotherham

Rotherham were on their knees in the Championship, we were buoyant in League 1, but there was still a giant killing to be had. Despite the scoreline, we swept them aside with panache.

2016 – 3-2 Swansea City

Michael Appleton’s finest moment? A true coming-of-age win over Premier League Swansea City.

2003 – 0-2 Arsenal

It wasn’t really about the result, it was about having a great day out at one of England’s great stadiums. That and what came before – a 1-0 win over Swindon and Jefferson Louis’ naked backside live on TV.

1997 – 0-2 Watford

It was the worst of times. The beginning of the end of a great team. The original tie was postponed because of a frozen pitch minutes before kick-off. The team had already been announced, notably omitting Matt Elliot from the starting eleven. He’d never play for us again, moving to Leicester City. In the re-arranged tie – delayed by a floodlight failure – we went out with a whimper.

1996 – 3-3 Millwall

The most fun you can have in East London is drawing with Millwall in the FA Cup with a last minute goal direct from a corner.

The wrap – Bristol Rovers and Rotherham

Oxford United 1 Bristol Rovers 2
There is a very tangible gloom descending over the club at the moment. The highs of Charlton were more than mirrored by the lows of Bristol Rovers.

I don’t think the performance was as bad as most suggested. There seemed to be more energy and movement, and a willingness to move the ball around, but having scored so early, we slowly lost our way.

This seemed to be down to experience and leadership. To score so early is a shock, the prospect of defending for 90 minutes probably seemed daunting, as is the idea of taking a risk to go for another goal. We were lost in between two mindsets, and where we often think of a football team as being a single unit, you’re actually faced with eleven people trying agree, in real-time, what to do with a situation they were not prepared for. In most games, the opening stages are about establishing a hierarchy, a pattern or platform from which you can build, very rarely do you expect goals.

Once you’re through the opening 20 minutes or so, the game tends to set down to a pattern, players stop thinking and start responding. In the last 20 minutes, the tactical options narrow further – you’re chasing the game, or defending a lead, sometimes the game is all but over. With more experience the team should have decided that the early goal was a bonus but carried on as if it hadn’t happened. One of the signs of a good team is their relentlessness, a complete disregard for the score.

Bristol Rovers are a difficult team for us to face at home. We often regress to the idea of voodoos or magic to explain difficult opponents, but I think it’s a combination of factors.

A short blast down the M4, Rovers will always bring large numbers to the Kassam, they are grouped together and the banking makes them look larger than they are. In addition, there’s the away mindset, there is, effectively little to lose. This is just one big day out, winning is just the icing on the cake, not the cake itself. And so, any encouragement is amplified ten-fold, players are less likely to fear failure, they take more chances, they get more rewards.

All of this is bundled up in the leadership issue, we don’t lack for talent in the team. But you do need enough players to know what to do when a plan is knocked off course, in this case, ironically, by scoring a goal. Instead, as soon as we drifted into unknown territory, we looked increasingly lost.

Rotherham 3 Oxford United 1
Even without the gloom, it would have been hard to envisage us winning at Rotherham. The only lingering hope was some sort of reverse pyschology that we would probably go and beat them because that’s just the sort of thing we’d do.

The idea that Derek Fazackerley will somehow fix the issues he inherited, implies that Pep Clotet was the sole problem, which he wasn’t. He didn’t help himself in some cases, but he faced similar problems to the ones Michael Appleton did after we got promoted.  

 
What I think we’re seeing, is a reflection of the club’s current strategic challenge. Take Rotherham, they have the infrastructure to invest in players that will see them push towards the top of League 1, perhaps above. They are surrounded by teams in a similar situation; Wigan, Blackburn, Charlton, Portsmouth. We are currently performing fairly close to the highest level our infrastructure will allow. Darryl Eales’ is sometimes criticsed for losing interest in the club, but I think it’s more that he can only fund the club for so long before he needs help. If we are going to progress, the funding needs to grow, often exponentially. I have a massive amount of sympathy for him, he’s invested heavily, and his only reward is to invest even more.

As a result, we can compete sometimes in this division, but not all the time, and you can see that in our results. What’s worse, is that this year League 1 has so many teams in the mould of Rotherham. There is a relentless procession of decent teams with the ability to push towards the top of the division. It’s not so much that we’re going backwards, its more that too many others are going forwards at a faster rate. Week after week, while we’re trying to fix issues like the manager, limited striking options, a ponderous defence, another team comes along.

People question why John Mousinho still holds down a place in the team and why Charlie Raglan was sent out to Port Vale on loan. I think it’s about needing experience to steady the ship. If we’d gone with Raglan and Dickie, chosen by fans because, mostly, they’re not Mousinho and Martin, we’d have had a centre-back pairing with one player with little experience and another with little fitness. I believe the hope is that Mousinho is the best hope to steady things.

Relegation seems very unlikely; our poor form alone will not cause that, we would need several other teams to go on winning runs they show no sign of having. If you think we’re bad, those below are, by definition, worse. We can’t switch off, of course, but we can look at the remaining games as pre-season games for next year. It seemed to work for Shrewsbury last year.