George Lawrence’s Shorts: Hammered Time

Saturday 21 September 2019

When challenged in the box he floats like a butterfly, but in front of goal he stings like a bee; Tariqe Fosu crushed a hat-trick against Lincoln City on Saturday in a record breaking 6-0 away win. This beat our previous best which was probably a scrappy defensive 1-0 smash and grab. Lincoln’s humiliation was compounded by the fact that they were being watched their next manager, MApp, thereby giving them the greatest fear known to man.

Sunday 22 September 2019

As Danny Rose and Canice Carrol will tell you, playing football in a dangerous and unpredictable town is no fun at all. Thankfully, Kashif Siddiqi is not heading for Swindon, but the relative tranquility of war-ravaged Kashmir. Oxford’s 20-goals-a-season peace envoy has been loaned out to their local team where he’ll be blocking shots, and ducking grenades. 

Monday 23 September 2019

Chris Cadden has been talking to his wee pals at the Scottish Record about his secret sadness; an inability to iron his clothes. No doubt interviewed while wrapped in toilet paper, the full-back has revealed that he’s moved into a ‘village called Bicester’, no Chris, that’s Bicester Village and you can’t live in a Helly Hansen factory store. ‘I put my first washing on yesterday’ said Cadden from trapped inside his tumble drier.

Tuesday 24 September 2019

The man KRob has labelled the future of English football, Shandon Baptiste, has been called up to play for Grenada against St Kitts and Nevis. Baptiste is due to fly out for two games at the beginning of November, but if KRob keeps going on about him; he’ll probably be able to walk on water to get there.

Wednesday 25 September 2019

It was Hammered Time on Wednesday as Oxford marmalised W’Stam in the League Cup. A 4-0 annihilation provided the biggest shock in East London since Dirty Den left Ange. Oxford’s Greta Thurnberg, Shandon Baptiste completed the rout after goals from Elliot Moore, Matty Taylor and Tariqe Fosu. W’Stam won’t be playing the old Joanna down the rubber-dub after that performance because they were bucking derrible.

Thursday 26 September 2019 

Thursday means it’s the Six Minute Eighteen Seconds Fans Forum in which every member of the backroom staff scrambled to put themselves forward after last night’s mullering. In the end Tiger was the man in the hot seat, but spent the entire time leaning out of the Radio Oxford windows flicking the V’s at passers by, noisily telling them to stick their effing bubbles up their arse, sideways.

Friday 27 September 2019

Gillingham tomorrow who are managed by criminal Stay Puff Marshmallow Glaswegian Steve Evans. Evans has been playing ‘oooh, cleeevvveerrr’ mind games with Karl Robinson claiming that last Saturday’s Lincoln result was down to two lucky goals. I dunno Wobbles McBloaty, I reckon it was the other four we smashed in that made the real difference.  

Match wrap: Oxford United 4 West Ham United 0

The League Cup is our competition; we’ve beaten some of the biggest clubs in the country in it; Manchester United, Arsenal, Newcastle, Leeds, Everton. We’ve even won it, of course; it agrees with us in a way that the FA Cup doesn’t.

But, it’s mutated into a curious beast; a trophy that’s still worth winning but that clubs dismiss with weakened teams. It’s like the EFL Trophy, but where its esoteric rules are applied to each position – the left-back is an Academy player, the right-back a first choice international, the playmaker is someone you vaguely remember from another club and another time. If you’re a lower league team, playing weakened Premier League opponents devalues your achievements, but in the League Cup, are they genuinely weakened? It’s hard to know.

The difference between us and West Ham is best illustrated by our stadiums. Ours, a three-sided concrete mess in the vice-like grip of its cruel landlord. Theirs, a world class facility acquired for a fraction of its value due to the bungled negotiations of Boris Johnson. Their team, weakened or not, was bought for £157 million, ours wasn’t.

Like last season’s game against Manchester City, the match was approached as an enjoyable diversion. The atmosphere was a contented buzz, the crowd bigger than normal, but not, you know, big big.  

After two minutes of unremarkable posturing, there was an audible groan as a combination of passes down the left cut us to pieces. The noise was familiar; from a hum of hopefulness, there was a sudden collective recognition of our inferiority. It suggested a template typical of this kind of tie; we’d play well, we’d be brave, but we’d lose. Or so it seemed.

Then after a few more minutes of harmless jousting, their back-four were pushing the ball between themselves. I looked into our half – there it was, like a murmuration; the perfect form of two banks of four. They couldn’t go round us, they couldn’t go through us, and Premier League lore says you mustn’t go over us.

We were enveloped by a moment absolute clarity; a perfect defensive formation, not the confusing nine-dimensional chess Karl Robinson tries to employ to beat likes of Rochdale or Burton. It was the old Ian Atkins adage of winning the right to play. Our conservatism was aided by our selection; Sam Long will never be a quantum full-back, Elliot Moore likes nothing more than to defend. Passes are straight and short, deliberate and moderate; we weren’t just resisting West Ham, we were throttling the life out of them.

Their £157 million team was supposedly weakened with nine changes from Saturday. But, we made six including Rob Hall fresh from a year out injured and Mark Sykes, who a few weeks ago was being mooted for a League 2 loan deal. And then there was Jamie Mackie, who can count on one hand how many more chances he’ll have for games like this.

Minutes tick by and we look increasingly comfortable, but comfort means nothing; a narrow plucky defeat would be quickly forgotten, even a narrow win would be put down to their complacency, if we want to win, and for it to mean something, we needed to win properly.

Cameron Brannagan finds himself in front of goal but scuffs the ball badly wide. Rob Hall clips the top of the bar from a free-kick. We break their defensive line on a couple of occasions; Forde has a chance which rolls harmlessly wide.

Half-time comes, it’s 0-0 and we’re the better side; but half time is always critical in these games; it’s when the adrenalin drains from the legs, concentration seeps from the mind. You’re suddenly faced at the re-start with leadened limbs and slowed reactions. Like the JPT Final against Barnsley – we were brilliant for 45 minutes, but the break broke us.

Not this time; Elliot Moore spins in a crowded box to slot in the first. It’s a tight turn and the finish is threaded through the only narrow channel available to him. The nimble manoeuvring of his hulking body is reminiscent of the craft of Matt Elliot. 1-0.

Then, Jimenez saves miraculously from Mackie. Sykes passes a ball to the back post finding Matty Taylor for number two. Everyone chases Taylor down to celebrate in front of the fans; Sykes trots across the pitch to join them, but realises he’ll never get there and turns back. To think, he might have been turning out for Mansfield or Cheltenham and here he is drilling a world class cross for 2-0 and nobody’s there to congratulate him.

West Ham are woeful, you can tell from the movement amongst their fans they’re incandescent with rage. The humiliation illustrates the gap between the Premier League players and their fans – for the players this is a distraction from their millionaire lifestyles. To the fans, it’s an afternoon off work, an expensive train journey, a decent chunk out of a weekly wage. Their sacrifice is being rewarded with a performance utterly lacking in imagination and effort.

We, on the other hand, are fully committed. For Jamie Mackie, there will be few nights like this between now and retirement, for Sam Long and Josh Ruffels, this is their calling, for Cameron Brannagan and Shandon Baptiste it’s another step towards greater things. Together, we are all in.

The commitment drives a rare perfection. Every passing play becomes more pure. We’ve won the right to play; it gives Tariqe Fosu a platform to pounce on a mistake to sprint half the length of the pitch, round the keeper and slot home for number three.

And then, as the game drifts into its final moments; the result is beyond doubt; the score illustrates the dominance, the ‘weakened team’ caveat is fully extinguished – this is not just a simple anomaly.

The ball works its way to Shandon Baptiste; the future of Oxford or of football or some other absurd Karl Robinson platitude. Above all, it’s a boy with a talent that has been blighted by a year of injury. He clips the ball over the first defender and drives into the box, feints to go past the second and rolls the ball deftly into the far post for a conclusive fourth.

It’s the bluest sky, the perfect silence, the purest diamond; Baptiste wheels away. It’s unfettered perfection. These are moments of rare fleeting beauty. Eventually a cloud will spoil the perfect sky, a noise will break the perfect silence, but right there and then in that very moment, it’s magical. These gifts, in our hard and unpleasant times, are rare and so fleeting, you owe it to yourself to simply drink it in.

George Lawrence’s Shorts – A yabba Dabo doo

Saturday 31 August 2019

There was a right old ding dong at The Kassam on Saturday. Coventry were first to ding going 1-0 up, then donged along to double their lead. Jamie Mackie dinged a 20 yarder just after the hour before Fantaky Dabo donged one into his own net for 2-1. In the last minute they danged in what looked like the winner before Dabo dinged into his own net again for 3-3, four minutes into injury time.  

Monday 2 September 2019

KRob’s wife went mad when he turned up at home with another midfielder to add to his gargantuan collection. ‘THAT’ she said pointing an accusatory finger, ‘IS NOT STAYING IN MY HOUSE’. Oussama Zamouri is a Moroccan who has joined until Christmas. ‘I think I’m quite a technical player’ said Zamouri with a surprising lack of self-awareness. KRob’s has yet to tell his wife that he’ll be going to MidfielderCon in the summer to hang out with all the other midfield nerds dressed as Simon Clist.

The top man’s top man, Jakey Wright, Wright, Wright has signed for Bolton Wanderers on loan from Çhrîßtøphē Ŵîłdę’s Sheffield United. He’ll go right, right, right into the squad to face Oxford on the 17th.

Tuesday 3 September 2019

It’s an ill-conceived battle no one cares about fought by grown men acting like toddlers in which nobody ultimately wins. The Brexit of football tournaments, the MySpace.com Trophy, vomited into action with a 2-1 over Premier League Muppet babies; The Norwichlets. After going a goal down, Oxford’s equaliser came from Cameron Branagain-again with the winner coming from Shandon Baptiste, who KRob has labelled the best player in the whole damn universe.

Meanwhile, Tony McMahon has left the club by mutual disinterest.

Wednesday 4 September 2019

Jedward orphan, Mark Sykes will be donning his neon orange winkle pickers and making self-conscious peace signs to every available camera when he joins up with Northern Ireland to miss their games against Luxembourg and Germany. As a result he’ll miss the game against Fleetwood that he was never going to play in.

Thursday 5 September 2019

It was the Six Minute Thirteen Seconds Fans’ Forum on Radio Oxford with Zaki Nuseibeh on Thursday. There was a question about the stadiumsituation which was good because we hadn’t heard anything about the stadiumsituation since it was mentioned four and a half minutes ago. ‘It’s key to our sustainability’ claims AlanOUFC738472 #FPBE  in Wantage, who has really been thinking about it.

Reluctant commuter and former Oxford United assistant shoutsman Shaun Derry has resurfaced as Head of Isotonic drink distribution at Crystal Palace. Twinkletoed turncoat Gavin Whyte twinkled his toes in Northern Ireland’s 1-0 win over Luxembourg while Mark Sykes watched longingly from the bench.

Friday 6 September 2019

Tomorrow Oxford head north to play Fleetwood Town, who are managed by misunderstood nasty piece of work Joey Barton, a thoughtful thug who has read books without pictures in.

Oxford are looking for their second league win of the season, and first ever over Fleetwood, but KRob’s not worried. If we maintain our performances , he said, we’ll climb the league, thus demonstrating an alarming misunderstanding of the fundamentals of how league tables work. We just need to stick to our principles, he said; one of which appears to be to concede a goal roughly every half-an-hour.

George Lawrence’s Summer Shorts: Durnin time

Monday 15 July 2019

What. A. Week.

Of sport.

We’re all recovering from a mind blowing few days of sporting endeavour; there was Lewis Hamilton winning the British Grand Prix, England winning the cricket World Cup, Benji Buchel keeping a clean sheet in FC Vaduz’s Europa League qualifier, Federer and Djokovic duking it out at Wimbledon over five hours, England trouncing everyone in the Netball World Cup and Thomas De Gendt’s epic breakaway win in the Tour de France.

Wait, what? Yes, the master of the scrambled corner clearance Benji Buchel is now with FC Vaduz who drew 0-0 in the Europa League against Icelandic giants Breidablik. As we said: What. A. Week.

Tuesday 16 July 2019

The two most feared letters in any pre-season are X and I, when put together it transforms a prestige friendly against a progressive, glamorous league club into a meaningless husk of a kick around featuring four trialists, six teenagers and a competition winner from a local school. Sure enough, tonight’s Charlie Methven ‘check out these loafers’ derby with Eastleigh was cursed with an XI as an Oxford United XI went down 0-3.

Wednesday 17 July 2019 

If you’ve endured more than a week of GLS, then you’ll know of Jill Sharp, the loon-eyed Rangers fan spotted at Ibrox a couple of weeks ago for our friendly gubbing from Steven Gerard’s Tax Avoiding army. Well, that game was her last taste of freedom, as she’s been sentenced to a year in prison for stalking some poor sap. Now her cougar-like tendencies have been pegged back, expect Jamie Mackie’s injury to clear up rapidly.

Thursday 18 July 2019

The immovable object meets the irresistible force after PClot signed Dan Crowley from Dutch side Will.I.Am. Quite how PClot’s tactical rigamortis will align to Dan Crowley’s more fluid professionalism and his Trump-esque appreciation of his own abilities (I am great, which has been proved because I say I am, and if you say I’m not you’re lying) remains to be seen.

Friday 19 July 2019

Is it Friday already? KRob described this week as a big one for transfers, and sure enough, the two big additions to next season’s effort have been revealed – Shandon Baptiste is ahead of schedule with recovery from injury (it’s like having a new signing, while not having a new signing) and we have a brand new, er, pitch which is apparently going to give us an advantage. A 20-goals a season advantage? OK, then.

So, we have to look to Europe for our good news (suck on that BoJo). Benji Buchel’s Europa League adventure continues after FC Vaduz beat Breidablik 2-1 in the second leg of their tie. They go to Hungarians Vidi in the next round.

Saturday 20 July 2019

There is no more evocative fixture in Oxford lore than a game against Queens Park Rangers. The Peter Hucker derby was held on Saturday with QPR strolling to a 2-1 win.

Earlier, the club revealed their new away kit, a white number with a blue and yellow sash. The launch was only available to personal callers to the club shop who put photos of it on Twitter. The club promised lots of ‘content’ would be given to internet people later, which turned out to be slightly better photos of the previously revealed new shirt.

Sunday 21 July 2019

We end the week with a wholesome story of all round fun guy Johnny ‘lager’ Durnin. Durnin has been convicted of racially aggravated assault after he grabbed a 74 year-old pensioner by the throat and punched him in the face calling him a ‘Paki bastard’ at a drive-through McDonalds. Durnin denies the charge, claiming it was mere aggravated assault. So that’s OK then. However, afterwards it was revealed that Durnin had thrown a coffee cup at a cyclist a week earlier, perhaps it wasn’t even aggravated, but the charge of ‘habitual assault’ doesn’t currently exist.

The wrap – Brentford 1 Oxford United 0

Embed from Getty Images

As FA Cup ties go, the defeat to Brentford followed a familiar script. We were the plucky underdogs toiling away to little real effect against an obviously superior side. Our fans were excited by the novelty, theirs frustrated by the distraction. Eventually we made a mistake and they made us pay.

The reality is that most FA Cup ties follow this pattern – we all hope for a Swansea or Newcastle, but in the main you get a Sheffield United or Blackburn.

Of course, all of this was over-shadowed by the injury to Shandon Baptiste. Nobody is going to deny what a blow it is to the player, the squad and even the fans looking for a sign that things are going our way. The nature of the injury – minutes after coming on following a long period out – somehow makes it feel even worse.

What is perhaps most concerning is Karl Robinson’s reaction, it was like he’d lost his faithful dog. He was, he claims, crying during the game, Baptiste had ‘given him everything’ and claimed that he’d be out for a year before any medical assessment had been done.

Robinson prides himself on his honesty and openness; he won’t get much criticism from fans for sympathising deeply with Baptiste, most people would feel the same. But, as a manager, is that quite what we need?

When Robinson arrived at the club he declared Malachi Napa the ‘future of the club’ before he was loaned out to Macclesfield. This season Baptiste took the mantle so much so he was given the captain’s armband against Manchester City and again (more bizarrely) against Luton.

These are huge, sweeping declarations of faith, deep investments in the abilities of young players. Great in some senses, but these players can only fail to meet such expectations. No player can carry a whole club. Similarly, as the emotional response to Baptiste’s injury illustrates, it’s like he believes there’s some greater uncontrollable power writing prophecies and tearing them up.

This is troubling; there’s still a game to complete in. If he was crying on the touchline he’s lost control of his emotions. When that happens, you can’t make clear decisions. That’s not just about winning a game, but also about controlling the emotions of his staff, players and Baptiste himself.

Catastrophising the injury before anyone truly knows its impact makes is worse for the players and Baptiste. Sure, the immediate assessment was that it didn’t look good. But thinking of Cameron Brannagan being carried off against Wycombe in a neck brace or even Joe Skarz returning from a ‘season-ending’ injury to help our promotion push in 2016 show that injuries are imprecise things and you shouldn’t make big claims before knowing all the details.

I’m not suggesting any of this is easy, but the point is that it is not Robinson’s job to represent the emotions of the fans. Nor it is job to be a proxy for a distressed player whose season, and maybe more, is suddenly in jeopardy. it is definitely not his job to spread panic amongst those he leads.

His job is to provide calming guidance; a direction through chaos. Baptiste’s injury looks bad, but let’s wait to see what the diagnosis is. Before that, let’s get the game completed with the best possible outcome. I don’t know whether his emotions on the sideline had anything to do with John Mousinho’s lunging tackle which led to the penalty, but it cannot help instil the discipline needed to hold out when your manager has lost his.

The bigger concern is whether Robinson is capable of leading us out of a relegation fight if he’s in a state of permanent emotional flux. I can see him being the kind of manager who gets a team hyped for a single game – a big six-pointer, but I would like to see us safe before we get to any of those.