Match wrap: Southend United 0 Oxford United 4

For a variety of circumstances, the Wycombe Wanderers game on the 21st December, will be my first home league game in 10 weeks. Although it only works out to be two home games and doesn’t include the Manchester City game, I can’t remember going that long without a visit to the Kassam or The Manor during the season.

To compensate, during that time I’ll have been to three away games; also something I haven’t done for some time either.

Our win on Saturday was 5,908 days since our last beat Southend at Roots Hall. And for the avoidance of doubt that it’s a difficult place to play, the last time we won – a 1-0 win in 2003 – was itself, the first league win at Roots Hall for 4,608 days.

The reason why I think we’ve struggled at Southend is because in many ways, they are similar to us. We’ve had a few higher highs and lower lows, but broadly speaking we’ve both made the lower leagues our home. When you add that Roots Hall is a horrible place to go, and Southend not easy to get to, it gives them the slight advantage that they’ve been able to capitalise on.

But, something has gone seriously wrong at Southend this season. If Bolton hadn’t had their points deduction The Shrimpers would have been eight points adrift at the bottom of the table. While we’re throwing stats around, that’s three points less than we had at the same point during our worst ever season in 2000/01.

You can’t blame it all on Sol Campbell; though his ludicrous arrogance is somehow fitting to the farce they find themselves in. Campbell believed the lower leagues weren’t that hard. I wonder how much more he needs to take to realise just how wrong he is.

We are also transformed – the four goals on Saturday took us to 37 for the season – just three behind the number we’d achieved at the same time during our two championship winning seasons under Jim Smith in 1983/4 and 1984/5. More recently; that’s seven more than at the same point in 2015/16. Don’t let anyone tell you that this isn’t a remarkable performance.

What’s more, I went into the game full of confidence that we’d get a comfortable win. Yes, they have been terrible this season, but when has that stopped us screwing up in the past? Yes, it had been 16 years since our last win there, but what have we got to fear now?

A few weeks ago I talked about not being able to reconcile our results with my perception of who we were as a club or even who Karl Robinson is as a manager, but I think I’m there now. It’s been a topsy turvy season in many ways; but I think we’ve found the new normal.

George Lawrence’s Shorts: For Leven’s sake

Saturday 16 November 2019

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

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

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

Monday 17 November 2019

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

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

Tuesday 18 November 2019

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

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

Wednesday 19 November 2019

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

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

Thursday 20 November 2019

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

Friday 21 November 2019

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

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

The wrap – Oxford United 0 Southend United 1

Marketing is a process of creating a gap between what we have and what we need. Sometimes that gap is obvious – there are things we need, such as food, which we sometimes don’t have. Most time marketing tries to create a desire where there isn’t one – for example, you may already have a functioning car, but after you’ve been bombarded by adverts, you might want a better one.

When you’re a child, that gap is self evident. You don’t have very much and little means to acquire things. Pretty much anything that exists presents an almost insurmountable gap between have and want. The excitement of Christmas is all about filling those gaps. As you get older, the gaps begin to close – you have more of what you want, but we compensate for the loss of that excitement, by inventing new things to want – feelings, status, experience, but it’s never quite the same.

I’ve always loved Christmas and particularly Boxing Day football. It reminds me of early Christmases at my grandparents where we would go to The Manor as a treat. That memory opens others – the joy of a new football shirt – a luxury I couldn’t hope to buy myself – or a Subbuteo accessory. I can buy those things now if I want to, but seeing kids with their brand new full Oxford kit worn proudly over the top of their clothes, makes me want to be seven again. The atmosphere is positive and homely as the cynicism of wizened regulars is compensated by the buoyant mood of family members and guests enjoying the novelty and taking in their first breath of fresh air in at least 24 hours.

Sadly, the reality of the game rarely lives up to expectations. The game against Southend probably summed up the reality of League 1 this season and our role in it. Southend represented a group of perhaps 15 or more well drilled sides – of which we are also one. They were organised and aware, happy to slow the game down, focussed on nullifying our threats, hoping that they might snatch something, which they did.

Karl Robinson’s assessment was spot on; we don’t have options up front to make an impact if Plan A doesn’t work. Timothée Dieng in Southend’s midfield marshalled James Henry out of the game, Marcus Browne was either tired, disinterested, off-form or injured depending on which Oxford supporting body language expert you listen to. As a result, Jamie Mackie was isolated and Gavin Whyte battled away gamely without much support or success. As teams begin to understand our threats that’s what they’ll focussed on; when you’ve got little to introduce from the bench, then the chances of outmanoeuvring your opponents are reduced considerably.

They didn’t look a threat particularly, but neither did we. Our decent chance, from James Henry, went wide. Their decent chance went in. In most football games there are a range of ‘fair results’ a 1-0 win or 0-0 draw would both have been fair. But so was the 0-1 defeat.

The casuals, guests and family members won’t really care about the result. They will probably draw some grand conclusions about the team or players – I once went with a friend on Boxing Day who thought Matt Robinson should be playing in the Premier League. We, on the other hand, must now move on. January is going to be an interesting month – players will probably leave, others will come in – we may start to see Wembley on the horizon in the trophy that shall not be named, we may even get an FA Cup run. If we’re to get anything meaningful out of this season, January will probably define what that is.

The wrap – Southend United 0 Oxford United 0

The phrase ‘get out of our club’ or variations thereof have been bellowed at Karl Robinson more than once in the last week. It’s a phrase that makes me increasingly uncomfortable.

The use of ‘our’ insinuates mob rule which aims to isolate its target. It says ‘we’ are in agreement that ‘you’ are not part of this and therefore have no say. I’m no fan of bullying, and this is the dictionary definition of that.

The second is the implication that Robinson should do the honourable thing and fall on his sword. He should ‘get out’. This would be wholly to his detriment. Whatever you think about the club or Robinson, he has every right to try to fix the problems while the club are prepared to pay him to do that. He has a career to protect, and by extension, a family to support. People very rarely leave their job because of some unwritten moralistic standpoint; they keep working up until they find something better to do or someone tells them to leave.

Therefore, until he is told otherwise, he should be given the opportunity to fix the problems. Moreover, if he does fix them, then those successes should be recognised. A point at Southend does not solve the problems of the last few months, but it is a step in the right direction. For some, there was disappointment that it didn’t fit their preconceived narrative of Robinson’s failings.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s a lot to do. We’ve got to claw back five points just to get out of the relegation zone, fourteen to bother the play-offs; which is where success should lie if we’re looking to make progress. In addition, there’s a lot of trust to be won back.

I think relegation is more than avoidable, but the play-offs are a distant hope, and it’s a longer stretch still to think that the fans will fully embrace Robinson. The implication for the club is that without that trust attendances are unlikely to grow. Even if we finish bottom this season, it will be our third highest finish in the last 20 years, but nobody is going to get excited by that.

I think the likelihood of getting near the play-offs are virtually zero. As a result, I think the club have to look at whether Robinson is the long term solution. I wouldn’t argue against it if they decided he wasn’t.

But, I don’t believe he is an incompetent charlatan, nor a dishonourable man. I don’t believe he doesn’t feel it when things go wrong. I don’t believe he shirks work. When people talk about him ‘taking responsibility’ for the issues, he frequently does, but when he tries to explain where he thinks those problems are, which inevitably talks about players not doing what they’re supposed to, it’s viewed as blaming others.

Some of the things he’s done and said recently have been confusing, no doubt. But I think that’s down to the stress of the situation. I don’t think giving Shandon Baptiste the captain’s armband is clever, or disowning the signing of Jamie Hanson. Perhaps in hindsight, he knows these things are wrong. He needs a clear head, and that is going to be increasingly difficult if this run of form continues.

Earlier in the season I said you’d have to take stock after twelve games. That’s where we are at the moment. If Robinson were to be given the sack, then it would be difficult to argue a case against that. If not, then the we have to focus on the next 10 or so, rather than wait for him to get the bullet so we can all salivate over his execution, there’s a lot of lost ground to make up. If Robinson does somehow muster the troops and start moving us forward, then he’ll have my backing. ‘Our’ club’s door should always be open to success.

The wrap – Oxford United 2 Southend United 0

Earlier in the season I described the current squad as a rebel alliance; a ramshackle band of brothers with a good heart, but one that was likely to take heavy losses. The Oxford machine, as much as it existed, was rocked by the losses of Michael Appleton, John Lundstram, Chris Maguire and Marvin Johnson, what it was replace by was no less worthy, just less reliable.

Ricardinho is likely to win player of the season, not so much because of his performances week in week out (he hasn’t played week in week out), but because he’s offered rare moments of joy. Those calling for him to play every week are forgetting the insane two-footed tackle which got him sent off against MK Dons, or worse, the times when his positional sense has been so wanting he’s left us exposed at the back. He’s not perfect, but it’s not been a perfect season.

But, aside from joie de vivre, what Ricardinho has offered is the willingness to take a risk. His goal on Saturday was the perfect example of that. The highlights don’t really show where he picked the ball up from, but the coaching manual doesn’t say that you should abandon your defensive duties to go on a potentially suicidal attack when you pick the ball up on the edge of your own box. Nobody would have complained had he played the ball inside for it to be worked into midfield, but that’s what Southend were expecting. He did the same against Oldham, which didn’t end with a goal but did, at least, animate the crowd.

James Henry similarly has these moments; whether that’s delaying a run into the box or driving through the defence like he did on Saturday. Henry’s limitation this season seems to have been what he’s been played in the wrong position, whether that’s by design or necessity, who know? Karl Robinson does seem to have found a system which allows him to be effective.

We have been lacking unpredictability which, coupled with a solid defensive unit, makes the difference between a good and bad team.

The frustrating, and scary thing about the win on Saturday is that everyone around us won, meaning we remain 5 points ahead of the drop-zone. But, it did pull Walsall into trouble, meaning we now needs three out of six teams below us to pass the 50 points mark. Not quite there yet, but very very close.  

The wrap – Southend United 1 Oxford United 1

Before Saturday’s game, Phil Brown jibed that we are a team that ‘passes for the sake of passing’. In a sense it’s not surprising coming from someone like him; if Napoleon was right in describing the English as a nation of shopkeepers, then Phil Brown’s lording over Southend is the football equivalent of owning a newsagents and thinking you’re about to challenge Tesco for High Street supremacy.

The denigration of passing is a very English disease. It was invited by the Scots in the early 20th Century as a far more effective way of moving the ball around and scoring goals than hacking and barging. The English, slow to adopt anything they didn’t invent themselves, thought it was effete to pass and much more manly and proper to be physical. Even in the 1980s whole FA coaching policy was formed to avoid passing as much as possible and instead promote route one physicality. The 1966 aberration aside, this is pretty much the point how English football was left behind and became a game the English love, but can’t play.

The likes of Brown sustain this prejudice through comments like the one he made against us. Even Radio Oxford were affected by stressing every time a ball moved from one player to another in that exacerbated way people do when trying to find an appropriate level of indignation to a self-evident, there for all to see fascist Donald Trump tweet. The Brexit-style assumption all foreigners are stupid while persistently failing to outperform them is a very English way of doing things. We should resist it at all costs.

Brown may have some bragging rights over us for this particular fixture, but he conveniently ignored that the passing for passing sake had resulted in 12 more goals than his team could muster and two more points.