Kassam All Star XI – Strikers part 3

Yemi Odubade and Steve Basham took us into the Conference era and were joined by the enigma that was Rob Duffy. Duffy’s extraordinary achievement was to score 20 goals in a season and still fail to impress an Oxford public starved of success.

Duffy’s goal tally was inflated by a large number of penalties. When these eventually dried up, he quickly fell from favour. His coup de gras was rolling the ball gently into the arms of the Exeter keeper when clean through and facing promotion and immortality in the face during the play-off semi-final in 2007.

Duffy’s impotence meant a number of replacements were tried to save our season. Marvin Robinson was a massive battering ram who eventually wrecked himself in a car crash. Chris Zebroski was the real deal and very nearly made the difference.

These paled into insignificance in comparison to Kristaps Grebis. Grebis was a Latvian with Champions League experience. He arrived midway through the 2006/7 season and looked utterly lost. Which pretty much describes our decision making at the time. He made just four appearances, but goes down in Oxford history as one of the all-time worst signings.

2007/8’s big summer signing was Gary Twigg. That fact alone proving how destitute we were . The myth of our largesse within the Conference remained, we signed Paul Shaw, but as soon as he realised what a mess we were in he moved to Hungary. Hungary, I tell you.

With Darren Patterson’s appointment came a flurry of loan deals including one Matt Green from Cardiff. Despite a troublesome knee, he just kept scoring. That summer it looked like he would make his move permanent. As people queued for their season tickets, and Nick Merry preened himself preparing to parade his new star, Green headed south and signed for Torquay. It was one of the greatest swindles in nothing-league football. He’d be back, though, being part of the strike force that got us to Wembley and back to the league.

Darren Patterson really knew how to sign a striker. At the start of 2008/9 he signed two loanees; Jamie Guy was one, the other James Constable.

Guy was an instant hit, storming the pre-season but was injured just before the opening game. He wasn’t the same when he returned, chugging his way to Christmas before being dispatched back to his parent club with just five goals to his name.

Constable was a slower burn, the catalyst for him coming to the fore was Chris Wilder. Sometimes Wilder’s decisions are moments of genius. An early decision was to invest his spirit and philosophy into Constable. Constable was Wilder on the pitch, someone he could trust and we could follow. He is so much more than a striker; he’s the only true icon of the Kassam Stadium era so far.

Around Constable Wilder built a powerful strike force. Perhaps it was a way of buying himself some time by announcing that Sam Deering was our best player days after we lost him to a broken leg. Fans wanted so desperately for Deering to succeed, but he, um, came up a little short.

Deering has his little part in our history; exchanging passes with Alfie Potter at Wembley before Potter slammed home the third decisive goal. Potter too is somewhat of an untouchable amongst fans and seemingly the manager.

Jamie Cook, The True Carrier Of Hope, had his moment of fame. But the classic trio was Constable, Green and Jack Midson, who will always be fondly remembered for his titanic performance at Wembley, but also The Miracle of Plainmoor.

The trio didn’t last long. More guile was needed for the league and Chris Wilder brought in his favourite ever toy; Tom Craddock from Luton and the mercurial Steve MacLean.

But throughout all of this was Constable, no Kassam Stadium XI will be complete without him. When we come to review the 20th anniversary of the Kassam Stadium; his name will be first on the teamsheet.

The season in review: the attack

The revolving door in the striking department has ensured that we go into the close season with just four strikers vying for three slots.

Of those discarded, Simon Hackney was the HD Sam Deering. Like Deering he looked like the best player you ever played against at school, but some way from truly being a first team regular. Ryan Doble disappeared faster than he arrived, so you can hardly say he was given a chance.

Jack Midson is held in some reverence amongst Oxford fans. Part of the Conference Play-off team, he’ll always been fondly remembered. Due to the Miracle of Plainmoor, and the fact he’s a thoroughly decent and articulate bloke, some consider him hard done by.

Rationally, during Midson’s Indian summer post-The Miracle, his endeavour wasn’t enough to make him look like a player capable of challenging James Constable over the next 2 years. Likewise Matt Green, whose later aimless performances cast a shadow over his otherwise essential contribution to our renaissance.

Constable himself was questioned by some as to his ability to ‘step up a level’. Mostly this just seemed like self-fulfilling prophecies. Every game he drew a blank was considered proof. In reality we were always better when he played, although his role was as much a foil for McLean and Craddock as it was as a target man. It was bit of a surprise to see him getting player of the season given the scrutiny he was put under.

Despite Tom Craddock’s 15 goals, he still doesn’t seem yet to have been fully accepted by the Oxford fans. Perhaps it’s the Luton connection; maybe it was the way he was so coveted by Chris Wilder to the expense of the likes of Midson and Matt Green. He offers something no other player can offer; movement, awareness and finishing are all some way above others in the squad. I think he’ll flourish next season.

For a period Steve McLean was the quality mark that all others were supposed to be aspiring to. Latterly, however, he portrayed sniffy diffidence. He’s never going to be a player who pops a lung chasing back, but he’s a smart and gives us another dimension. Should we sign him? Yes. Should we bet the farm to do so? No.

Last year, I put Sam Deering on death row, saying that despite his popularity, he didn’t quite fit in. I’m not going to be popular when I say that Alfie Potter is this year’s Sam Deering. Potter is what Potter does. I like what it, but there is a point where he’s got to decide what’s he’s contributing. He’s certainly no goalscorer, and his assisting in patchy. Mostly he can seen dancing through the opposition’s midfield in a neutral zone about 20 yards outside their penalty box. It’s all very pretty but ultimately unproductive. There’s time to change, but he’s got work to do to become indispensable, I think we’ll see him out on loan sometime before next May.