Match wrap: Oxford United 0 Sunderland 1

There was such a lot of focus on Storm Dennis on Saturday I wasn’t really prepared for the Sunderland game to go ahead. Unlike snow, which is more obviously disabling, rain and wind can cause havoc but games are rarely postponed. Perhaps I should have known better.

Wind can be enough to change the course of a game, particularly at the Kassam. I’ve said before that there is rarely one true ‘fair’ result, many games can go either way and it can take one moment to dictate which way that is. When you throw extreme weather into the mix, that moment may not be wholly the result of players’ abilities.

The Sunderland game was a classic in this respect. The weather added countless new dimensions to the game; a high clearance would blow the ball blow in one direction, a little lower in another. These conditions are not the same for both teams, as is often suggested; it changes in force and direction constantly. It’s largely down to luck as to whether you’re dealing with a tailwind, headwind or crosswind; each has to be dealt with differently.

They found the right thermal at the right time. Chris Maguire’s corner was a good one, but the wind helped turn it into something more dangerous. It wasn’t wholly down to luck, but nor was it wholly down to their ability. The differences between the teams were marginal.

The whole game was like surfers trying to catch a wave. Players had to look for the right thermal to get the ball to do what they wanted. Like surfing, you’ve got to have the ability to ride the wave, but you also need the wave and that’s not in your control.

For a while in the second half James Henry looked like he’d found the right thermals; his looping passes held up in the wind dropping for Agyei, Taylor and Browne. But otherwise, it was a dogged battle in which players played against each other and the conditions in the hope they might catch a break. They got theirs, we didn’t get ours and that’s what dictated the result.

Sunderland are like a rusty cruise ship ploughing into a harbour; there’s nothing particularly elegant about them, but they rely on their sheer size to maintain a steady pace towards the the play-offs. While we barely looked more finessed, there was little between us.

The fact we matched them should be evidence that writing off our season now is a mistake. Fans were quick to identify how difficult this month was going to be, but unforgiving when it turned out to be true. They recognised the impact the conditions might have, but ignored them in their post-match analysis.

League 1 is split into two parts – teams who will yo-yo between League 1 and the Championship, and teams that will yo-yo between League 1 and League 2. Our current challenge is to get into the former. Success means having an outside chance of the play-offs; which is pretty much where we are at the moment.

Most teams in League 1 are damaged in some way; crippled by their former Premier League experience or stymied by the economic realities of sustaining themselves at this level. Few can resist periods of turbulence; as we’ve seen, most teams have been on alarmingly poor runs, but they’ve also been capable of strong surges. Like the ball on Saturday, a gust that throws us forward can suddenly turn into a headwind. As a result, teams including us, have been finding themselves at the top of the table before falling away again.

I actually think that 11th isn’t a bad place for us to be at the moment. Wycombe, for example, are now a known threat and teams no longer under-estimate them. If they’re to achieve anything this season, they’ve got to sustain their performances under intense pressure. We, on the other hand, may find we catch a tail wind as the weather improves which takes us close to the play-offs just at the right time. Upcoming fixtures, and recent performances, suggest that this is genuinely possible. Making the play-offs for most teams is now a question of if or when their surge will come at the right time.

Since the New Year results haven’t been great, but we’ve played mostly teams in the top group. We’re about to go through a period of playing teams in the bottom group. The performance against Sunderland suggests to me that any lost ground from the last few weeks can easily be made up. But we need to remember that making the play-offs isn’t a minimum requirement, it would be an genuine achievement.

George Lawrences Shorts: Stormy, Daniel

Saturday 8 February 2020

Which is worse? Being battered by the Coronavirus, being battered by Storm Ciara or being battered by Peterborough? We took a 4-0 pasting on Saturday, who were decent enough to make things competitive by going down to 10 men. 

Sunday 9 February 2020

Maths genius and Peterborough manager Alex’s son Darren Ferguson felt that the sending off of Nathan Thompson – which unequivocally made the teams uneven – was a deliberate act from the referee to ‘even things up’. A Ferguson moaning despite having all the cards stacked in your favour? How unexpectedly shocking.

Monday 10 February 2020

With the transfer window now firmly shut, thoughts are turning to the summer. Impotent flammable Northern Ireland Sunderland striker, Will Grigg, is on high KRob’s wish list of players to just miss out on next season.

Tuesday 11 February 2020

‘Give him a ball and a yard of grass’ is a heartfelt tribute by Sultans of Ping FC to Brian Clough. The quirky indie Irishmen’s follow-up – a tribute to Brian’s son Nigel is called ‘Give him a ball and he’ll guide you to an unremarkable but sustainable mid-table finish’. On Tuesday Oxford twice came back from a goal down to draw 2-2 with Brian’s Son, Nigel’s Burton Albion. Daniel Agyei dusted down his shooting boots for the first before Matty Taylor slotted in a last minute equaliser.

In a story filed under; ‘bullshit people get paid for’, Planet Football have played Football Manager for 17 years to see where Liverpool’s Under 23 team get on. Leighton Clarkson, whoever that is, has a solid but unremarkable career in League 1 with the mighty yellows. Also in the simulation, the Oxford board are hoping for some good news about the stadium very soon.

Wednesday 12 February 2020 

We are a country divided enveloped in a world of injustice, but Brian’s Son Nigel was able to give conclusive proof that Burton’s first goal against Oxford was scored by Lucas Akins rather than an own goal by sulky sixth former Rob Dickie. Now, you may think this is just pedantic crappery, but for GLS this is a deep well of black gold in which real news has been rarer than a Ben Futcher Cruyff turn.

Thursday 13 February 2020

It was the Six Minute Nineteen Second Fans’ Forum on Thursday with Jose’s son John Mousinho. Fans insisted on Mousinho confronting his own mortality with questions the retirement he hasn’t announced and isn’t currently contemplated. Mousinho did say he’s got all his badges – his Level B and Level C and the one he gets for lighting a fire with dry sticks.

Elsewhere, as Star Wars aficionados know there are always two Sith Lords. This thought struck deeply into GLS’ soul when we discovered there is another Robinson, Craig, brother of KRob. CRob is manager of Warrington Town who are currently having a decent run in the Northern Premier League.

Friday 14 February 2020

On Valentine’s Day, try and find someone who looks at you like Sunderland owner Stewart Donald looks at Oxford United. The doe-eyed cash puppy drags his financial millstone down south on Saturday. It’s predicted that Storm Dennis will hit the game with lashings of rain and fifty mile an hour winds. This is not to be confused with billowing hot air about being England manager while wearing a ginger wig; that’s Storm Denis. Oxford will be without the Fun-Sized Sam Deering, Liam Kelly, who was injured on Tuesday. Given the strength of the wind, we probably wouldn’t have had him for long even if he had been on the pitch.

George Lawrences Shorts: MApp reading

Saturday 21 December 2019

Divorced dad at a PTA Disco Gareth Ainsworth hasn’t been this disappointed since he failed to seduce Cabbage Karen, the school’s dinner lady, last Christmas. He brought his table topping Wycombe team to the Kassam and like that fateful night, left with his tail between his legs after a 1-0 defeat. The goal came from James Henry, but the game pivoted when The Mr T of the Chilterns, Ade Akinfenwa, was sent off for throwing John Mousinho over the North Stand.

Sunday 22 December 2019

It’s Christmas, which means family, friends and avoiding creepy Uncle Alan and his wandering hands. So if you want to pretend to be engrossed in something, The Roker Report remembers Sunderland’s 1975 win over Oxford. I mean, don’t we all?

Monday 23 December 2019

MApp has been reflecting on his time with Oxford. The three years of promotions, giant killings and derby wins has really brought a smile to his face. For MApp this requires a complex mechanical contraption attached to a winch.

Tuesday 24 December 2019

When we say MApp’s back, we mean it; it may be Christmas, but for the new Lincoln manager it’s business as usual as he prepares to face his old club on Boxing Day. Obviously it’s still a special time; following a turkey protein shake on the big day he’ll be dusting off the novelty festive dumbbells readying himself for the game. 

Wednesday 25 December 2019

Do they know it’s Christmas time at all? KRob gave the squad the day off on Christmas Day knowing that there was a box of Celebrations and a DVD of Skyfall with his name on at home. Depressed sixth former Rob Dickie got a chemistry set, but told the lads he got a Sam Fox calendar, Jose’s son John Mousinho got socks and the Top Gear Annual, Jamie Mackie broke his record for stuffing sausage meat stuffing balls up his nose. 

Thursday 26 December 2019

I don’t know if we mentioned it; Mr Big Guns was back in town on Thursday as MApp brought his Lincoln team to the Kassam. Ecclesiastical genius Shandon The Baptiste scored the only goal in a 1-0 win. KRob felt the pressure throughout the game; holding your gut in with MApp rippling three feet away really takes it out of you.

Friday 27 December 2019

No football tomorrow, but the team is preparing to meet The Crazy Gang of Wimbledon on Sunday. With the busy Christmas period, KRob is planning to rest a few players. Jamie Mackie will return to face elbowing duties up front while a number of the midfield are expected to be rested by standing in the middle of the pitch watching the ball sail over their heads for ninety minutes.

George Lawrences Shorts: Shotts-on target

Saturday 14 December 2019

In a vacuum, nobody can hear you scream. A 0-1 defeat to legal commercial sports entertainment entity MK Dons brought Oxford United’s 18 game unbeaten run to an end. Oxford fans made up over 2,500 of the crowd with the home support made up of over 8,000 soulless ghouls whose disinterest in the game seemed to suggest they’d taken a wrong turn looking for the soft furnishings section of the Ikea next door.

Sunday 15 December 2019

We live in Christophe Wilde’s world now; a world of real men, straight talking, real talking and straight men. Now Brexit’s getting done, bar decades of debilitating trade negotiations, Christophe’s Premier League sophistication slipped as he talked about gritty northern real stuff and Jim Smith to the Yorkshire post.  

Monday 16 December 2019

Now Charlie Methven has hung up his brown suede moccasins, Sunderland are looking to the future. The struggling League 1 minnows are interested in Feyenoord midfielder Liam Kelly to support their push to mid-table. But, if Kelly prefers to get a four to six week mid-season break with a spurious soft muscle injury KRob is also interested.

Meanwhile, do you remember the time Hull City goalkeeper Alan Fetis scored against us in 1994? Us neither, but you can read about it here.

Tuesday 17 December 2019

It was the Fans’ Forum on Tuesday. Tiger turned up in a pair of slippers and braces, like your dad wearing all his Christmas presents at the same time while watching Raiders of the Lost Ark. Zaki the Unstoppable Sense Machine threatened to record a club song with a local musician. We look forward to Jamie Mackie spitting sick bars over Radiohead’s ethereal electronica underlaid by moody static and spartan syncopated beats; a real terrace anthem.

Malcolm Shotton spoke to The Daily Mail about his days as Oxford captain. Ah, the 80s – a team of attacking flare and joie de vivre, or as Shotts remembers it, an opportunity to assault some of the era’s finest football talent. 

Back in the real world, every morning KRob conducts daily press briefings and interviews. With Manchester City visiting on Wednesday; this time there were people there to listen to him. Everyman KRob, spoke to vegan sandal wearing cosmopolitan elitists The Guardian and the racist, small minded Brexit elitists The Telegraph.

Wednesday 18 December 2019

Football club as produced by Artificial Intelligence algorithm, Manchester City, strolled into town for the Type 2 Diabetes Cup quarter final, securing a 3-1 win. Matty Taylor delivered a flesh wound to the marauding monster seconds into the second half.

Preceding the game, the Oxford Ultras put in an impressive display as a tribute to Jim Smith. The original plan was for an image of the legend’s face, but catastrophe struck when three ultras collapsed in exhaustion during the set up after getting lost in the middle of the great man’s bald head.  

Thursday 19 December 2019

We woke up with a sick feeling in our stomach on Thursday morning. Not because of last night’s result, but because of the mental image of KRob soaking in a warm bath with an Andy McNab novel, his man breasts gently bobbing in the lapping warm water, soapy bubbles coalescing around his nipples. KRob’s pre-match bathing routine was one of many things we learnt after a Telegraph reporter was embedded in the Oxford camp in the run up to our game against Manchester City.

Friday 20 December 2020

Tomorrow we are visited by plucky non-leaguers Wycombe Wanderers, led by divorced dad at the school disco Gareth Ainsworth. The Chairboys, whose nickname comes from the fact they often sit at the bottom of the table, feature Ade Akenfenwa, who has the reputation of having the world’s fattest ego. Oxford will still be without wunderkind Ben Woodburn, who has contrived to break his foot while recovering from breaking his other foot.  

George Lawrence’s Shorts: Up Pompey!… Ooh you are awful

Saturday 2 November 2019

Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Portsmouth was preceded by a Remembrance ceremony so shambolic, it made the First World War look like an episode of Great British Bake-Off. After a minute’s silence, which lasted for well over three, the teams appeared for yet another minute’s silence. Then, in the 90th minute, Matty Taylor popped up to nod home Oxford’s equaliser. Portsmouth fans then meticulously observed several more minutes of silence as they trudged home.  

Sunday 3 November 2019

It’s been debated for years and divided families, but finally it seems to be happening. Yes, Lincolnshire sexiest people have been ranked. Our own Mr Big Guns, and new Lincoln manager, Michael Appleton muscled in at number 11. 

Who is he sexier than? it’s…… Rebekah Vardy (45th), Nicholas Parsons (31st) and Rob Lowe – an America who once played a policeman from Lincolnshire.

Michael isn’t as sexy as Sergeant Mike ‘Tempo’ Templeman from Channel 5’s Police Interceptors or number 1 – Bhasha Mukherjee who is A beauty queen! A woman! and a Doctor! A combination we all know is not actually possible.

Monday 4 November 2019

We were thrust into the vice-like jaws of Big Football on Monday as it was announced that our Type 1 Diabetes Cup Quarter-Final against cash bores Manchester City will be Live! On! Sky! On! Wednesday! 16! December! This will allow the club to suckle on the teat of Sky’s cash cow to the tune of £125000. The game they’re calling ‘Man City Covets Thy Neighbours Ox’ or something, accommodates City’s big game against Arsenal on Sunday, which Sky are billing as ‘The Big Man’s Arse’ – which we all thought was Scott McNiven. 

Tickets are on sale to season ticket holders and members, and will be available to half-and-half scarf wearers in a couple of weeks. 

Tuesday 5 November 2019

We’re not suggesting that Lancashire has slow internet, but The Lancashire Post were reporting a game from 49 years ago on Wednesday. The game between Oxford and Preston resulted in an outfield player in goal and a goalie on the wing in a sling. 

Former Oxford captain John Lundstram is rapidly becoming hipster’s choice in the world of Fantasy Football. Once celebrated as a master of the passing craft, he’s now revered for being cheap and mistakenly labelled as a ‘defender’ in the fantasy parallel world, thereby clocking up plenty of unexpected points. What a life.

Wednesday 6 November 2019

Ipswich are on the run from the rampant Yellows after they (Ip)switched the game between the two sides on the 16th November due to international call-ups. The international break would have seen the Ipswich Galacticos stripped of their Cypriot international, a Tunisian Under 23 and Albanian Under 19.  

Thursday 7 November 2019

It was the Six Minute Ten Seconds Fans Forum on Thursday with Jamie Mackie. ‘Who winds you up in training?’ was the first question which caused Mackie to collapse on the floor holding his head, theatrically check his forehead for blood and moan for the rest of the interview about how he’s not getting any protection from the rough-housing.

Friday 8 November 2019

You have to feel for Sunderland, it’s like they live in a parallel universe. One website has suggested that the benevolent failure-magnets could be good enough to take Cameron Brannagan off our hands in January. This is due to us ‘punching above our weight’ (aka punching above Sunderland). The Mackem’s would walk League 1 if less entitled clubs would get out of the way and let them do it.

Saturday 9 November 2019

Going to football is cold and miserable; we should just stay at home with a spreadsheet. That’s what data driven Five Thirty Eight have done; they’ve plugged all their numbers into Excel and predicted that we’ll finish third behind Ipswich and Sunderland. A lot of factors are considered; expected goals, defensive qualities, number of seats in your stadium, Charlie Methven’s loafers, that sort of thing.

Match wrap: Oxford United 1 Sunderland 1 (won 4-2 on pens)

I’m in Devon so I’m missing tonight’s game. It’s just one of those things; nobody planned for us to be playing for a quarter-final place in the League Cup in October. The weather is wild, so it’s just me, a wood burner and my thoughts.

Pre-match

I reckon this is the biggest home game I’ve missed since we played Leeds United in the FA Cup in 1994. I was at university and couldn’t get through to the ticket line on the phone before it sold out. I came home anyway so I could hear the commentary on the radio. I had cheese and bacon sandwiches sitting in a flat that my parents were staying in following a house fire. We led 2-0 before being pegged back to 2-2, then beat them in an epic replay at Elland Road.

On Twitter, the club have announced the car park is full; that would usually give me anxiety attacks, now I’m kind of missing that feeling.

Kick-off

I was brought up following games remotely; I remember listening to the 1981 UEFA Cup Final between Ipswich Town and PSV Eindhoven on the radio, there was an exotic other worldliness to it, the static on the commentary as though it were transmitting from the moon. I remember Nick Harris’ gravely tones reporting our League Cup replay at Old Trafford in 1983 and our quarter-final draw with Everton at The Manor. I loved those times, who wouldn’t?

That 83/84 run was legendary; but it’s easy to forget the players who were involved – Vinter, Biggins, Whatmore, Ray Train. All largely forgotten now given what came next, but they laid the foundations. Does this run feel the same?

0-15 Minutes

Five changes to our starting eleven, but I feel strangely calm about it. I’m not sure if it’s confidence or that I’m not actually that bothered about the result. If this is the start of something big then people like Mark Sykes and Sam Long will be the Ray Trains and Neil Whatmores of the story. No headlines, but dependable and essential.

15-30 minutes

I don’t know if having those squad players starting is right for this game. It worked against West Ham and Millwall because it encouraged a more disciplined display. Perhaps against a fellow League 1 team we should be sticking to the formula that’s been working.

Um, no. 1-0. What a player Rob Hall is. It’s a nightmare for someone who relies on pace when injury and age starts to catch up with them; you’ve got to completely remodel your game. So many players can’t, Rob Hall is making a great fist of it.

30-45 minutes

Is this League Cup run the story of resurrection? The story of modern day Mick Vinters and Steve Biggins’? Mark Sykes was due to go out on loan just before he was man of the match against West Ham, Shandon Baptiste has shone after serious injury, Rob Hall – out for nearly two years – scores against Sunderland. Now Sam Long’s just put in a great block – don’t forget his story either.

I fear what Max Power might do, but I think that’s just nominative determinism.

Half-time

1-0. The weather here is foul and we’ve sprung a leak. The heat from the wood burner has moved from warm and cosy to oppressively hot. I don’t want to lose the flame, but if I put another log on the fire, I think I might die.

45-60 minutes

If you normally consume your football only via social media and TV, you’re mad. It’s like eating vitamin pills; functional and pragmatic, but stripped of all its joy and magic. Don’t let people trick you into thinking football is better when you watch it on TV or when you’re betting on it. I’m missing that sensation in the pit of my stomach where you want to leave but you’re compelled to stay.

I think it’s the feeling of supporting the players as people that makes watching your club in real life so much better. Footballers are often painted as automatons; assets to be bought and sold, critiqued and deified. But, when you’re on the journey with them, that’s what makes is special. Is your support enough to ensure success? Probably not, but what else have we got?

60-75 minutes

Oh god, we’re into that phase when you start to dream of glory, but fear a collapse. Great blocks by defenders are so edifying, but why are we having to block so much? Now I am invested; now I need for us to win.

Looking at the other scores tonight, apart from Colchester, who are beating Crawley (Dannie Bulman has scored and he’s 62 next birthday) there won’t be a duff draw in the next round. I bet we get Colchester. OH GOD STOP THINKING ABOUT THE NEXT ROUND.

75-90 minutes

I’m in that regressive state; doing nothing more than refreshing Twitter. They’re going to score aren’t they? A goal’s coming.

It’s come. 1-1. In a strange way, I’m relieved. But now what? Jamie Mackie, that’s what. There’s something about this squad; every one has a story. Mackie has no pace, little craft, and yet through pure effort, he gets results.

But, this is what I hate; Long, Sykes, Hall, Mackie, they’ve all got stories, I don’t want our club to let them down.

This is going all the way.

Penalties

Now I’m lost in purgatory; I hate penalties when I’m there, but watching them via Twitter is the pits. I follow three accounts that live tweet games, that’s 30 tweets just for the spot kicks, all slightly out of sequence. I can’t keep up.

The good news is that it’s just about kicking the ball now. I reckon playing those marginal players has back-fired a bit. It makes a great story, just not tactically. Now, though, it’s just a question of who can kick it the best.

Oh god, here they come, we’re going to miss every one.

Goal. Goal. Goal. Goal.

They’re showing it on Sky Sports now, I can watch it on my iPad; but the tweets, the feed, it’s all out of sequence.

THEY’VE MISSED.

McNulty steps up to take their decisive fourth. On the video he’s running up to the ball; before he gets to it, I get a notification we’re through. Then I watch Eastwood save it. What a mess. But that’s it. We’re through. We’re bloody through.

Final whistle

This is a redemptive story; from Karl Robinson to Rob Hall to Sam Long to Shandon Baptiste to Mark Sykes. And for John Mousinho who was being encouraged to quit during the summer. I don’t quite know how we’ve done it, but this is a redemptive club; this is like 1983/4; whatever happens now in this competition, we’ve had an adventure and that’s all we’re asking for. Only, for the next part of the adventure, I’m bloody going to be there.

Match wrap: Sunderland 1 Oxford United 1

I make no secret of not particularly liking the start of the season. I used to love it, I’d really feel the gap between the end of one season and the beginning of another. I loved the new kits and players and, above all, the renewed sense of hope and anticipation. Now, football is everywhere, all the time, so a new season is not really anything new. It’s just, well, the continuation of football.

What I’ve learned to enjoy more is the rolling narrative as the year progresses, the sense of emerging drama, the battle through the winter and the mad dash, exhausted and battered, to some kind of conclusion in May. In that sense, I prefer my football more Scandi-drama than The Fast and the Furious.

I was a bit split about what would make a good result on Saturday. We’ve had a good final week of the summer and there are signs of optimism. A win, while capping it off nicely, might also have tipped expectations too far. Beating anyone on the opening game of the season is positive, beating Sunderland away could have created a sense that we were fixed, when we are anything but. Anyone who remembers the 4-1 win over Portsmouth, or going back 20 years, a 2-1 win at Stoke where Steve Anthrobus scored the winner on his debut will know these results are meaningless.

Even when we took the lead, you could sense the immediate optimism; Rob Dickie had become an able replacement for Curtis Nelson, Ben Woodburn was a cut above in quality. Yes, perhaps, but judge them in 15-20 games, not on the basis of the opening twenty-five minutes when minds and bodies are sharp and the weather is good. The mark of a good team is not whether you can perform, but for how long you can sustain it.

Equally, a defeat could have popped our fragile ego, if it had been mid-season, we might have shrugged it off, but seeing ourselves sitting dead last in the table, as we did last year, could have sent us into a deep depression. A defeat also would have put greater pressure on the games coming up. Last year’s opening fixtures were tricky, this year is no different.

Of course, in the moment, during the ninety minutes I desperately wanted us to win, but in the grander scheme a draw is almost a better result. We’ve taken a point in one of the most difficult fixtures of the season, we only conceded because of a penalty and one of our new signings got the goal.

In a game of cricket, it’s a bit like opening an innings with a solid forward defensive rather than slogging the ball out of the ground for six. Now, we have to build.