According to the dashboard of my car, I need to fill up with something called Adblue. I’ve no idea what Adblue is, but it’s sufficiently important for the car to tell me that it’ll ‘stop’ in about 1400 miles if I don’t act. Given everything else that’s going on in the world, I think that’s a bit selfish. Would it kill it to just keep going for a bit longer? There’s a bloody war on.
Dashboard warnings are designed to make you anxious, so this added to a low-level anxiety about a seemingly localised fuel shortage, which I’d not been aware of until Friday night. I had plenty of fuel to get to the game, but my brain evidently likes me to have extra in the tank in case I need to take a spontaneous 200-mile round trip somewhere. What would happen if I suddenly needed to buy a loaf of bread or a pair of slippers in Warwick? I simply wouldn’t make it.
On top of all this, of course, was parking anxiety, something I’ve basically come to realise is just a manifestation of big match nerves. TV would have you believe big games are preceded by excitable fans, punching the air and hugging with anticipatory fervour. For me it’s wondering if I’ll need to reverse park into a tight space on a corner going up a hill.
I’ve been to hundreds of games of football all over the country and never failed to park at any of them. I haven’t had to drive to a game, then return home sobbing with exhaustion, having not stopped. None-the-less, the prospect of not parking looms larger as a big game approaches. Someone tweeted me to say the Abingdon Road was looking bad. I’ve never driven down the Abingdon Road, let alone parked on it, but I still brought my leaving time forward by 15 minutes.
I eventually arrived at a time which felt like some time just after dawn, and found my usual place had ample space. The Grenoble Road was full and the club had tweeted that the car parks were no longer accessible, but my normal spot was reassuringly accommodating.
We meandered around the ground for a bit, went to the shop to see if there was a bargain to have, before realising that nobody needs to see me in an 8XL third choice goalkeeping shirt while reading a copy of Brian Horton’s autobiography. Inside the ground, as kick-off approached, there seemed little urgency to proceedings. Both sets of fans were quiet, a tifo of Karl Robinson with arms aloft was held up making the East Stand seem like a particularly odd episode of Sesame Street.
At kick-off, there were still a notable number of spaces all around the stadium, perhaps there were a few season ticket holders on holiday or maybe it’s an illustration of just how rampant covid is at the moment, but hundreds seemed unable to attend. Superficially, it was a sell out against a big team, but it felt more like Burton at home on a couple of cans of Red Bull.
The game seemed to succumb to the subdued atmosphere. It’s hard to judge where Sunderland are in their journey. Have they realised yet that they are a lower league club, despite the big stadium and Netflix series? Have they recalibrated to understand that size and history alone will not gain them promotion? They didn’t feel like a team totally lost, but neither did they look like they had momentum. There will be a point where they’ll hoover up the best League 1 players rather than the worst Championship players and storm the league, how close they are to that is hard to tell.
For us, did we know in our heart of hearts that the season is beyond us? The return of Elliott Moore and Cameron Brannagan certainly made us look more robust and we weren’t darting around like busy fools, but nor were we particularly explosive out of the blocks, ready to right the wrongs of the last week.
Or, was the game so high in quality that both teams played themselves into some kind of neutrality? It can happen whatever the level, the more obvious excitement of goals and chances gives way to an ever-increasing tension as both teams try to figure out a way to break the deadlock without breaking themselves.
After a decent start for us, their breakthrough came from a characteristic bit of dopey defending. There seemed to be an age after the ball dropped to the feet of Corry Evans, almost like the whole Oxford team were engaged in some kind of telepathic post-mortem.
‘This is a dangerous place for them to have the ball.’ ‘Yes, we should be more alert to these situations.’ ‘There are lots of us, who do you think should close him down?’… goal.
With inevitability staring us in the face and momentum apparently with them, there was a chance to euthanise the game. You suspect it wouldn’t have taken much to batter us into a fug of our own frustration. Despite the lead, Sunderland fans were eerily quiet, far more subdued than the other big dogs who have come to the Kassam this season. For a full stadium with two teams in a last chance dog fight for the play-offs, it was a polite affair.
A lot of the rest of the game centred around Billy Bodin’s left foot. When he got the ball on it – particularly the set piece that led to the equaliser and another which clipped the bar – it produced magic, when the ball dropped to his right foot, you could almost hear the left screaming with despair at its ineptitude. Every set piece brought a chance, but hope seemed to remain a distant relative on a gap year with little access to a decent 4G connection.
With injury-time approaching, like a Scooby Doo villain, the season finally reveal its identity. It’s baffled me that despite the results we’ve had and the general consistency, we’re talking about missing out on the play-offs with games to spare. So, why are we in the situation we’re in?
They broke forward, Mark Sykes – a ball of energy throughout – seemed to finally run out of steam. Rather than tracking back or harry the attacker into a safer position, he tried a half-hearted ankle tap. He had nothing left to give, apart from the fact he hadn’t been booked and could live with a yellow card.
It didn’t work, the attacker advanced into a gaping hole left by Herbie Kane sitting so deep and Brannagan so advanced. By the time he’d reached the box, we were in trouble. Sam Long was drawn inside leaving space for Embleton at the back post. We’ve seen these moments before, sometimes they skew wide, other times the ball hits the net with gut wrenching inevitability. This time it was the latter.
The mask was pulled off and the mystery was solved. The season isn’t about performances, some see missing out on the play-offs as going backwards, but currently we have a higher points per game than last year and are five points from last season’s total. It’s about attrition and who can survive to the end. A caller to Radio Oxford talked about the ‘pace’ of League 1; a relentlessness designed to break teams. We weren’t outplayed and haven’t been all season, we’ve just finally been broken under the pressure.
It might be fun to be a disruptor in the division for a bit, it might even get us closer to the play-offs than we’re anticipating, but League 1 isn’t going to change much next season and that’s where we’re likely to be playing. There’s work to do on the squad over the summer, but if we do want to continue to progress, an ability to last to the bitter end has to be a priority.
There’s a Big Issue seller in Winchester who is one of the funniest people I know. During the festive season, he dresses as a giant threadbare Christmas tree dealing out a series of well rehearsed deadpan one-liners about how rubbish the Big Issue is. I was there on Saturday, walking behind a group of women doing their Christmas shopping; ‘Ooh it’s a girl band’ he said ‘which one’s the gay one? There’s always a gay one.’ They all fell about laughing, it won him another sale.
It reminded me of Viz comic’s running joke about the boyband Bros; there was the twins Luke and Matt Goss, and the anonymous third wheel Craig Logan, who Viz cruelly referred to as ‘Ken’ due to his generic role as ‘other’.
Nathan Cooper could be seen as Radio Oxford’s Ken. He’s not Jerome Sale, with the in-joke about fans phoning to cast their opinion of games they haven’t been to and the fabled (and to my mind, slightly over rated) one-liner about being ‘back on the coupon’ from 2010. He’s not the omnipresent Nick Harris whose gravely voice has soundtracked the club’s progress for more than a generation. Cooper is ‘other’, he’s ‘Ken’.
The Sunderland game was his 1,000th consecutive game, a phenomenal run which is outstrips Sale and Harris who have missed games due to other commitments. The landmark gave him a brief opportunity to step out from the shadows, to recognise his permanent and essential presence. There was a clip on Twitter of Karl Robinson presenting him with a shirt to mark the occasion, he seemed uncomfortable about being the story.
He’s sharper and grittier than Harris, closer to the story than Sale, an essential cog in the Oxford United experience. During one of the lockdowns, the club ran an episode of their podcast with him talking about our relegation from the Football League in 2006, his storytelling is brilliant, it’s a grim, but essential listen.
Cooper’s skills is his relentless consistency; his post-match interviews are a platform for the players, managers and owners to tell their version of the story, not a vehicle for his own views. It’s clever in its understated-ness.
It’s a lesson that the team seem to have learned this season, our play-off push is quiet, savvy and consistent. In the past we’ve had the thrilling cup runs and miraculous play-off charges. This season is different, there was no great fanfare when the covid-hit players returned from their isolation last week, the Sunderland game, which is usually a stand out fixture in the calendar, was treated as just another game, rearranged for practicality and convenience. The draw would be good enough, there was no point to prove, just a point to win.
We’re entering the stage of the season where things get chaotic. Cup competitions, Christmas and the weather play havoc with the fixtures; Rotherham, Wigan, Plymouth, Sunderland, MK Dons and Portsmouth all have cup competitions still to negotiate on top of their league programme. It’s not just the additional games, it’s the tiring Tuesday night trips to the other end of the country they have to deal with. Any inherent weaknesses are easily exposed, causing dropped points and derailed promotion pushes.
We, on the other hand, have the most straight forward fixture run we’ve had in years. No distractions or cup competitions to muddy the waters and skew the focus. With the work done to date there’s no catch-up to do, we just have to continue our quiet, steady progress. We don’t have to push, over-reach for the points, keep the run going, stay solid, pick off the points and let others make the mistakes. One game at a time.
KRob was the selectah on the Radio Oxford 10 Minute 26 Second Fans Forum which, frankly, isn’t even trying anymore. He said he was more than happy to commit the time in the name of transparency. Questions were all about players. ‘Will Josh Ruffels sign a new contract?’ Maybe, said KRob transparently. ‘Are Joel Cooper and Sean Clare in his plan?’ Perhaps, he said translucently. ‘Can we sign Marcus McGuane and Brandon Barker?’ Clearly he can’t say. ‘Will Brannagain sign again? Or Jack Stevens be at the club next season?’ We’ll see, he concluded transpicuously.
With no game on Saturday, the Manchester Evening News reminisced about the time Ronaldo visited Kassam in 2006, his first game in England after helping Wayne Rooney get sent off in the World Cup. The paper were shocked to report that Oxford fans didn’t seem willing to bow down in deference to the Portugese superstar booing him throughout the game. It’s almost as if they don’t care about Manchester United at all.
Former Oxford keeper Andy Woodman has given his first interview since becoming manager of Bromley. In it, he talks about his many managerial inspirations “I’ve obviously worked with Alan Pardew for many years,” said Woodman who also spent many years working with Ian Atkins “I’ve been lucky enough to have a season with Arsene Wenger, which was brilliant.” he continued. Of course, it was only a matter of time before he would mention Ian Atkins. “I had my time with Steve McClaren, who’s a good guy to learn off.” Clearly leaving the best until last, he continued; “They’re all very good at what they do. Sam Allardyce too.”
Oxford United travelled north on Good Friday to play Trevor Kettle in Sunderland. Good Friday commemorate’s the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on the cross. Kettle is a deeply religious man who has committed his life to making bizarre decisions in the name of god or Trevor Kettle as he calls him. He ceremoniously crucified Oxford’s play-off chances allowing Jack Stevens to be assaulted in the tunnel, sending off Mark Sykes, allowing Sunderland to play on and score while Cameron Brannagan was injured on the floor and then sending off KRob for protesting about it all. Hallelujah!
A friend of mine worked a lot in East Asia, he once told a story of flying to Japan, being picked up by his hosts, taken for dinner and plied with drinks until the early hours. Exhausted and now very drunk he was taken to what he initially thought was a brothel, but turned out to be a karaoke bar with private hosted rooms. For hours the party – strangers up until the point they’d met at the airport – sang pop classics like old friends. He remembers banging a tambourine on the bottom of one of the female hosts and singing arm in arm a Japanese pop classic despite not speaking a word of the language. Eventually tiredness overtook him, he made his excuses and returned to his hotel. An email was sent to his boss the following morning about the disrespect he’d shown by leaving early.
The biggest challenge, he said, was trying to understand the logic of a country which in no way resembled our own. For them, the night out was part of the meeting, for him, blowing off steam before the meeting happened. At least in Europe, there were shared norms, in Japan or China, the systems have been built in a different universe.
Football has its own universal shared framework of rules and norms, both implicit and explicit. You may not agree with something, but you broadly understand why it happens. For example, it’s not unusual that when something negative happens – a player goes down under a light challenge for a penalty – someone will remind us that we’d have been quite happy if we’d done it ourselves.
Referees operate within that system, by and large they do a good job keeping the framework intact. I may not agree with everything they do, but I can’t think of a time when I’ve thought the referee had any significant bearing on a game. That’s not true when it comes to Trevor Kettle.
I was aware of the presence of Kettle before I knew him; I remember others mentioning him whenever a contentious issue came up, but assumed it was just nerdy football chat – who knows the names of referees? Then I became aware that games that involved him seemed to operate on a different framework of logic, I could tell from the pattern of a game that he was involved.
Against Sunderland, I had no idea he was the referee; I barely look at our starting eleven, let alone the match officials. But, I was aware that early innocuous fouls and bookings were making the game a strange watch. It’s been said that being a referee is part event management, applying the rules is one thing, but keeping everything on an even keel as a spectacle is more important. It wasn’t panning out like a normal game.
It’s not bias, it’s his ability to inflame what was otherwise a good game by applying his own lore. James Henry was booked even though he’d been beaten by Aiden McGeady and didn’t touch the player. Mark Sykes’ second yellow – resulting in his sending off – was the result of him pouncing on a loose ball three yards from their goal. There was no malice in either challenge, no goal scoring opportunities were denied; in Sykes’ case, the decision had a disproportionate impact on the game than the crime deserved.
All this came after an apparent incident in the tunnel involving Jack Stevens being headbutted. Whatever the details, it seems something happened and Kettle knew about it. Rather than managing the second-half conservatively, avoiding moments of contention and cooling the tension, he continued his idiosyncratic way.
I wouldn’t rule out referees enjoying being centre of attention, but I think it’s more about being ego-centric. At one level you have to want to be the only person on the pitch in a particular kit, the only person with a whistle, the only person with the power to stop and start a game and punish players. It would be easy to think that you are the most important person in the game. At work we have someone who manages staff expenses, and you’d think by the way they act the company’s only reason to exist is to process Pret-a-Manger receipts and train tickets. The better referees are the ones able to suppress perceptions of their own importance for the good of the game.
The pivotal moment was the free-kick which led to Aiden McGeady’s goal. I’m never really sure about the rules around a quick free-kick, but it seems odd that a referee can arbitrarily decide when you can take one with players lying on the floor and when you allow two to three minutes for everyone to get ready.
Either way, in the context of a game which was getting heated with the sending off and the altercation in the tunnel, why introduce more controversy into the mix? Quick free-kicks are always controversial, that should come as no shock. Nobody would have commented had he held the game and at least allow Cameron Brannagan to get back on his feet. Why did he think the best option was to let the game continue? An over confidence in his own ability and importance? An under-valuing of everything around him? The logic of Kettle, I guess.
Until the framework of the game was dismantled, our performance was good and we saw, yet again, what we’ve missed with James Henry being out. But, if we do have ambitions to go up; then we really need more headroom to withstand the blows that come from a game like that. Missing out on the play-offs won’t be determined by the Sunderland game, but by other missed opportunities.
We are blighted by a malaise in English football, perhaps even wider society; success can only come after a struggle against the odds, a battle laced with heroic loss and collateral damage. If we were to make the play-offs, it would be via something extraordinary and by the skin of our teeth. It’s almost like we crave that. Real success comes from the sustained application of excellence, a relentless march. But we find that success boring, too Germanic, it’s so alien to us, we don’t think it’s achievable. We need to envisage a world where we don’t need to worry about the referee or anything else. That’s still some way off and the impact of Kettle-logic is still something that has too much impact on our destiny.
It’s Saturday and you’re settling down for an afternoon with Jeff Stelling, who’s about to take you through the day’s action. Except this weekend’s fixtures only feature Oxford United and our correspondents are dotted around the country and throughout time. Sit back and enjoy an afternoon of Oxford United goals from the first minute to the last.
Jeff Stelling: ‘Welcome to The Manor, Highbury, Griffin Park, The Kassam Stadium, White Hart Lane, The Madjeski Stadium, Kenilworth Road, Stamford Bridge, Wembley, The County Ground, Ninian Park, Broadfield Stadium, Nene Park, Maine Road, Brisbane Road, Fratton Park, Adams Park, The New Den, Field Mill, Sincil Bank, Meadow Lane, Sixfields, Old Wembley, Villa Park, Prenton Park, The Memorial Ground, Roots Hall, Old Trafford, The Pirelli Stadium, Brunton Park and The New York Stadium, Rotheram. We’re looking forward to an afternoon of cup wins, promotions, relegations, giant killings, memorable goals and milestone moments. How do you feel it’s going to go today Paul Merson?’
Merse ‘Well Jeff, y’know…’
Hold that thought Merse, we head straight over to The Manor in 1999. An early goal for Oxford United…
1st minute: Jamie Lambert, Colchester United, 1999
Oh, what a start for Oxford United at The Manor against Colchester United. Jamie Lambert has put the ball in the back of the net after just 20 seconds. By my watch, that’s the fastest goal in Oxford United history. Mickey Lewis’ first league game in charge, what a way to stake a claim for the top job.
2nd minute: Steve Basham, Arsenal, 2003
And now we have a major shock on our hands at Highbury. This afternoon has gone off with a bang; Steve Basham has just wriggled free to give Oxford United the lead against Premier League leaders Arsenal in the FA Cup. The massed ranks of Oxford fans at the Clock End have gone wild. No, wait, it’s been flagged for offside. I’m not sure, that looked very tight.
3rd minute: Joey Beauchamp, Chelsea, 1994
This one counts, back at The Manor in 1994, Joey Beauchamp has bundled through the Chelsea defence and slotted home past the onrushing Chelsea keeper Dimitri Kharine to put Oxford 1-0 up. The London Road are going wild, is a shock on the cards in this FA Cup tie?
4th minute: Kevin Brock, Leeds United, 1983
Oh, yes. And now Kevin Brock has just given Oxford the lead in their League Cup second leg tie against Leeds United at The Manor. Mick Vinter controlled the throw-in just inside the box, knocking it back to the onrushing Brock who slammed it home in front of the London Road. Oxford lead 1-0 on the night, 2-1 on aggregate.
5th minute: Liam Sercombe, Brentford, 2015
Meanwhile, over in the capital, Oxford have started off like a train at Griffin Park in the League Cup in 2015. Liam Sercombe has just put the visitors in front, a really well worked goal with Sercombe driving the ball into the bottom right hand corner. They look really up for this tonight. 1-0.
6th minute: David Leworthy, Tottenham Hotspur, 1986
It’s like an ice-rink at The Manor in 1986 where Tottenham are the visitors for this FA Cup Third Round tie. But, Kevin Brock has just crossed for David Leworthy to head home the opening goal past Ray Clemence. Oxford lead 1-0.
7th minute: Rob Folland, Reading, 1999
OOOOOh, great goal at the Madjeski Stadium. Young Welsh full-back Rob Folland has cut inside and fired home to give Oxford the unlikeliest of leads in their first ever visit to the Madjeski. They’re looking right at home in the derby.
8th minute: Nick Cusack, Newcastle United, 1992
Oxford are in dreamland; just eight minutes gone and Nick Cusack has poked home Joey Beauchamp’s cross to put them 2-0 at The Manor. Great work from Cusack, but that was all about Beauchamp, silky skills and a pinpoint cross.
9th minute: Mike Ford, Dorchester Town, 1995
Opening goal at The Manor in the FA Cup where non-league Dorchester Town have travelled up the A34 to face their illustrious league opponents. Mike Ford headed home the rebound from Joey Beauchamp’s cross. Despite having former-Oxford keeper Ken Veysey in goal, Dorchester are looking really shaky here, this could be a long day for the minnows.
10th minute: Phil Edwards, Luton Town, 2017
Goal at Kenilworth Road in the semi-final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy now. Oxford United have been under a bit of pressure in this one, but some great work from Liam Sercombe saw the ball fall to loanee Phil Edwards who was sitting on the floor from an earlier challenge and has swept the ball home. Are Oxford heading to Wembley for the second year in a row?
11th minute: Peter Rhodes-Brown, Chelsea, 1986
No time to answer that, over to West London now where there’s been a bit of a shock on the cards in the 1st Division at Stamford Bridge. Oxford United, without an away win all season are leading Chelsea who had been hoping to go top. And to really rub it in, the goal is from former Chelsea winger, Peter Rhodes-Brown.
12th minute: James Constable, Swindon Town, 2011
Is history being written at The County Ground? Maybe. James Constable has just darted in at the near post to put Oxford 1-0 up against Swindon Town. Swindon boss Paolo DiCanio claims Constable is a Swindon fan, I think we know the truth now.
13th minute: Tony Jones, Blackburn Rovers, 1964
Oh I say, now Oxford United have taken the lead against Blackburn Rovers in the fifth round of the FA Cup at the Manor in 1964. Over 20,000 jolly good fellows have packed into the little ground in Headington. It looks like we have a major shock on the cards.
14th minute: Eric Sabin, Leyton Orient, 2006
Lifeline at The Kassam Stadium! Oxford United need to beat Leyton Orient to retain their League status. Striker Eric Sabin has just got on the end of Andy Burgess’ free-kick to give the hosts the lead. The atmosphere in the stadium wild. Orient need to win to go up, so there’s a long way to go on this. But, that’s the early goal Jim Smith’s were looking for to settle the nerves.
15th minute: Alex Dyer, Leeds United, 1994
And now Oxford have taken the lead against Leeds United in the FA Cup. Attacking down the slope towards the London Road, Joey Beauchamp fed Jim Magilton down the right who fired in a low cross to Alex Dyer arriving in the middle. 1-0 Oxford.
16th minute: Jamie Cook, Luton Town, 2009
What. Have. I. Just. Seen? Goal of the season? Goal of the century? Jamie Cook just scored from 25 yards against Luton Town in this battle of the Conference giants. The game was delayed because of crowd congestion trying to get nearly 10,000 fans into the stadium. That goal was worth the entrance fee alone.
17th minute: Kevin Brock, Oldham Athletic, 1985
Oxford are putting on a show at The Manor in front of the Match of the Day cameras now, Mark Jones has just broken down the left flank crossing deep for Kevin Brock to slot home a fine opening goal. The champions-elect are on the goal trail once again.
18th minute: Oli Johnson, Swindon Town, 2012
Oh. My. Word. Injury ravaged Oxford United have had their star striker sent-off against the League leaders, who are unbeaten in ten games, they’ve taken the lead with Asa Hall scoring from close range, now two minutes later, they’re two up from young loanee Oli Johnson. Oxford are racing towards a famous derby double.
19th minute: Neil Whatmore, Newcastle United, 1983
1-0 to Oxford at The Manor in 1983, and it’s nothing more than they deserve. Star-studded Newcastle United featuring Kevin Keegan, Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle and Terry McDermott are being overwhelmed here. Oxford should already be two-up already, but the breakthrough has come from the biggest name of the lot; striker Neil Whatmore.
20th minute: James Constable, York City, 2010
Oh, magnificent, Oxford United have started this play-off final at Wembley like a train, Matt Green gave them the lead in the 15th minute, now James Constable has doubled their advantage, blasting it in from twelve yards. 2-0, difficult to see York coming back from this, they look shellshocked.
21st minute: Matt Murphy, Everton, 1999
Everton looking at sixes and sevens in the League Cup and Matt Murphy has capitalised on their lax defending by heading in for the lead. The ball hit the net and trickled along the goal line before being awarded, but they all count.
22nd minute: Trevor Hebberd, Luton Town, 1987
Big goal at Kenilworth Road. Oxford needing a result here to secure another season in Division 1 and the breakthrough has come from Trevor Hebberd. Still a long way to go but they’ve got something to work with.
23rd minute: Matt Green, Bristol Rovers, 2010
What a way to announce yourself back as a League team. It’s the first game back from the Conference and Matt Green has just doubled Oxford’s lead after Simon Heslop’s thunderbolt. Oxford are right in the mood here, it could be a cricket score by the time we’ve finished.
24th minute: Mike Ford, Swindon Town, 1997
Are Oxford about to break their 24 year hoodoo at The County Ground? Great work by Nigel Jemson on the flank and an inviting cross onto the back post and there’s Mike Ford to nod home. He nearly collided with the post there, but I don’t think he cares. Great start for Oxford.
25th minute: Rob Hall, Sunderland, 2019
Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant from Rob Hall. Sunderland hit the post in this League Cup tie, Oxford react with a blistering counterattack, the ball breaks loose to Rob hall who arrows it into the back of the net. 1-0.
26th minute: Nigel Jemson, Barnsley, 1997
They may be heading for the Premier League, but Barnsley look like they’ve been over-doing the celebrations a bit. Just 26 minutes gone and Oxford are two up with a brave header from Nigel Jemson. Barnsley look all at sea here, I don’t think that’s the end of the goals today.
27th minute: Yemi Odubade, Exeter City, 2007
Yemi Odubade has put Oxford United a goal up at the Kassam in the Conference semi-final play-off. You have to say, it’s against the run of play, but with an away goal in the bag from the first leg, the yellows are fully in charge in this one.
28th minute: Paul Moody, Cardiff City, 1994
Goal! I can’t quite believe what I’ve just seen, 28 minutes gone at Ninian Park and Paul Moody, Oxford’s big lumbering striker has danced his way past five defenders, running half the length of the field to given Oxford the lead. It was like watching Maradona in ’86, great movement from big man.
29th minute: James Constable, Rushden & Diamonds, 2010
Breakthrough goal at Nene Park now in the Conference semi-final first leg and who else but James Constable? Great work in the box, firing home on the turn. That’s the away goal they wanted. 1-0 Oxford.
30th minute: Nigel Jemson, Manchester City, 1996
Just half-an-hour gone and it’s already 2-2 at Maine Road after Nigel Jemson’s looping header dropped in just under the crossbar. Manager-less Manchester City look all over the shop. Lovely goal from the Us.
31st minute: Wes Thomas, Chesterfield, 2016
Great moment, Oxford have announced their return to League 1 after a fifteen year absence with a goal from new signing Wes Thomas who’s just tapped home Alex MacDonalds shot.
32nd minute: Andy Thomas, Newcastle United, 1983
Oxford are making second placed Newcastle look second rate here at The Manor in the Milk Cup. Andy Thomas made the first and now he’s scored the second. They don’t look like they’re finished yet.
33rd minute: John Lundstram, Leyton Orient, 2015
Big deflection, but they all count. It’s been billed as a bit of a revenge mission for what happened in 2006, and Oxford are bang on track as John Lundstram scores his first goal for the club to extend their lead. 2-0 to Oxford and just half-an-hour gone.
34th minute: Dean Saunders, Luton Town, 1988
Something’s going on at Kenilworth Road, just 34 minutes gone and Dean Saunders has pulled one back from the spot to make it 1-2. Both sides seem to be struggling with Luton’s plastic pitch, this could end up like a basketball score.
35th minute: Gary Briggs, Manchester United, 1988
Four years ago Oxford dumped Manchester United out of the Milk Cup, now they’re at it again. Gary Briggs has just launched himself through the United defence to connect with John Dreyer’s cross and head Oxford two-up. Fantastic diving header from Briggs, the real United are in the boss seat now.
36th minute: Tommy Caton, Liverpool, 1987
Over at The Manor in 1987 Tommy Caton has equalised for Oxford against champions Liverpool. Despite two great saves from Bruce Grobelaar, there was nothing he could do to prevent Caton forcing it home from two yards. Can Oxford pick up their first win over the Merseyside giants?
37th minute: John Aldridge, Arsenal, 1984
Mixed news from The Manor in 1985. Striker, John Aldridge has just equalised for Oxford United against Arsenal in the Milk Cup. He headed home George Lawrence’s fine cross but was clattered by Pat Jennings. The stretcher is coming on, great goal by Aldridge, but at what price?
38th minute: Alfie Potter, Portsmouth, 2013
We leave The Manor as we’re getting news of an important goal for Oxford United at Fratton Park in 2013. Having gone a goal down, they equalised with Dean Smalley and have now taken the lead with a well taken goal from Alfie Potter latching onto Sean Rigg’s cross.
39th minute: Chris Maguire, Crawley Town, 2016
Equaliser at Crawley Town in 2016, good work down the right from Alex MacDonald, with Chris Maguire driving home from just inside the box. What’s the significance? We don’t know, this is much harder than it looks.
40th minute: Gary Briggs, Leeds United, 1984
BRIGGS! Oxford are on the comeback trail against Leeds United at The Manor. Two down, Gary Briggs connected with a fine Kevin Brock corner to make it 2-1. This team has goals in them, that’s really put Oxford on the front foot.
41st minute: David Rush, Wycombe Wanderers, 1996
Big breakthrough at Adams Park, Oxford are on quite a charge at the moment and David Rush has just connected with a deep cross from Les Robinson to open the scoring against Wycombe Wanderers. Big moment in breaking their duck against Wycombe, bigger moment in their promotion chase.
42nd minute: Billy Hamilton, Arsenal, 1984
Hold on a minute, let’s cross back to 1984. Oxford are down to ten men following John Aldridge’s injury for their first goal against Arsenal in the Milk Cup. And now they’ve done the unthinkable and taken the lead. The Manor is rocking after Northern Ireland international Billy Hamilton connected with Dave Langan’s perfect cross.
43rd minute: Kemar Roofe, Millwall, 2016
With half-time around the grounds and throughout time looming, things are looking rosey at the New Den for the JPT semi-final first leg. Kemar Roofe has just nodded home his second goal latching onto John Lundstram’s audacious drive which cannoned off the underside of the crossbar. That’s 2-0 and you’ve got to say Oxford have one foot in the final.
44th minute: Joey Beauchamp, Manchester City, 1998
Football’s a rollercoaster isn’t it? Oxford have already lost Stuart Massey to what looks like a bad injury, then on the stroke of half time a goal forged in the furnace of the Oxford United academy; Jamie Cook forced the defender into a mistake, the ball was picked up by Paul Powell who played it to Kevin Francis to square for Joey Beauchamp for the opening goal. No sugar in my tea, mum, that’s sweet enough.
45th minute: James Constable, Mansfield Town, 2013
Major goal at Mansfield in 2013. Moments after Mansfield Town had equalised James Constable latched onto Ryan Williams’ cross with the deftest touch to steer the ball into the far corner off the post. 2-1 Oxford, but more importantly, that’s Constable’s 100th goal for the club. What a milestone to reach.
And that’s half-time. A first half full of action and drama. Oxford United will go in very satisfied with their first forty-five minutes’ work. Managers Chris Wilder, Mickey Lewis, Jim Smith, Maurice Evans, Denis Smith, Michael Appleton and Karl Robinson will be looking for more of the same in the second half.
Paul Merson, you were going to say something before the game, any thoughts on how Oxford might approach the second half?
46th minute: Kane Hemmings, Newcastle United, 2017
Sorry Merse, but we’ve got a goal at The Kassam already in the FA Cup against Newcastle United. Chris Maguire collected the ball on the right, crossed it to Chey Dunkley on the back post and Kane Hemmings was on hand to prod home the knockdown from close range. 1-0 Oxford and another cup giant killing is on the cards.
47th minute: John Durnin, Swindon Town, 1992
It’s a goalfest in the derby at the Manor, John Durnin has just got on the end of Chris Allen’s cross to make it 3-2. Big goal for Johnny Lager.
48th minute: Jamie Mackie, Lincoln City, 2019
Oxford cruising now at Sincil Bank as Jamie Mackie adds a third goal. A deft finish from the veteran striker, it’s like his foot was a sand wedge. With former manager and new Lincoln boss Michael Appleton watching on, everything they touch is turning to goals this afternoon.
Brilliant stuff from Joey Beauchamp at The County Ground, he’s just latched onto a Nigel Jemson header and volleyed it past the keeper for the opening goal.
50th minute: Alfie Potter, Northampton Town, 2014
I don’t quite know how he’s done it, but that one feels really sweet. Oxford are 2-1 up against Chris Wilder’s Northampton Town, Alfie Potter has just weaved his way into the box and lobbed the ‘keeper from the tightest possible angle. What a way to stick it to your former boss.
52nd minute: Ray Houghton, Queens Park Rangers, 1986
Wonderful stuff now at Wembley, Oxford United in dreamland with a brilliantly worked goal that’s put them 2-0 up in the Milk Cup. Trevor Hebberd feeding Ray Houghton, beating the QPR offside trap to fire home. A goal to grace any final, we might want to prepare the yellow and blue ribbons now.
53rd minute: Andy Whing, Rochdale, 2013
Stop the count, stop the steal, I’ve seen it all now. It’s the last home game of the season and midfielder Andy Whing has just scored the goal of the season a bicycle kick from four yards out. He looks as shocked as everyone else.
54th minute: Martin Aldridge, Swindon Town, 1996
But, no time to dwell as we head back to The Manor where Martin Aldridge has just punished some poor goalkeeping to make it 2-0 against their deadly rivals.
55th minute: Jack Midson, Yeovil Town, 2009
They’ve looked the better team from the off and now they’ve made the breakthrough. Lovely through ball from Adam Murray and Jack Midson nips in between the ponderous Yeovil defence to lob the keeper. 1-0 and we have a giankilling on our hands.
56th minute: John Aldridge, Aston Villa, 1986
Penalty at Villa Park! Huge moment in this Milk Cup Semi-Final, just sixty seconds after Simon Stainrod had given Villa the lead, John Aldridge has been brought down by Alan Evans and now has a chance to equalise. Aldridge, bounces the ball on the spot as Steve Hodge does his best to put him off. And…
2-2! A massive goal in this tie, Oxford have a second away goal to take back to The Manor.
57th minute: Mark Sykes, Wycombe Wanderers, 2020
What was that? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a cross? Is it a shot? Who knows? Mark Sykes has just blasted spectacular equaliser as Wembley in the play-off final.
58th minute: John Durnin, Tranmere Rovers, 1992
Lifeline at Prenton Park, Oxford have turned their domination into goals. The ball ricochets off an Oxford player and falls to John Durnin to runs through to give Oxford the lead. Blackburn are keeping their side of the bargain at Plymouth, can Oxford make it count and stay up?
59th minute: Kemar Roofe, Swansea City, 2016
Wonderful, wonderful stuff from Oxford as Kemar Roofe puts Oxford 3-1 up against Premier League Swansea City at the Kassam. A blistering break by Chris Maguire set up Roofe finish off the move with a neat finish. We’ve got a big FA Cup giant killing on our hands here.
60th minute: Kemar Roofe, Wycombe Wanderers, 2015
Roofe, again, on his debut this time. How does that work? It’s taken him ten games to get his first, now he’s got two against Wycombe at Adams Park. It was a bit of a daisy cutter, but you’ve got to say that’s going to give the young West Brom loanee confidence.
61th minute: Chris Maguire, Swindon Town, 2016
Oh my goodness, calamitous defending from Swindon Town at the Kassam Stadium. They work the ball back to ‘keeper Lawrence Vigouroux, who tries to launch the ball downfield, but instead it canons off Oxford striker Chris Maguire in the net. What a shambles that club is. Oxford United 2 Swindon Town 0.
62nd minute: Kemar Roofe, Bristol Rovers, 2015
That’s just different class. That boy Roofe is going places. Picks up the ball from Pat Hoban’s knock down 25 yards out and smashes it into the top corner.
63rd minute: Paul Moody, Swindon Town, 1995
Equaliser at The County Ground, and it’s a bit controversial. Les Robinson delivers a fairly innocuous cross into the box which Wayne Allison tries to control. He comes together with Matt Elliott and the ball runs loose to Paul Moody to fire home. Was that a foul by Elliott? We don’t know that we care at the moment.
64th minute: Peter Leven, Port Vale, 2012
Oh, oh, OH! You don’t save those. Only Peter Leven can do that. He’s just won the ball inside his own half, looked up and lobbed the ‘keeper from sixty yards out. Forget about goal of the season, that’s a goal of a lifetime.
65th minute: Jefferson Louis, Swindon Town, 2003
I don’t know how it happened, but it happened. Oxford lead in the FA Cup derby at The Kassam. Jefferson Louis has got the slightest touch on a long Scott McNiven throw and it’s crept through a crowd of players and into the net. Did Steve Basham get a touch on the line. Who knows? But, frankly, who cares?
66th minute: David Rush, Peterborough United, 1996
The shirt is off, it’s party time at the Manor. David Rush has just latched onto a long Mike Ford ball and poked it home for four-nil. That’s the clincher and that’s promotion. And doesn’t Rush know it, he’s got the corner flag out and is waving with triumph. And why not?
68th minute: Mark Rawle, Southend United, 2003
Miracles do happen. It’s been eleven years since Oxford went home with three points from Roots Hall, but Mark Rawle’s strike may just have ended that voodoo. Who wouldn’t bet against Oxford putting together a long winning streak against The Shrimpers in the future?
69th minute: Kevin Brock, Manchester United, 1983
Majestic. Kevin Brock has silenced Old Trafford with a brilliant free-kick in the Milk Cup. Manchester United must have thought this replay was just formality after the scare at The Manor a few days ago, but they know they’re in a game now. Manchester United 0 Oxford United 1.
70th minute: Adam Chapman, Burton Albion, 2009
What a party-pooper. 7000 Burton fans packed into the Pirelli Stadium expecting to celebrate their promotion to the Football League and Adam Chapman has just curled in a wonderful free-kick into the top corner to put Oxford a goal up. Twenty minutes to go, 1-0 to Oxford and the only noise you can hear is from the Oxford fans behind the goal.
71st minute: Dave Langan, Arsenal, 1985
Oxford are at it again, we’ve got another giant killing in the offing after Irish full-back Dave Langan just drove the ball in from 30 yards through the hands of Pat Jennings. I mean, you’ve got to expect him to do better than that, but that’s 3-2 with 19 minutes to go.
72nd minute: John Aldridge, Arsenal, 1986
Relax Oxford fans, the Us are staying up. John Aldridge has made it three-nil against Arsenal in this must-win game at The Manor. Two weeks after the euphoria of Wembley, the goal pretty much secures them a second season in the top flight.
73rd minute: Rob Hall, Swindon Town, 2017
Wow, that’s just about broken the net. Rob Hall’s just picked the ball up from 30 yards out and fired a howitzer into the top corner. Oxford have turned it around here at The County Ground. Swindon 1 Oxford 2 and that’s seven in a row.
74th minute: Liam Sercombe, Carlisle United, 2016
Phone your mum and tell her the Us are going up. Liam Sercombe has just given Oxford a 2-0 lead here at Carlisle with a low drive into the bottom corner sending the thousands of Oxford fans who have made the journey north into raptures. There are hotdogs everywhere.
75th minute: Liam Sercombe, Coventry City, 2017
And again, Sercombe seems to be everywhere at the moment. After being left out of the starting line-up for the trip to Wembley, Liam Sercombe has come on and is playing like a man possessed. He’s just bundled the ball home from close range to pull a goal back for Oxford against Coventry. Coventry 2 Oxford United 1. Game on!
76th minute: Danny Hylton, Barnsley, 2016
Lovely goal, and nothing more than they deserve. For long periods Oxford have been the better team in this JPT Final, and Danny Hylton has just headed home to make to 3-2 to Barnsley. Can they force extra-time here at Wembley?
77th minute: Dean Windass, Chelsea, 1999
Now then. Oxford United are on the verge of going bust and Dean Windass has just scored from the near post with thirteen minutes to go against the aristocrats of Chelsea. Can the paupers beat the princes in the FA Cup tonight?
78th minute: Roy Clayton, Manchester United, 1972
Manchester United have brought their triple threat of Denis Law, George Best and Bobby Charlton to The Manor, but nobody thought about Roy Clayton, whose just put Oxford in front at The Manor.
79th minute: Neil Slatter, Manchester United, 1986
Nightmare start for former Aberdeen manager Alex Ferguson at Manchester United here at The Manor, Neil Slatter has surely settled this making it 2-0 from close range. At this rate, Ferguson won’t last long at Old Trafford.
80th minute: Phil Edwards, Rotherham, 2017
Oxford have been absolutely magnificent against their Championship opponents in the FA Cup, and now they’ve just gone 2-1 up with Phil Edwards latching onto a Alex Macdonald cross.
81st minute: Les Phillips, Everton, 1986
There’s nothing Oxford United love more than spoiling a party. They’re at it again under the lights at The Manor, Les Phillips has just side-footed it home from just inside the box for 1-0. That’s put a massive dent in Everton’s title dreams and kept Oxford’s survival hopes alive.
82nd minute: Paul Moody, Dorchester Town, 1995
It’s a goal rush at The Manor. Paul Moody has just completed his hat-trick, blasting in Oxford’s ninth goal against Dorchester.
83rd minute: Joey Beauchamp, Blackpool, 1996
Is that goal of the day? Of this and any other day. Joey Beauchamp, hero of the London Road just collected the loose ball in midfield and sent it back from 40 yards out with interest. 1-0 Oxford, that’s a big statement in the promotion race.
84th minute Liam Kelly, Newcastle, 2020
Hang on a minute. Just when you thought it was all over, Liam Kelly has scored a brilliant free-kick to pull one back against Newcastle at The Kassam in the FA Cup. That’s got the crowd up again, I don’t think Oxford are quite finished yet.
85th minute: Marvin Johnson, Luton Town, 2017
My word, they’re flying in at the moment. That’s quite a strike from Marvin Johnson, cutting in from the left and sending a rocket into the top corner. Luton Town 2 Oxford United 3. It’s going to take a massive effort for the Hatters to pick themselves up again and prevent Oxford from heading to Wembley for the second time in two years.
It’s been a tense game at The Manor against Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup, but Nigel Jemson may have just snatched it in the dying moments prodding home Paul Moody’s knockdown from three yards. Four minutes left and Oxford are on track to knock the Premier League team out.
87th minute: Alan Kennedy (OG), Liverpool, 1985
Oxford are going to need a stroke of luck to stay in the First Division this season and they’ve just had some against the biggest team in the country. They’ve been hanging on for the whole game, but Peter Rhodes-Brown’s hopeful through ball has been put into his own net by Alan Kennedy for 2-2.
88th minute: Alfie Potter, Swindon Town, 2010
There’s been a breakthrough at The Kassam in the EFL Trophy, James Constable, who has been quiet all game, pounced on a Swindon defensive error squared the ball to the back post for Alfie Potter to slot home. Swindon can’t buy a win against their deadliest rivals.
89th minute: Todd Kane, Charlton Athletic, 2018
Brilliant stuff. Oxford United have no manager and no recognisable striker on the pitch, they’re 2-1 down as we enter the last minute. Great determination from Josh Ruffels on the flank who squares it to Todd Kane to side foot home. I don’t know if they can sneak a winner now, but they deserve it after this performance.
90th minute: Callum O’Dowda, Notts County, 2016
What might that mean come May? Alex MacDonald has just laid it off for Callum O’Dowda to drill the ball into the top left hand corner to make it Oxford United 3 Notts County 2 at Meadow Lane. A great way to start the New Year for the Yellows.
O’Dowda! Again! Is there a more fitting way of securing promotion than seeing a hometown boy weaving his way through the Wycombe defence to fire home from close range. That’s three. And that’s promotion.
92nd minute: Shandon Baptiste, West Ham United, 2019
They’ve left the best ’til last at The Kassam, Shandon Baptiste has put icing on the cake of a magnificent performance weaving through West Ham’s beleaguered defence and slotting home from the left. The gulf in class has been massive.
93rd minute: Pat Hoban, Luton Town, 2015
Yes! No! Yes! Just when you thought the drama was over. Late late equaliser at Kenilworth Road for Oxford United, after Kemar Roofe dragged Oxford back into the game two minutes ago, with the board showing three minutes of injury time, a scramble in the box saw the ball drop to Pat Hoban who scuffed at it and then prodded home at the second attempt for 2-2. Crazy scenes in the away end.
94th minute: Jamie Mackie, Bradford City, 2019
OOOOOOOOHHHHHHH! Massive, massive goal at the Kassam Stadium in the League 1 relegation battle against Bradford City. Bradford have spurned a glorious chance, completely missing an open goal. From the resultant goal kick, Josh Ruffels sent a raking ball to Gavin Whyte whose shot popped up, then Jamie Mackie came marauding through on the volley and slammed it home. Sensational scenes here.
No, wait, what’s happening now? The ref’s not allowed it. What’s going on? A Bradford penalty? Oxford are surrounding the ref pleading with him. Now he’s talking to his linesmen. And. And. It’s a goal, Oxford have snatched this at the death. What a finish.
‘Merse, it’s been such a hectic afternoon, we didn’t even get a chance to find out your thoughts about today’s action.’
‘No problem Jeff, the thing is Jeff. I just can’t see where Oxford’s goals are going to come from this afternoon. I fear for them, I really do.’