George Lawrences Shorts – A-Fosu-lytptic Shandogeddon

Saturday 25 January 2020

Like a pair of British Knights high tops, Sports Direct’s Newcastle United were cheap and lacking in style on Saturday as Oxford came home with a lucrative replay in their locker after a 0-0 draw in the FA Cup.

Sunday 26 January 2020

Our draw with Newcastle asked a lot of questions of the Premier League team, none more so than the performance of Miguel Almiron(’s wife). The Star analysed Alexia Notto’s 17-second Instragram video of her swaying vacantly like a psychologically damaged captive chimpanzee in a Chinese zoo. The ‘trained Zumba dancer’ ‘flaunted’ her ‘moves’ in a way her husband didn’t at St James’ Park.

Monday 27 January 2020

It was fumbling velvet ball-bag Monday for the FA Cup draw, or as it has become known on Twitter; ‘Shitdraw’. We now face the prospect of a trip to West Brom.

Having had shitdraws against teams in all top five divisions this season, including the champions of England, our analysis shows the only draws now acceptable to fans would be the 1970 Brazilian World Cup squad or the blue team from the animated section of the film Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

Tuesday 28 January 2020

Following such great sitcoms as Are You Being Served? And Ever Decreasing Circles, Oxford’s FA Cup replay with Newcastle will be shown live on BBC1.

The game will be the club’s first meaningful contribution to national prime-time public service sports broadcasting since 2003 when Jefferson Louis was seen dancing naked on live daytime Sunday TV. Prudish TV censors will be watching Jamie Mackie with interest.

Wednesday 29 January 2020

Alumni news, as Scuttling Joe Rothwell was lavished with praise at Blackburn for his two assists in Blackburn’s win over Middlesborough. Rovers manager Tony Mowbray acknowledged that Rothwell has had to adjust to life in the Championship having, apparently, been such a star at Oxford that players deferentially passed to him in awe at what he could achieve. Yes, that’s how we remember it too, Tone.

Thursday 30 January 2020

It was the Radio Oxford Nine Minute Fifty Eight Second Fans ForAAAARRRGGHHHH! On Thursday as Niall don’t call me Niall, it’s Niall McWiliams’ plan to spend the interview equivalent of nine hours at the crease scoring 16 runs with immaculately executed forward defensive shots was blown to pieces.

Instead, he was accompanied by all-action KRob, in full Kate Adie mode, with news that Shandon The Baptise and The Stepover Kid Tariqe Fosu were having medicals with an unknown club. This breaking news somewhat marginalised the carefully crafted and no less important question about the cleanliness of the toilets.

Friday 31 January 2020

With the Coronavirus spreading faster than chlamydia during peak season in Blackpool, we face er, Blackpool tomorrow. Having dropped to eighth in the table, Oxford will be without Fosu and Baptiste whose transfer to Brentford was eventually confirmed. There was some hope that impotent burns victim Will Grigg might come in but transfer window closed with KRob left empty handed meaning Headington United’s Sam Long will have his longest spell in the team since the Southern League.

Elsewhere, pompous Titian haired beanpole Dave Kitson is interested in becoming the Secret Head Coach at Cambridge. His next book, ‘The Secret Early Reducer, Hoof It Up To The Big Man, Second Ball, SECOND BALL‘, comes out next year.

Match wrap: Oxford United 3 Doncaster Rovers 0

I was getting some shopping on the way back from the game on Saturday. Someone, recognising my top, asked ‘did they win?’. This occasionally happens outside the ground, usually by kids menacingly riding their bikes, but I was 15 miles away and it was the second time it had happened in a few minutes.

I won’t describe the person for risk of unfairly stereotyping, but I wouldn’t normally associate them with having an interest in the club’s fortunes. They wanted to know who scored, hoping I’d say Tariqe Fosu.

‘Tariqe Fosu lives next door to me’ they said by way of explanation. I said he’d been great and I got the sense they took some residual pride in the fact their neighbour was getting such praise. I once told Perry Groves he was great when I randomly phoned him up to do a market research survey. I didn’t mean it, but with Fosu I genuinely did.

I wasn’t sat in my normal seat at the game; with a new angle I saw the work he put in. When I see players like that, it genuinely fills my heart with joy. He’s a jobbing footballer working his socks off for my club. ‘He’s such a lovely bloke’ the person said.

A few minutes earlier, Karl Robinson had broken off his live post-match radio interview to sort out a dispute between the Doncaster subs and the club’s ground staff.

This was typical Robinson; easy to mock, but impulsive and authentic. He talks about the importance of the whole club, he takes time out for kids, older fans, he supports the staff from the groundsmen to the ticket office. Last year it threatened to overwhelm him, with his core responsibility being the team, but he seems to have found a sweet spot.

Exactly halfway through the second-half, after a dominant display against a team we should aspire to match this season, we seemed to run out of energy and started to get pushed back. It wasn’t a surprise, we’d been so good that maintaining it for 90 minutes was always unlikely. Robinson whistled for Shandon Baptiste to come on and instantly the balance was redressed. He was in total control.

Fosu is his protege, he has the attacking qualities to simply focus on that and – let’s face it – get away with it, but yesterday it was his willingness to track back and cover Josh Ruffels, to block crosses like a seasoned full-back which was so impressive.

Robinson made the point in his post-match interview of the example Jamie Mackie offers to other players, he could have mentioned John Mousinho and James Henry. None are at the peak of their careers, Oxford isn’t their perfect destination, but they play like it is, never letting up. All over the pitch there are examples of the value of working hard and buying into and contributing to a culture.

Every season has its narrative; the 1995/96 promotion was a redemptive story about a remarkable late season run, 2009/10 was a rebirth born out of sheer bloody mindedness, 2015/16 was a marvel of science and planning.

What is emerging this year is a one-club culture; it permeates from Robinson through the players to the backroom staff and to the fans.

People often talk about the fans being the heart of a club and in one sense they are, they’re the only constant. But as the crowds show, they’re also the first to walk away when things aren’t great.

Josh Widdecombe once wrote that football wasn’t a great subject for comedy because it isn’t universal. It’s massively popular, of course, but not as all-encompassing as the general challenges of life. Getting a club to permeate beyond its core set of followers is a massive challenge. Results help, of course, but so does someone like Tariqe Fosu being a great neighbour. When random people talk to you in supermarkets about the result, you know the ripples are being felt. Perhaps they’ll buy a ticket soon, just to see him play.

Where that takes us, I don’t know. I took a bit of criticism last week saying I didn’t know whether our style could be sustained. It was genuine; it’s not a question of doubting it; I don’t know whether it can.

But, it is working, the product is great, an Oxford top is the stimulus for a discussion about the club, we can be proud that we’re part of a movement not some marginal obsession. I can talk about Tariqe Fosu’s performances with a stranger in a way I could never do about Carl Pettefer or Tim Sills. The challenge now is for it to permeate more widely, Robinson is an ambassador, but so is Fosu and so are we. Nobody knows how long this will last, but there’s something good happening here, let’s broadcast it.

Match wrap: Oxford United 4 West Ham United 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Match wrap: Lincoln City 0 Oxford United 6

It’s fair to say that Karl Robinson splits opinions; even within individual opinions, there are split opinions. It’s not uncommon to hear things like ‘I can’t stand the man, but I don’t think he should be sacked’ or ‘I respect what he does, but he can’t go on like this’.

Whether it’s the start of a season, game or interview, it’s difficult to figure out Robinson’s modus operandi. There seems to be a common theme of there being a blizzard of confusion followed by some kind of clarity or success. Is that deliberate? Is it luck? Is the assumption that if you throw enough Karl Robinson at a wall, some of it will stick? Is there a science to all this that we can’t see?

It’s almost, and I use this comparison advisedly, Trump-esque; it is near on impossible to figure out whether Robinson is a stable genius, or wanton lunatic.

The result is similar to Chris Wilder’s time at the club; Jamie Cook once described him as a polarising figure; ‘a great coach but a terrible man’. The result was streaks of poor form, followed by unlikely wins and unbeaten runs. Whether Karl Robinson can be defined in quite such a binary way, I don’t know, but he’s consistently inconsistent.

On Saturday, Michael Appleton was in the stand preparing to take over our opponents Lincoln. Appleton is a methodical theoretician, a scientist of the game. He’s a good fit for Lincoln who seem to have learnt through the appointment of the Cowley brothers about the power of building.

It was Robinson’s worst nightmare; following the debacle against Bolton, he not only had to get us back on track, but do it with one of Oxford’s greatest managers glaring down on him.

And then he goes out and does this. Seven shots, six goals, all of the highest quality. A record breaking win, the win we thought we might get on Tuesday, and a moment of utter razor sharp clarity in a sea of confusion.

Tariqe Fosu, as we’re regularly reminded, has known Robinson for years. You could argue that not only does he understand Robinson’s methods, he’s a product of them. Perhaps it’s of no surprise that he seems to have settled so quickly in a way that others haven’t. Where Luke Garbutt, Sam Smith and perhaps Ben Woodburn made slower starts, Fosu is flying because he knew what to expect and what was expected.

The Lincoln result is no more an indicator of our prospects for the season than the Bolton result was, finding the new normal under Robinson feels like an endless quest.

While doing a little side project on the best players of the 1990s, I found a surprising fact. Between 1990-1999 Oxford United fielded 107 players, between 2000-2009 that number doubled with a similar number for 2010-2019. If Robinson is to succeed, he needs players to understand his methods, and if you’re new to that, it can take time. Without that, you’re always playing catch up.

The challenge is that modern football doesn’t offer stability. The turnover of players is so great, the onus is on the manager to be clear about his intentions and for them to respond. Last season it took months to get the message over and while this season it seems to have settled more quickly, the contrasts between Bolton and Lincoln show, it’s still not clear which Oxford United we are.

George Lawrence’s Shorts: Tattoo fixer

Saturday 14 September 2019

After a seven game winless streak, KRob was thankful for the fact that toothless Tranmere were in town and that Tariq Fosu is made of helium. Fosu collided with a gust of wind to win the first of two penalties which set us on the way to a 3-0 win. James Henry hoovered up both spot kicks with Cameron Brannagain, again, slamming home a third, which was the second, and his fifth of the season. Elliot Moore was due to start but was struck down with The Newlyweds Curse, a back spasm.

Sunday 15 September 2019

Scotland manager Steve Clarke may be set to turn to Chris Cadden to shore up his leaky defence. Scotland have had a torrid start to their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign having conceded 9 goals in their last three games. Clarke’s looking for someone to better that, though with Cadden being part of a back four who recently conceded sixteen goals in six games, it might not quite be the betterment he was thinking of.

Monday 16 September 2019

The slayer of Edgar Davids and owner of Coventry’s most prodigious chin since Jimmy Hill, Andy Whing has a new job as coach at Hereford United. He’ll be bringing all his experience to his new role, creating a team of tough tackling midfielders with a never-say-die attitude. “All we want is a team of Andy Whings.” said Hereford owner Geoff Hereford.

Tuesday 17 September 2019

A live-streamed video of a bunch of kids from Bolton beating up some lame old men surfaced online on Tuesday. KRob’s approach to our away trip to Bolton Wanderers was the equivalent of holding a child at arm’s length by putting his hand on their forehead while they swing punches just out of reach. Sadly, KRob badly misjudged their range and took one clean in the knackers, limping away with a 0-0 draw.

Wednesday 18 September 2019

Lincoln City are planning to roll out the big guns in order to replace messanic manager Dan Cowley who has gone to Huddersfield. And there are no bigger guns than perpetual managerial bridesmaid Michael Appleton who is odds on to take over at Sincil Bank. MApp could be facing KRob in the technical area for our visit to Sincil Bank on Saturday. KRob is seeing whether he can get a girdle ordered on his Amazon Prime account as we speak. 

Thursday 19 September 2019

It was the Six Minutes Forty-Seven Second Fans Forum on Radio Oxford where Niall, don’t call me Niall, McWilliams was the Johnny Byrne on the spot. Fans nearly missed the opportunity to ask about the stadiumsituation which will be 100% resolved before the end of the year. McWilliams also publicly backed KRob in his role. Uh oh.

It’s a name synonymous with wanton violence and the destruction of humanity. But, enough about Christophe Wilde; the Bin Laden family are lining up to take a stake in Sheffield United to become Wilde’s boss.

Cameron Brannagain was subject to The Daily Mail’s Secret Scout report. The report admired Brannagain’s passing, competitive spirit and the fact he’s a white English man because they’re a minority in this country nowadays ain’t they?

Friday 20 September 2019

It’s Lincoln tomorrow, and who’s that sitting in the opposition bench doing bicep curls? Holy cow, it’s MApp. The man with more tattoos than Tatu on Tatooine has taken over the hot seat just in time to unleash an unedifying defeat on his former charges. Hold onto your hats everyone, MApp’s back in the game.

Match wrap: Oxford United 3 Tranmere Rovers 0

There were two people behind me for the win over Tranmere on Saturday. Irregular visitors to the Kassam, they talked knew how we were getting on but still referred to each player by number. One of them had already seen us this season. “It was much better than this” he said. We’d played four minutes.

It surprises me that people still assume football to be easy. That combining the activity of eleven people at speed, while another eleven try to stop them should effortlessly flow. “What do they do in training all day?” one said. Oh, I suspect they sit around talking about how brilliant they’ll be on Saturday.

Mackie was ‘too slow’ and Fosu ‘too lightweight’. In fact, Mackie is not quick, it’s different – too slow implies that he has speed he not using. Fosu is slight, so he won’t hold the ball against a defender the size of Manny Monthe but it means defenders have to be more careful, which weakens their game. Fosu won a lot of position simply by using this perceived weakness.

There were moments on Saturday when the combinations faltered at the final hurdle. On two occasions, Jamie Mackie made runs to the near post, only for the ball to go behind him and roll harmlessly across the goal. There were groans of frustration at the inaccuracy of the cross and Mackie’s poor positioning. In fact, both had been perfect; what was needed was someone at the back post to put the ball away.

In the first half, twice we broke from defence, while Mackie battled for the loose ball, there was a great thick defensive line of yellow leaving the box at an unremarkable speed. On the third occasion, James Henry put in a spirt of effort to burst out of the line giving Mackie an outlet and us an attacking shape. Those moments can be decisive, and they’re not there yet.

It was the emergence of experience that gave us the win; Fosu’s moment of petulance in wanting to take the first penalty was understandable, but the experience of Henry and Mousinho to go with logic ensured the goal. Mackie always plays the referee as well as the game he used his strengths well. Henry’s calmness from the spot to follow the process and get the job done tipped the balance.

What’s missing are the finishing touches; Ben Woodburn almost doesn’t want to score enough. Those Mackie runs gave openings that could have given him simple tap-ins. It’s a desire that gave Liam Sercombe a hatful in 2015/16 and is giving Cameron Brannagan his goals this year.

Tranmere looked like a team that have been promoted too quickly. They don’t seem to have the bank of players to perform at this level. They had gaps as well, particularly up front, but our gaps were smaller, which was the difference.

The table still looks a bit of a muddle, Wycombe are third, Lincoln have lost four out of five. It’s possible others are suffering similarly, it makes for an interesting and exciting league, but the quicker we can link everything up, the faster we’ll climb the table.

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.