Midweek fixture: 90 minutes with Oxford United

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…’

GOAL!

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.

***PEEP PEEP***

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?

Well, Jeff…

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.

49th minute: Joey Beauchamp, Nottingham Forest, 1998

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.

86th minute: Nigel Jemson, Sheffield Wednesday, 1996

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.

91st minute: Callum O’Dowda, Wycombe Wanderers 2016

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.

***PEEP PEEP***

‘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.’

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.

Marginal losses


What was largely missed by Alex McDonald’s last minute equaliser against Northampton was that it  ensured we were mathematically safe, although it was generally accepted that reaching 50 points against York was more significant.

The win over Tranmere was the first game where the pressure was off. We could look at the table without fear and assess the damage of the season. But, it revealed something different to what I was expecting. If we take maximum points from our final games, we will be just one point behind last year’s total.

How did that happen when this year feels like a disaster? I thought I’d look at the stats in way that absolutely guarantees you a girlfriend.

The most obvious point is that winning our last two games remains a huge challenge. Of all the combinations of results that are possible from these games, 6 points is the least likely. But even losing both and being seven points behind last year – in a season where we dropped our opening nine points – would be a surprise. Was it all down to a terrible start?

No, our current points total buys less in terms of position than last year. In 2014 62 points was enough for 8th this year with two games to play it’s 9th, and by the end of season, that will be lower.

The division is less concentrated than last year; the team at the top have more points and the team at the bottom less. So while the better teams have improved we’ve largely stood still, thereby relatively speaking, falling behind.

Points accumulated at each position in the division 2014 and 2015

In addition, there’s the question of the ‘elite’ within the division. Last year there was a 10 point gap between York in seventh (and in the play-offs) and us in 8th. This year that ‘selection’ seems to be around 5th where there’s a gap of some 9 points between Southend and Stevenage. The top teams are more consistent this year.

If you look at the points chase over the season it’s obvious that the opening games of the year did lots of damage whereas last year it was the opposite. We took 9 points in three games from last year, a figure that took 10 games to accumulate this year. After that, we haven’t recovered. 

Oxford United points accumulated points 2014 and 2015

But, that’s not the whole story, while we dropped points alarmingly at the start of the season in comparison to last year that leveled off as we found our feet. Then the gap widened, at one point, we were 20 points behind our 2014 run-chase. So, yes, we started badly, but we also got worse.

Difference between points accumulated in 2014 and 2015

If you look at our form, this starts to show where the real problems have occurred this year and perhaps why it feels so miserable. Taking our results in a rolling batch of 5 games at a time, thereby reducing the impact of freak results, on four occasions last year we found ourselves in a run which accumulated 10 or more points over five games; this year we haven’t achieved that once. Our performances this year have felt pedestrian because we haven’t, at any point, got out of second gear. Although there were fluctuations in form in 2014, at least it was punctuated by moments of joy.

Form on a rolling 5 game basis 2014 and 2015

Most noticeable from last year is our end of season collapse. The last blue peak coincides with a game against Wimbledon at the beginning of February – Mickey Lewis’ second game in charge. After that the rot set in and we never recovered, but, as we all know, Chris Wilder’s departure was a good thing.

Although that might distort things a little, it is noticeable this year how much our form has generally picked up since the Mansfield match. What’s the significance? Well, perhaps that was the first game in which we consciously recognised the fight we were in, in relation to relegation. We could no longer promise a halcyon future, we had to finally deal with the here and now. And also, the team on that day was one that you’d broadly recognise as the team we play now – stability appears to have paid dividends.

Accumulation of points at home 2014 and 2015

Getting even more detailed perhaps reveals the nub of the problem related to our innate misery. Despite our generally improved form towards the back end of this season, our home performances have trailed off badly since Christmas. As we all know, last year wasn’t good at home at the best of times, but this year it’s worse. After our slow start, things generally picked up and for a period performances were broadly similar to last year. Then, at Christmas, our form drifted off. If trying to play passing football on a deteriorating pitch isn’t a factor, then I’d be surprised.

Given that most Oxford fans witness most of our games at home, as lauded as our away following is, this trailing off gives the season a disproportionate sense of failure. Which is significant, because even though Michael Appleton may have a case to suggest that things aren’t as bad as they might initially appear, the ticket-buying fans are unlikely to see it that way. 

Practice will make perfect, but have we got the patience?

Matthew Syed is a journalist and former international table tennis player. He tells a story of interviewing German tennis player Michael Stich. For the benefit of the camera, some of the interview is done with Syed and Stich gently rallying across a tennis net.

Syed, feeling confident, asks if Stich will serve a ball at him from the baseline. He’s a a former table tennis player, an Olympian indeed, so he feels his naturally fast reactions and his general competence at hitting balls with a round shaped bats means he should be able to return a couple of boomers.

Stich winds up and fires an ace past him. Syed doesn’t move. He fires another one. And another. Five balls are fired down, five aces, Syed doesn’t move. He asks Stich what the trick is to returning a tennis ball from a world class player. Don’t look at the ball, Stich says, watch the server’s body movement and shape as he tosses the ball into the air.

With this advice Syed returns to the baseline, Stich fires another one down; another ace. Syed still can’t get close. The point is that despite the many similarities between table tennis and tennis, he simply isn’t competent at the latter despite being more than competent at the former.

In reality; one had no bearing on the other because professional tennis players spend years learning the relationship between body shape and movement and the direction of the ball. Only through what Syed calls ‘quality practice’ is this possible, innate talent is a myth.

When Eales, Ashton and Appleton swept into Oxford, they implemented a new tactical philosophy which turned the club on its head. It provided the peculiar spectacle the football being aesthetically more pleasing but the results markedly worse. Appleton has defended the approach with dogmatic promises about there being no alternative and not taking a step back.

But, what he failed to recognise was that the ‘quality practice’ that the players at the club had been engaging with for nearly half a decade was significantly different to that which he wanted to implement. The transition was always going to be a difficult and long one, and it was naive to think otherwise.

Take someone like Jake Wright, an imperious defender when fit, there is no better player when being asked to absorb pressure and actually defend. He looks decidedly uncomfortable in the new system where he’s being asked to bring the ball out of defence and turns defence into attack.

On Saturday, he found himself needing to do just that with nobody from midfield dropping back to help him out. It’s all very well expecting Wright to do something differently, but assuming he’ll just switch it on is daft. Not putting in place the tactical support from midfield is doomed to failure.

There are other concerns about the system; fitness, for example. Tareiq Holmes-Dennis had a magnificent opening 35 minutes on Saturday, but was sucking on energy gels before half-time. Andy Whing was also quick to take on board fuel.

Both may have had mitigating circumstances but is there the fitness or quality in the squad to be able to turn the principles into 90 minutes of winning football? And can it be done every game? Tranmere, a clunking shadow of their former selves, hardly offered a threat, and a better side probably wouldn’t have given us quite such an easy time.

But, the good news is that it would seem that the system is working enough to mean that we shouldn’t need to worry about relegation. Tranmere look desperate, although you’d expect Mickey Adams to improve them. There are others – Hartlepool, Carlisle, Accrington, York, Dagenham who are either blighted by a suicidal free fall or a distinct lack of resources. It doesn’t really matter, to us, who might recover, but as long as at least two don’t; which seems likely, we should be OK.

Of course, avoiding relegation is a very low bar for a club that was threatening promotion or at least the play-offs this time last year. And there’s still a long way to go to reach even parity with those heady heights. Yes, the system is better and yes, we should be reasonably confident that relegation isn’t a concern, but the true tests are whether we can perform away from home and against the best in the division. That’s the next milestone in our development.

To do that we either have to compromise the system to make it a more prosaic, pragmatic beast fixed on results more than style, or we have to invest in the squad to replace what already exists with both the quality and quantity of players we need to make it work. Or, patience is the key, and we need to get in plenty of quality practice. Of those three options – the last is most likely part of the plan – there is little evidence of investment and no sign of compromise, but it will also be the slowest one to pay dividends.