Town Visit Oxford Aiming to Build on Accrington Victory
Monday, 13th Jan 2020 16:08
Town visit Oxford United's Kassam Stadium for the first time on Tuesday evening looking to build on Saturday’s 4-1 return to winning ways against Accrington.
That victory, which ended an eight-game League One winless run, saw the Blues climb to third in the table, three points behind leaders Rotherham and second-placed Wycombe with a game in hand.
Town could join the pair on 44 points if they beat Oxford, who are fifth, two points behind the Blues, if they win their game in hand - the fixture was postponed in November due to international calls - but would need to do so by six to go top with Rotherham having a goal difference of 19 to Town’s 14 and having scored more. The Blues would go ahead of Wycombe on goal difference if they won on Tuesday.
“We’re three points off the top and we have a game in hand, a difficult game but we’re in a really good place,” manager Paul Lambert said after Saturday’s victory over Stanley.
“I’m happy with how the lads have handled everything that’s been at them, the good start, the wins, we’ve drawn, we’ve lost, they’ve shown big, big character to come back from a lot of stuff. I’m really happy with them.
“The game with Oxford’s tough, a tough, tough game, but we go there with a lot of confidence.”
Having halted the winless run, which stretched back to November 5th and the 1-0 victory at Rochdale in the league, Lambert says the Blues are now looking to build the sort of momentum which saw them to the top of the table in the opening months of the campaign.
“We’ll go and try,” he said. “If we can play the way we did today and play that way, with that intensity then we’ll certainly be right in the game.
“We’ll see how one or two guys are with knocks, they might need a couple of days to recover but I’m happy with where we are in the table, we’ll OK, three points off the top with a game in hand, so it’s OK.”
After a difficult start, Oxford, who finished 12th last season, built up some momentum of their own and climbed the table, going on a run in which they lost just one in 15 in the league.
However, they were beaten 1-0 at Doncaster on New Year’s Day and then lost 3-1 at home to Rotherham on Saturday, their first home defeat since a 4-2 reverse to Burton Albion in August and the first time they'd conceded goals at the Kassam Stadium since a 3-3 draw with Coventry later that month.
“I’m pretty sure one game, Karl will be fine with that,” Lambert said when asked about Saturday’s defeat. “They’ve done well. The league’s hard, the league’s really, really tough.
“As I said, the big thing we’ve got is expectancy level. There aren’t too many teams [who have that]. Sunderland will have the same and look at them, it’s tough, really, really tough.”
Oxford have re-signed former loanee Marcus Browne from Middlesbrough, as well as Liam Kelly from Feyenoord, Nathan Holland from West Ham, both also on loan, and Rob Atkinson from Eastleigh on a permanent basis this month, which Lambert says can give a squad a boost at this point in a season.
“If you can,” he reflected. “But we don’t have that luxury as such, we can only do little bits here and there. I’d love to go out and buy guys for a million or two million or whatever and give them whatever, but we are where we are as a football club, that’s where we are.”
Lambert fielded a team which was unchanged from the previous league match - the 1-1 draw at Wycombe - on Saturday. Asked whether he would be able to do the same again on Tuesday, he said: “Maybe, but Emyr Huws for example’s not done a lot - I thought he was excellent again against Accrington - [so he may not be ready for] back-to-back.
“We’ll need to have a look at that, there are one or two little knocks we need to look at as well because we’ve got so may games to play. We can’t keep flogging guys, but if everybody’s fine, we’ll see how they are.”
Regarding Freddie Sears, who was left out of the 18 on Saturday, he explained: “We just thought that he’s way ahead of schedule and he’s done ever so well to get himself in the position of where he is.
“So he’s ahead of schedule, it’s going to be really difficult for him to sustain that level. I think Bish is ahead of him fitness-wise, so he’s still got a wee bit of work Freddie, that’s for sure.”
Lambert probably won’t want to stray too far from the team which won on Saturday, while also not wanting to entirely abandon his rotation policy with a long trip to Tranmere following at the weekend.
Will Norris will continue in goal with the back three - from the right skipper Luke Chambers, James Wilson and Luke Woolfenden - unlikely to change. Gwion Edwards and Luke Garbutt are again set to be the wing-backs.
As Lambert said, Huws is the most likely to drop out with either Cole Skuse or Andre Dozzell coming into the midfield alongside Flynn Downes.
Alan Judge will play ahead of them behind front two James Norwood and Kayden Jackson, although Will Keane is pushing for a start having scored three goals in the last four games having appeared as a sub with less the 15 minutes to play in three of those matches.
Sears will probably be on the bench, while Jon Nolan could also come back into contention having made the trip after returning to training last week following his heel problem. New loan signing Josh Earl is also likely to be among the subs.
Oxford’s 11-goal top scorer James Henry is currently sidelined with a thigh injury, while Cameron Brannagan has been ruled out of Tuesday's match after being subbed at half-time in the defeat to Rotherham having previously been out with a knee problem.
Jamie Hanson is back in training after a hamstring injury but Tuesday's game will come too soon for the midfielder.
Yellows manager Karl Robinson, who says he knows nothing with links with the manager’s job at Malaga and is committed to his current club, expects Saturday’s loss to the Millers to motivate his team to bounce back against the Blues.
“It was an uncharacteristic 40 minutes,” he told the Oxford Mail. “But I thought we were far the better team in the second half.
“For me, we switched off but also credit to Rotherham. They won 3-1 and we have no gripes with that.
“I wish them all the best because [assistant boss] Richie Barker is one of my best friends and Warney [manager Paul Warne] is one of the nicest men you’ll meet.
“They hit us on the break which we knew they could do and I am disappointed because I told the players that the way they might score was obvious.
“We had players doing uncharacteristic things that aren’t part of our system and got picked off because of that but you have to accept it and move forward.
“I was pleased that we got a reaction in the second half and took the game to them and the two players who came on, Nathan [Holland] and Marcus [Browne, who scored], made a big impact and that’s important.
“We move on to Ipswich and the big thing is to try and capitalise on the game in hand that we have. Win and we’d probably go back to where we were before Saturday.
"You can’t be too down. Fans will be disappointed, as I am, but you can’t be too down. This run in will be about who copes with winning and losing in similar ways: take a win in your stride, take losing in your stride. Does today motivate you or demotivate you? Does it make you hungrier or less hungry?
“I know my players and this will make them hungrier and give them more desire for whatever this season throws at us in the next few months. It’s going to be a great run-in and we’re all looking forward to it and looking forward to Tuesday night now.” Historically, the Blues have had the better of the U’s, winning eight (six in the league) of the games between the teams, drawing five (five) and losing five (five). Town are unbeaten in four against the U’s.
The teams last met at Portman Road in February 1999 when Matt Holland put the Blues ahead in the sixth minute, Mark Venus added the second from the penalty spot two minutes later before Christophe Remy pulled one back for the visitors two minutes before the break.
At Oxford’s former home the Manor Ground in the preceding September, the teams had drawn 3-3.
Nicky Banger gave the home side the lead, before James Scowcroft levelled. Dean Windass restored Oxford’s lead but David Johnson netted a second equaliser for the Blues.
Town thought they’d won it when Kieron Dyer scored with four minutes remaining but Andy Thomson stole a share of the points for the Yellows, who were relegated that season, in the final minute.
Although Town have never played a competitive game at the Kassam Stadium - where they moved to in 2001 - they won a pre-season friendly at Oxford’s current home in July 2004.
After the home side had taken a 1-0 lead, Tommy Miller (2), Darren Bent, Pablo Couñago and Jim Magilton saw the Blues to a 5-1 victory.
Town loan left-back Garbutt spent last season on loan at Oxford making 28 starts and eight sub appearances, scoring four times.
Tuesday’s referee is Leigh Doughty from Lancashire, who has shown 57 yellow cards and two red in 20 games so far this season. Doughty will be taking charge of his first Town match.
Squad from: Norris, Holy, Edwards, Donacien, Garbutt, Kenlock, Chambers (c), Wilson, Woolfenden, Earl, Skuse, Dozzell, Downes, Huws, Judge, Bishop, Nolan, Jackson, Keane, Norwood, Sears.
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