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A Season of Hope Rather Than Expectation - Notes for Oxford United
Friday, 12th Nov 2021 15:00 by TomTheWriter

After Town’s penalty shoot-out victory over Colchester United in the Papa John’s Trophy, the Tractor Boys are back in league action against Oxford United at Portman Road and TomTheWriter assesses the mood in the opposition camp.

With two cup games in the bag, Town host their third consecutive home game looking to close the gap on the play-off places.

Their opponents Oxford United have started the season in fine fashion as they look to make it three play-off campaigns in a row in the third tier.

So far this season, the U’s have picked up eight wins, three draws and four defeats from their 15 league games and currently sit in sixth place.

Last year, Matty Taylor was dominant in front of goal, James Henry rolled back the years from midfield with Rob Atkinson adding poise and raw ability from the defence.

Karl Robinson

“Where I feel Karl Robinson has underperformed is in terms of squad balance and tactics. I think our squad is more balanced than in previous years, but I still think we seem over stocked in certain areas and under stocked in other”, “I'm proud to support Robinson's Yellow Army”, “Karl Robinson always seems to build lopsided squads but one area in which we seem stacked now is central midfield.”

Oxford boss Robinson joined the U’s in March of 2018 and has overseen two play-off campaigns in his three-year spell with the club.

“I may not always agree with KR’s tactics or what he says after a match but there is no denying he gives everything for this football club”, “Karl Robinson is so much more than the first-team manager. He might rub some people up the wrong way, but is very highly regarded by the board for the way he has integrated all aspects of the club into the wider community”, “Robinson is a good manager, he has been a manager in the men’s game for years and has achieved more in the game than most.”

In the 2019/20 season Oxford finished fourth in the League One campaign after it was curtailed due to Covid. They defeated Portsmouth 5-4 on penalties in the play-off semi-final, before falling to a 2-1 defeat at Wembley to Wycombe Wanderers.

Play-Off Heartache

“Calling for Robinson to go after two consecutive play-off campaigns?”, “We were beaten by the better team. With that in mind, we did well to score some goals, get a draw and rescue a bit of pride on the night”, “That said, there's no question in my mind that Robinson should be back next season and with our full backing.”

Last season, Oxford once again found themselves in the play-off hunt, finishing the season in sixth place. That saw them come up against eventual winners Blackpool in the semi-final, falling to a 6-3 defeat across two legs.

“Clearly, the lack of defensive cover has hurt us - and the better teams have had joy attacking our full-backs”, “We do have some good building blocks and a couple of players who really could take the next step in 2021, but we can't get complacent”, “Let's be honest I think Karl and staff have delivered after last year's final more of the same next year without the yucky start please.”

Oxford headed into this season looking to make it third time lucky and have started the year in a strong fashion that could see them make their way to Wembley once again.

The Squad

After last season’s disappointment, Robinson set about rebuilding his side for another push.

Star defender Atkinson departed for the Championship with Bristol City the destination. Full-back Josh Ruffels was another defender to leave the U’s, making his way into the second tier with Huddersfield Town.

Midfielder Sean Clare switched Oxford for Charlton Athletic with Rob Hall and Dylan Asonganyi both leaving at the end of their contracts joining Barnet and Maidenhead respectively. Two players further left the club at the end of their loan deals.

Compared to the squad that ended the 2020/21 season, seven of the starting XI remain from their 3-3 play-off semi-final second leg draw away to Blackpool with five of the bench still at the club.

Strength-wise, Oxford United fans have found a lot to appreciate this season. “The benefit of having strength in depth and hitting form is that it will hopefully allow us to get the best out of these games”, “We have some real strength in depth out wide”, “We got that extra strength and power that he said we needed to push us on to the next level.”

However, on the other hand, there are a few fans that have their reservations. “We lacked a lot of strength and speed”, “The right side was our definite weakness all game”, “Our other big weakness is the inability to win headers all over the pitch.”

Oxford United 2-2 Bristol Rovers

Robinson set his side up for the FA Cup first round tie with his usual 4-3-3 formation, opting to play a strong side for the visit of League Two Bristol Rovers.

“The biggest error today lies at the feet of KR. Those subs ripped the team apart and led to us conceding and then he had the gall to find it all amusing in his interview with Radox [Radio Oxford]”, “Knowing how aggressive and hostile the atmosphere at the Memorial Stadium can be, playing youngsters who aren't quite ready would be the worst thing to do in my opinion”, “Overall, a very good game of football and we missed some good chances/were incredibly unlucky in striking the woodwork three times.”

“Another very entertaining (but yet again frustrating) second half”, “Too many missed gilt-edged opportunities, their keeper also had a blinder, subs unsettled the whole team and then a careless moment cost us the penalty”, “Overall today’s performance was poor, no real standout moments and Robbo got his decisions wrong.”

Oxford United 3-1 Morecambe

“Good performance, first half I thought we were a little sluggish and there was not as much zip to our play as was needed, but then after their excellent equaliser the boys really stepped up and found the extra gear we needed”, “An odd game - when they equalised, I thought they looked the more likely to go on and win it, but [Marcus] McGuane coming on changed the game”, “Good to win that sort of game though - so often we don't.”

“We were nowhere near our best, however, especially in the first half where our passing was so slow and completely lacked imagination, constantly going backwards”, “We’re not going to ever achieve perfection, enjoy the moment, we won again”, “Morecambe were better going forward than at the back and I completely see how they have scored and conceded so many goals.”

For the visit of Morecambe, Robinson made one change from their previous league game, a 3-1 victory over Burton Albion, with Alex Gorrin coming in for Cameron Brannagan.

Goalkeepers

“[Jack] Stevens has benefited enormously from goalkeeper coaching and having [Simon] Eastwood around”, “Stevens could still be out for some time. If Eastwood was injured or suspended I guess we would get an emergency loan keeper”, “As soon as Stevens is fit he will be straight back into the side make no mistake.”

Young goalkeeper Stevens has spent his entire career with Oxford, progressing through from the academy in 2016 and becoming the first-choice goalkeeper last season. Out with a minor injury currently.

player stats

“For me, Eastwood isn’t at the same level as Stevens”, “Whatever your opinion on Eastwood's ability, there is no way that he is regarded as a fringe player; Simon and Jack have equal billing in the squad - they both have differing strengths and weaknesses and I have no qualms on whoever starts”, “It wouldn't surprise me if Eastwood remained first choice between the sticks for the rest of the season.”


player imageSimon Eastwood

Experienced goalkeeper Eastwood has been with the U’s since 2016, having been the first-choice goalkeeper until he lost his spot last season, but has gained it back due to Stevens’s injury.

Defenders

“[Anthony] Forde is very frustrating - those two occasions where he had clear forward passes on and turned backwards into trouble, were very odd”, “Unnoticeable but solid”, “Forde is a very decent player who deserves a go in midfield.”

Irish youth international Forde is very capable at playing in the centre of midfield as well as being a comfortable right-back. Started the season in the defence before [Sam] Long’s return from injury two months ago.

player imageAnthony Forde

“[Luke] McNally will end up as a very strong League One centre-half, possibly higher”, “McNally is a great athlete. Good in the air and very quick. He’ll be fine”, “For a young guy in his first season of decent level football, he has done really well. He has played quite a few first-team games and has been excellent.”

Replacing the outgoing Atkinson as the next defensive prospect, McNally started the season alongside Elliott Moore, before being pushed back down to the bench after the arrival of Jordan Thorniley.

“His long passing was hit and miss. Again, he had opportunities to bring the ball out from defence but didn’t”, “I’d expect a bit more from Thorniley; I’m not convinced yet, jury still out on him”, “Have to say that Thorniley and [Steve] Seddon don't seem to be as good as Atkinson and Ruffels.”

On loan from Blackpool, Thorniley is the ready-made replacement for Atkinson, pushing himself ahead of McNally after his arrival. Has nailed down the left centre-back spot.

“Thought [John] Mousinho performed well after two months without a game”, “Just proves Mousinho isn't up to the standard needed and doesn't have youth as an excuse”, “One thing I will say is, Mousinho shouldn’t be anywhere near professional football. He’s dodgier than the UK’s foreign policy right now!”

Seasoned veteran Mousinho has been with the U’s since 2017 and is currently registered as a player-coach for the club. He was also appointed chairman of the PFA this year.

“Appreciate he wasn’t protected very well from left-wing today but he looked at about his level against League Two opposition”, “Seddon has played every minute of the league so far (I believe). As some of our more astute posters have noted, we don’t have any left-back back-up”, “I'm not convinced Seddon can defend.”

Another summer signing for the U’s this season, Seddon replaced Ruffels as the new left-back at the club. Previously spent time on loan from Birmingham with AFC Wimbledon and Portsmouth in League One before being released by the Midlanders in the summer. At the U’s permanently now, as he looks to impress on the left.

Full-Back

“[Sam] Long is cleverer than the average footballer and self-taught”, “You very rarely, if ever, see Sam Long get run ragged both halves”, “I'm a fan of Sam Long and appreciate he is still getting up to speed, but he is still looking a little laboured.”

Impressive right-back Long has been with Oxford his entire career, progressing through from the academy in 2013. Spent time with Kidderminster and Hampton & Richmond on loan, but has been the U’s first-choice right-back for the last few years.

player stats

“They exploited Seddon’s forays forward and got behind Long more than once”, “If he is up against a good opponent and is initially struggling, he obviously thinks about it and works out how to grips with it and after a while he is then the one in control. Many other full-backs just go to pieces and get run ragged”, “Long was excellent today up against a very tricky winger.”

Started the season with an injury, causing him to miss the first six league games. However, since his return against Wycombe in September, he has missed only one League One game.

Centre-Back

“Solid enough, didn’t seem to want to bring the ball out of defence much but saw a lot of it. One terrible pass nearly put us in trouble”, “[Elliott] Moore was very good today, aside from one shocker of a ball to their winger”, “Good to see Elliott Moore desperately keeping his Oxford career intact after someone said he should be shipped out of the club!”

Having joined the club in the summer of 2019, Moore has outlasted two partners in the defence. Rob Dickie and Atkinson both left after each play-off campaign having been picked up by Championship sides.

player stats

“Thought Moore did well (apart from one dreadful pass!) and he seemed to use his head better today, he's so tall but before it seemed like he wasn't as keen to head the ball! But he was very good in the air”, “Moore has been immense at the back”, “Elliott Moore is the standout for me.”

Moore, however, has kept his Oxford career going by sticking with the club and finds himself partnered with a new defender, Thorniley. Has missed a couple of games this year through injury, but expected to start on Saturday.

Midfielders

“[Alex] Gorrin should start in the games where we need some defensive structure”, “I just don’t think he was needed at home against a side who were never going to be pressing us with wave after wave of attacks”, “Think Gorrin’s days as a starter might be in jeopardy, shame for him as he does what he does so well.”

A player linked with Town back in 2019, when he was with Motherwell, the Spanish midfielder has been a key cog in the midfield for Oxford the past few years, but has just been dealt a cruel injury blow having been ruled out for a lengthy spell having torn his anterior cruciate ligament in the Bristol Rovers FA Cup tie.

player image Alex Gorrin

“Mark Sykes has improved and is starting to reap the rewards so we have a conundrum in selection… glad that’s KR’s responsibility”, “Sykes is pretty interesting. The player that the majority the experts here wanted shot of a couple of months ago and is having a hot run, I hope it continues”, “Sykes to me showed again what a useful player he’s becoming for us.”

Another player linked with Ipswich, Sykes was rumoured to be target of the Blues back in the summer. Stuck to the task with Oxford and has reaped the benefits of consistent game-time this season. Currently on four goals for the season.

“McGuane has looked good in his last two appearances and gives the midfield a bit of drive and power. I'd like to see him starting more often than not”, “McGuane looked very good and worked incredibly hard, ran his socks off for the cause. Needs to start on that form”, “He has been inconsistent and has been criticised loads on here by the 'have one bad game panic brigade’.”

England youth international McGuane was on loan with Oxford last season from Nottingham Forest, before turning the move into a permanent one this season. Has struggled for game-time, but scored against Bristol Rovers.

“Jamie Hanson is another one to possibly move on. Being a bit more utility than the ones above [him in the pecking order] does help his cause”, “Hanson deserves a bit of credit for getting back to support the defence”, “Hanson was shocking but he has been out a long time.”

Young midfielder Hanson joined the U’s in 2018, having spent his whole career with Championship side Derby County. A very versatile option, can play in the midfield and the defence.

“[Josh] Johnson was invisible in the first half”, “Johnson let the game pass him by in the first half and only came to life in the final 20 minutes”, “Johnson was impressive and is a prospect, but not ready for the first team yet.”

Another young midfielder at the club, Johnson has spent his entire career with the U’s. Has been pushed into the first-team picture this season, making four appearances in the Carabao Cup and Papa John’s Trophy.

“I didn't think [Herbie] Kane was at his best but in my view still did some good things and provided energy”, “I’d play Herbie Kane in the holding role”, “One of his worst games for us, certainly since his recent good form. I think he looks better at the base of midfield.”

Another loan player with Oxford this season, midfielder Kane is with the U’s from Barnsley for the season. Has been a key player in the middle since his arrival in the summer window and is likely to start on Saturday.

“I really like Ryan Williams, despite him perhaps lacking some end product. Great engine and great attitude”, “Williams showing a really natural ability to play at right-back”, “I don’t understand what Williams has to do to get into the side again. He was one of our top players before his injury.”

Summer signing Williams left fellow League One side Portsmouth to join Oxford United. Another very versatile option, has been played at right-back on occasion this season. Comfortable across the front four.

Winger

“Less said the better about [James] Henry who tried too hard to atone for his shocking penalty miss”, “Henry makes much more sense in the middle too”, “Henry is up there as our most obvious goal threat, never mind provider of goals like on Saturday.”

Experienced midfielder Henry, a Town target in Paul Jewell’s time as boss, is currently sat as Oxford’s second top goalscorer this season with six goals with three of those having come in the 3-1 victory over Lincoln City. Can play out wide or in the middle.

player stats

“I have no idea what this means but I heart James Henry”, “Henry is class but he could do with a rest”, “He didn’t have a good game at all yesterday in my opinion, he was lacklustre and was greedy when he should’ve passed on at least two occasions. Tracking back is also an alien concept as is running at full speed.”

Has been with the club since 2016 and has always been near the top of the goal contributions for League One each season. Always dangerous from dead ball situations and when driving from the midfield.

Centre Midfielder

“[Cameron] Brannagan is a bit older and wiser but what has he added to his game since coming here?”, “Brannagan is bossing it in midfield”, “Brannagan kept plugging away and was rewarded with a goal.”

A player publicly praised by Paul Cook in the past, the Liverpudlian has been one of the strongest playmakers in League One these past few years.

player stats

“He can be so good and still get wound up and force errors into his play”, “I thought Brannagan was close to being sent off yesterday, he certainly plays with a fire and passion and I would like to see a bit more of that from our defenders in particular”, “Kane and Brannagan are a sensational duo for League One, we aren't getting the best out of them.”

Usually found at the heart of the midfield, Brannagan was a key reason for Oxford’s two pushes into the play-offs. Comfortable on the ball, his temper can sometimes let him down. Very reminiscent of a certain Swansea City midfielder.

Attack

“[Sam] Winnall misses out with a tight calf. There’s surely no way we even consider taking up the option of another year in his contract”, “Winnall and Hanson have to be released in January because they’re wages we need for players that at least can play a good game”, “I'm not sure how possible it is to offload Winnall mate. I think he's on a decent wage packet and every other club will do their due diligence and realise his legs have gone.”

Experienced striker Winnall joined Oxford last season, scoring four goals for the club. Has had his injury issues this season with his contract running out at the end of the season.

player imageSam Winnall

“He looked so dangerous, a complete contrast to our right-hand side, as he had pace and wanted to run at the full-back”, “[Nathan] Holland is starting to perform consistently and reproduce the kind of form we got him back for”, “Holland is turning into a proper little player for us now, love how he plays without fear and has the defender beaten time and again.”

The first of two attacking loanees this season, Holland returns to the Kassam Stadium after a successful short-term spell early in 2020. Has hit the ground running this season, missing only four games. Oxford’s most dangerous wide player.

“Anyway, more importantly, does anyone else think Billy Bodin is an odd looking winger? He’s too big! He looks like a striker!”, “I thought Bodin tried hard but lacked that bit of quality”, “Bodin in a short time did nothing.”

Another winger added to the squad this season, Bodin joined the U’s from Preston North End. Has had his own injury issues the past few seasons, and has been used sporadically this year as he finds himself behind a mountain of options out wide.

Northern Ireland youth international Cooper made a highly-regarded move to Oxford from Linfield ahead of last season, but suffered badly with homesickness. Is back with the club this season after a spell back on loan with Linfield in the second half of last season, but has only featured on three occasions.

“From the limited bits I saw of [Joel] Cooper last season, I liked him then. I was disappointed when he had to return home and even more disappointed when it didn't seem to be happening for him earlier this season”, “Cooper surprised me, accomplished finishes and had a go when he was playing left-back”, “Cooper looked better but still caught the ref's eye with some very wild looking tackles and stray legs - a liability.”

“Gavin Whyte looks low on confidence and maybe lacking a bit of the electric pace he used to have?”, “Whyte will be on international duty still for the return fixture won't he?”, “If Whyte or one of the other wingers really hits form we could become a formidable side.”

Another Northern Irish player in the attack, Whyte will not feature against Ipswich this weekend as he has been called up for his international team this week. Currently on loan from Cardiff City.

“I was really hoping a while back that [Dan] Agyei would develop into the back up striker we really need. But he simply hasn't. Virtually the whole of the East Stand was yelling at him to get back onside at various points yesterday, including at a free-kick”, “Lack of improvement of Agyei”, “I have no idea what’s going on with Agyei and it’s very frustrating.”

Picked up from Burnley in 2019, Agyei has found game time hard to come by since his arrival. Has featured on 15 occasions this season, but has only started five games. Has two goals to his name, but is a long way from displacing the main man up front.

Striker

“I think [Matty] Taylor was an absolute handful and he’s in the form of his life”, “Taylor worked hard but I thought his all-round play wasn’t great”, “A weird one as I thought his general all-round play and build up play, was very poor. He barely won a header.”

player imageMatty Taylor

That main man is star striker Taylor, who has been one of the best strikers in League One since his arrival at the Kassam in 2019, originally on loan from Bristol City. Grabbed 19 goals for the U’s last season.

player stats

“Taylor currently has no viable competition for his position”, “What a good player, his touch to get a ball under control is phenomenal”, “What a finisher Matt Taylor is. At the moment he is playing as well as anytime he has been with us.”

Currently the top goalscorer at the club with seven goals to his name already this season. A potent finisher in front of goal, Taylor is the main reason for Oxford’s current push for another play-off campaign.

Oxford United Fans on ITFC

“Things may have just started to click at Ipswich. They throw in the odd bad result but overall are starting to string wins together. It’ll be a tough game there on the 13th November”, “I don’t like Ipswich coming into form”, “The tough ones will be Ipswich and Rotherham. Be delighted to draw both.”

“Ipswich have only two or three players still at Portman Road compared to when the two teams met almost 12 months ago”, “Very tough game, Ipswich really finding form and scoring freely. Good test to see where we really are, I'd take a draw all day”, “Could go any way this. We're actually in better league form than Ipswich and they've conceded more than any team in the top half, but when we're on the green stuff that could all be irrelevant. Recently they've swept both ‘boring boring’ Wycombe and Portsmouth aside for four goals each, so they're clearly strong enough going forward. Get a couple early on and we should kill the game but if we're sloppy at the back it could be a watch-through-your-fingers affair.”

Expectation

“Now I think top 10 is minimum expectation and a play-off finish would be a successful season”, “The backing is there and is only going to increase. There is a growing expectation and he will have to deliver success rather than glorious defeat”, “A season of hope rather than expectation”, “10-12th. We look to have a team of mid-table players”, “I’d settle for watching attractive football, the occasional shock win, some great away days and a good cup run.”

Websites

The main forum for an Oxford United fan is the Yellows Forum, a comprehensive and extensive area for all Oxford fans to dive into.


Matchday Images and Action Images



Please report offensive, libellous or inappropriate posts by using the links provided.



Kropotkin123 added 16:18 - Nov 12
Their fans seem really humble. Would be surprised if they don't make top 8 and would back them over Sunderland for a top 6 finish at this point
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