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I Am a Great Believer in Momentum - Notes for Oxford United
Friday, 18th Mar 2022 15:00 by TomTheWriter

After a disappointing draw at home with Portsmouth last weekend, Town travel to face fellow play-off chasers Oxford and TomTheWriter assesses the mood in the opposition camp.

With some of the teams around them having games in hand, Ipswich Town need to pick up as many points as they can between now and the end of the season.

Their Saturday opponents, Oxford United, who like the Blues have eight left to play, have won five of their last six as they look to maintain impressive form which has seen them hold fourth place in League One.

This season, Matty Taylor has been dominant in front of goal, Cameron Brannagan has offered composure and a goal threat from the midfield with Luke McNally replacing Rob Atkinson with ease at the back.

Karl Robinson

“[Karl] Robinson is almost sold on players but a long-term injury will definitely make Robinson push the boat out to sign them!”, “Robinson knows how important the defence is, especially when it comes to getting out of this division because he’s done it”, “Strange one really, clearly Robinson has been backed in the transfer window but despite that we seem one or two short and it feels like he has taken the usual gamble by spending big on a seriously injured player.”

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.

“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 others”, “I'm proud to support Robinson's Yellow Army”, “Karl Robinson always seems to build lopsided squads but one area we seem stacked in now is central midfield.”

Once again, Robinson finds his Oxford team in the fight for a play-off place, working with a squad that have scored the most goals in League One this season.

The State of Play

“Our run-in now starts to get rotten. Sunderland, Wycombe and Sheffield Wednesday certainly look like they have it much easier, but we are also in better form than all of them, bar Wednesday”, “We can’t control what goes on in other games. We have to worry about ourselves”, “Anybody dropping points yesterday would have been a bonus. Bolton just about out of it now.”

As it stands, the U’s find themselves in fourth place in League One with 20 wins, eight draws and 10 defeats from their 38 games.

“I agree I think it will be 79 points for sixth place, 10 good sides in this league all fighting for the top six and all seem to be hitting decent form. Still it's exciting”, “We have had incredibly bad luck with injuries to important players”, “I am a great believer in momentum, certain teams are just hitting it at the right time and of course have games in hand.”

Oxford sit five places and eight points above Ipswich Town heading into the fixture on Saturday and a win over the U’s would help the Blues to keep in contact with the top six.

The Squad

Currently Oxford have a strong selection of attacking options to choose from, with a number of central options tallying up over 1,000 minutes in League One this season.

However, the defence has been their issue on occasion this season with a number of seasoned players having suffered injuries over the past month.

Strength-wise, Oxford fans have found a lot to be positive about this season, especially in the recent weeks.

“We have in strength in depth in our squad”, “Certainly when [Sam] Baldock was younger I always felt his strength was his ability to get shots on target and at the very least make the keeper work, perhaps it might have looked greedy at times”, “McNally has tremendous power too - really value his strength on and off the ball.”

However, on the other hand, they have found a few things to be negative about during the campaign.

“Pretty evident we lack that power/strength across the XI that Karl Robinson eluded to after the Blackpool play-off defeat. We need three or four in if we want to guarantee top six”, “Maybe for those games against top opposition who will target [Steve] Seddon knowing he's a weak link or maybe just in case Seddon gets injured or banned and we don't have to shuffle the entire defence around”, “The weak are beginning to show.”

Shrewsbury Town 1-2 Oxford United

“That really wasn’t good at all, but what a three points!”, “Thought we were awful for large periods of that but good teams find a way to win. We really need to sort this injury crisis out”, “Shrewsbury were respectable in the second half once they sussed out how weak we were down the left. They missed an absolute sitter and we couldn’t really have complained if we’d lost.”

“Fortunate win. But some great individual performances ie [John] Mousinho, [Herbie] Kane, McNally, and Brannagan was never going to miss his pen”, “Was a tough second half playing into the wind. Texted a mate to say we'll be lucky to hold onto a point here. Two minutes later we won the pen. Shows what I know”, “Need wins like that if you're going to be pushing at the right end of the table. One almost to forget about and move on from. Just grateful for the points and hoping no one picked up any knocks.”

Last weekend, Oxford headed to Shrewsbury Town looking to continue their push for promotion and came away with a hard-fought 2-1 victory.

Oxford United 4-1 Burton Albion

“Both [Sean] Long and McNally took the ball to the edge of the Burton area, what an option to have when the team is best known for its passing football”, “Superb first half by Oxford and McNally was outstanding. Some of those runs”, “McNally absolutely superb, give him an improved contract.”

“Baldock a close second - and I'm in awe of how the only other side that took an interest during the window was Swindon?!”, “He looks like one of the best strikers in League One, he'd have utterly destroyed League Two!”, “Luke McNally is going to be one hell of a player in a few years. His ceiling is higher than [Rob] Dickie's - and he looks like he's going to the Premier League. Cracking performance and well deserving of man of the match.”

In Oxford’s last home game, they defeated mid-table Burton Albion in a comfortable 4-1 victory with all five goals scored in the first half.

Goalkeepers

“Every type of goal is going past [Jack] Stevens at the minute - close in, from the angle, shots straight on”, “Clearly Stevens isn't playing at the level he did last season. But to drop a young keeper who isn't making bad mistakes but just seems to have trouble with one specific type of shot for an older keeper who isn't better and has similar deficiencies as a keeper, doesn't sit right”, “With Stevens this season I think it’s more that he’s not pulling off the wonder saves that we got used to him making before he was ill.”

One of two strong goalkeepers in the Oxford ranks this season, Stevens has featured on more occasions than Simon Eastwood, but was dropped for the last game in favour of the experienced option.

player stats

“Eastwood also has trouble with diagonal shots across him from the edge of the box. I was a bit surprised when he was dropped but we did initially look a bit more solid”, “Surely the weakness is obvious. There was no reason to drop Eastwood”, “Eastwood performed well enough during that time to regain the number one spot and it should be down to Jack to win the number one spot back.”


Eastwood had one long spell between the sticks a couple of months ago, but was on the sidelines for the first few months of the season with Stevens in favour. Returned after a 11-game spell on the bench and is likely to start on Saturday.

Defenders

“I would have Sam Long in our top five most consistent players this season by some margin”, “I think Long has been pretty consistent but he hasn’t been anywhere near the level he was”, “Long sneaks in for me due to the number of appearances compared to McNally. Cannot argue with those five though. All have done well.”

player imageSam Long

Versatile defender Long had been mainly used as a right-back this season, before moving across to centre-back when Robinson switched to a three-at-the-back formation last month.

“That's why I'm happy enough with [Anthony] Forde being the back-up to Long. Long is a good defender and is alright going forward, whereas Forde is better going forward and poorer at defending”, “Forde does the job as cover on the right and when [Jamie] Hanson moves on I suppose/hope Robinson will sort out the left with a dedicated like for like replacement”, “I wouldn't be surprised if Forde isn't here next season that he goes somewhere else next season as a right-back.”

Another versatile option in the Oxford squad, Forde has shown he can play in both the midfield and at right-back. Has only featured once in the last seven games.

“Our season hinges on the fitness of [Matty] Taylor and [Luke] McNally, going to need loads of cotton wool to wrap McNally in, then use what’s left over for Taylor”, “On another note with our lack of defensive cover, with McNally playing the way he is, is there a danger he will be called up to the Northern Ireland squad?”, “If he has to just defend all game that's fine but if other teams are set up in a way that McNally carrying the ball out will open them up then we'd be mad to tell him not to do it.”

The next talented defender to come through the ranks at Oxford United, McNally will look to follow in the footsteps of Rob Atkinson and Rob Dickie, now at Bristol City and QPR respectively. Has shown incredible promise on the ball this season.

“[Gavin] Whyte definitely has another year, although I believe [Ciaran] Brown might be out of contract?”, “Of course we'd all be a lot more comfortable if we'd signed more defenders, that's a given. But Brown is looking pretty good”, “Brown has been solid but not spectacular in his appearances so far.”

Currently on loan from Cardiff City, Brown has filled in at centre-back after the loss of Jordan Thorniley, who was recalled by Blackpool. Hasn’t had a sustained run of games as of yet for the U’s.

“No need to worry. Mousinho can fill in”, “You think John Mousinho could play 90 minutes?”, “I'd rather we signed a centre-back, I don't think my heart could take watching Mousinho play at the back.”

Senior option Mousinho filled in in defence due to an injury to Sam Long and is still able to command at the back at the age of 35. Will be interesting to see if he continues on Saturday.

Full-Back

“Do we apply the same logic to [Steve] Seddon then? Back him 100 per cent for the rest of the season and start again next season? Seddon has undoubtedly been culpable for some goals”, “I thought Seddon started well for us but seems to be completely lacking in confidence at the moment”, “I’m no fan of having a right-footed centre-back playing on the left of the two with Seddon being played as a wing-back, that’s asking for trouble in my opinion.”

Left-back Seddon has featured the most of any Oxford player this season with Robinson failing to secure a suitable back-up option for him in January. Can be found at left midfield and in a three-man defence.

player stats

“In the case of Seddon, I think he simply needs a rest. He’s played more matches than anyone else this season”, “People need to stop this ‘he’s a wingback’ argument trying to defend Seddon. He’s playing exactly the same position as he did earlier in the season, when his performances were noticeably far, far better than they have been recently”, “Firstly Seddon is a wing-back so he will have defensive short comings compared to a full-back.”

Played at left centre-back on Saturday against Shrewsbury Town with no senior defenders on the bench for Oxford to work with. He will likely feature on Saturday and will be battling Wes Burns down their left-hand side.

Centre-Back

“With [Elliott] Moore out for a while and Seddon out of form we look threadbare at the back”, “Moore is as good as Atkinson in my view. Better at defending”, “Moore and McNally are good but they are nowhere near Atkinson and Dickie, I think after another season McNally might get there but Moore won’t.”

Usually seen holding the fort each season when his partner moves on to the Championship, Moore has had a few different centre-back partners since his arrival from Leicester City in 2019.

player stats

“Moore or McNally would start in the Championship (see where their next moves are if we don't go up)”, “We’ll have to do it without Elliott Moore who will be out for three or four weeks with an ankle injury”, “I actually think that McNally and Moore are both very good and are commanding enough.”

Moore picked up an ankle injury at the beginning of March, so is unlikely to feature for Oxford on Saturday. Will be a big miss in the backline for their next few games.

Midfielders

“Both [Herbie] Kane and Brannagan are better going forwards than they are defensively”, “The two games, Ipswich away and Rotherham at home, both had Kane playing deepest in midfield. Both were against very good attacks and in both cases, we sat back more than normal and registered a clean sheet”, “Kane has been played there and gives us far more attacking threat and speeds up our attacks.”

player imageCameron Brannagan

On loan from Barnsley for the season, Kane has been imperious in front of the defence for Oxford, allowing players like Brannagan to roam forward and venture into the box. A player I’m sure Oxford fans will want to pick up permanently next season.

“We've got [James] Henry close to a return too, who will be valuable in covering the attacking positions as well as [Nathan] Holland”, “[Mark] Sykes needs to be offered a contract which means he signs. He is our most natural successor to James Henry, his versatility as well is a bonus”, “Henry has been injured and not fallen down the pecking order as far as I know.”

One of a number of Oxford attackers to have been dealing with injuries in the past few months, Henry has featured only once in the last 12 games due to a calf injury he suffered in January.

“I really like [Marcus] McGuane as well, I think the issue people have with players like that is a mistake is more noticeable and it might look like they make more”, “I find it so strange that decent players like [Brandon] Barker and McGuane who perform well (but not all the time, or every game, like almost any League One player) are so disliked and underrated by some fans”, “McGuane has replaced [Alex] Gorrin.”

Former England U19 international McGuane was on loan with Oxford last season from Nottingham Forest, before turning the move into a permanent switch this season. Has one goal and one assist from the midfield.

“I think [Alex] Gorrin would have played most of the away games and tough home games”, “I know that a few on here were suggesting that in Gorrin's absence we need another defensive midfield player”, “Amazing how well we have coped with injuries this year. Results mean I've almost forgotten how much we miss Gorrin.”

A player linked with Town back in 2019, Gorrin has been out with a serious knee injury since a week before the game between the two clubs at Portman Road in November. Out for the season.

“[Ryan] Williams is whimsical and of course made our second goal but he’s really too short to be a ‘good’ defender”, “Australia have a decent international side, but it's not so good that a Ryan Williams call-up is out of the question by any means”, “I personally think we've looked excellent with Sykes and Williams as wing-backs so I hope we stick with it.”

Another option to be added to the versatile section of the squad, Williams has played across countless positions in the Oxford team this season, with the most recent being at left wing-back.

“Thing is, if we go up we will have some money to spend and then might we aim a little higher than Gavin Whyte?”, “One consideration is that we probably won't have Gavin Whyte with us next season”, “Gavin Whyte is now a regular in the Northern Ireland squad, isn't he?”

Like Brown, Whyte is on loan from Cardiff City for the season. Started the Shrewsbury game up front with Matty Taylor and has 10 assists for the season. However, he only has one goal.

“I'm never upset to see [Nathan] Holland on the bench or come off it if we're chasing a game”, “I think Holland has been the victim of just how good some of our attackers have been this season which has meant getting a run in the side has been tougher and he's struggled for consistency”, “As a back-up winger option, Holland is decent. Not many clubs can boast the attacking options we have.”

The fourth and final loanee at Oxford this season is Holland, who is with the U’s from West Ham United for the season. Returned to the Kassam Stadium after a successful short-term spell in January of 2020. Has five goals and five assists during 2021/22.

Winger

“He's always been hard-working and skilful, but this year he has finally added some end product to his game”, “The back three generally played very well yesterday, the weaknesses were at wing-back, Sykes especially. He played like he was ill”, “Really would like to see Mark Sykes sign a new contract.”

Another player linked with Town in the summer, Sykes has stuck to the task with Oxford and has reaped the benefits of consistent game-time this season. Currently on eight goals for the season.

player stats

“The bloke is pure class and to think some people on here would of been pleased if we'd let him go to say Ipswich for £250,000”, “Holding on to the likes of Sykes and Cameron [Brannagan] in the January window was huge and the club was rightly applauded”, “I can see why Sykes and his agent might be willing to make a bet on themselves though, given the wages on offer.”

Another who can play across multiple positions and has been used as a right wing-back in the last few games with the change in formation.

Centre Midfielder

“In reality the only way that we will keep [Cameron] Brannagan will be if we are promoted”, “Am I being biased saying Brannagan and Kane are two of the best midfielders in League One?”, “Here's to you, Cameron Brannagan, Oxford loves you more than you will know.”

One of the most impressive midfielders in League One this season, Brannagan has found his goalscoring touch from the midfield under Karl Robinson having scored 13 times, five of them penalties, four in the 7-2 win at Gillingham in January.

player stats

“[Blackpool] recalled Thorniley because they needed him, we didn't sell them Brannagan because they didn't offer enough, as is their right”, “Let’s face it, if we lose Brannagan or Sykes in the summer there won’t be the meltdown there’d have been had they gone [in January]”, “That would be good news but if true then how on earth can Blackpool have got to an hour before the deadline before getting to seven figures for Brannagan?”

Usually found at the heart of the midfield, Brannagan has been a key reason for Oxford’s two pushes into the play-offs. Very comfortable on the ball.

Attack

“Looks like you cursed the poor fellow! [Marcus] Browne injury dreadful as well though”, “We've currently got Browne, [Billy] Bodin and Henry injured or on the way back, three players who would walk into pretty much any team in the league”, “Browne is more annoying as that can be levelled at the feet of Robinson. He didn't need to rush him back so quickly.”

Another player to return to the Kassam after two previous loan spells there, Browne joined the U’s permanently from Middlesbrough in January. However, his injury issues have caught up with him and will be unavailable for a few weeks.

player imageMatty Taylor

“So, Gavin Whyte alongside Matty Taylor with Billy Bodin behind if fit?”, “Whyte and Bodin are probably the first choice (once Bodin is fit and until Browne comes back), but McGuane, Holland and Henry are all decent options as well”, “With Sam Baldock signing and the improved form of Bodin, we now have options to switch players without switching formations.”

Another winger added to the squad this season, Bodin joined the U’s from Preston North End in the summer. Has had his injury issues, but could be fit to feature on Saturday against Town.

“Baldock and Browne are likely to miss all games bar a cameo appearance”, “Hopefully Baldock will make a full recovery and would be one of the first players we should contract past the summer (with Sykes!) who can play League One or hopefully Championship next year”, “Baldock will be a big miss. Since his introduction at Accrington, we have generally seen a real uptick in performance and his presence has been transformational for Taylor, who has flourished with two up front.”

After his short-term contract at Derby County expired in January, Baldock joined up with Oxford for the rest of the season. Scored four goals in seven games, but has picked up a knee injury that will keep him out of the game on Saturday and for the foreseeable future.

“[Sam] Winnall really does need to weigh-in more than he has done previously”, “Baldock’s minutes played stats for the last five years make for fairly grim reading. Winnall played more minutes than he did last season”, “Baldock being injured would be utterly dreadful news. Watching Winnall shows what we have been missing.”

Experienced striker Winnall joined Oxford last season and has one goal this year. Has had his injury issues with his contract running out at the end of the season.

Striker

“As long as [Matty] Taylor and our remaining defenders stay fit we have a good chance”, “So much pressure on Taylor to provide, but also to keep him match fit!”, “If this is true [about Baldock’s injury] it’s genuinely bad news for the club. We’ve carried many injuries to key players before but the developing partnership between him and Taylor is the kind that gets you promoted.”

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. Picked up 19 goals last season for the U’s.

player stats

“Matty Taylor has been brilliant overall this season, 17 league goals, but I wouldn’t say that he’s been ‘consistent’ as he’s been brilliant some games and terrible in others”, “Browne is good enough but Taylor has struggled in the Championship before”, “On the very day Joey Beauchamp passed, our very own Matty Taylor scores a carbon copy goal through the keeper’s legs.”

Currently the top goalscorer at the club with 21 goals to his name already and a potent finisher in front of goal, Taylor is the main reason for Oxford’s current push for another play-off place.

Oxford United Fans on ITFC

“We’d certainly need a few more in but I don’t think it would be an Ipswich-style revolution”, “Ipswich have Christian Walton, probably the best keeper in the league and their back-up is the lad who was League Two Goalkeeper of the Year last season for Salford”, “Just how many quality players do Ipswich still have if happy to sell Scott Fraser?”, “Go ask Ipswich fans on their forum how your suggested strategy is working out for them. Their squad cost more to assemble than most of the Championship.”

Last Time Out – Ipswich Town 0-0 Oxford United

“It was indeed an enthralling match and one of the most enjoyable away days I had in a while”, “As for the referee - I didn't think he was any worse than the others we see on a regular basis. I suppose the Ipswich fans thought he was too easily taken in by our players going down near the end. He certainly didn't get that much wrong decision-wise”, “The point in the game when Matty Taylor was lying on the ground and we didn’t kick the ball out, then when we lose the ball the ref stops the game. I just laughed out loud.”

“I’m very upset that Ipswich away wasn’t early or late in the season”, “Top result this. Just rewards for a lot of hard work in developing the team”, “With regard to the referee, he seemed to miss at least one penalty for us (having watched Quest). So, to a certain extent Ipswich got away with one there.”

Back in November, Town and Oxford played out a 0-0 draw at Portman Road, the first goalless game of the season for the Blues.

Websites

The comprehensive and extensive Yellows Forum is the main one for an Oxford United fan.


Photo: Matchday Images



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