At around half past five on Saturday evening, an Oxford United footballer was trending nationally on Twitter. Unfortunately, it wasn't for the right reasons. Michael Duberry's bizarre hat-trick (including two own goals) made him one of the most talked-about topics in the country and many of those comments were mocking. It's frustrating that Duberry's consistently excellent performances all season have gone unnoticed, but after one poor performance (in which he redeemed himself with a last minute equaliser, let's not forget) the national spotlight is suddenly thrust upon him. So in this article, I will attempt to defend the good name of our Michael Duberry, who is fast becoming a cult hero here at Oxford.
I have to admit that when it was announced that we were signing Duberry I had reservations. Somewhere in the back of my mind, the name conjured vague images of a clumsy, lumbering oaf. However, after his first exceptional 90 minutes in a yellow shirt, any doubts I may have had were banished. Duberry was rock-solid, assured and most importantly had such a calming influence on the rest of the team that what had been one of the least reliable backlines in the league last season was instantly transformed into a watertight defensive unit. His importance to us was demonstrated starkly in November by our collapse in form when he got injured.
One of Duberry's biggest assets – and one of the most beneficial to the team as a whole – is his ability to marshal the backline. Last season's defence was naïve and desperately lacking leadership and organisation, and Duberry has proven to be just the person to remedy that. If you watch Duberry during a match, he is constantly giving instructions to his defensive team-mates and organising from the back. His phenomenal positional awareness means that almost every aerial ball our defence has to face seems to land on his head. And the presence of Duberry, with his wealth of experience at the top level, can only be a positive thing for our younger players who will benefit from his example.
Another concern I had when Duberry was signed in the summer, with the horror of Rufus Brevett still haunting me, was that we were signing an old-timer based solely on his former achievements and reputation. With Wycombe fans gleefully warning us about how crap he was for them, my concerns were grave. I have, however, been stunned at 36-year-old Duberry's fitness levels. That he works incredibly hard to keep himself in shape is evident, but for a player of his somewhat advanced years to still be playing regular matches as a key player without needing to be rested or substituted is a real testament to Duberry's hard work and commitment. There was one instance against Crewe when he appeared to be beaten for pace and the attacker was advancing towards goal, only for the big man himself to show a remarkable burst of agility to catch him and make a perfectly timed challenge to clear the danger.
It must be something of a comedown for someone who has played in the Champions League, and who was facing regular matches against the Old Firm last season, to now find himself travelling to places like Morecambe and Accrington on a regular basis (I mean no disrespect to either of those clubs, seriously!). But Duberry is clearly still loving his football and his infectious enthusiasm is there for everyone to see. Such a presence can only have a positive effect on team morale and helps to create a winning mentality around the club.
The final point I'd like to highlight is the tremendous strength of character shown on Saturday. Even after scoring two own goals Duberry's head didn't drop and of course it was him that popped up in the box to net that late equaliser. So in response to the mocking headlines and comments directed at Duberry after Saturday's match, it seems only right that balance should be restored by acknowledging what a magnificent job he is doing here at Oxford.