Oxford travel to Cheltenham on Tuesday on the back of three straight defeats after a poor display at Burton Albion. Previous defeats at York – although perhaps undeserved – and to Exeter – probably deserved depending on who you speak to – were followed up by a mauling in Staffordshire. Calvin Zola and Jacques Maghoma both scored twice as United failed to turn up at the Pirelli. It’s hard to write a lengthy report on a game that left the yellow and blue army feeling so deflated but one can attempt.
Zola and Maghoma had both scored fantastic goals to put the home side 2-0 up by half-time. Zola hit a stunning volley on the turn into Ryan Clarke’s top corner and Maghoma curled a beauty into the opposite corner to leave Burton deservedly in the lead at the interval. They were not the only chances the Brewers had seen in the first half. Damien McCrory had earlier hit the bar from 25 yards and a long bouncing ball from the Burton backline was eventually dealt with by Clarke after a moment’s rush of blood saw him have to flap the ball onto the bar. For Oxford, Michael Raynes headed a Chapman corner over the bar and Damian Batt had a long strike ruled out (rightly) after the referee had blown his whistle due to a head injury to Deane Smalley.
2-0 was a fair scoreline but that wasn’t the most worrying thing. The performance was flat from United, the passing game of recent weeks had been abandoned and a more direct style onto the head of Smalley and more bizarrely Alfie Potter adopted. A new shape at the back was also seen although I’m still not sure what the first-half formation was. Daniel Boateng was brought into the side in place of the ill Jake Forster-Caskey and seemed to be a third centre-back alongside Raynes and captain Jake Wright. Tony Capaldi and Damian Batt appeared to be wing backs but offered very little width.
Chris Wilder himself seemed to see his new tactical move had failed as Boateng was replaced at half time by Tom Craddock, JP Pittman also entered the action, in place of Sean Rigg as United adapted a 4-2-4 formation. For 20 minutes, it appeared that this switch in style might bring some rewards with Pittman testing Burton keeper Tomlinson and Craddock going close twice. This spell proved to be only temporary as Maghoma curled home a free-kick after Wright had upended Zola. And it was the former Crewe man who scored the game’s final goal. A cross from the left hand side found him unmarked around 8 yards out and he had time and space to pick his spot and dispatch a powerful shot past Clarke.
At 4-0, a few chants of 'Wilder Out' were heard on the away terrace, chants that could become much more regular if this poor run continues. 11 goals conceded in 3 games is worrying, but the team performances appear to be getting worse as time goes on. Players such as Batt and Simon Heslop are clearly suffering from a lack of confidence, although in the latter’s case perhaps just a case of not being a League Two footballer. The pressure is on Wilder and is only likely to increase if 3 points are not brought back on Tuesday night.