Despite the pre-match assurances, we seem to have suffered a post-Swindon hangover this weekend against a strong Exeter team. Youcef El-Barhdadi was at the Kassam and wrote us this excellent match report.
Our first loss at home this season, and it’s come in rather comprehensive fashion. What can I really say about it? We were beaten by a team that, despite it still being only September, look real contenders to bounce straight back to League One. Exeter looked far closer to Barcelona than that circus up the road. And I’m not talking about St. Giles’.
I know it’s a horrible process, but let’s go through the goals and work out why we lost the game. The first goal was rifled in by Jamie Cureton from a good 20 yards. Jake Wright backed off and backed off allowing Cureton the time to line-up his shot. Wright could’ve closed the man down, but the excellent run from Liam Sercombe made it essentially a two-on-one giving Cureton the option to play the right back in. The run worked as a decoy (similar to Constable’s vs Bristol Rovers for the Potter goal). In my opinion, the blame for the goal has to go to Tony Capaldi. His poor positioning allowed the two-on-one to manifest itself and lead to the goal.
The second goal was never a corner. There is no questioning that. I, like many others, was convinced, despite my poor viewpoint in the East Stand, that it didn’t cross the byline and after seeing the footage on the Football League Show, it is clear the linesman made a mistake. Our defending from the corner was poor and we allowed Scott Bennett to glance in a pretty simple second. Perhaps Ryan Clarke could have done better, but with the power on the ball it would have taken a worldie to stop it.
The third goal was a testament to the diet of Cureton. I don’t think you could name me a faster 37-year-old footballer in the Football League. To be able to keep yourself in that kind of shape, especially after your gut begins to grow after you reach the big 30, is remarkable. A lovely nutmeg on Raynes and the whippersnapper was away for an experienced little dink over the onrushing Clarke. Exeter looked home and dry. The goal came about due to the high defensive line which was suicidal for a defence with Michael Raynes in it and Damian Batt was in the Exeter half so there was no cover.
We managed to get back into it after Batt was tripped in the penalty area. Forster-Caskey tucked away the penalty for 3-1 and eight minutes later JP Pittman managed to head the ball (he’s got some leap on him, by the way) against an Exeter defender for an own goal (despite it being accredited to Alfie). So 3-2 and we’re back in the game with a good 30 minutes left.
Then, on 67 minutes came the chance that could have potentially changed the match. Smalley has a free header from all of 6 yards. If it goes in, it’s 3-3 and we could go on to win the game. But he heads it over and four minutes after he missed the chance Exeter make it four. John O’Flynn with a calm finish from the right across Clarke into the bottom left-hand corner. Where was Capaldi for that goal? In the Exeter half. I’m sure you can see a slight trend with full-backs here.
Beano came on for Deano on 74′ and the number 9 received his marching orders six minutes later with two of the softest yellow cards I have ever seen. And they were only 1 minute and 5 seconds apart. The first was for, well, I’m not quite sure. And the second was for, well, I’m still not quite sure.
All three of their goals conceded from open play were because of full-backs being out of position. A startling trend. Understandable for the last two goals when we were chasing the game and pushed our full-backs forward leaving space to be exploited, but we conceded the first goal for two reasons. Firstly, Capaldi went AWOL allowing the Sercombe run to be so devastating. Secondly, no midfielder filled in the space left by Capaldi.
This highlights a real problem in Wilder’s 4-3-3 formation. If we are to play a 4-3-3 none of the front three will be tracking back, which means there is little cover for our full-backs. Now, Wilder seems to have told his full-backs to overlap, and while this can be a useful tactic (Damian Batt winning the penalty), it has its flaws. If you are to play those attacking full-backs, a midfielder must fill in at full-back when Batt/Capaldi are overlapping. Simon Heslop didn’t once attempt to fill in today. Is that because Wilder didn’t mention it or because he was lazy? That I cannot tell you. But what I can tell you is to be so tactically inept in a position such as centre midfield makes me question his future in an Oxford shirt.
When Wilder went 4-2-4, as he so often does when chasing a game, there was one less midfielder in our midfield meaning not only was there less creativity, but also less defensive cover. The 4-2-4 sounds far more dangerous than it really is. Like a barking dog with no teeth. When you play four strikers, it means you will play one of two ways. You will either try and play it through the middle of the park with two midfielders and potentially get swamped by their four midfielders, or you will lump it to one of our four strikers. The latter is the most likely option, but when played it means we bypass the creativity in midfield. Our strikers are relatively average in stature. We’ve got no Kevin Francis type player that will win everything in the air. So, the 4-2-4 is actually an awful tactic when chasing a game if your team happens to be Oxford United.
We’ve got to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves down for the next two games against Burton away and Cheltenham away. If we turn up as the same side that did against Bristol Rovers, Southend and Swindon, they look eminently winnable. Let’s not let this little blip ruin what was an excellent start. Come on you Yellows!
You can read this report in its original form here.