Saturday, 26 January 2013

PREVIEW: Fleetwood Town Away (26/01/13)

After a week's break Oxford are back in action with another of those long trips up north we all love so much. Nevertheless, the last time we ventured into that grim wasteland known as 'the north' we came home with three points thanks to an impressive 2-1 win over League Cup giant-killers Bradford City – shockingly, the first time we've picked up three points north of Oxford all season.

Our opponents this weekend are Fleetwood Town, currently ninth (and two points ahead of us) in League Two during their debut season in the Football League. This will be the first time the two clubs have met, mainly due to the fact that for most of Fleetwood's brief history (this version of the club was only formed in 1997) they have plied their trade at step 5 of the non-league pyramid or below. That they have reached the Football League in remarkable fashion by winning five promotions during the last seven years would be a true football fairy tale – if not for the accusations of astounding levels of financial doping.

Regardless of how they reached this level or the money they are spending to maintain their upwards trajectory, Fleetwood are a serious force to contend with at this level and were immediately installed as one of the pre-season favourites for promotion. And they started well, finding themselves in the running for promotion in the early stages of the season, but a slight blip since then has seen them slip to ninth as well as giving the boot to manager Micky Mellon, who won two promotions in four years at the club. If anything, Fleetwood's slump in form has only been exacerbated by the managerial shake-up, with the club picking up just eight points from a possible 21 since Mellon's sacking and come into this match on the back of successive defeats to Northampton and Bristol Rovers.

They do, however, have the resources to inject some fresh impetus when things start to stagnate and they have been extremely active during the transfer window. The arrival of Paul McKenna on loan from Hull on Friday is their fifth signing of 2013 in a spending spree which has also seen them shell out a record fee (upwards of £200,000) for prolific Kidderminster Harriers striker Jamille Matt. Whether this means they will be fresh and raring to go, or unfamiliar and failing to 'gel', remains to be seen.

As for ourselves, we have plenty of reason to feel positive going into this match, with Deane Smalley and Adam Chapman both available for selection after their recent injuries. James Constable is, of course, still suspended for this match and the season-long absence of Ryan Clarke is a huge blow, but the incredibly experienced Wayne Brown should be up to the task of deputising for him.

Also This Weekend

The youth team resume their Youth Alliance campaign this weekend with a home game against Hereford United – their first league game since their 1-0 win over Swindon at the start of December. The young U's will be looking to recover from their disappointing FA Youth Cup defeat at Barnsley, and form is at least on their side – they have already beaten Hereford 3-1, 9-2 and 7-2 this season.

This weekend is a huge one for the ladies team and one which could well define the future of the club for years to come. They entertain second-placed Keynsham Town on Sunday and victory would extend their lead at the top of the table to seven points (Keynsham have two games in hand) and give them a stranglehold on top spot – vital in a league with just one promotion spot. And promotion this season could well be the decisive for the ladies' WSL 2014 application.

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