Oxford face their toughest test so far this weekend as they travel to unbeaten Burton Albion looking to maintain their own unbeaten record in a clash between second and third in the early League Two table. The Brewers have specialised in scoring late goals in recent weeks, narrowly beating struggling Accrington 1-0 last weekend thanks to a 98th-minute winner from Adam Reed and scoring twice in the final ten minutes to salvage a 2-2 draw against Bury the previous week. Hardly the most impressive of ways to stay unbeaten, but no doubt demonstrating an admirable stubbornness and knack of grinding out results, which is probably the most important quality in a promotion-chasing side at this level.
As for ourselves, we've not exactly been convincing in recent home draws against Wycombe and Rochdale, but have similarly avoided defeat in games where we have perhaps not impressed as we might have liked. Those matches, of course were both at home, where we have struggled for quite some time. On the road we've looked unstoppable, currently boasting a 100% record from our two games so far and scoring seven times in the process. Burton are currently unbeaten at the Pirelli Stadium so far this season, so one of those records has to end this weekend.
Unlike ourselves, Burton were in action during the week in the first round of the JPT, losing 1-0 away to Notts County. Manager Gary Rowett rested several key players for the trip to Meadow Lane, with the likes of Lee Bell, Rory Delap, Chris Hussey, Adam McGurk and Rene Howe all likely to return for this fixture.
Meanwhile, the news coming out of the Oxford camp ahead of this match is that Deane Smalley – who has missed the last two matches due to a hamstring – is fit for this game. Although of course they also said the same ahead of the last two games, so who knows! Andy Whing and Alfie Potter have also been ruled fit despite having their own fitness problems, but the real news is that Alfie has finally shaved his beard!
Many Oxford fans are still haunted by our last trip to Burton, a match I'm sure most of us would rather forget. On the miserable day almost exactly a year ago, we watched our side get destroyed by four goals to nil in the middle of a six-match losing streak. In fact we've never won a Football League game at the Pirelli, though in our Conference days we were unbeaten at Burton. A return to that sort of form this weekend, please.
Travelling supporters can play their own part in making sure that happens. After the success of 'Flag Day' against Wycombe a couple of weeks ago, the Yellow Army has designated this 'Flag Away Day'. Just like then, make sure you bring any flags, banners or scarves you have to match and bring as much colour to the away end as possible. Every little helps!
From the Vaults
Burton Albion v Oxford United, 17th April 2009
United arrived at table-topping Burton on a late play-off charge, while Burton needed just a point to secure promotion to the Football League for the first time in their history. Oxford, meanwhile, needed a win to keep the play-off dream alive...
Also This Weekend
Having received a bye in the first round of the JPT, our first tie of the competition is set to be announced this weekend. The draw is being made at 10:15am on Saturday morning live on Soccer AM and will see us pitted against one of the following: Crawley Town, Newport County, Swindon Town, Coventry City, Peterborough United, Southend United, Stevenage, Brentford, Plymouth Argyle, Dagenham & Redbridge, Wycombe Wanderers, Leyton Orient, MK Dons, Portsmouth, Bristol City.
The youth team take a break this weekend from their South West Combination campaign after their 2-1 defeat to Plymouth last weekend. They travel up to Birmingham for a friendly against Birmingham City FA on Sunday and the match is open to the public, should you find yourself up that way for some reason. Kick-off at Ray Hall Lane (B43 6JF) is at 1pm.
And if you can't make it to Burton, don't forget that Saturday is Non-League Day! Oxford City, still looking for their first win in the Conference North this season, host 14th-placed Colwyn Bay at Court Place Farm. Didcot Town, who picked up their first win of the season last weekend in the FA Cup against Wantage Town (something of a grudge match, as Didcot manager Andy Wallbridge was sacked by Wantage at the end of last season, despite finishing second in the league!), are at home to Yate Town in the Southern League Division One South and West. In the Hellenic League, both Abingdon sides are at home as Town host Ascot United (goals guaranteed!) and United welcome Bracknell Town. There are also home ties for local sides Thame United (an Oxfordshire derby v Carterton) and Kidlington (v Newbury Town) in the first qualifying round of the FA Vase.