5 of the Best Oxford Comebacks

We take a look back at five of the most spectacular comebacks available on the internet.

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The Curse of the Kassam?

A pair of articles examining Oxford's poor home form and speculating on the reasons why. In the first we lay the blame on the counter-attacking system. In the second, we examine the role of the home fans.

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The Future's Bright

Oxford's under-18s outclass their Swindon counterparts, leaving your writer purring over their future prospects in the first team.

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The Importance of Width in League Two

Why Sean Rigg and Alfie Potter's form will be essential to our hopes of League Two promotion this season.

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We'll Win Nothing With Kids?

We look at whether the young development squad players are ready to step up to first team action.

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Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Gillingham 0-1 Oxford United: The Match in Tweets

Supporting this club can be ridiculous at times. After stuttering to a disappointing goalless draw at home to York with hopes of reaching the play-offs looking little more than a pipe dream, Oxford travelled to Gillingham with hopes of a result at rock bottom. Cue a remarkable performance away to the league leaders as United win at Priestfield for the first time in 30 years.

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In Support of Chris Wilder

It's not exactly been a vintage year for Chris Wilder, with promotion plans going drastically awry and the support of a large section of the Oxford United fanbase drifting away. Saturday's goalless draw at home to York was met with yet more calls for the manager's head and chants of 'Wilder out' after the game. But Wilder still has his supporters and Richard Hanna believes that he deserves our support.

So exactly what sort of a manager do we have on our hands? Is Chris Wilder the same as he was the day he walked in to the club as a relative unknown and quickly turned our fortunes around?

I believe he is all that and a whole lot more.

I use Twitter a lot and always try to be positive when tweeting about Oxford United. It’s a very instant format and it's easy to vent spleen when things are not going well. I don’t blame other fans for doing it and won’t make an apology for doing it myself sometimes.

The beauty of social media is that opinions and thoughts can be shared straight away and during live events it can really contribute to the event itself and for those involved. However the flip side I believe is that when things go bad the negative tweets start and texts to radio stations come in and it’s very easy to get that bandwagon rolling and others will quickly find themselves jumping on it. I have noticed that football phone-ins and Twitter is a lot more lively when Oxford lose than when Oxford win. I have decided that ‘no views is good views’. I always try to be positive however I have been accused of giving ‘blind support’ to our manager.

That led me to think about why I do actually give my support, blind or otherwise.

I wrote a piece back in May last year on a very similar subject and don’t want to repeat myself and so will concentrate on what Chris Wilder has achieved this season. It may look at best mediocre but if I could point out a few highlights maybe you will be able to be a bit more positive about the 12/13 season. Bearing in mind there is still 14 games to be played out.

Firstly, we won the opening three games of the season, a great start for Oxford United.

Before the season really got started we had beaten League One Bournemouth in League Cup setting up a tie versus Leeds United.

Chris Wilder has so far been nominated three times for Manager of the Month awards, he may not have been given award but to be considered by people in the games says a lot.

From the 20th November Chris Wilder’s team embarked on a ten-game run of unbeaten matches, scoring 19 goals and ensuring all Oxford fans could have an enjoyable Christmas period (gold dust to long-suffering fans).

Along with the two League Cup games we also enjoyed a run of four JPT games going out on penalties to Southend. But amongst those four games was a 1-0 win against Swindon Town; Chris Wilder has a 100% record when managing Oxford v Swindon. The fact that they were in a higher division this time just made it sweeter.

This season will also be remembered as the season we got to the third round of the FA Cup for the first time in ten seasons.

Chris Wilder has this season been able to give full debuts to Max Crocombe and Tyrone Marsh – something they will never forget and I am sure they will be forever grateful.

Talking about injuries and suspensions may seem like offering excuses for our dips in form but I do feel it’s worth just noting the key injuries (missed two or more games) to the squad that we have had: Clarke, Duberry, Davis, Whing, Leven, Craddock and Smalley. There's seven from memory, but look at the names and think about the types of players they are and the experience they have and contributions they make when fully fit. Leading scorer James Constable has been in and out of form this year, with two red cards (inexplicably v Wimbledon) and has missed seven games through that process.

Another big thing that Wilder has had to deal with as a man and as a man-manager was the passing of Mitchell Cole. I would have no idea what kind of an impact that would have on a group of young, fit footballers but if anyone heard Wilder's interview post-Accrington in the FA Cup they will know it had a profound effect on him as a person and I think he felt himself as a father figure to those footballers and he praised them and supported them as best he could. It should not go unnoticed that that sad passing occurred during our ten-game unbeaten run.

Rest In Peace Mitchell.

And although we have struggled in late January and February there are a couple of signs that we are beginning to rediscover some form with three games unbeaten; indeed our last ten league game form reads Won 4 Drawn 2 Lost 4 – it's as good as it is bad.

So there is a considered opinion as to why I offer my whole support to Chris Wilder, I don’t think this season has been all doom and gloom I don’t think Chris Wilder is destroying this club, I don’t think he is clueless or devoid of ideas and until that changes I will continue to support him.

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Tuesday, 26 February 2013

PREVIEW: Gillingham Away (26/02/13)

A trip to spend a freezing cold Tuesday evening in February sat in Gillingham's 'temporary' open-air away stand would be a depressing enough prospect. But couple that with the fact that we will almost certainly lose – possibly heavily – and it soon becomes clear that only the most loyal/mental of Oxford fans will be making this trip.

Our season is now well and truly over as far as competing for promotion is concerned, with nine points to make up in the remaining 13 games on no evidence of any imminent turnaround in the club's form following a dreary goalless draw with a hopelessly out-of-form York. Gillingham, on the other hand, have gone from strength to strength over the course of the campaign and currently sit top of the pile, two points clear of the similarly impressive Port Vale. If there is any hope at all for United, it is that Gillingham's home form is not spectacular – they've lost five of their 17 home games so far and only taken maximum points from nine of those. It's only a small crumb of comfort, but with Oxford winning four of our last six matches on the road it's enough to ignite just a small spark of hope.

There will be further reason for optimism for United as Gillingham will be without Cody McDonald after he was recalled by Coventry City, days after he netted their winner against Chesterfield. The bad news is that he could be replaced by Gills' top-scorer Danny Kedwell as he returns from a hamstring injury. As for us, there seems to be no further injury news to report (this must be the longest we've gone without an injury setback all season!) but we still await the return of Michael Duberry after he recovered from his injury – though he may struggle to oust the partnership of Wright and Raynes after two consecutive clean sheets. Lewis Montrose is unable to play against his parent club, so Wilder will be forced to make a change in midfield.

Our record against the Gills is one of the poorest imaginable, with no wins since 1986 – ten matches. In the five meetings between the two sides since we regained our place in the Football League, we shared just two goals – both of those going Gillingham's way. In fact, you have to go back more than a decade to find the last time we scored against Gillingham, when Mark Wright oversaw a 2-1 defeat. The last time the two sides faced each other was back in October, as we held the leaders to a 0-0 draw. A similar result this time would be considered a huge success.

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Sunday, 24 February 2013

MATCH REPORT: Oxford United 2-1 Newcastle United

Oxford's FA Women's Cup dream continued today in incredible fashion as the ladies dumped Women's Premier League side Newcastle out of the cup in their first ever fourth round tie at the Kassam, in front of a crowd of more than 700. After knocking out Charlton Athletic away from home in the previous round they proved that it was no fluke with a deserved victory over higher league opposition yet again.

The yellows, who were clearly up for the occasion, dominated the opening exchanges and took an early lead when Natasha Caswell's inch-perfect through ball found Katie Stanley who coolly knocked the ball over the advancing goalkeeper. And they doubled it soon after when Caswell struck a speculative shot from the edge of the area which squirmed under Newcastle goalkeeper Laura Wareham.

It was a powerful start from Oxford who blitzed the opposition during the opening 25 minutes, with the ball rarely leaving the Newcastle half. The lightning-quick Isi Meade excelled in her wing-back position, causing her opposite number no end of trouble (she reminded me of a left-sided Damian Batt), and Tash Caswell was pulling the strings in the middle of the park with a number of probing balls for the Oxford strikers to chase.

Newcastle did come into the game slightly midway through the half and there was a hearts-in-mouths moment when a corner caused chaos in the Oxford box with the ball bouncing off the inside of the post before being cleared in the ensuing goalmouth scramble.

But Oxford again reasserted their grip on the game as top-scorer Lauren Allison caused problems for the Newcastle defence and the side poured forward looking for a third. That goal unfortunately never came but the ladies left the field to a standing ovation after a first half in which they had thoroughly outplayed their higher league opposition. Most impressively, they proved that neat passing football can be played on the bog at the Kassam Stadium.

Newcastle, as might be expected, came back into the match in the second half. They pulled a goal back early on when Oxford failed to deal with a free kick into the box and Jess Havelock was on hand to tap in from the rebound. This is usually the part where the plucky underdog crumbles under the pressure as the higher league side begin to pile on the pressure but Oxford maintained their composure admirably and continued to play their game, marshalled by the impressive captain Sahara Osborne-Ricketts.

There were still a few nervous moments to come and Newcastle certainly saw more of the ball than they had in the first 45, but the better chances again fell the way of the hosts. Another superb through ball from Caswell set Allison free but she somehow managed to scoop the ball over the bar when one-on-one with the keeper.

Oxford hit the bar twice and Caswell went close numerous times in the closing stages, which would have added extra gloss to the result and arguably would have better reflected the balance of play. Although it felt as though the match was dragging on forever it rarely felt as if United's lead was in any real danger and they saw the game out comfortably, sparking wild celebrations on the pitch.

The result means that Oxford – the lowest-ranked side in the competition by quite a stretch – are among the final 16, with the chance to play a professional Women's Super League side in the fifth round. The draw is made at one o'clock on Monday afternoon.

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MATCH REPORT: Oxford United 0-0 York City

The game started, 90 minutes passed, the game ended.

It would be easy to leave a match report at that about the game against York City but one must try to make something from it.

York arrived at the Kassam having not won in their previous eight games whilst United were looking to follow up a win at Plymouth last time out. York manager Gary Mills had picked an attacking side on paper with forward players Jason Walker, Matty Blair, Alex Rodman and Ashley Chambers all lining up. But it soon  became clear that York would be happy to sit in for a point and it would be down to Oxford to try and break them down. It proved a very difficult task with the first effort on target not coming until the 20 minute mark - Damian Batt firing straight at Michael Ingham in the York goal. Moments later the Minstermen's keeper was stretched to keep a powerful shot from Josh Parker out but these were the only moments of the half for the home side.

York actually forced the best chance of the half and the entire game. Lanre Oyebanjo found room on the right hand side and his superb cross was met by Blair - who somehow managed to head tamely straight at Luke McCormick from around six yards out with the goal gaping.

Both sides' defences were eliminating any threat from the  strikeforce they faced, and this was typified as Chambers hit a speculative 30 yard shot that dipped just over bar.

Ingham was controlling his area well and coming for most corners and crosses that United did manage to get in. A midair collision with Michael Raynes threatened to overheat an otherwise dull game, but the aggression never got any further than finger pointing which summed up the entire afternoon.

Deane Smalley and Alfie Potter were introduced by Chris Wilder in an attempt to give York something different to think about but the away side stayed solid to earn themselves another point on their quest to distance the gap between the relegation zone and themselves. Oxford were poor, too many players looked like they were going through the motions in acceptance that they won't be at the club next season. Damian Batt and Jake Wright were the highlights of an otherwise static and poor performance.

The U's travel to leaders Gillingham on Tuesday night in the first of three games against sides currently riding high in League Two. On today's performance, they're in for a very difficult game.

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Friday, 22 February 2013

PREVIEW: York City Home (23/02/13)

Oxford return to the ploughed field that is Kassam Stadium looking for their first win on their own mud since New Year's Day. That was also the last time that opponents York City won a match, so one of those runs has to come to an end – unless it's a draw of course.

This of course is the first time York have come to the Kassam since the Conference days and they appeared to have settled in nicely to life back in the Football League, hovering comfortably in mid-table for most of the season. But with the turn of the year came a suicidal loss of form, with the Minstermen taking just seven points from a possible 27 in 2013. They come into this match looking for their first win eight matches after a disappointing home defeat against Barnet that has set alarm bells ringing in North Yorkshire and put manager Gary Mills under pressure.

He looks set to make several changes to his side ahead of their trip to the Kassam, in contrast to Chris Wilder, who will be looking forward to having the rare opportunity to field a settled side. Jame Constable and Tom Craddock must surely start up front after impressing at Plymouth but there could be changes in midfield as Andy Whing regains match sharpness. The biggest news on the injury front is, of course, the return to fitness of Michael Duberry after missing the last three weeks with a hamstring injury. He will be available for selection but it's unlikely that he will be thrown straight back into action from the start, so expect to see him on the bench. Alfie Potter and Tony Capaldi will also return after illness ruled them out last weekend.

Also worth mention is that tomorrow is Military Day at OUFC. Those in the armed forces who come in uniform get free entry as well as discounts for their family. There will be a flight simulator outside the ground, the Abingdon Military Wives Choir will sing before the game and the British Legion will form the guard of honour. Good stuff.

Oxford fans of course will have plenty of happy memories involving York City, after Wembley 2010. But it wasn't such a happy occasion the last time the two sides met, when York inflicted our first league defeat of the season on a disastrous afternoon for the U's. We'll be hoping for revenge this time around.

Further reading: The depressingly familiar debate of the moment at York City.

From the Vaults

Oxford United v York City, 8th August 2009

The last time York came to the Kassam Stadium was on the opening day of the 2009-10 season. Hopes were high after Chris Wilder's summer rebuilding job and a large crowd turned out expecting to see Oxford get off to a good start. What they saw instead was a disjointed performance and York deservedly led as the final whistle approached. Cue a crazy last few minutes as United's topsy-turvy season kicked off in style...

You can find this and many other old Oxford matches in our Video Vault.

Also This Weekend

The A420 derby comes to Oxford once again at youth level this weekend, as our all-conquering youth team welcome that scummy lot from Swindon to Roman Way. The young U's have already beaten Swindon twice this season – both away from home – 1-0 in the league back in December and 4-1 in a League Cup match.

On Monday evening the U17 apprentice side go to Havant & Waterlooville in the Conference Youth Alliance looking to build on their 3-0 win over Dover last week.

And it's a huge weekend for the ladies team, who play their first ever match at the Kassam Stadium in their first ever FA Cup fourth-round tie against Newcastle United. The match kicks off at 13:00 on Sunday with adult tickets at £5. The ladies reserves are also in action on Sunday and it's a big weekend for them too, as they play what could be a title decider against Reading Ladies. The two sides are level on points at the top of the table, but Reading have a game in hand so a win for our girls this weekend is essential if they are to keep their place at the top of the league.

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Thursday, 21 February 2013

Something to be Proud Of

There's no doubting that this season has been a depressing one for Oxford fans. The club has stuttered through the season and we're now a full ten points off the play-offs with just 14 games remaining, our promotion hopes looking distinctly forlorn. Long, spirit-crushing winless runs, controversial signings and a ridiculous list of injuries have characterised the season and against this backdrop large numbers of supporters have begun to stay away as the good-feeling and momentum of just a couple of years ago begins to look increasingly like another false dawn.

But it's not all doom and gloom. Though this season can be considered a disaster in terms of the first team and financially, the club has made huge strides forward in other areas. Unfortunately these are the areas that we fans rarely get more than a glimpse of. And while it can be difficult to find anything positive to say while we're watching our side get effortlessly picked apart by Fleetwood bloody Town in front of barely 5,000 fans, I think it's important that we do take a moment to praise the achievements of the club in other areas and to restore some of our pride in Oxford United.

Because although the first team's disappointing efforts have drawn comparisons with the side that was relegated from the Football League in 2006, and although some of the doom-mongers will tell anyone and everyone that that's the direction we are heading, the club is actually in a vastly different situation now. Back in 2006 Firoz Kassam's systematic dismantling of everything that made the club a real football club – a community asset – was reaching its inevitable conclusion. The youth system which had produced some excellent local products in the 90s and early 00s lay in ruins, decimated by chronic neglect and underfunding. The club's community activities had shrunk to nothing and its reputation in the local area was at rock bottom.

When WPL took over the club they had essentially inherited a ruin of a football club – one which was staring non-league oblivion in the face. It wasn't just the first team that was in poor shape, the whole club had been reduced to barely a shadow of its former self. The easy option – and the one which the club initially seemed to be taking in the first season in the Conference – was to pump money into the first team and attempt to win immediate promotion. But that would only have been papering over the cracks, because all the damage that had been done elsewhere would remain unfixed. Instead the last five or six years have been a rebuilding job at all levels, a slow and steady process which is now at last beginning to bear some fruit.

For the first time in years we've seen some products of the youth team come through and impress, with Tyrone Marsh and Max Crocombe both looking promising in recent glimpses. Sure, we've had players like Aaron Woodley and Alex Fisher in recent years, but neither looked as promising as these two and neither really delivered in the end. But Marsh has already looked a real prospect, scoring his first goal for the club in the JPT against Southend, as well as impressing at Conference South level while on loan at Staines Town. He put in a man-of-the-match performance and then scored the winner in his debut against Bath City and has continued to feature prominently there. A bit of regular competitive football can only help his development. Crocombe has also found himself thrown into first team action this season due to the injury to Ryan Clarke and has acquitted himself very well there. Ian Lenagan even said at the fans forum that Crocombe might have been our number one choice for the rest of the season, if not for the fact that he is due to fly to Fiji in March with the New Zealand under-20 squad.

He's not the only product of Oxford's youth system getting international recognition. Youth teamer Marvin Ekpiteta has been called up to represent Nigeria at under-20 level as well. And another two of Oxford's girls Academy players, Laura Nichol and Ella Franklin-Fraiture, have also been rewarded with an international call-up. They have just spent the last few days at an England under-17 training camp at St George's Park – part of the preparations for under-17s European competition – and both featured in a 1-0 win for England against Wales.

All of this is a good example of the huge amount of work that has gone into bringing our youth system up to scratch in the last few years and bodes well for the future. The youth team have had a remarkable season, currently sitting top of their league after winning an incredible 13 consecutive competitive matches between September and December, as well as reaching the third round of the FA Youth Cup.

The continuing success of the ladies team is another example of the strides the club has been making away from the first team. They feature in the fourth round of the Women's FA Cup for the first time this weekend, as they play at the Kassam Stadium for the first time ever when Newcastle United come to town. They are top of their league this season, after getting promoted in style just last season, and have ambitious plans for the future. This is a side which didn't even exist just a few years ago, and the progress they have made has been little short of remarkable.

And, to cap it all, the club's community activity has earned it recognition from the Football League, with a nomination for Family Club of the Year and an Unsung Hero award for Community Officer Peter Rhoades-Brown. The Youth & Community Sports Trust has become a lot more visible in the past year as well, hosting a range of fundraising events, such as the recent Oxford United on Ice event to the upcoming Charity Breakfast.

What this shows is that there has been a considerable effort to build this club from the ground up, not just to create a first team. So things haven't exactly gone to plan for our League Two promotion hopes, but that's no reason to simply give up on the club altogether. We have a lot to be proud of and it's time we showed our pride.

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Sunday, 17 February 2013

Plymouth Argyle 0-1 Oxford United: The Match in Tweets

Oxford finally ended their nightmare run of five winless matches after snatching a 1-0 victory away at struggling Plymouth Argyle. 311 yellows made their way down to Devon to see the run come to an end and witness James Constable overtaking Peter Foley and John Aldridge to become the club's third all-time top-scorer. At last something to feel cheerful about...

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