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, 31 July 2013

League Two Preview 2013-14

With the new season fast approaching most of the transfer business throughout the Football League should now be done and dusted. We all have a good idea of the comings and goings in the Oxford United squad but how do we fare when it comes to the other clubs in the league? If you are anything like me you will have seen the odd piece of transfer news but don't really know what has gone on during the summer at the other clubs in our division (old and new).

At a glance, there are two teams whose transfer activity really stands out - for very different reasons! Plymouth have brought in eleven new players, while Hartlepool have added just one. This in itself sends out a message to each of the other League Two clubs. Plymouth are obviously looking to make a serious push for promotion and reclaim their place in the third tier of English football at the third time of asking. Hartlepool, on the other hand, are either very content with the squad they already have or are financially in a tight situation. In contrast to their one signing they have let eight players go from last season either via the transfer market or due to contracts not being renewed. This leaves them needing to sign seven players just to make up the shortfall from last season's relegated League One squad. Of course, in the end it makes no difference how many players you do or don't sign, if the results don't come on the pitch during that 90 minutes it's going to be very long and and stressful season!

Out of all the signings that have been made by all the clubs there are a few that stand out as those marquee signings and a couple that will have that 'one to watch' tag attached to them.

Rory Delap
Ex-Republic Of Ireland international Delap has joined Burton on a one-year deal from Stoke after being released. He is predominantly a midfield player but can also ply his trade in defence and is famous for his long throws, having been touted to represent Ireland at the Olympics after these throw-ins were noticed during Stoke's promotion winning season. He is known for his fitness and work-rate during games and is sure to be one of those calming influences in the centre of the park. Able to break up play and and hold the ball up well he will be a valuable asset to Burton, who just failed to make the promotion grade last season.

Gary Deegan
Gary Deegan has enjoyed football at clubs such as Bohemians, Coventry and Hibernian. He is another midfield player with real quality who was a fans' favourite at Hibs. He joins Northampton Town on a one year deal after a successful trial period and will be looking to help the Cobblers recreate the successful season they had last time around after narrowly missing out on promotion to League One in the play-off final.

Richard Cresswell
Cresswell is another one of the old and bold in the league this season. He was pivotal in helping York avoid relegation towards the back end of last season, scoring twice in five appearances. A forward having played a lot of his career at Premier League and Championship teams such as Leicester, Preston, Leeds and most noticeably Stoke with Delap he will add a wealth of experience to a York side who struggled last season.

Sander Puri (One to watch)
25-year-old Sander is a relative unknown in the world of English football having played the majority of his football abroad  so far. The Estonian international who has 52 senior caps to his name started his professional career at the age of 19 at one of Estonia's biggest clubs, FC Levadia Tallinn. He was close to signing with German Bundesliga team Borussia Dortmund twice in 2008 and Scottish Premier League club Celtic in 2009. The winger subsequently went on to sign for fellow SPL club St. Mirren in March 2013 until the end of the season before signing for York City on a two year contract in June.

Predicting the outcome of the season is always a tricky one to call, but I think the likes of Northampton, Burton, and Cheltenham know what it takes to reach that play off position and with them all strengthening their squads it would surprise me if they didn't have a good season again. From the four teams that have come down from League One I'm expecting Portsmouth to have a half-decent season (as much as it pains me to say it!). I also think Scunthorpe were unlucky not to avoid the drop last year and with them adding nine new faces to the squad they already have they will have a good season.

As we all know though our league is a tough one. The teams that have came down shouldn't think they will go straight back up and that they will 'walk' the league. The two newcomers from the Conference will have a difficult time cementing the place they have earned. Newport have added some familiar faces with Football League knowledge to their team sheet and Mansfield have been there and done it and know exactly what is required by a Football League team. Both will work hard I'm sure, but sometimes it takes more than blood, sweat and tears, sometimes you need a little bit of good old lady luck!

For those interested you can find all the coming and goings within the league here. It's fairly comprehensive but it doesn't take into account youngsters who have turned pro - they will ultimately add something to the team if played.

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Monday, 29 July 2013

Twin Goals for Oxford this Season

“Failure to win promotion this season will be a disaster.”

We've all heard that phrase, or some form of equivalent, before. Inevitably it gets an airing at some stage every season and yet, after several seasons of failing to win promotion the club is still standing and, most importantly, still able to raise a competitive side in League Two. But by forcing ourselves to believe that every season is a potentially pivotal one in the history of the club are we piling unnecessary pressure on ourselves? It seems this kind of attitude remains something of a hangover from the Conference days, when the future of the club really was at stake - but is it any more? If the club remains at this level for too long with little sign of being promoted then, yes, its potential to grow will be stunted, but this is a gradual process over a number of years, not dependent on the result of one season.

Which is all a rather roundabout way of saying that the season ahead is important (as they all are) but not necessarily a pivotal one as far as the club's future is concerned. Promotion is again expected, and rightly so, but if we fail to achieve it the club will still be here next year. However, for one person in particular this season really is pivotal. If it turns out to be similar to the last one it seems difficult to believe that Chris Wilder will still be in the hotseat and preparing for another shot at promotion in 2014-15.

For a large section of the Oxford support, patience with Wilder dried up at some point during the last campaign. It was indeed a dreary, morale-sapping season with very few highlights and it's unsurprising that some of the supporters got a little tetchy. This summer's transfer dealings have certainly restored the faith among quite a few of those fans, but make no mistake that patience is most definitely not a virtue the United 'faithful' possess in droves at the moment and a poor start to the season could result in the atmosphere around the ground becoming poisonous very early into the season. The 'Wilder out campaign' has been noticeably quiet during the summer months, but it won't take much for those rumblings to stir once again. Fortunately, Ian Lenagan seems like a steady type and unless the club is in danger of relegation it seems likely that he will allow Wilder to see the season out no matter how loud the protests.

But there can certainly be no mistaking Wilder's intentions this year. He doesn't simply want to cling to his job for another year and see the season out; he knows that this season really is pivotal for his career and has gone about assembling a side that he believes will be lifting the League Two trophy at the end of the season. For all the noises last year about challenging for promotion, I suspect he knew very early on that it wouldn't happen and that for many of those players (most of whom had been signed on two-year deals the previous summer) it was simply a case of seeing out the remainder of their contract. That's given Wilder plenty of time to think about how he's going to build his side and to correct some of the problems that have dogged recent cohorts.

Gone are the injury-prone stars who missed much of last season. Gone are the mercurial wing-backs and forward three of previous Wilder sides. Gone is the 4-3-3 formation which often looked nice, but failed to deliver in the hustle and bustle of League Two. The buzzword for this year's vintage is 'robust'; unlike in previous years, this time we've made it a priority that new signings are physically capable of surviving the campaign, with a more stringent medical weeding out those potential recruits who would be likely to spend more time on the treatment table than the pitch.

Wilder has also built this side to fit into the more standard 4-4-2 formation favoured during the latter half of last season. Some might think that an unimaginative system but it proved last season to be more effective and with Wilder experimenting with 4-3-3/4-5-1 at times during pre-season as well, the side should hopefully be more tactically flexible this season than in previous years. With Alfie Potter and Sean Rigg on the wings (with Callum O'Dowda another realistic option if he continues his good form) the name of the game this season is getting the ball into the channels and then into the mixer for Kitson, Smalley, Beano et al to finish.

The side is packed with quality at either end of the pitch, with the marquee signings of Dave Kitson and Johnny Mullins meaning that we undoubtedly have among the most impressive defensive and attacking units in the league. Question marks remain, however, over our midfield and players like Asa Hall, Danny Rose and Jonathan Meades all have a point to prove this season for a variety of reasons. Should they fail to step up, we could be left with the same problems we've faced in recent seasons. You can have the best attackers in the world, but if they get no service we will again struggle to score goals. Likewise, even the most solid of back fours will leak goals if it's not protected adequately.

One other stated change in approach is the decision to recruit promising young hopefuls who have been discarded by other clubs' academies to fill out the development squad. With Josh Shama (Reading), Kenzer Lee (West Ham) and Matt Bevans (Watford) joining the recent youth team graduates – and with Josh Ruffels (Coventry) and Ryan Williams (Fulham) also looking likely to sign – the makeup of the squad this season is markedly different to what we're used to seeing. The majority of the budget is concentrated on a relatively small pool of first team players, with a large group of young and inexperienced players ready to step up and provide cover if needed.

This should reduce the need for so many loanees this term, which should avoid the problem of having to repeatedly stretch the budget to pay for them, but the result is that it is imperative that we don't suffer a similar injury crisis to recent seasons. The 5-1 demolition job at Oxford City demonstrated that, no matter how talented this crop of youngsters may be, we can't afford to carry more than one or two of them at a time in senior football.

That result may have set a few alarm bells ringing, but actually shouldn't have been such a surprise when viewed sensibly. City are a highly disciplined side with a good number of experienced former pros in their ranks and look strong this year (they destroyed Didcot Town the weekend before we played them and held a strong Wycombe side to a draw just days after). For many of these young players, this was the first time they had really played together in a proper match and they were to a certain extent thrown in at the deep end.

We should gain a better understanding as the season draws on which of those players will be able to step up to League Two, but there are some positive signs already that some could become future stars. Of course the priority for these players this season is progression, not a starring role. The real responsibility for the first team falls squarely on the shoulders of Messrs Kitson, Mullins et al, but that should distract from the fact that there is definitely a dual aim this season; immediate promotion for the first team, while producing the next generation of Oxford players with the new development squad. Not an easy balancing act to get right, but at this stage, with the season stretched ahead of us, the signs are good that we just might achieve both of those aims.

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Sunday, 28 July 2013

Oxford United 1-0 Coventry City

Oxford ended their pre-season campaign on a positive note with a 1-0 win at the Kassam Stadium over League One Coventry City. Though the match was very much a friendly in nature, lacking the intensity of the real thing, it's always good to start the season with the winning habit and they're certainly going to need a running start with a sold-out trip to Portsmouth awaiting next weekend.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Oxford City 5-1 Oxford United: Story of the Match

Some of our younger players were taught a sharp lesson against local neighbours Oxford City, finding themselves on the end of a 5-1 drubbing from the Conference North side. It may only be a pre-season friendly, but it was nonetheless disconcerting to see our defence pulled apart so effortlessly by part-time players. Nonetheless, we've trawled through Twitter to bring you this report – if you can stomach it!

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Monday, 22 July 2013

The United v City View

In big footballing cities like Manchester and Liverpool, young supporters quickly learn to pick a side among the febrile atmosphere of local rivalry. This sees the city carved in half along club allegiances and the eternal tussle for supremacy being renewed with each passing generation.

The situation has always been rather different in Oxford. With a considerably smaller population of supporters, the area is able to sustain just one reasonably-sized club and fans gravitate towards the city’s senior side, with little competition for supporters or league honours to fan the flames of rivalry with Oxfordshire’s other clubs.

Prior to World War Two that ‘senior club’ was undoubtedly Oxford City and local football fans flocked to the White House Ground in their thousands to watch City in Isthmian League action. All of this changed when United adopted professionalism in 1949 and joined the Southern League, with crowds migrating from the White House to the Manor Ground due to the appeal of professional football.

Any ill-feeling caused by the reversal in fortunes of the city’s clubs, however, failed to be converted into a footballing rivalry due to the fact that the sides rarely met in competitive matches. The exception to this came in an FA Cup first round tie in 1951, which pitted the two Oxford clubs against each other for the first time in the Cup. United's position as Oxford’s foremost club was confirmed with a 3-0 victory at the Manor Ground in front of more than 8,000.

United, since then, have become clearly established as Oxford’s Football League team, with many supporters looking to non-league City almost as a little brother to United. In more recent years the two sides have met almost annually for pre-season friendlies, and City marked the opening of their Court Place Farm ground in 1993 with a friendly against their local neighbours. Meetings between the two sides have mostly been good-natured affairs, but tempers flared after a horror challenge from City defender Andy Baird on United’s talismanic striker James Constable in 2009.

On the whole, however, relations between the two Oxford clubs remain friendly, with former United stars often pitching up at City later in their careers. Former U’s favourites Steve Basham, Jamie Cook and Chris Wilmott have all been influential figures for City in recent seasons and can expect a warm reception from both sets of fans when the two sides meet on Tuesday.

But with United and City now separated by just two levels in the football pyramid and recent senior personnel changes at City suggesting a greater ambition to go further still, we could soon see a time when matches between the city’s two sides are more than just friendlies.

This article first appeared in Issue 2 of Off the Ball magazine, which can be downloaded for FREE here.

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Saturday, 20 July 2013

Oxford United 1-1 Birmingham City: Story of the Match

United came away from their first home friendly with a creditable 1-1 draw against Championship side Birmingham City.

Here's our report, the first of a new format for TBFUTH, building on our well received 'Match in Tweets' series from last season. Any feedback would be much appreciated (you can Tweet us or leave a comment at the bottom of this page) on the change. Would you like to see this format for every match, or should we stick with normal match reports whenever possible? You decide!

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Wednesday, 17 July 2013

In Profile: Summer Signings

It's the first of our home pre-season friendlies on Saturday, with Championship side Birmingham City the visitors for what, for many supporters, will be the first chance to see our summer recruits in action. As is now customary at this time of year, we've been trawling the internet looking for information about the new players to present you with these brief profiles of our six new players (not including youngsters Josh Shama, Kenzer Lee and Matt Bevans, who will join the development squad this season). Enjoy!

Picture by Jon Whiles Photography
Jonathan Meades
21-year-old Meades came through the youth system at Cardiff while Neal Ardley was head of the Academy there. At the tender age of 18 he was sent on loan for the summer to Norwegian side Moss FK (bizarrely getting sent off and winning the man of the match award in his first game), and though it was one which ultimately ended in relegation from the top flight it proved a good grounding for Meades and provided him with an early experience of competitive first-team football.

Big things were expected from Meades, but his early career was plagued by injury and he eventually departed Cardiff in 2012 without making a first-team appearance. He joined League One Bournemouth after a trial there in the summer, but missed the Cherries' visit to the Kassam in the League Cup as his transfer hadn't yet been ratified by the Football League. However, Meades was unfortunate to be joining Bournemouth at a time when the club was undergoing something of a transition and the return of Eddie Howe to the Dean Court hotseat just a couple of months into the season probably didn't help Meades' cause.

Meades was sent out on loan to struggling AFC Wimbledon in November and soon impressed at Kingsmeadow as he rejoined his old mentor Neal Ardley. He soon established himself as a starter at the Dons, seeing his loan extended to the end of the season as a vital player in Wimbledon's (ultimately successful) relegation battle. Ardley wanted to keep him at Wimbledon on a permanent basis, but Meades instead opted to join Oxford, featuring in recent friendlies against Ardley and Alloa.

David Hunt
Picture by Jon Whiles Photography

Hunt began his career at Crystal Palace but soon moved on to League Two Leyton Orient in 2003. In 2005, he traded London for Northampton, winning promotion from League Two in 2006 with the Cobblers. Hunt helped Northampton to a respectable 9th-place finish in their debut League One season but in 2007 he was on the move again, this time to Shrewsbury Town after rejecting a contract extension at Northampton.

However, his time at the Shrews was an unhappy one, as his year and a half there was blighted by injuries which limited him to just 22 starts. He signed for Brentford in January 2009, helping Andy Scott's team to the league title at the end of the season. He was an ever-present in the Brentford side as he helped the Bees consolidate their position in their debut League One season with a 9th-placed finish.

Hunt joined Crawley Town on loan in January 2011, with the club on their way to the Conference title. He joined Crawley permanently that summer and would go on to play a big part in their second successive promotion – this time from League Two. However, despite being a key member in two promotions for the Red Devils, Hunt found himself second choice for much of last season and so opted for a move to Oxford at the end of the season. He wrote on his blog of his decision to join Oxford:
A few options popped up although none of them interested me enough make me want to leave. That was until Chris Wilder and Oxford United came knocking. I've always thought of Oxford as a big club and one that I believe should be much higher in the tiers of football. I've played with many ex United players such as Lee Steele, Andy Scott, Jamie Cook and the legend Dannie Bulman who all have spoken highly of the club. Bullwink had always let me know how good it was and what they are trying to achieve, this all made me fascinated.
Picture by Jon Whiles Photography

Danny Rose
Danny Rose should be a familiar face to most Oxford fans, following his spell at the club in 2007 and 2008. Rose came through the youth system at Manchester United and had been captain of their reserve team before Jim Smith brought him to Oxford on loan in January 2007. He made 22 appearances in the second half of the 2006-07 season and signed permanently that summer despite interest from clubs in League One and the Championship.

Unfortunately the 2007-08 season wasn't a success for him or the club and he moved on at the end of the season, joining Conference South side Newport County. Rose shone at Newport and was a major player for them as they won the Conference South title in 2010 and continued to impress in the Conference National with the Exiles.

Crystal Palace were reported to be interested in signing him, but he eventually signed for big-spending Fleetwood Town in January 2012. Rose helped Fleetwood win the title at the end of that season but found himself out of favour in League Two and was sent out on loan to struggling Aldershot. The Shots were ultimately relegated at the end of the season, but Rose had done enough to impress Chris Wilder, who snapped him up this summer.

Dave Kitson
Kitson – allegedly the Secret Footballer – was this summer's big 'marquee signing', joining from Sheffield United just five years after Stoke paid £5.5million for his services in the Premier League. Kitson's route into top-flight football was an unorthodox one, beginning his career at Hitchin Town before moving to Arlesey Town, while working as a shelf-stacker at his local Sainsbury's.

In 2001 he joined Cambridge United – then in League One – netting ten times in his first full season at the club. He scored an impressive 25 times in 2002-03 and had begun the 03-04 season in prolific fashion before Reading came calling. He continued his goalscoring form there and helped them to the Championship title in 2006. He scored Reading's first goal as a Premier League club but was injured in the same match and missed half of the season as a result.

Kitson continued to impress in the top-flight for Reading upon his return and earned a big-money move to Stoke City following the Royals' relegation from the Premier League. However, the move was not a success and Kitson failed to score once for Stoke in his first season at the Britannia Stadium, finishing the season back at Reading on loan. He began the following season better but was then loaned out to Middlesbrough and his Stoke career fell flat, with him eventually departing for Portsmouth in the summer of 2010.

He scored 12 goals during two years at Fratton Park but joined a club in turmoil and suffered relegation from the Championship with Pompey in 2012. After leaving Portsmouth, Kitson then joined League One Sheffield United, scoring 12 goals in 37 appearances (including at the Kassam in the Blades' FA Cup victory) before heading back down south to join Oxford. Kitson reportedly had interest from Championship clubs, but opted to become a yellow in order to be nearer to his family.

Asa Hall
Asa Hall is another figure that United fans should be familiar with, returning to the club on loan from Shrewsbury just a year after his departure. Hall came through the ranks at Birmingham City and was a highly rated product, appearing for England under 19s and under 20s before being sent out on loan to Boston United and Ashford Town to gain first-team experience. In 2008 he was loaned to Shrewsbury Town, where he impressed sufficiently to have been offered a contract by boss Gary Peters and then by his successor Paul Simpson, but turned the club down in favour of a move to Luton.

Picture by Jon Whiles Photography

Hall joined a Luton side still reeling from an unprecedented 30-point deduction which all but confirmed their relegation before the season had even begun – a curious move for a young player of whom much was expected. Hall became an important player for the Hatters, chipping in with some impressive long-range goals and picking up a medal as JPT champions despite the inevitable relegation at the end of the season. Hall continued his form in the Conference, but after the arrival of Simon Heslop he was deemed surplus to requirements and released at the end of the season.

In 2010 Hall joined Oxford in time for the start of our first season back in the Football League (shortly followed by the aforementioned Heslop!) and expectations were high. Arguably Hall never really delivered on his promise during his first spell at the Kassam, though he was a solid performer and in the last few months of his time here was looking impressive. He clearly did enough to impress Chris Wilder, who offered him a new contract, only for Hall to opt for a move to a higher-placed club nearer his home in the Midlands and join League One Shrewsbury. But last season wasn't a great success for Hall, who struggled to impress his new employers, finishing the season with relegation to the Conference while on loan with Aldershot.

Picture by Jon Whiles Photography
Tom Newey
Experienced defender Tom Newey began his career with Leeds United, though he never made any first-team appearances for them, spending time on loan at Cambridge United and Darlington before joining League Two Leyton Orient in July 2003. He made 63 appearances for the O's during two seasons at Brisbane Road, eventually leaving for Cambridge after a second loan spell at the Abbey Stadium.

His time with the 'other U's' was not exactly successful as he suffered relegation to the Conference during his only season at the club, moving back north to Grimsby where he became a first team regular, having switched from left wing to left-back, during a four-year spell with the Mariners. Though Newey took a while to find his feet, he eventually became an immense success at Grimsby, reaching the play-off final in his first season at the club. He made a repeat appearance at Wembley – again unsuccessfully – in 2008 after captaining the side in the final of the JPT. Newey's 2008-09 season was cut short by injury, during which time new manager Mike Newell replaced him and he was loaned out to Rochdale after being told he could leave on a free transfer.

He signed for Bury that summer after a successful trial, making 32 appearances for the Shakers before a move to Rotherham the following summer. Sheffield-born Newey settled in quickly back in South Yorkshire and soon established himself as number one choice at left-back for the Millers. However, his time there fell flat after two ill-fated promotion campaigns ended in mid-table disappointment and he joined Scunthorpe United last summer. Newey was an important player for the Iron last season, missing just one league game all season, but was released following their relegation from League One (Callum Kennedy – another Oxford target – was favoured at left-back prior to his move to AFC Wimbledon) before joining United shortly after the players returned for pre-season.

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Thursday, 11 July 2013

MATCH REPORT: Wantage Town 2-1 Oxford United

By Harry Burton

Oxford United U18's went down 2-1 to a strong Wantage Town side but put up a good display and in truth deserved something from the game. Oxford went into the game on the back of an emphatic 10-1 win over Deddington Town on Saturday while Wantage had a 2-1 success over Milton United. With Oxford's first team playing in Scotland against Alloa Athletic, it was a chance for the Oxford fans that didn't travel to see the promising talent coming through the ranks such as Aidan Hawtin, Josh Ashby, James Roberts, Marvin Ekpiteta and Eddie Cavanagh. It was a cool evening so the conditions were a lot better than the sweltering temperatures of Saturday.

The opening stages were fairly even and both sides played the ball around well with a fairly flat playing surface to play on at Alfredian Park. Oxford's Muctaru Conte looked lively with pacy runs down the left wing, while Wantage's Anaclet Odhiambo - brother of former Oxford player Eddie Anaclet - linked up well with the powerful forward Jimmy Deabill. Wantage had a few tame efforts on goal with some rolling harmlessly wide or falling into the reliable hands of Cavanagh. From defence to attack there were great passes being exchanged by Oxford which is exactly what the supporters want to see at all age groups of the club.

Hawtin rolled a shot wide as Oxford started to create space around the box after good spells of possession. But soon after at the other end Wantage had a great opportunity to take the lead as a free kick found Deabill in the box, but he shot wide. Oxford began to give away possession as Wantage started to create more chances and the hosts came close when a cross was headed over by Deabill. Deabill was proving to be a menace to the Oxford defence and went close when a clearance from Cavanagh rebounded off him, but it rolled wide of the goal.

Wantage took the lead when a low cross was drilled in from the right by Tom Austin and the defence froze, giving Odhiambo room in the box to score a tap in. Oxford had defended well until then but a simple lapse in concentration was costly. Wantage began to press for a second and Cavanagh caught a dangerous-looking dropping ball with Odhiambo ready to pounce. Oxford then had an excellent chance to equalise when Aidan Hawtin ran into the box but he fired his shot at the goalkeeper. The last action of the half was Wantage's goalkeeper Sharkey making an excellent save from a Sam Humphries header.

Oxford started the second half well with plenty of possession but soon after fell further behind. A Wantage cross caused a scramble in the box and Danny Lachacz reacted first and poked it into the net to make it 2-0. Oxford stepped it up to try and rescue something from the game and could have had a penalty after an apparent push on Aidan Hawtin, but the referee waved the protests away.

Soon after Oxford pulled a goal back, a poor punch by Wantage sub goalie Matt Collis fell to Josh Ashby and his shot found the corner of the net to make it 2-1. Wantage then went close again after a scramble but the shot went just wide of the post. The game then started to become a midfield affair with both sides' defences holding firm and reducing each other to shots from distance.

In the latter stages of the game the Oxford defence let Wantage in but Cavanagh came out to clear the danger. Oxford didn't create any real chances in the closing stages bar one deflected shot into the keeper's hands. Richie Guy went close with a lobbed effort which went just over the bar for Wantage and soon after the referee bought proceedings to a close.

Despite the result Oxford can take a lot of positives from the game. They certainly dealt with a powerful side well, which was impressive considering it was a young Oxford side. Oxford deserved something from the game but it wasn't meant to be and they now move on to a friendly with Abingdon United while the first team are in action at the border boys of Berwick Rangers.

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Saturday, 6 July 2013

Your Guide to Alloa and Berwick

It's that time again. The players have been back in for pre-season training, we've played our first friendly at the weekend against Ardley United and now the club jet off on their pre-season tour. Recent years have seen the club head off to America, but this year they're staying a little closer to home with friendlies arranged against Alloa Athletic and Berwick Rangers in Scotland. This will come as good news to those who have been sceptical as to the benefits of the American tours, but somehow a tour of Scotland just doesn't have the same sense of adventure about it.

However, it still offers the opportunity to play against some unfamiliar opposition and offers more fans the chance to travel to the games, so as in previous years, here is our guide to the opposition we will face over the next week.

Alloa Athletic

Alloa Athletic were formed in 1878, winning the Scottish Football Union in 1907 and the Central Football League in 1913 before being accepted into the Scottish Football League in 1921. They won promotion to the top flight in their debut season but were immediately relegated and remained in the Second Division until winning promotion in 1939. Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War Two resulted in the cancellation of football and when the SFL resumed in 1946 the Wasps were placed back in Division Two.

They remained there until the Scottish Football League was reorganised into three divisions in 1975, with Alloa being placed in Division Three. They became something of a yo-yo club, bouncing around between the Second and Third divisions until further league reorganisation placed them in the new Fourth Division in 1994. Alloa won the fourth-tier Division Three title in 1998, adding to that the Scottish Challenge Cup in 2000 (one of just four clubs from outside the top tier of the competition to win it) and have spent most of their time since then in the third tier, until their relegation in 2011.

Since then two successive promotions have lifted the club to their highest point in a decade, with the Wasps winning promotion as Division Three champions in 2012. They won promotion from Division Two as play-off winners last season after finishing second in the league, beating Dunfermline in a two-legged final. They are currently preparing for life in the new SPFL second tier.

Alloa play at the 3,400-capacity Recreation Park, which has been their home since 1895. Floodlights weren't installed until 1979, making it one of the last grounds in Scotland to be lighted. A record 15,467 squeezed into the Recs for a Scottish Cup tie against Celtic in 1955, but these days the Wasps are watched by a rather more modest crowd of around 600-700. They began their pre-season schedule with a 1-1 draw against East Fife in a friendly and beat Airdrieonians 3-2 on Monday evening.

Berwick Rangers

Berwick Rangers are perhaps most famous for being the only English club to play their football in the Scottish leagues. Based in the border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, the club was formed in 1884 and first became affiliated to the Scottish FA in 1905 when it joined the Scottish Border League, having been refused entry to the North Northumberland league because it was too remote.

They joined the Scottish Football League in 1951, remaining in the Second Division until the creation of the Third Division in 1975 when, along with Alloa, they were placed in the new third tier. They remained at this level for several years until their relegation to the fourth tier in 1997 and though the club has had forays back into the third tier, they have mostly remained a basement division club ever since.

The club has seen more success in the cups, reaching the final of the 2012 Scottish Challenge Cup, losing to Queen's Park on penalties. Berwick also have an impressive history in the Scottish Cup, reaching the quarter-final in 1954 and famously beating Rangers in 1967. The Wee Gers recorded another famous result against their Glasgow counterparts at the beginning of last season, with a 1-1 draw at Shielfield Park. Berwick finished last season midtable in Division Three, ending the season with a 1-0 defeat away at Ibrox.

Shielfield Park has been Berwick's home since 1954, shared with speedway team Berwick Bandits. Its capacity is 4,100, though the ground rarely sees crowds higher than 550. Interestingly, the Main Stand when the ground opened had been purchased from Bradford City's Valley Parade, though the roof was removed in 1990 due to safety reasons after ownership of the ground passed to a greyhound promoter when the club got into financial trouble.

These days the ground is owned by the Berwick Supporters' Club and the club appears to be a model of stability. They finished fifth last season, after recent finishes of seventh, sixth and sixth (out of ten), so will be hoping for an improvement on midtable this season! They began their pre-season with a 1-1 draw against Northern League side Ashington on Sunday.

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MATCH REPORT: Ardley United 1-2 Oxford United

Ah, football is back. Oxford got their pre-season campaign underway with a leisurely 2-1 win at sun-drenched Ardley United. The yellows fielded a separate XI in each half, allowing almost everyone to get 45 minutes under their belts. New signings Jonathan Meades, David Hunt, Tom Newey and Dave Kitson made their debuts with the returning Asa Hall and Danny Rose also featuring. In addition, trialists Matt Heath (previously of Colchester), Matt Bevans (Watford) and Kenzer Lee (West Ham) also got a run out.

No one expects to see a full-blooded contest in the first pre-season friendly of the summer, so it was little surprise that the game started off slowly with the Oxford players taking their time to get into a passing rhythm. Oxford, shooting down the considerable slope at Ardley's Playing Fields ground, had the first chance as Tyrone Marsh latched onto Sean Rigg's cross but could keep it down and the ball rocketed over the bar.

Ardley responded with the best chance of the half after some sloppy defensive work as Clarke was forced to rush out of his goal to meet a short backpass and, seizing the opportunity, Troy Bryan fired the ball towards the unguarded net and was unlucky to see his shot cannon back off the underside of the bar.

Oxford's defence were rarely troubled for the rest of the first half and although they created a few half-chances to take the lead, with Meades going close from a header and Marsh shooting into the keeper's arms, in truth neither side really looked like scoring in a pleasant but uneventful first half.

Picture from @OUFCGoldenBoy
Oxford's second half XI looked far more lively, with Dave Kitson and Callum O'Dowda standing out in particular. Kitson made an impression immediately, chasing down the Ardley goalkeeper and then squaring the ball to Alfie Potter whose deflected left-footed shot found the net to give Oxford the lead.

O'Dowda was looking lively out on the left, beating several defenders with a mazy run before crossing for Deane Smalley, but the ball was played just too far in front for the striker to reach it and finish what would have been a spectacular move.

Ardley seemed unable to get into the visitors' half despite the assistance of the slope but they drew level on one rare foray into the Oxford area after being awarded a soft penalty for a push. Ryan Brooks (brother of Jamie) fired home the equaliser.

Oxford continued to look the better side but despite spending a lot of time around the Ardley area they seemed unable to convert their possession into clear-cut chances. Smalley, who put himself about well all afternoon, was unlucky to see his curling effort tipped wide by the goalkeeper in the dying minutes, but finally got his reward from the resulting corner, escaping his man and heading powerfully home.

Minutes later the referee blew the final whistle and the Oxford fans who made up the vast majority of the 670 attendance went home happy. Ardley were the perfect opposition for the occasion – competitive but not overly physical and they gave us a thoroughly good workout. A good day all round.

Picture from @maybejames
First half XI: Ryan Clarke, David Hunt, Matt Heath, Jake Wright, Dave Lynn, Scott Davies, Andy Whing, Jonathan Meades, Tyrone Marsh, James Constable, Sean Rigg

Second half XI: Max Crocombe, Matt Bevans, Michael Raynes, Kenzer Lee, Tom Newey, Alfie Potter, Asa Hall, Danny Rose, Callum O'Dowda, Dave Kitson, Deane Smalley

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Thursday, 4 July 2013

TBFUTH Reaches Two Years!

It's official. The Boys from Up the Hill is two years old today! Huge thanks to everyone who has read or contributed to the site so far and has helped make it a success.

The blog has expanded each year since its inception and that's a trend we'd like to see continue. As a result, we need new blood to join to TBFUTH team and help run the website and contribute articles – match reports, opinion pieces etc. If you fancy getting involved, please email tbfuth@hotmail.co.uk. Any contribution will be greatly appreciated.

There are also a few exciting new ways you can connect with TBFUTH, in addition to our long-standing Twitter and Facebook pages. Those of you on Google+ can now get in on the action too, with our new Google+ page! You can also follow the blog more directly through our RSS feed – those reading the site on a mobile device will find that Google Currents is a great way to read TBFUTH on the go!

We've also relaunched our Video Vault through our new YouTube account (which you can subscribe to here). Hopefully this should be a much clearer and more engaging way to browse through videos of past Oxford matches and should be a good way to spend a few rainy afternoons!

Thanks for reading!

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