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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Monday, 30 September 2013

Hartlepool United 1-3 Oxford United

Oxford continued their fantastic away form, making it 13 points from a possible 15 with a 3-1 win away at Hartlepool. Ryan Williams struck after just five minutes to give the yellows the lead but Pools hit back just after half-time through Luke James. But United stayed strong and retook the lead midway through the second half when Deane Smalley drilled into the right-hand corner of the net and they tied it up shortly before the end from the penalty spot after Scott Davies was felled by the goalkeeper.

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Friday, 27 September 2013

PREVIEW: Hartlepool Away (28/09/13)

Oxford make their longest trip of the season this weekend and look to start a new unbeaten record after the last one came to an end last week against Chesterfield. So far the yellows have amassed an impressive 10 points from a possible 12 on our travels and will be looking to continue that impressive form up in the north-east.

But they'll have to do it without a string of first-team regulars, after injuries and suspensions have decimated the squad in the last couple of weeks. Andy Whing and Dave Kitson are both suspended – Whing for his sending off last week and Kitson for accumulating five bookings in just seven appearances. James Constable, Jake Wright and Jon Meades are all out injured and will be for weeks to come, leaving Chris Wilder with just a handful of senior players to choose from.

However, with Sean Rigg making a comeback from injury last week we could see a return to the Rigg-Potter combination on either flank, which – as I wrote this week – could be vitally important for us this season. In the middle of the park, Scott Davies and Asa Hall are the main contenders to fill the gap left by Whing and if Tyrone Marsh is unable to recover in time from the ankle injury which kept him out last week they might both get a chance, with Deane Smalley the only fit striker at the club.

There are no such crises for Hartlepool, who are without Brad Walker and Antony Sweeney. After failing to win in their opening six games (or even register a goal in their first five) Pools have since picked up four points from their last two games, finding the net four times. Having finally turned their form around they will be feeling confident of continuing their run against a weakened Oxford.

They did exactly that on United's last trip to the Victoria Ground more than a decade ago, winning 3-1 on their way to promotion. That day Ritchie Humphreys – who netted against us for Chesterfield last week and has just been elected chairman of the PFA – was on the scoresheet as well that day. Not a great omen.

Here's Chris Wilder giving his thoughts ahead of the game to the club's official Youtube channel:

Also This Weekend

If you can't make it up to Hartlepool this Saturday, why not check out the youth team instead? They take on Swindon at Roman Way in the Youth Alliance League Cup this weekend, having already beaten them 3-2 on the opening day of the season. The youth team have won their last two games, beating Newport 2-0 and Exeter 5-1 last weekend, but lost 4-2 to Hereford in their opening match of the League Cup group stages so need to win this weekend to keep their chances alive. Kick-off is at 11 o'clock AM.

On Sunday the women's development team are in action, fresh from an impressive 6-1 victory over QPR, as they face Aston Villa in their last pre-season friendly ahead of the start of their WSL Development League campaign, which kicks off with a trip to Arsenal next week. No pressure then.  
Don't forget you can find full fixture lists for women's, development and youth teams on our Fixtures page!

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Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Importance of Width in League Two

Sean Rigg
Picture by Jon Whiles Photography
At the top level of the game the debate continues to rage about whether the traditional winger as we know it is dead. The success of Spain at international level with their unorthodox and much-vaunted 4-6-0 approach and the increasing popularity of the narrow 4-2-3-1 among Europe's top clubs have combined to push the old tried-and-true 4-4-2 well and truly out of favour – and with it everyone's favourite player: the winger.

But Oxford don't play at the top level of the game and they aren't one of Europe's top clubs (yet!), so emulating Barcelona isn't necessarily likely to bring results in League Two. Having won promotion from the Conference by utilising a direct approach that involved getting the ball up to the front three of James Constable, Jack Midson and Matt Green as quickly as possible, Chris Wilder jettisoned this approach upon the club's return to the Football League. Overhauling the squad in the summer of 2010, Oxford were set up with a continental narrow 4-3-3 formation and an emphasis on passing football and ball retention. The result was a side which played some beautiful football and finished 12th. Clearly a rethink was needed.

The sad fact is that at our level of football the players are too limited to make such a fluid approach work successfully. Instead the 4-4-2, for all its faults, is a system which all the players are used to and comfortable with and as a result they perform better. The intervening years between those early League Two lessons and now have seen a lot of tinkering and experimenting as Wilder has tried to hit upon the magic formula for success, and although there probably is no single approach that guarantees promotion one thing that has stood out in recent seasons is that good wing play can be a major factor in a side's success at League Two level.

Take Port Vale last season as a notable example. Lots of people pinpointed the impressive goalscoring form of Tom Pope as the reason for Vale's unexpectedly successful season, but he was only able to find the net so often because there was a steady supply of chances landing at his feet (or on his head or anywhere else really), most of which came from the wingers. Ashley Vincent and Jennison Myrie-Williams were a devastating force last season, as demonstrated when they were allowed to roam free during the 3-0 demolition they inflicted on us at Vale Park.

The importance of quality wide players was emphasised again on Saturday when Chesterfield ended our unbeaten start to the season. Of course, when you've assembled a squad like theirs it's easy to look good but as we're discussing style of play rather than personnel I think they still serve as a very strong example of how to play at this level. Chesterfield constantly look to stretch the play and get their wide players on the ball and as a result Gary Roberts and Tendayi Darikwa gave our full-backs trouble all afternoon. Most Oxford fans agreed that Chesterfield were the best side we're likely to come up against this season and part of the reason for that success is the way they use the flanks. Their goal on Saturday, for example, came from a ball in from the left.

Alfie Potter
Picture by Jon Whiles Photography
And then, of course, there's us. With Alfie Potter and Sean Rigg we have two of the best wingers in League Two within our ranks. When both are fit and we really utilise the width they offer they can be unstoppable – as they were at Portsmouth on the opening day of the season. Rigg's injury perhaps highlighted how fundamental the wingers are to our chances this season, with just one win from the four matches he missed (not including Torquay and Chesterfield, both of which he played some part in). We've already touched on this point when discussing Oxford's younger players, but by replacing Rigg with the naturally central Asa Hall our attacking potential was considerably reduced.

This lack of cover out wide – particularly if O'Dowda isn't considered ready for first-team football yet – is possibly my biggest concern about the team at the moment. Rigg and Potter won't play every match this season, and being wingers they won't necessarily play brilliantly in every match either, so we need more options that can come on and deputise to ensure that we maintain a wide threat. That could be the difference between the flashes of brilliance we've seen so far and a consistently strong season.

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Sunday, 22 September 2013

Oxford United 0-1 Chesterfield

Oxford fell to their first defeat of the season in controversial circumstances at home to Chesterfield. The league leaders scored in a topsy-turvy first half when Ritchie Humphries side-footed in a cross from Eoin Doyle. Oxford were still well and truly in the match, however, until referee Trevor Kettle stepped up to centre stage by sending off Andy Whing. Despite being down to ten men United kept pushing, but the task was just too much in the end.

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Friday, 20 September 2013

PREVIEW: Chesterfield Home (21/09/13)

With just seven games gone so far the current League Two season may still be in its infancy, but this weekend's meeting of first and second already seems to be shaping up to be a monster of a match. Chesterfield, the only other unbeaten side in the division, come to town looking to firmly establish themselves at the top of the league and the result of this game could go some way to determining the outlook at the top of the table for quite a while after. Victory for Chesterfield would put them seven points clear of us, while if we come out on top there will be just a single point separating the two sides.

The Spireites have been imperial form at the start of this season, with six wins and one draw so far, their best start to a season for more than a century. That solitary occasion when Chesterfield have dropped points came a month ago when they were held to a 2-2 draw at Rochdale. Since then they have gone on to string together a run of four straight victories. In contrast, of course, we have only won one of our last four matches (a very impressive 2-0 victory away at Burton) and haven't won at home since Bury were the visitors in our second match of the season.

But there are still plenty of good reasons to be hopeful ahead of this match. As Chesterfield's recent results show, they're not a side to sit back and play for a draw away from home and they will obviously come into the match confident of getting a result. This could actually play into our hands, as probably the best counter-attacking side in the league, and the usual problem of breaking sides down at home should be less of a problem this weekend.

What could be a problem, however, is the quality that Chesterfield boast throughout their ranks. Former Premier League player Ian Evatt has struggled to win a starting place, while experienced striker Gary McSheffrey is another new recruit after making his debut from the bench in last weekend's impressive 2-0 victory over AFC Wimbledon. They've further strengthened their squad this week with the signing of Ollie Banks from FC United of Manchester for an undisclosed fee. Top-scorer Gary Roberts has been the star of the show for Chesterfield so far this season, picking up the Player of the Month award last month ahead of Alfie Potter. Another player to watch for the Spireites this weekend is Ivorian striker Armand Gnanduillet, who has already popped up with important goals against Southend and Portsmouth after signing from French side Poissy during the summer.

Picture by Jon Whiles Photography
The big news to come out of the United camp ahead of this match is the early return of Sean Rigg from injury. He had been expected to miss up to eight weeks with a hamstring injury after he limped off against Torquay, but just four weeks later here he is back amongst the matchday squad. But after missing out for the past few weeks, it seems unlikely that he'll come straight back into the first team, so expect to see him on the bench this weekend. One player who definitely won't be on the bench for this match is Tyrone Marsh, who has been ruled out with a sore foot. He joins James Constable, Jake Wright and Jon Meades on the treatment table.

This of course leaves us with just two strikers available for this match in Dave Kitson and the injury-plagued Deane Smalley. And although Smalley's fitness has been doubtful in recent weeks, expect him to play a big part this weekend against his old club. He rejected an offer from Chesterfield in the summer of 2011 after helping them win promotion, opting for a move to Oxford instead. Andy Whing is another to have formerly featured for Chesterfield, making 11 appearances on loan at Saltergate from Brighton in the latter part of the 2009-10 campaign. On the other side of the divide is Sam Togwell, who made four undistinguished appearances for the yellows in 2004 on loan from Crystal Palace. He has since carved out a decent career for himself, with stints at Barnsley and Scunthorpe before joining Chesterfield last year.

Oxford have never beaten Chesterfield at the Kassam – although the two sides have only met there on two previous occasions. The first of those was a rather unexceptional 0-0 draw in the 2010-11 season and that latter was one we'd probably rather forget. The Spireites ground out a 1-0 win in what was a turgid game as United struggled to get going, giving Chesterfield a double victory after their controversial2-1 home win earlier in the season. But before we start to feel that all the omens are against us, let's remember our first trip to Chesterfield's new home when the then-table-toppers were toppled by an Oxford side on a miserable run of five defeats. Football's a funny old game.

From the Vaults

Oxford United v Chesterfield, 12th August 1995

Oxford kicked off the 95-96 season with high hopes of promotion once again after disappointingly falling short the previous year. The opponents on the opening day of the season were newly-promoted Chesterfield and Oxford appeared to be stuttering to a drab 0-0 draw until Chrissy Allen's effort late in the game. We all love a last-minute winner, don't we?

You can find this and many other old OUFC matches in our VIDEO VAULT!

Also This Weekend

The youth team look to build on last week's 2-0 victory over Newport County as they make another long trip down to the south-west to face Exeter City. Victory this weekend would see the young yellows leapfrog their opponents, who have made an identical start to the season as our lads with two wins, a draw and a defeat from their opening league games.

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Wednesday, 18 September 2013

We'll Win Nothing With Kids?

Picture from @AlasdairLane
If there's one thing you can count on Oxford United for, it's that they will inevitably, at some point in the season, suffer some sort of injury crisis. Injury problems have struck once again at the Kassam, with the announcement at the weekend that both JamesConstable and Jake Wright will be out for four to six weeks, joining Jon Meades and Sean Rigg in the treatment room, and also that Deane Smalley has a recurring hamstring problem which has kept him from training.

All of which has left the squad looking rather thin. Saturday's starting XI against Cheltenham featured central midfielders Asa Hall and Scott Davies out wide, with winger Alfie Potter moving into a central position to partner Dave Kitson up front. Meanwhile, five of the Oxford bench were under-21 (loanee goalkeeper Shwan Jalal and the barely-fit Deane Smalley being the other two) with just 22 first-team appearances between them.

Not that the presence of so many young players around the matchday squad should come as much of a surprise. The decision was made during the summer to have a relatively small but talented crop of first-team players, backed up a new squad of development players who can provide cover while hopefully continuing their development in order to become gradually integrated into the first team. The risk with this approach – one which could possibly have dire consequences if things go wrong for us this season – is that a few injuries to important players can leave the team severely depleted, as we're now seeing. When injuries have occurred in previous seasons we've turned to the loan market to fill those gaps, with mixed results. That won't be happening this season, due to the existence of the aforementioned development squad.

Callum O'Dowda
The problem right now, though, is that even with injuries hitting hard the youngsters still aren't being given a chance. For example, having had great success playing wide men in the opening matches, the obvious choice to replace Sean Rigg would have been 18-year-old Callum O'Dowda, who impressed many during pre-season. Instead Asa Hall, already suffering a dubious reputation with sections of the Oxford support, was shoehorned into a wide position which has never suited him, placing him unfairly in the firing line as a scapegoat when things don't go exactly according to plan. Meanwhile, O'Dowda has watched on from the bench with just a solitary senior appearance to his name – when he and some of the other younger players were hung out to dry against Charlton in the League Cup.

The news about Constable and Smalley also leaves United looking very light up top, with Dave Kitson the only recognised striker to start on Saturday and after picking up his fourth booking of the season from just six appearances it seems likely that he'll be facing a suspension soon. That could present an opportunity to Tyrone Marsh, who has played about 25 minutes of first-team football this season in two substitute appearances, though again on Saturday an out-of-position Alfie Potter was favoured ahead of the 19-year-old striker.

What seems clear at the moment is that Chris Wilder is still a bit reluctant to use the younger players (with the notable exception of Ryan Williams, who of course isn't our player). That's not a situation I would expect to change on Saturday when league leaders Chesterfield come to town for what is looking like a potentially huge match, especially with the development team having already played on Wednesday against Luton.

But before we criticise Wilder for his apparent lack of faith in the younger players perhaps we should look at the reasons why the youngsters aren't currently seeing first-team action. Though pre-season performances should obviously be taken with a pinch of salt they do demonstrate the dangers of carrying too many inexperienced players. The embarrassing 5-1 defeat to Oxford City back in July was a demonstration of defensive frailties and non-threatening attack as we were outplayed by an experienced City side. Play too many of the younger lads and we risk adding to our burden if too many players have to be carried through the match by the more experienced pros.

Josh Shama v Gillingham
Development team results haven't exactly been fantastic either, with defeats to Birmingham, Bournemouth, Gillingham and Luton and a draw against Southend. That's not to say that our development squad players don't have talent, but obviously you can't expect a group of players who were just thrown together during the summer to be pulling off big results against sides who have been playing together for some time and some of whom boast some experienced first-team campaigners.*

Essentially we're still playing catch-up and presumably Wilder, whether rightly or wrongly, wants to give our players the chance to catch up and become integrated into the first team gradually, rather than being thrown in at the deep end in the first months of the season. There's also no urgent need to give these players game time now, because they are playing regularly in the development squad (unlike last season, when Tyrone Marsh and Max Crocombe were sat on the bench most of the time).

Of course, if we keep picking up injuries as we currently are we may not have a choice in the matter. The likes of Marsh and O'Dowda may just get their chance, whether they're ready for it or not.

*And besides, the results aren't what is important at that level of football, it's all about giving these players some game time and a chance to develop.

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Sunday, 15 September 2013

Cheltenham Town 2-2 Oxford United

Dave Kitson scored his first goal in an Oxford shirt as United drew at Cheltenham Town. James Constable and Jake Wright were both ruled out due to injury and the yellows fell behind early on before Kitson struck to equalise before the break. Some lax defending shortly after half-time allowed Cheltenham to retake the lead but Johnny Mullins struck again to earn the yellows a point.

Friday, 13 September 2013

PREVIEW: Cheltenham Away (14/09/13)

Oxford travel to Cheltenham looking to keep up their 100% away record, after some impressive victories on the road at Portsmouth, Torquay and Burton already this season. In contrast, Cheltenham are still yet to win a league game at Whaddon Road so far this season, after draws with Burton and Portsmouth and a defeat to Plymouth.

Injuries have hampered Cheltenham's start to the season after an impressive run to the play-offs last season. Jamie Cureton was a big-name signing during the summer, but he has missed all but the opening 20 minutes of the campaign so far, dislocating his shoulder as he scored his first goal for the Robins in their season opener against Burton. Troy Brown and Craig Braham-Barrett are also absent at the back, which could go some way to explaining Cheltenham's poor defensive record so far. The loan signing of Bristol City's James Wilson yesterday would seem to be an attempt to rectify that particular problem area and he's expected to make his debut this weekend.

Chris Wilder has also dipped into the loan market this week, bringing in Bournemouth goalkeeper Shwan Jalal on a month's loan as cover, after Max Crocombe sustained a shoulder injury. James Constable seems unlikely to start after hobbling off last weekend at Burton, so the returning Deane Smalley could be set to link up again with Dave Kitson up front after a hamstring problem has kept him sidelined for the last couple of weeks.

Last time United made the trip to Whaddon Road they put four past Cheltenham in the JPT, revenge for the miserable 2-1 defeat they inflicted on us less than a month before. That was actually the first time we had been beaten in the league at Cheltenham in a decade when Ian Atkins oversaw a 2-0 defeat in April 2002. That said, until that JPT win (backed up by victory at the Kassam later in the season) Oxford hadn't beaten Cheltenham in any competition since 2005 – a run of eight matches. But with the last two matches going our way, let's hope we can make it a hat-trick of victories this weekend!

From the Vaults

Cheltenham Town v Oxford United, 9th October 2012

Oxford made their second trip of the season to Cheltenham, having been beaten 2-1 in the league less than a month before. This time the result was rather different, Oxford twice falling behind but goals from Tom Craddock, Harry Worley, James Constable and Peter Leven secured passage into the next round.

You can find this and many other old OUFC matches in our NEW & IMPROVED VIDEO VAULT!

Also This Weekend

The youth team look to recover from recent defeats to Plymouth and Hereford in their first home match of the season, as Newport County come to town for a Youth Alliance fixture. Newport picked up their first point since returning to the Youth Alliance, holding champions Bristol Rovers to a 1-1 draw in their last match.

Don't forget you can find full fixture lists for women's, development and youth teams on our Fixtures page!

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Monday, 9 September 2013

Burton Albion 0-2 Oxford United

Oxford continued their excellent start to the season with an impressive victory away at previously unbeaten Burton Albion. The Brewers had Ian Sharps sent off in the first half and United made them pay in the second. Alfie Potter opened the scoring with a fantastic individual goal, weaving his way past several defenders before firing in. Danny Rose killed the game off shortly before the end, turning it in at the near post after Ryan Williams had dazzled on the wing and delivered a killer ball in.

Friday, 6 September 2013

PREVIEW: Burton Away (07/09/13)

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.

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Thursday, 5 September 2013

Wake Up Oxford!

I'm a bit concerned about Oxford United. And yes, if you've read any of my previous articles for this site you'll realise that's basically the norm for me. But why should I be concerned right now? The team are still unbeaten, we're in the top three and we've scored more goals than any other side in the division. So why then do the fans still seem so apathetic?

Home attendances so far this season seem to have picked up where they left off last season. In fact, they seem to be even worse, despite the club's impressive start to the season. The 5,290 who watched last Saturday's 1-1 draw with Rochdale would have been our sixth lowest crowd last season (and is more than 700 down on the same fixture last term). A crowd of more than 7,000 for the Wycombe game might seem impressive but when you consider that we were top of the league going into that match and that when the two sides met at the Kassam in 2011 (with United 11th) it was watched by 9,309 it looks every bit as poor as our other home attendances so far.

As our campaign fizzled out last season it was easy to understand why disgruntled fans lost interest and started to drift away. We were more likely to witness a spineless collapse to a bottom half team of cloggers than we were to actually be entertained and the frankly pathetic atmosphere around the ground offered no respite from the mind-numbing fare on the pitch. But that was then, this is now. The club has undergone something of a revolution during the summer, with an overhaul of the playing squad and a change of approach from temporary loan signings to young hopefuls backing up a side of strong, 'robust' first teamers. And so far those changes have yielded results – 11 points from a possible 15 and a position towards the top of the early League Two table.

But some might say it's a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. That 'lost 1,000' who were packing out the stands not long ago are now out of the habit and may have lost touch with goings-on at the club. Or worse, maybe they've lost faith in Oxford United after years of false dawns. We've had similarly impressive starts to previous seasons before now and yet throughout the last decade we've been incapable of getting promoted from League Two. Why should it be any different this time?

Realistically, the club will still need to be in and around the top three in January before the crowds come back and despite the suggestions of some on Yellows Forum, I'm not sure that ticket offers or other campaigns will have a huge effect, except to drain more money from the coffers. There's not a lot we fans can do about that – other than to coax as many people as we know to start coming to games, of course.

What we can help is the atmosphere we create at matches we do bother to show up to. It's not just the general apathy that has carried over from last season, but many who are coming still seem desperate to find fault the team. It's like we've become incapable of mustering enthusiasm for the club, even when things are going well. Having stretched our unbeaten run to five games following last weekend's draw I find it astounding that there were some who decided to boo at the final whistle. I accept it may have been a small number, but it's not an acceptable response, given the result and the position the club is currently in.

Comments after the game declaring it 'more of the same' possibly offer more of an insight into the seemingly inexhaustible negativity of Oxford fans. We've been here before and been let down, so now we're just looking for the evidence that we're going to screw up yet again. That inevitable disappointment hurts less when you've been expecting it all along.

All of which creates a pretty unpleasant atmosphere around the club and certainly not one which is conducive to long-term success. Fans now expect failure and are reluctant to acknowledge or celebrate success. We're only five games into the season and so it's right that we shouldn't get too carried away at such an early stage, but instead of waiting for the 'inevitable' failure to follow we should be encouraging the team to build on what has been a positive start and trying to build up a head of steam – both on and off the pitch. At the moment we seem to be undermining it.

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Sunday, 1 September 2013

Oxford United 1-1 Rochdale

Oxford were knocked off top spot after being held to a draw for the second consecutive home match. The yellows took the lead in the first half through James Constable but were pegged back by a Matt Lund goal at the start of the second half and were unable to snatch a winner. Elsewhere, late goals for Chesterfield at Portsmouth saw them replace Oxford at the summit of League Two.