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.

Article 2 Article 1

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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Thursday, 31 October 2013

Oxford United: Dream Killers

Picture from @OUFClive
United began their FA Youth Cup campaign in a winning fashion with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Didcot Town. Although it might be expected that Oxford would brush aside lower level competition it was a relief to see them come through it unscathed, because this was a match which had 'banana-skin' written all over it. Against local opposition and away from home, there was every possibility that United could come unstuck.

Add to that the fact that youth competition has been a welcome distraction from what has been a miserable season so far for Didcot and the magnitude of this game for the hosts becomes clear. It seems money is tight at Loop Meadow this season and Didcot have struggled to compete in the Southern League Division One South and West, winning just twice in the league all season. Part of the reason they have found things so hard is that they have been forced to rely on a number of young players and their lack of experience has shown through in the side's inconsistent form.

It has, however, provided a fantastic opportunity to some of the young lads currently in their youth team and being thrust into first-team activity seems to have accelerated their progression as footballers. Their youth team are currently unbeaten in the league this season and their progress in the FA Youth Cup to reach this stage has been impressive, with victories over Binfield, Kidlington and Bournemouth FC in the qualifying rounds. Of the Didcot starting XI this evening, three – Oli Thomas, Taylor Janes and Keiran Beesley – have been regulars for the Railwaymen this season, alongside their youth team duties. Compared to our youngsters, these are seasoned pros.

And Didcot's youth team exploits seem to have provided a much-needed tonic to the inevitable apathy that settles in whenever a team is doing badly. On Saturday there were only 84 people present for Didcot's match against Fleet Town; this evening there were 291. Much of that number came hoping to see the hosts pull off an upset and it was clear that the Didcot players were fired up and ready to do just that.

Fortunately, the yellows didn't allow them the chance and it didn't take long for them to demonstrate their superior quality. In the early exchanges the ball barely left the home side's half but Oxford were constantly left frustrated by Didcot keeper Keiran Beesley. Beesley – who was previously in the Oxford youth setup before being released – has won plaudits for his performances for the Railwaymen's senior side and it was easy to see why on this evidence. He did well to keep out an early effort from the lively James Roberts after the striker had broken through the ranks to create a one-on-one situation.

Next he thwarted Gregg Hackett's long-range effort before twice denying Jamie Calvin – first from a point-blank header which had seemed destined for the net and then from a shot on the edge of the area. It was clear that it would take something special to beat Beesley and that's exactly what Josh Ashby delivered 25 minutes in, his perfectly weighted long-distance effort catching Beesley off his line before dropping into the empty net.

It was slightly busier than this during the match - honest!
In truth, Oxford should have been further ahead at half-time but with only one goal in it, the hosts remained in contention at the start of the second half and the game was finely poised. One thing you can certainly say for them is that they showed great determination to have a go at United, having been outplayed in the first 45 minutes. They came out for the second-half looking to force a way back into the game and were able to apply some decent pressure, though without creating any clear-cut chances.

Instead Oxford were able to extend their advantage to give themselves one foot in the next round as Didcot were caught on the break. Sam Humphreys raced into the box only to take a tumble over a clumsily outstretched leg. Ashby slotted home the penalty to all but end Diddy's challenge. There was a tiredness about the home side's defending for the third goal, as they were caught ball-watching at a corner and punished by Cian McCormack who was quickest to react to the ball across, heading home powerfully.

The game opened out after this as Didcot threw caution to the wind in search a consolation and as a result both sides had chances, though neither were able to make them count. Goalkeeper Barney Martin had to be on his toes to keep out Matty Woodley's spectacular effort while Roberts remained frustrated in front of goal as Beesley kept out his shot after some lovely work on the right by Humphreys.

In truth, United weren't the irresistible force they were against Swindon a few weeks ago, but then they appeared to be up against much stronger opposition, despite their lower league status. But they kept calm against a side who were clearly up for it this evening and avoided an upset in a professional manner. That's an example our first team would do well to follow in their FA Cup first round tie in a couple of weeks against Gateshead.

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Monday, 28 October 2013

AFC Wimbledon 0-2 Oxford United

Oxford returned to the top of the league with a fine 2-0 win over AFC Wimbledon. James Constable put the yellows ahead after just six minutes when he met Asa Hall's ball into the box to score his 99th goal for the club. United were denied two stonewall penalties with the game still hanging in the balance, but when Deane Smalley was upended in the 81st minute Oxford were finally given the decision they had been craving. Smalley finished to seal the points and with other results going our way Oxford sit proudly atop the League Two table.

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Friday, 25 October 2013

PREVIEW: AFC Wimbledon Away (26/10/13)

Oxford are on the road again this weekend and Kingsmeadow is the destination. After two successive 0-0 draws against Accrington and Exeter if we want to keep in touch with the top three a result is a must this weekend. Key to that, of course, will be our ability to score goals. For most of the season it's not been scoring goals that has been our problem but keeping them out. Prior to the last week we were top scorers in the division but had kept just two clean sheets all season. But in the last two games we've seen an unusual reversal of that record as we've been able to keep them out at one end but been unable to find the net at the other.

And that's a problem that has been exacerbated by the absence of Alfie Potter and Deane Smalley, both of whom are likely to miss out once again. Added to that the suspension of Dave Kitson following his sending off on Tuesday and our options up front are looking decidedly limited. It leaves us with James Constable and Tyrone Marsh as our only fit an available strikers while our only designated right winger, Ryan Williams, is unable to play a full 90 minutes.

Picture by Jon Whiles Photography
At the back, even despite the continued absence of Johnny Mullins, we've been in impressive form. Michael Raynes has seized his opportunity to come into the backline and we've looked far more solid as a result. And with Wimbledon struggling for goals lately, expect that to continue this weekend.

Wimbledon are having a rough run of form lately. Having started the season incredibly strongly, their form has since tailed off drastically and they're now without a win in their last five games. Even so, they're predicting on their official website that this match could see a record crowd at Kingsmeadow, with our allocation already sold out. And with the potential return of Andy Frampton and Charlie Sheringham to the Dons team after lengthy absences due to injury, the Wimbledon side we come up against this weekend could be a different proposition to the one which has struggled in recent weeks.

But if our record against Wimbledon since their reformation is anything to go by we needn't be worried. Oxford have won all six of our previous meetings, including an impressive 3-0 win on our last visit. In fact, we put six goals past the Dons last season, having beaten them 3-2 earlier that season at the Kassam, in what was a difficult season for Wimbledon as they narrowly avoided relegation back to the Conference. But that was then, this is now, and after some surprising results throughout the league recently, this one could go either way.

Also This Weekend

The youth team welcome Cheltenham Town to Roman Way in League Cup action on Saturday just two weeks after a 2-0 away win there to go top of the league table. Unfortunately, the match is merely an academic exercise as last weekend's 1-0 defeat to Bournemouth means that we will play no further part in the competition beyond the group stages.

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, 23 October 2013

Oxford United 0-0 Exeter City

You wait eight months for a 0-0 draw and then two come along at once! Saturday's draw withAccrington was our first goalless draw since February and there was a repeat of the same scoreline just three days later as Exeter came to the Kassam. Oxford saw more of the ball but were unable to find a way through and had to settle for a draw. On the positive side, having struggled to keep the goals out earlier in the season, this result now makes it three clean sheets in a row.

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Monday, 21 October 2013

PREVIEW: Exeter Home (22/10/13)

It's still very early days in the season but this week's match against Exeter has the potential to be one of those standout matches that mark a turning point in the direction of our season. With Exeter third and us currently fourth and one point behind, recent weeks have seen the top of the table become somewhat cramped as the early pacesetters have slipped and the chasing pack have caught up. But at the end of this round of fixtures, there's a very good chance that things will be less bunched as some drop points and others pull away. A win could see us go top while a defeat would put us four points behind and thus the result of this game could determine whether we remain one of the pacesetters or slip back to become one of the chasing pack.

The latter is a position which has become familiar to our opponents this week. While United have spent much of their time so far this season in the top three, Exeter have just moved into that echelon for the first time this season after a recent run of form which has seen them win three of their last four. Their 4-0 win away at Scunthorpe on Saturday was a real statement of intent but having moved into the top three on the back of such an impressive result the Grecians have now put themselves in a position to be shot at and this is what we have to try and do.

However, we'll have to do it without some important players. Johnny Mullins and Deane Smalley are both unlikely to be fit and Alfie Potter is a definite absentee. To an extent it simplifies matters as far as team selection is concerned. I would expect David Hunt will return to his usual right-back position with Jake Wright and Michael Raynes in the centre. With Potter out, Ryan Williams should come in on the right wing in a standard 4-4-2 formation. Of course, there have been a few occasions this season when Chris Wilder has chosen to shake things up and caught the opposition off guard – as against Northampton last time at the Kassam – but with the players available a 4-4-2 would seem the most likely lineup.

And while our injuries seem to be mounting up right now, Exeter appear to be heading towards a clean bill of health, with Matt Oakley the only notable absentee. He is replaced in the midfield by the returning Matt Gill who came off the bench to feature on Saturday after signing from Bristol Rovers last week.

Exeter have won their last three games on the road and naturally come into the game full of confidence. Our home form is less than impressive and Exeter are typically a side that we struggle against at the Kassam, with last season's disappointing 4-2 defeat a case in point. But, as has already been much discussed, if this season is to be different we need to overcome that and pick up more results at home and there have been some positive signs that we are moving in the right direction in this area. A win against Exeter would certainly back that up in style and put us in a very handy position.

From the Vaults

Oxford United v Exeter City, 4th September 2007

Having taken a look back at some of Oxford's greatest comebacks last week we unfortunately now remember an occasion when United were caught on the wrong side of similar heroics. With the pain of our recent play-off defeat at the hands of Exeter still raw, we appeared to be well on our way to exorcising those demons when the Grecians returned to the Kassam the following season. Two penalties from Rob Duffy had given us a comfortable lead but in typical fashion we collapsed in the second half, conceding the equaliser in injury time to draw 2-2.

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

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Accrington Stanley 0-0 Oxford United

Oxford were frustratingly held to a goalless draw against League Two's bottom side Accrington Stanley. United were poor in the first half but created a host of chances without finding the net in the second. As a result, United drop out of the top three but due to results elsewhere are now just a point off top spot.

Friday, 18 October 2013

PREVIEW: Accrington Away (19/10/13)

This weekend the league's best away side travel to the league's worst home side. While Oxford have dropped just two points on the road so far this season, Accrington are still waiting for their first win at the Crown Ground. We've all been here before, the script is written etc etc.

It's been a tough season for Stanley, currently five points adrift at the bottom of the league with just three points garnered from their first 11 games. However, there are signs that they are improving and they were only denied their first win of the season away at AFC Wimbledon last weekend by a late equaliser. Unfortunately for them, their goalscorer Kayode Odejayi was also sent off controversially in that game and will be banned for our visit. Manager James Beattie has said he may look to shake up his side in an attempt to reverse Accrington's fortunes, so who knows what to expect from the hosts this weekend.

Perhaps he's taking a leaf out of Chris Wilder's book after he experimented with the formation last week to reverse our recent slump in home form. But after impressing against Northampton last week it raises a question of whether to stick with that successful system or return to the plan which has so far served us so well on the road. There appear to be no fresh injury concerns to report, though Alfie Potter's hamstring problem picked up in the JPT against Portsmouth appears to be more complicated than first expected and he won't travel as a result.

Our record against Accrington is impressive. In eight previous encounters we've never been beaten and have won four of the last five (the sole draw in that run coming in the FA Cup as Michael Raynes scored in the last minute to snatch a replay at the death). If all goes according to form, all signs point towards an Oxford win. But then, it wouldn't be Oxford if it was easy...

Also This Weekend

Chris Allen's table-topping youth team travel to Bournemouth in the League Cup this weekend, fresh from an impressive 2-0 win at a strong Cheltenham side last time out. Can they make it five consecutive victories?

The women's development squad play their first home game of the season this weekend as they host Millwall Lionesses. They followed up their heavy defeat to Arsenal on the opening day with a narrow 2-1 loss to Yeovil in the cup last week and face a Millwall side who beat the Glovers 7-0 in their first game of the season. Let's hope they can pull one out of the bag this time around.

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

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Thursday, 17 October 2013

5 of the Best Oxford Comebacks

In the world of football what's better than winning? Winning against the odds, of course. There is little sweeter than snatching something from a game when all appeared lost, particularly if it happens to come right at the end of the match. So we thought we'd trawl our Youtube archives to bring you some of the finest comebacks engineered by various Oxford United sides through the years. Enjoy!

5-2 v Leeds United, 24th November 1984

The mighty yellows had started the season well and already had their eye on the Division Two title when fifth-placed Leeds came to the Manor for the first ever league encounter between the two clubs. Leeds, for their part, were looking for revenge after being dumped out of the League Cup by Oxford the previous season and raced to a two-goal lead. Gary Briggs pulled a goal back before half-time to reignite hopes of a result but few could have predicted what would follow after the break. Billy Hamilton equalised almost immediately after the restart before John Aldridge stole the show with an incredible hat-trick.

5-5 v Portsmouth, 3rd November 1995

As this match entered the final 20 minutes it appeared that Oxford would be on the end of a thrashing, having been completely dominated by Portsmouth for the majority of the game. In fact, they could have scored more than the five they did manage if not for an impressive display of goalkeeping from Paul Reece but they were nevertheless 3-0 up with half an hour played and it looked like things might get embarrassing. Dave Penney pulled one back but hopes of a comeback were shortlived as we shipped another at the other end, though Jim Magilton volleyed home to reduce the deficit to two goals once again. United looked to be dead and buried when Pompey made it 5-2 and when John Durnin netted a third Oxford goal in the 73rd it looked little more than a consolation. Magilton converted a penalty in injury time to bring it back to 5-4 and immediately from the restart Chrissy Allen seized on a rebound to cap a remarkable comeback as the yellows snatched a point.

2-1 v York City, 8th August 2009

The summer of 2009 was filled with promise as Chris Wilder rebuilt the side ready for a promotion challenge. Hopes were high going into the opening day clash with York but as the match entered the final minutes things had fallen a little flat. York deservedly led 1-0 after Richard Brodie broke free and were looking assured as United struggled to get into sort of rhythm during the game. Then, on 88 minutes, Matt Green was put through by Luke Foster and flicked over the goalkeeper to equalise. But the drama wasn't over there and with the game now into injury time Mark Creighton came up for a corner to fire in after chaos in the penalty area.

2-1 v Crawley Town, 1st December 2009

The 2009-10 season had drama aplenty but few matches could have topped this one. United were 1-0 down and struggling at the Broadfield Stadium after falling behind on 15 minutes. In desperation Chris Wilder chucked on James Constable, Alfie Potter and Onome Sodje late in the game in an attempt to reverse his side's fortunes but still it looked like we would be going home empty-handed. Then, with seven minutes left to play, Adam Chapman levelled the scores and Oxford were looking ascendant. When James Constable won a penalty deep in injury time it appeared the comeback was complete but he saw his spot-kick saved. It seemed we'd have to be content with a point, until Chapman crossed for Constable to ghost in in the 92nd minute.

3-3 v Accrington Stanley, 1st December 2012

Late action was the order of the day in this goal-fest last season. United seemed to have thrown it away when Jon-Paul Pittman's opener was cancelled out before the break and when James Beattie gave the hosts the lead with a wonder-goal ten minutes from time it appeared Oxford would be sent crashing out of the FA Cup. Alfie Potter played in James Constable to level just six minutes later but any plans for the replay were put on hold when Lee Molyneux curled in a free-kick in stoppage time. But up stepped Michael Raynes to save the day as he headed in in the 94th minute to keep the yellows hanging on by the skin of their teeth in the tie, just seconds before the final whistle.

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Sunday, 13 October 2013

Oxford United 2-0 Northampton Town

Two goals in two minutes at the end of the first half helped Oxford to their first home win since August, with James Constable instrumental in both. First he charged through on goal to finish off a wonderful team move and then he earned a penalty, which was dispatched by Danny Rose. United looked comfortable throughout and move onto next week's trip to basement side Accrington full of confidence.

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Friday, 11 October 2013

PREVIEW: Northampton Home (12/10/13)

This Saturday offers another chance to end what has been a miserable run of form at home as struggling Northampton come to town. Tuesday's JPT defeat to Portsmouth was our third consecutive defeat at the Kassam and debate over the club's home form has raged (including on this site with two articles here and here).

Typically, the Cobblers, who have started the season limply and currently find themselves second bottom in the table, picked up their first away points of the season last weekend with a 2-0 win over AFC Wimbledon. And having struggled to keep the goals out in the opening stages of the season Northampton have followed up their first clean sheet of the season a fortnight ago with another shutout last weekend, so it's not going to be easy to break them down – something we have notoriously struggled to do at home. One piece of welcome news is the doubtful fitness of Chris Hackett, a familiar face after spending the first six years of his career here.

More welcome news comes from the Oxford camp, with the surprisingly quick return to form of Jake Wright and Andy Whing's return from suspension. That should cause a nice dilemma for Chris Wilder, with Michael Raynes filling in admirably in the centre of defence while the captain was out and an encouraging performance in the middle of the park from Josh Ruffels during the week. The only long-term absentee now is Jon Meades, who is still yet to make his competitive debut and is set to miss a further three months of football after an operation during the week.

It's crucial that we don't concede the first goal this weekend as that will likely double the already difficult task of breaking down a stubborn Northampton side. Aidy Boothroyd's sides are usually set up to be difficult to play against but it's one of those games where it's important to keep the ball on the floor because we won't be able to compete with them in the air. This was the approach we took for the Cobblers' last visit last November and it worked well, but we allowed ourselves to be dragged into a battle at Sixfields in the snow and came out on the wrong side side of a 1-0 scoreline.

From the Vaults

Oxford United v Northampton Town, 2nd December 1995

Oxford were looking for a quick recovery following a 2-1 defeat to Colchester in the Auto Windscreens during the week when Northampton came to town for an FA Cup second round tie. The Third Division side came to the Manor with high hopes of causing an upset but after Stuart Massey opened the scoring it turned out to be a straightforward victory for Denis Smith's men with Paul Moody striking late on to make it safe.

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

Also This Weekend

The youth team look to follow up their 7-1 thrashing of Swindon a fortnight ago with a trip to the Youth Alliance South West division leaders Cheltenham Town this weekend. It's a tough fixture but after scoring 12 goals in their last two games, somehow I think they won't be too daunted.

The women's development squad are also coming into this weekend on the back of a 7-1 result – a 7-1 thrashing at the hands of Arsenal in their opening WSL Development League match last week. Ordinarily if you lose 7-1 in your first match you find yourself bottom of the table, but fortunately Watford (8-1 v Reading) and Yeovil (7-0 v Millwall) had even more calamitous results. And it's the Glovers who we take on next as the girls travel to Somerset for a Development League Cup 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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Why Are Oxford So Poor at Home?

By Michael Roberson,

This season, and for many previous, our home form has been our downfall. Where we’ve thrived on the road, the Kassam hasn’t been the fortress every manager wants their home ground to be. No opposition looks intimidated by the prospect of playing here, no away fans quietened by the roaring atmosphere here, no consistent form here. So, why? Why can I never enjoy the journey up to Grenoble Road, calm and assured of an excellent performance and three points? Why won’t the starting XI run the game like a home side should?

Firstly, there’s the atmosphere. Now, the introduction of the ‘Yellow Army’ to liven up match days is beginning to improve the vibe. But for a majority of the game the atmosphere often falls flat. The role of the fan to cheer his team on fails at points – granted because often there isn’t much to cheer. And this tense, unimpressed feeling from the fans will trickle down to the players who are receptive to the anxiety felt in the stands, increasing pressure on them to perform. The fans that make the long journeys away however are going to be in louder voice, cheering on the team through the lows, because they’ve made the long journey to a League Two ground. Perhaps it’s the lift the players experience only away from the Kassam that provokes a more effective style of football.

Talking of anxiety, maybe it’s the expectation of a win that can add to the pressure of the players, making them more nervous on the pitch. Three points are almost always what the fans expect from a home performance, maybe the players know this. And if they do, the expectation level rises, whereas on the road if we drop a point or three the players won’t be as disappointed because there isn’t that element of expectancy. 
Picture by @Daniel21Leggett
Another problem at home is that we’re not positive enough. Many times if we do go a goal up we tend to sit back and commit fewer men forward. Not to the same extent as in the Atkins days, but we need to kill teams off and we very rarely do. When was the last time we really dominated any side at home? If we want the opposition to be afraid of playing here, this aspect’s got to improve.

One thing’s for sure though, right now we can’t blame the pitch. The summer investment of £50,000 means United have (at least for now) a pitch of high quality. Last season, the turf played its part in leading to some very poor passing and controlling the ball, but right now that can’t be considered a problem. Let’s moan about that later in the year when London Welsh have torn it to shreds! 

And with the £50,000 we have available to invest on a pitch, it’s clear we’re a big club in this league. Like what we see at Old Trafford, maybe it’s a case of teams upping their game at a bigger club? I know we’re no Man Utd but you get what I’m saying.

Whatever it is that’s wrong at the moment though needs sorting. If we were to combine our solid away form with consistent performances and three points back in Oxford, we’d be looking like promotion favourites. At this rate though, it’s League Two for us again next season. 

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Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Oxford's Split Personality

The League Two season is now ten games old – a point which is widely recognised as the time to review the start we have made to the season. By this point in the season the table has begun to take some shape, promotion contenders and relegation candidates materialise and patterns have begun emerge.

At the ten-match mark we find ourselves fourth in the table, outside the automatic promotion places by two points. It's a decent position to be in and puts us in a good position to push on and challenge this season but a concerning trend has emerged, albeit a not-unexpected one. Of course, the issue on everyone's lips at the moment is the team's home form.

It's something which has been debated extensively on Yellows Forum and on the excellent Oxpod United podcast and a veritable cavalcade of explanations have been posited, from negative fans to away teams raising their game at the Kassam. It's an issue that's come to dominate all talk of the club but one I've been reluctant to wade into, mainly due to the fact that I've already written about it last season. However, at the risk of repeating myself, it would be impossible to review the season so far without reference to this unusual phenomenon.

In the simplest of terms, Oxford appear to be a completely different side away from home than we are at home. On the road, we are clinical, free-scoring and relatively solid at the back (only Fleetwood and Mansfield have conceded fewer goals than us away). At home, it's a completely different story: only struggling Hartlepool and Accrington have scored fewer goals than we have on their own ground and matches at the Kassam frequently descend into dreary morale-sapping experiences as United struggle to find any rhythm to break down the opposition.



The level of support or the expectations of the fans shouldn't be a factor. Look at small, moneyed clubs like Crawley - expectations are high but supporters are low and it seems to have no effect on their performances. This season has put paid to the popular myth from last season that the state of the pitch was responsible for our poor home form - London Welsh have only played once at the Kassam so far this season. Having a 'nice' stadium isn't the problem either; Rotherham had a brand-new stadium last year which was a lot better than ours and they won promotion and Chesterfield's stadium is much newer and shinier than the Kassam and they have no problems at home.

In my opinion, the reason for our inability to perform at home is not due to the atmosphere or the pressure the players are under, it's something far simpler. The team are set up to be a very good counter-attacking outfit, but when it comes to taking the initiative and breaking opposing sides down we frequently struggle.

This is borne out by the stats. According to the (admittedly not-too-reliable) possession statistics listed on the club's official website, we have enjoyed the majority of possession on just two occasions this season. Clearly that's not because we're being outplayed by our opponents, it's because the team is set up allow our opponents to see a large amount of the ball and then hit them when the openings appear. This is a tactic which will naturally lend itself better to away matches but it's not going to work so well against other teams who are looking to do similar to us at our place – Southend on Saturday being a prime example (for the record, the Shrimpers had just 38% possession in that match).

Oxford are probably the best team in League Two without the ball, but clearly we need to be better with it. Despite losing, I saw some positive signs against Portsmouth that we are still capable of imposing ourselves on sides when they come to the Kassam but we clearly lacked that cutting edge that has made us so clinical on our travels. Nevertheless it gives me some hope that we can change our style of play at home and we'll have to if we want our form to improve.

We don't need to be fantastic at home to win promotion from this league, as the current table demonstrates, just a slight improvement will be enough to get us over the line. Gillingham won the league last season despite losing six and drawing five of their home matches last season – including a 1-0 defeat to us. That said, if home crowds are to improve from their average of 6,180 we are going to have to start getting results and entertaining fans. That's not so easily solved...

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Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Oxford United 1-2 Portsmouth

Oxford's JPT campaign is over for another year as they fell at the first hurdle at home to Portsmouth. The yellows dominated for large portions of the net but were unable to put the ball in the net and were undone by second-half goals from Patrick Agyemang and John Marquis. It extends the home losing streak to three matches ahead of the visit of Northampton on Saturday, but on a positive note youngsters Josh Ruffels and Callum O'Dowda each got 90 minutes and Scott Davies also impressed.

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Sunday, 6 October 2013

Oxford United 0-2 Southend United

The curse of the Kassam continued as Oxford lost a second successive home game, going down 2-0 to Southend. Conor Clifford and Luke Prosser each found the net in the first half during what was a particularly poor showing for the first half. The result and performance caused a ripple of concern throughout the fanbase as United drop out of the top three. But don't take it from me, here's the match in tweets...

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Friday, 4 October 2013

PREVIEW: Southend Home (05/10/13)

Southend are the visitors this week as the mighty yellows look to build on last weekend's 3-1 win over Hartlepool and give the home fans something to cheer about. With United currently second in the table you'd think Oxford fans would be feeling good at the moment, but supporters haven't seen Oxford win at home since the visit of Bury back in August, with two draws and a defeat in subsequent matches at the Kassam. No wonder then that some fans are feeling a little unloved at the moment, but this weekend's match offers an opportunity to put that right.

That's not the only sequence of results we'd like to see overturned this weekend. Our recent form against Southend is miserable, with just one win in our last ten encounters. The last time the Shrimpers visited the Kassam was to knock us out of the JPT back in January, following that up the following month with a 1-0 win at Roots Hall.

That said, the Southend which comes to town this weekend is quite a different beast to the one which has caused us so much pain in the last few years. Paul Sturrock is out and new boss Phil Brown has not enjoyed the easiest of starts to his tenure in Essex. After winning the first three games of the season, Southend have since failed to register a single victory and haven't scored more than once in a game since the middle of August.

As a result, they took the rather drastic step of naming six first-team players in a development squad match against Colchester during the week in an attempt to get them back into a winning frame of mind ahead of their trip to the Kassam. Only time will tell whether the resulting 5-1 victory will have given them a much-needed confidence boost or will have tired them out ahead of the weekend.

Picture by Jon Whiles Photography
Chris Wilder has some interesting selection choices to make this weekend. For example, does he keep faith with the side which responded so strongly last weekend? If so, that will mean no place in the side for the returning Dave Kitson after he served his one-match ban last week. And what about James Constable, who is returning to full fitness after chipping a bone in his foot? Could Alfie Potter, who has been one of our most important players so far this season, be the one to miss out for either of the returning strikers? Certainly it would seem harsh on Ryan Williams to be dropped after impressing on the right wing last weekend and scoring his first senior goal. One thing we can say with certainty is that fit-again Max Crocombe will return to the bench this weekend, after Shwan Jalal was recalled by Bournemouth during the week.

From the Vaults

Oxford United v Southend United, 24th August 1996

The season was young when Southend came to the Manor for our first home league game of the season. We had returned to the second tier after two seasons away and began with a trip to QPR, freshly relegated from the Premier League. Southend had been mainstays at this level since their promotion in 1991, but their star was falling and they arrived at Oxford with a season of struggle ahead of them...

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

Also This Weekend

Oxford get their first taste of WSL football this weekend. Although the new WSL2 season doesn't begin until next year, the women's development squad begin their WSL Development League season on Sunday with something of a trial by fire. They travel to Hertfordshire University to face Arsenal's development squad in the Southern Division.

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Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Youth Team Thrash Swindon

Being unable to get to Hartlepool on Saturday, I decided to head down to Roman Way in the morning to watch the youth team in action against Swindon. Anyone who's already seen the score will, of course, understand why I'm glad I did! With just a couple of exceptions it was the first time I had seen any of the current crop of youngsters and I caught them in imperious form as they thrashed Swindon 7-1.

In truth, it was a total mismatch. As good as Oxford undoubtedly were, Swindon were poor in every area. This was plainly apparent from the moment the match began and within five minutes the yellows had a two-goal lead, thanks to the predatory instincts of James Roberts. Roberts was a revelation last season and he scored goals for fun as a first-year scholar (including the first time I had seen him play, in the Oxfordshire Senior Cup final back in May) and he was certainly a class above the Swindon defence.

His first was a looping header as he was allowed to rise unchallenged to meet a deep floated cross into the box. For his second, Roberts burst through the sluggish backline to latch onto an incisive through ball from Freddie Grant and from the moment he made his run it was clear he would score. The Swindon keeper was left helpless as Roberts coolly dinked it over him.

Of course, it wasn't all a one-man show. Roberts may have gobbled up every chance that came his way but he needed someone to create those chances for him. Enter Sam Humphreys, who was a constant threat on the wing. Time and time again he beat his man and looked to deliver a ball into the box and it was always obvious that it would lead to a goal eventually. In fact it took less than 20 minutes as Jamie Calvin tapped in the third from close range. Humphreys had again turned the Swindon full-back inside out before heading for the byline and pulling it back into the danger zone. The danger should have been cleared then and there but when defender and goalkeeper contrived to make a hash of the clearance Calvin was on hand to punish them.

Barney Martin
Swindon did pull a goal back, direct from a corner, and enjoyed a fleeting spell of pressure but Oxford never really looked in trouble. Goalkeeper Barney Martin should probably have done better for Swindon's goal but otherwise coped admirably on what was an admittedly quiet afternoon for him. He made a couple of decent saves in this period, including to spare Alfie Grant an embarrassing own goal after a cross bounced off his legs and looked destined for goal. Even more impressive is that Martin is only playing for the youth team at the moment because the first and second-choice goalkeepers, Josh Hill and Eddie Cavanagh, are both out injured. Martin usually keeps goal for the under-16s.

But as impressive as the whole team undoubtedly were, the first half really belonged to Roberts, who scored his third just before half-time on the break, pinching the ball off the feet of a static Swindon centre-back before lobbing the humiliated goalkeeper to wrap up his hat-trick. How many other times can we say we've seen an Oxford player score a first-half hat-trick against our local rivals?

The highly-rated Aidan Hawtin was introduced to the fray after the break and he looked hungry to inflict further damage on the visitors. He could have had a hat-trick himself, narrowly missing a one-on-one just moments after coming on to the field, he did well to meet an excellent defence-splitting pass but saw his effort drift agonisingly wide of the left-hand post. He had better luck on his second and third attempts, finding the net first with a header and then with a volley after getting the wrong side of the defence but on both occasions he was denied by the linesman's flag.

Having hit their opponents on the break several times in the first half (sound familiar?) Oxford's approach play in the second was more largely based around some lovely passing football. The Swindon defence were bamboozled by United's slick passing and superior movement and as a result they were able to slice through the massed Swindon ranks as if they were made of butter. Roberts got his fourth from just one such move, the yellows passing the ball around nicely on the edge of the area and when the gap inevitably opened he exploited it with a well-placed strike, finding the bottom right corner with pinpoint accuracy.

With Muctaru Conte coming off the bench to play on the left wing, Sam Humphreys was moved to the right but looked no less comfortable as an inverted winger. Given the recent discussions about our use of width in the senior team, I thought it was interesting to see that we are trying to produce players with the tactical flexibility to play on either flank. Humphreys looked very dangerous coming in centrally with the ball on his left foot and he added Oxford's sixth after a glorious passing move had opened up space on the left, allowing Hunphreys the simple task of tapping in the cross with his stronger foot.

Having been pulled around all match Swindon by now looked exhausted and they collapsed towards the end, having briefly looked like they'd tightened up at the back in the earlier stages of the second half. But the exhausted and disheartened defence could do nothing to stop the sprightly Hawtin from finally getting his goal when he latched onto a through-ball from Humphreys and slotted in for the seventh.

It's difficult to make any firm judgements about the team or make forecasts about the future of these players based just on one match, especially one as one-sided as this one. But based on the evidence on display in this game, the future is looking incredibly bright for some of these lads and for the club in general if this is the standard of player they're producing. With the development squad now in place to ease their progression into senior football the club is now better set up than ever before to nurture the obvious talent on display in our youth team.

Team: B Martin, Clarke, F Grant, Ashby, A Grant, McCormack, D Martin, George, Roberts, Calvin, Humphreys

Subs: Hawtin, Hackett, Conte, Welch-Hayes, Hayden

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