The Oxford view

February 13, 2018

Fan’s View 2017/18 (no.35) Bristol Rovers at home

Article by Paul Beasley

Oxford United 1 Bristol Rovers 2

rovers

Photo, Simon Jaggs

I’m regularly asked how I think we’ll do in the next match. Erring on the side of caution, I’m usually very non-committal, giving a wide ranging answer. On this I was only prepared to declare that we’d be better than we had been against Bury but would not witness such an exhilarating display as we’d seen at the Valley.

I think I can safely say that the latter was definitely true and I’d say the former was too, although I heard at least one person say we were as bad as we were against the Shakers.

Rovers came on the back of a good run. They lost to a very good Shrewsbury side last week but prior to that had achieved three wins and three draws from their previous six fixtures, although this did not include any of the biggest scalps in the division. For all this, of the 39 points they’d accumulated, only 12 had been on their travels.

Anyone who studies the game will know that one of the reasons we beat Charlton was that they played, or at least attempted to play, football and that suits us very nicely indeed. We were obviously expecting something different from Rovers, whether that is a fair assumption or not: more physical and more direct. And we all know we have not usually been able to cope with that for many years no matter who our manager is or what team we put out. It doesn’t make any sense but appears to be a fact of Oxford United life.

Is it possible to score too early? That’s what we were all thinking if not saying when we went a goal up in two minutes. That this was our default position says how little faith we as fans have in our team. I think the same can be said of the team itself and what little belief it has in itself. I’d argue that in contrast it was the opposite regarding the visiting players and fans. You can’t deny they’ve got something there when they belt out “Goodnight Irene” en masse. It obviously irritates when it’s heard on our territory but their fans and team seemed much more as one than we do at the Kassam. It’s all so very different to when we’re the ones travelling.

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The Gas

The ultras were back though which was a pleasing sight and they did their best having to work with, well, nothing coming back off the pitch.

It was very strange then that there was a period in the first 45 minutes when, despite there being 1804 in the away section and 6667 in the home areas, it was eerily quiet.

Possession was gifted to us prior to our goal when keeper Adam Smith opted not to take a step back and gather a long kick form his counterpart but to try and kick clear. He made a hash of that and Isaac Buckley-Ricketts read the situation, playing a first time forward pass which Alex Mowatt hurdled allowing it to run through to Wes Thomas. With his second touch as he fell to the ground, our striker, with the outside of his right foot, flipped the ball to Joe Rothwell who took it on and hammered home.

For the record I’ll say it is never too early to get a goal if you’re a decent football team. If it is a psychological burden then why not pretend it never happened, just stick it in the bank and start again with 0-0 imprinted in the brains?

Although it will be overlooked in the final reckoning, we did have a chance or two to get a second before the break. Rothwell went close, Buckley-Ricketts blasted over and Josh Ruffels failed to finish a neat move. Also to be fair there were a couple of neat flowing moves but as a whole we weren’t flowing as a team.

We also had mistakes in us and as the half wore on, if we’d been pegged back or possibly even gone behind, it would not have been a total surprise as we saw clues as to what was to come in part two. That we didn’t let one in until we did was partially down to poor Rovers finishing.

In the second half there was only one team in it. Them, not us. I was quite impressed with Rovers who not only were physically stronger and more determined than we were, but also played some football too. I wouldn’t say they were any dirtier than your average team either although I’d not witnessed players being blocked off way off the ball quite like this for quite a while. If the referee doesn’t spot or penalise such things can you blame them?

Gavin Ward wasn’t the best or worst referee we’ve come across this season. He did really well to remember to book Aaron Martin after playing advantage when there wasn’t a stoppage for what seemed like a few minutes. But how he missed one of the most blatant pushes you’ll ever see just before Simon Eastwood was forced to tip a header over the bar in front of the east stand was unforgiveable. Ellis Harrison was the guilty party and it prevented John Mousinho getting his header away. We didn’t even complain. Play to the whistle yes, but at least have a bloody good moan and let said official know what’s going on because it needs pointing out.

By the time Ward ended the proceedings Rovers were thoroughly deserving of their win. We’d been completely outfought in midfield. In the first half there had been times when we’d managed to smother an opponent on the ball but that stopped. They were livelier and appeared to have greater energy than we did.

Watching home performances like this is becoming utterly tiresome. If we are going to get beaten, at least do so with a semblance of fight. We were woeful. A hollow shell of a football team. Smith did not have anything to do in the second half. Absolutely zip. We didn’t even go for it in the last few minutes. Where was that passion we saw the previous Saturday? A football season is for 46 matches not just the odd occasion here and there when it takes the fancy. (Not sure who I’m aiming that at.)

It keeps hitting me that I am getting terrible value for money from my season ticket. I choose to sit in a seat now designated as premium but I don’t think Oxford fans even got a fivers worth here. It’s that bad.

I rode the high of the Charlton win for a week but that has now been over written in the RAM (to use a computer analogy) in my brain with what I endured in this limp effort. It’s a common cliché in sport that you are only as good as your last game. I don’t totally buy into that but I doubt I’ll be as good company this week as I was in the previous seven days. Anything OUFC now seems incredibly gloomy. What a contrast.

People said give Faz until the end of the season. Last week 100% yes. This week 100% no. The names of potential new managers still make me want to weep. I’m still after that pragmatist to get us the required points for survival although I think there’s still much more chance of us staying up than going down. That said, more soul destroying displays like this and we’ll likely get sucked in and arrive with no heart or drive which would be a major concern.

I’m not one to have a go at Darryl Eales or yell for him to go but I really would like to know what is happening with my football club behind the scenes. Two smartly dressed Thai gentlemen were spotted yet again. Whilst it, whatever it is, drags on, what else could we be dragged into? Charlton looks like the exception to the rule with normal service being resumed against the Gas.

As the game moved to its inevitable conclusion my brother asked the question, how many of these will be here next season? A very good question. He then said, “Ruffels?” I think there will more than just one, obviously, but I knew what he was getting at.

It doesn’t look like we’re building anything if you ask me.

Eastwood could well be gone and could you blame him?

Our full-backs are both on loan. Ashley Smith- Brown will be 22 in March and Todd Kane is well into his 25th year. Why did we bring those particular lads in? Just to replace much older players in the short term? Or is it hoped to keep them longer? If not we’ll be back to square one in those positions. They may have more energy and ability to get forward but I’m yet to be convinced they’re solid L1 defensive options. What is it we need right now? For every Charlton how many Bristol Rovers?

At times I thought we lacked experience and in built lower league nous. That shouldn’t really be the case with Mousinho, 31, and Martin, 28, in the side. No side has let in more goals on their own pitch than we have so something isn’t right. Martin was my man of the match and for the most part I thought he did ok. He only mis-kicked once which is not something that could be said of his partner.

We were not alert enough when Rovers were given a free-kick they should not have had and defended it poorly which made it 1-1 and for their winner we just didn’t bother to mark a man in the box, but by then they were knocking the ball about fairly freely so it was all really just a matter of the natural course finding its way.

Everyone is expecting Rob Dickie to be given a start pdq and he is looked on as one for the future. But next season who knows? Does anyone in the club? Charlie Raglan was poor against Cheltenham for Port Vale apparently. Mike Williamson is 34. Will we ever see him in an oxford shirt again? Do we want to?

It’s grim isn’t it?

Rothwell is ours, not on loan. Hurrah! But his contract runs out in the summer so he can leave for just a minimum amount of compensation. Boo. How did we manage to get into that situation, particularly given the business model we once tried to follow?

Offers will come in for Ledson no doubt and he’ll likely be off up the pecking order of football clubs.

Alex Mowatt is yet another on loan.

Buckley-Ricketts will soon be 20 and the chances of him ever breaking through at Manchester City must be about as high as us playing in the Championship in 2018/19. He’s tricky on the ball but why the **** doesn’t he pass the darned thing more? Greed or inexperience? Surely City should have coached that out of him by now.

Perhaps because of this grimness I’m getting a downer on people I shouldn’t.

B-R of course isn’t ours but Malachai Napa is. He wasn’t able to influence the game when he came on though, but nor would I expect him to.

The paucity of our striking options hit home hard. No false number nine stuff would have bamboozled Rovers.

No way did Thomas look fit. I felt for the guy. I think he’s an intelligent footballer but his frame keeps letting him down. On one occasion the ball came to him in the air and before it arrived he quickly glanced around to see what was on and who was available. Nobody of course. His brain might have been sharp but his body wasn’t. A defender got on the premises and nicked the ball. Everything he did he did sparingly.

John Obika, another sick note, wasn’t even on the bench.

Crocks are really no good to us in the short, medium or long term. What term applies to each depends of course on the length of contract negotiated.  Fit or not a salary is still drawn.

We saw 24 minutes of Agon Mehmeti. That’s not long enough to judge but I’m going to anyway. I hope I’m not being drawn down the must find a scapegoat alley but I couldn’t see that he offered anything at all. He had nothing whatsoever to lose so why not really give it a go? All I can remember was a bit of brain dead football. We needed to keep the pressure on so what does he do? Bundle into the back of a defender meaning free-kick and ball cleared.

What straws are there left to clutch? Ivo Pekalski? Cameron Branagan?

If Rotherham is more akin to Rovers than Charlton, the next FV might just be one blank piece of black paper. Perhaps I’ll just get Johnny Nice to write it for me.

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