Fan’s view 18/19 – no.35 – Fleetwood away

Article by Paul Beasley Sunday, January 13th, 2019  

FLEETWOOD TOWN AWAY

Pre-match pessimism & the window

Anyone who knows my stance will obviously know I didn’t venture to Whaddon Road on Tuesday for the Checkatrade game against Cheltenham. Only 136 fewer people turned up for this match than did for the one back in 2014, when I was in attendance, in the supposedly same competition. This tells that many aren’t bothered at all that the trophy has been polluted by Premier League U21 outfits.

Any one of the 332 Oxford fans who saw the 1-1 draw and the progression on penalties will have a much more valid opinion on our performance than I. But that’s not going to stop me.

My hate for the Checkatrade doesn’t mean I wanted us to get knocked out and I have to say I was disappointed that we couldn’t beat a side from a division lower particularly given the side Karl Robinson picked. It should have been capable of doing better.

For anyone looking for a tiny bit of positivity I suppose one can point to the team actually scoring a goal, all spot kicks in the shootout being converted and another step closer to Wembley and the money it brings.

It’s now Friday. Since I wrote the last FV there has been no further transfer activity. There’s good and bad in this. Good and bad which can change in the blink of an eye until the window is slammed shut.

Has anything ever been more glaringly obvious where Oxford United are concerned than our current desperate need for a striker who can score goals, hold the ball up and feed team mates? We’ve been led to believe that one would be coming in within 48 hrs well over 48 hours ago with another arriving later. I wish mouths would be kept shut. Actions speak louder than words. That includes both getting the players in and then the players doing the business.

I hate slagging off anyone in a yellow shirt but let’s be honest our record in striker recruitment has been atrocious. John Obika didn’t do it for us one little bit. He started 25 games and came on as sub in another 21 and has scored a grand total of six league goals. No wonder we got him on a free. What were we thinking? Perhaps the recruiters liked the way he drags his foot over the ball from time to time as he goes nowhere. (I genuinely wish him well in recovering from his nasty injury and hope he finds another club).

The more I think about Sam Smith the more I shake my head.

Wes Thomas made 40 league starts and 10 substitute appearances for us in the previous two seasons where he found the back of the net 13 times. Not prolific by any stretch of the imagination but the best we’ve had since Kemar Roofe departed. I wanted much better though and it’s no surprise that he’s now plying his trade in L2. As is Kane Hemmings. When he was farmed out to Mansfield (L2) and we weren’t banging them in, some of our fans were arguing quite vociferously that he was the answer. Having seen him a few times I’d concluded that he wasn’t L1 standard. He’s currently playing for Notts County who are bottom of L2. Enough said.

What I’m really angling towards here is get it ****ing right this time. Or at a minimum don’t **** up as much as you’ve done in the last couple of years.

On the pIaying side of things it’s a positive that Curtis Nelson is still here. That’s ignoring the financial downside of him being offski for nowt in the summer. Another playing positive is that Marcus Browne has not (yet?) been recalled by West Ham.

I’m a bit surprised that Ricky Holmes is still here and possibly Luke Garbutt too? I’m not sure whether we’ve actually got the option to send them back though. I doubt we’ll get value for money out of them.

I’m watching this space.

I don’t think I believe in bogey teams but our record against Fleetwood is something that should perhaps prompt me towards a reassessment. We’ve played them nine times in the league and have achieved ONE single point and in those games scored THREE goals. Stinks doesn’t it?

Time to put that right or else.

Fleetwood Town 2 Oxford United 2

This has to be one of the best examples ever of “a game of two halves”. At the half time interval I had us down as almost certain to be relegated with my pre-match pessimism being well founded. We hadn’t been useless as a team nor individually, but were way short of what is required for L1 survival. The only player who emerged from this with credit was Simon Eastwood; but for him pulling off three very good saves it would have been five not two that the home side were to the good. It wasn’t the worst passing we’ve ever come up with but nowhere near good enough. We had three winger types playing but managed to play without width. I think in the absence of Jamie Mackie it was Gavin Whyte who was supposed to be playing down the middle.

Fleetwood were the ones picking up all the loose balls and looking way more threatening than us, which wasn’t difficult as we had no threat at all. They didn’t press high up and for example were content to let us have possession when we had a throw deep in our own half knowing full well that with all their bodies further back they’d soon get the ball back such was our ineptitude in their half.

We went behind in just eight minutes and this, like the other goals which were to follow, was well worked. After Rob Dickie had done what should have been enough in a challenge on Paddy Madden midway in our half, the ball was latched onto by James Wallace. He played a sumptuous ball with the outside of his right foot as Wes Burns slipped between Curtis Nelson and I assume it was Jamie Hanson. His finish from on the white line of the penalty area was low and perfectly placed past the advancing Eastwood who was blameless. I’d not heard anything nasty shouted the way of Burns so wasn’t sure why he gesticulated in the way he did to our travelling fans.

With over two thirds of the game to play we were two down. Madden was able to run with the ball from well inside his own half. The midfield were nowhere and it was a pair of retreating centre-halves as the only barrier between him and the goal he was advancing towards. We were totally exposed as Josh Ruffels was also awol. Ashley Nadesan in his first game for Fleetwood after a lengthy loan spell at Carlisle received the ball to Madden’s right, controlled it then with his second touch squared it back to the fairly prolific striker whom we’d not bothered to mark. That was criminal. Eastwood made a brave effort but couldn’t keep the strike out.

A small group of fans to my left sang, “sacked in the morning” and “we’re ****ing s**t”. I would have liked to have argued with them but I didn’t have much sound evidence with which to do so. That said it was a ridiculous stance to take because a football match isn’t over until it’s over and there was still plenty of time to go in this one.

My thoughts were we’ve got some good players but our balance and shape were very much lacking and it appeared that belief was too.

After the re-start it was difficult to believe that we were the same team. In my assessment of why this was so I concluded that it was almost solely down to the introduction of Mackie for Marcus Browne. He put himself about in an effective way and it appeared that others followed suit. Also he was playing football and came up with an assist and a goal.

It was pointed out to me that the conditions were also a really big factor. I’d interpreted the constant downpour and accompanying wind as largely being from left to right as I was facing from behind the goal. Indeed Jerome had mentioned on Radio Oxford that he was getting wet from his commentary position which was in the back row. However I’d not really thought things through as the rain was clearly blowing our way too as the first five or six rows of terracing in the Percy Ronson stand were getting soaked. (That’s half the stand).

Also there had been words in the dressing room before the players returned to action not only from the manager but between themselves as a unit.

All of a sudden we had team spirit and from minutes 46 through to the final blast of referee Andy Haines’s whistle we played some of the best football we’ve produced for a long while. Fleetwood weren’t without chances, one of which came following a terrible pass by Nelson who didn’t have the best of games, but we were largely dominant.

It was us who were now collecting balls that ran loose. Once in possession we passed it about with some of the movement of the ball being incisive and in the final third. Often from the luxury of a stand or terrace, passes which are on can be spotted. Sometimes they are the passes that are played, other times they’re not spotted or, possibly wrongly ignored. Here we began knocking it in to space and at some angles that I couldn’t detect. The telegraphed stuff had gone and it was no wonder that the Cod Army defensive unit was becoming much harder worked and less assured.

I thought Jordan Graham was a standout in this and there were some other really impressive performances from here on in. His control was top drawer and he was measured in what he did, looking for openings before playing passes. It is probably unfair to both of them to compare him with Brown but our later arrival looked much more of a team player to me and much less likely to run into trouble and lose the ball. (NB: I still really rate the West Ham man and want him to remain with us).

James Henry was again doing what he does best with lots of energy and non-spectacular effectiveness and once moved back wide, we saw the real Whyte. His technique belies where he came from although that is probably doing a disservice to the Northern Ireland FLIP (Football League Irish Premiership). He can bring a long ball down with little fuss and keeps it at his feet ready to go either way at some speed.

Yes we do have some good players and now had a structure with purpose and belief.

Our first came with the second period only seven minutes old.  It was now Fleetwood making passes that lacked accuracy. Whyte, who was at the time (still) central seized one such pass. As he progressed towards the penalty area Mackie ran across and behind him. With his left Whyte then played the ball into Mackie’s path. JM’s movement isn’t the most fluent and naturally athletic looking but he put everything in to get on the end of it before cutting a pass towards the six yard box. Henry had made a really clever run in front of a number of defenders and he touched home through keeper Alex Cairns’s legs. Movement, you can’t beat it.

With the wind and rain in our sails we produced the equaliser twelve minutes later. Graham brought the ball inside from the left, held off a couple of challenges and then swept a pass out to the right flank to Whyte. We were switching play and stretching our opponents. Sam Long, who had come on for the injured Jamie Hanson a minute before our first, made an off the ball run and took Burns with him. This was vital to the scoring of this goal. Whyte went one way then the other, looking for an opening, before spotting a narrow route through which to hit the ball. Mackie stretched to the max which was just enough to get on the end of it. Cairns was wrong footed and slithered to his right as the ball slowly crossed the line to his left. Mackie is often given off side. He naturally glanced towards the linesman. The Fleetwood defence held their hands up. I’d say Burns was the player keeping our scorer onside.

Having come back from two down we looked much the likelier side to take all three points and were denied a golden opportunity to do so when Haines refused to penalise a blatant shirt pull in the box. He could see it. We could see it. Karl Robinson saw it. The guys from radio Oxford saw it. This broken record is still revolving but it really does seem the case that we get hard done by and treated unfairly by the officials week after week. An example here was with regard to the taking of throw-ins from the exact spot the ball left play. When Ruffels took two steps further forward he was admonished by Haines and forced to go back. The hosts had regularly done this and had stolen way more ground than our left back had inadvertently nicked, yet not a word was spoken to them nor finger wagged. I’m not sure about Mackie’s booking either although I’d need to see it again. It looked to me like he slid along the ground with studs up and played the ball but there was no opponent near enough for it to matter.

Anyway, we would probably have taken a draw before we set out so mustn’t grumble too much I suppose.

It just wouldn’t be me if I didn’t grumble a lot about some matter though so here goes. The bloody Fleetwood ball boys (ball youths), that’s what. (Yes, I know what happened with Aidan Hawtin but that was Oxford v Swindon which is an altogether different scenario).  They’d obviously been instructed to partake in gamesmanship. After they’d taken the lead we had a throw and the ball boy got the ball but instead of throwing it directly to the taker of the throw tossed it into the advertising hoardings. It got even worse later on when one refused to get off his lazy arse and move 10 yards to retrieve the ball. Instead one of our players, it might have been Eastwood, had to run some distance to get the game going again. It was so blatant it was embarrassing.

I wonder if it had stemmed from Joey Barton. He was banned from the dugout for this encounter. Leopard, spots, passion of the game and that type of thing. Pre-match speaking to a couple of very affable Fleetwood fans as we walked to our first port of call, The Strawberry Gardens we learned a little more of Joey on the West coast. Apparently he’s been having a bit of a go at their supporters and hasn’t been particularly complimentary about Chris Long, a forward whose contract was cancelled by “mutual consent” a few days earlier. Long joined the club down the tramlines, Blackpool. He’d only arrived at Fleetwood in the summer, started just one league game and scored just once in 13 appearances. On Saturday Blackpool won 1-0 at Fratton Park. That takes some doing. Long came on in the 68th minute and scored the goal in the 74th minute. Football, hey!

But back to OUFC. Where does this leave us? We’ve moved up a place but are still in the bottom four. Wimbledon drew at Coventry. They’re not going to go away without a fight. Plymouth won at Southend and are just two points behind us. We nipped above Bradford who were turned over by Barnsley, which isn’t that much of a surprise. It’s only goal difference that separates us though. It was annoying that Gillingham and Scunthorpe won and although Rochdale and Shrewsbury lost the teams that beat them are challenging at the top.

With the hard road ahead and the ginormous challenge of Pompey next Saturday the team needs proper support and if they play like they did in the second half at the Highbury stadium they will thoroughly deserve it too.

I can 100% understand some of the negativity on the terraces and social media but what I don’t get is a complete lack of balance. If Karl Robinson does x, y and z that makes him so ****ing clueless. He has only brought in players that are utter crap. So then how do you explain this turn around here? Nothing to do with KR, all down to luck? I assume he had no idea about Jordan Graham, he just appeared at the training ground as if by magic.

This gloom runs way too deep in some. I thought Sam Long played well when he came on. He’s no Dani Alves, but only Dani Alves is Dani Alves. Long I feel is a bit under-rated. He’s quite a steady right back and doesn’t get bullied. I’ve also noted that he can thread a pass or two through as well. For some Robinson should have picked Cameron Norman instead. I despair at times. There’s no other way to say it.

Some of the travellers who undertook the long journey to eventually be rewarded with a point.

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