Fan’s View 18/19 – no.37 – Barnsley at home

Article by Paul Beasley Thursday, January 31st, 2019  

BARNSLEY AT HOME

This is going to be a very lengthy one given our perilous state, so if you’re only interested in the Barnsley match I suggest you skip to the end.

An upside down world

PESSIMISM

(As at 23 Jan)

Yes again. Doom. Gloom. Mistrust. Anger.

Following our second half showing at Fleetwood and the performance against Pompey my pessimism, whilst no way disappearing entirely, had receded a little. That was a rather fleeting state of mind though as I now feel even more despondent than before these two matches.

I’m not crying that we’re out of the Checkatrade, except for the money we won’t now make, but I am deeply concerned that we lost a football match that, based on the selected starting XI, was taken very seriously.

The 101 fans who were loyal/mad enough to travel to Gigg Lane yesterday will know much better than I how abysmal we were. That said I like to tell myself I’ve got a kind of feel for how things were based on a few minutes of the Radio Oxford commentary, the score and comments on social media of some of those who did attend.

Clips I’ve seen of Bury on TV this season show them to be a very good free scoring footballing side. They’ve scored more goals than any other team in L2 and look a very safe bet for automatic promotion, having got over last season’s failed expensive gamble when splashing the cash on salaries for the likes of Chris Maguire and Jermaine Beckford.

At present they are second which puts them only a few places below us in the lower reaches of L1. But come on, that’s no excuse. A five bloody two defeat. Embarrassing. Again.

Simon Eastwood didn’t look right by any means against Portsmouth and seeing the way he let in the first goal of the five wasn’t right here either. We need him fit for the league so why risk making him worse? What’s the point in paying other keepers if they’re not going to be picked?

Although I didn’t make comment about Ahmed Kashi’s few minutes on the pitch in the previous FV, I thought he looked slow and cumbersome. More a pub XI man than a professional full time tier three footballer. The length of time he took over that clearance, which I’m still having trouble getting out of my mind, could have cost us dearly, yet he played the entire game against Bury. Was the reason we let in so many goals down to the fact that Mous didn’t play but just sat on the bench throughout?

We don’t need more unfit players to state the bleedin’ obvious. We can readily produce our own so why bring more in? Hints that we’ve picked up more pulls and knocks that could cost us dear.

And still no striker. How come we can get midfielders but not a striker? Yes of course every club wants someone who can bang the goals in but we’ve not even got someone to rival Jamie Mackie for the hassling role and KR bangs on about there being a need for there to be competition for every position.

Money talks as does the lack of it. If we had money we’d probably have a striker. Bury have Nicky Maynard. He was only a sub. Maynard trained with us; we didn’t make him an offer. That was back in September. At the time KR said: “He’s got other options at this moment and we already have three strikers so we are loaded in that area. I think there are more pressing issues in the team than that position. That’s where we sit right now. I think there are other areas where our money could be better spent. He’s gone to train with other clubs who are looking at him. I have my own views on this that I’ll keep internal, but I know he’d score goals.”

That last sentence is a bit strange. Was it thought that it didn’t really matter as we had Sam Smith? Here’s another quote from Mr Robinson from the end of July 2018, “I think he is another excellent addition. I think most fans have known we were looking at Sam for much of the summer because we know all about the qualities he has and what he will bring to the club. He is quick, direct and will score goals and he also fits the profile of what we look for in a player: hungry for success and willing to work hard as part of a team to achieve that. We believe we have recruited very smartly this summer and there is no question that we are in a much healthier position now than we were at the end of last season. There are still a couple more players we are very close to signing so we believe we are going to be in a really good place by the time the season kicks off.”

Very good place, my arse.

Still no action from Tiger or any of the directors that gives us any hope. We’ve waited and waited and waited. We’re still waiting. February made me shiver ….. bad news on the doors step? But let’s wait and see. Our owner did mention something about money coming in didn’t he? We’ll soon see if there is any substance to this, but the transfer window will be locked shut by then.

My reaction to a defeat in a Micky Mouse competition may appear to be OTT but this just tells how fragile my belief that we were slowly going in the right direction has been.

Under Pep after the Port Vale FA Cup loss I thought that was it. That wasn’t a one off when we couldn’t cope with a lower level side as shown when we lost a lead at home to Cheltenham in the League Cup. I was quite worried from then on in to be honest. The final straw was obviously losing at home to Bury but there were plenty of other horror shows. Bury (them again) away and Wigan at home. I couldn’t see any way he was turning it around.

I’m asking myself is this Checkatrade fiasco a similar tipping point for Karl? Is the evidence now such that he is never going to turn things around? The ridiculous thing is we do have some talented players in the squad. Plenty have shown they are L1 standard and I’d argue that there may be one or two who could at least make the squad of a championship team. It’s the balance that’s wrong as everyone knows.

But now, as probably before, it runs much deeper than the playing staff. Are there any positives other than the U23s and Youth?

And to make matters even worse, that Plymouth win over Walsall dumped us back into the bottom four. It’s so tight at the bottom that this propelled them up to 17th position. Any team that puts together a run like they’ve managed, four straight wins, deserves that to happen. Realistically though does any Oxford Utd fan think we’re going to win 12 points from our next four matches? Certainly not me.

All I’m looking for now is that four teams finish below us and the fact that Wimbledon lost again helps. They’re seven points worse off than us having played a game more. This without doubt is very cold comfort and I can see nothing ahead but a freezing February.

PESSIMISM 110% JUSTIFIED

I didn’t listen to the five minute fans’ forum on Radio Oxford on Thursday evening but I did use BBC iplayer to catch up with the fairly lengthy Friday morning David Prever/Jerome Sale interview with Niall McWilliams, our Managing Director. (That’s Niall not Neil, Radio Oxford.)

I’ve been at meetings where Niall has been at the top table. He appears to be a decent enough guy, but I feel sorry for him the way things stand at the moment. He seems to be the fall guy for an absentee owner and directors who the fans, myself included, just don’t trust. Also there’s the obvious question regarding his qualifications to hold such a role. Transferable skills? Possibly, but the jury is still out for me. That doesn’t mean anyone else could do a better job given the hand that’s been dealt.

Nothing whatsoever was said to give me hope. Substance just didn’t exist. It was all pie in the sky waffle but what else could he say? There’s no way he can criticise his boss is there?

“Tiger’s heart is in the football club and the city”.  This is obviously a matter for debate. I say prove it.

With regard to the HMRC issue we weren’t told why there had been a third winding up petition after assurances had been given that processes had been put in place to ensure it wouldn’t happen again after the second time. NMcW told us that the tax man had been paid but not at the right time. There were “extenuating circumstances” that caused cash flow issues. He couldn’t go into “full detail” but people “have to trust us”. He said they were “working very hard to ensure solutions.”  I should bloody well hope so. How long has Tiger owned the football club?

“Funds will come”. Funds from where? Funds for what? How much? When? Not a clue have we.

NMcW was confident that we will bring a forward in before the window shuts. Again, I should bloody well hope so but only as long as they’re any good. Don’t tell me we’re holding out for another Sam Smith.

We were also informed that we have the 8th highest budget in L1 and at the start of the season the aim was play-offs at least. If this is true then we’ve massively under achieved but I do acknowledge that injuries have not been kind to us. There’s a lot of wages being paid to players who have not been able to play much if at all. John Obika, Shandon Baptiste, Robbie Hall, Ricky Holmes (now departed), and Samir Carruthers.

But I always take such declarations regarding budgets with a large pinch of salt. How do we know exactly what others are spending? This information isn’t in the public domain and published accounts are way behind.

NMcW then went on to talk about the business plan and over and over mentioned sustainability. He gave us four building blocks/foundation pillars which are all underpinned by being in the centre of the community.

  1. The first team is the core of all we do
  2. Player recruitment, development and training (from the Academy up)
  3. Maximising business opportunities
  4. Growing the next generation of fans

This is all very laudable but looks nothing more than a wish list and is something any group of reasonably intelligent fans could have come up with. I want to know how it’s all going to be achieved, what the measures of success are, who is responsible and accountable for delivery, what resources are being put in to achieve this and the timescales.

We got “that plan is in place and we are working really hard to implement it as quickly as we possibly can.”

Then, and this takes some believing, we were told that they got on well with the stadium company and at a director level they also get on well with Firoz Kassam with everything being amicable and polite.

Part of the business plan is to look at all options regarding OUFC’s home ground going forward and this will take a year. This I understand but it goes without saying, where’s the money coming from?

So back to finances. NMcW was asked about Erick Thohir, his wealth and investment in OUFC. Strangely he knew very little about Mr Thohir and said that the question about putting money into the club was one for Tiger. He then went on yet again about sustainability. I am all for that as it makes total sense, however it is easier said than done. At this point in time we’re far away from being a sustainable business so I would expect these wealthy people, if they really did have Oxford United’s best interests at heart, to at a bare minimum have used a tiny bit of their vast piles of dosh (or perhaps it doesn’t exist, at least not in liquid form) to at least pay the everyday bills and avoid the humiliating embarrassment we’ve suffered.

Saturday without a game

The results were fairly kind to us but games in hand are only meaningful if the required sufficient amount of points are then picked up and on current form with the current squad how likely is that?

Oxford United 2 Barnsley 2

I honestly didn’t roll up to the Kassam with much hope. I was fully expecting Barnsley to be much better than Portsmouth and their recent record is mightily impressive. Following a defeat at Wycombe on December 8th they’d won six and drawn two of their subsequent eight league games. Those draws were against Pompey, when the south coast team were better than they are now and Luton.

It was a cold night but one that had been vastly overstated by the weather men (and women) and not one that the thermals couldn’t easily neutralise. I don’t know if it was that which kept the gate down but atmosphere in the home stands was lacking in the extreme. The official attendance figure was 5,794 but that includes season ticket holders and anyone else who bought a ticket and didn’t turn up. I can name four close friends who have season tickets but weren’t there and my son had paid for a seat but stayed at home because he, like many others, has this seemingly constantly returning lurgy.

Fair play to the 657 from Barnsley who made the journey and produced a bit of noise but that included some of them getting on at their team a little when they were two goals behind. Football supporters hey! This lot are 3rd in the league. No pleasing some who want perfection every game.

If we’d had the option of taking a point before kick-off would we have done so? This is an irrelevant oft posed question that football supporters, me included, can’t leave alone. Truthfully I would have said yes but as someone pointed out the season is ticking by and we need wins. Obviously when we had a two goal lead, no way, but come the final few minutes almost certainly yes. A fan sat just in front of me was at that time feeling the tension too and wished that “the bloody ball boy would just boot the ball over the fence into the car park”.

There was plenty of evidence here to support the strong claims that we deserved to win this but also clear reasons why we did not.

In the first quarter of an hour we didn’t do a lot and the Tykes, whilst not showing the sort of play I’d expect from a team on the way to the Championship, were the better side. They were moving the ball about rather quicker than us and playing more in our half than we were in theirs. We weren’t playing passes in the centre of the pitch with too many long high balls being hit forward which were won every time by the visitor’s defence.

Then we managed to hit them on the break, moving the ball more quickly along the ground. It started when Dickie robbed a Barnsley forward and with the outside of his right foot got the ball to Josh Ruffels. All rather deft for a supposedly clumsy centre-half. Ruffels found Cameron Brannagan with a first time pass and he too moved it on with one touch. This was better and quicker, letting the ball do the work. It was James Henry’s turn next. He controlled and then fed Gavin Whyte in his now customary position on the right. Given just enough space with his pace (and skill) he can be a goal threat in no time at all. Ben Williams couldn’t get close and a screamer from outside the box was touched onto the bar and over by keeper Adam Davies.

We now became the better team and looked a real threat, particularly from free-kicks and corners and that’s not something we’ve been able to say often recently. This was down to much better delivery and players actually attacking the ball with genuine desire.

It wasn’t a total surprise when the first goal arrived from a corner in the 25th minute but it has to be said Barnsley’s defending was not that of a top team. Brannagan took the kick and Dickie, who wasn’t well marked, got a basic header in to keep the ball alive in the danger zone. Ruffels kept his eye on the ball all the while it was dropping out of the sky and headed home by the post as a defender skipped by either side of him, without a challenge being put in, which was very weird given what they were doing outside the penalty area throughout the game.

We were now the team winning the challenges and nicking the ball, even from throw-ins. From one throw-in Brannagan stuck out a toe to steal a pass and in the blink of an eye had sent the ever willing Jamie Mackie away. He couldn’t be off-side because he’d set off from the Oxford half. With the Barnsley defence sliced open, Davies came rushing out of his area into no-man’s land. A superb chip from way out hit the bar but instead of the bloody thing bouncing down and in, it hit the line and spun away – still invitingly close to the goal to be tapped home from a fairly tight angle. Henry was the one who got onto it but Davies came rocketing back to make an excellent stop. On reflection, Henry may well have had time to take the ball under control and coolly place it home instead of smacking it first time.

We only had to wait three minutes into the second period for the second to arrive. Right back Jamie Hanson had come across to the left sided centre half position to cover and he just turned and swung to make a clearance without looking where the ball was going to go. It went deep into Barnsley territory, bouncing away, with Liam Lindsay attempting to shepherd it back to his keeper. After that first quarter of an hour Mackie was giving their defence a torrid time. Lindsay was looking more at Mackie than the ball and concentrating on blocking off our forward more than anything else. JM wasn’t to be stopped. He put a hand on Lindsay’s shoulder and got past him. With outstretched foot and studs up he went for the ball as Davies came out. That foot was just back on the turf before Davies arrived but there was then a coming together as the goalie was unable to gather the ball. Mackie appeared to barge the orange shirted custodian to the floor. Davies was being naughty himself as he was tugging Mackie’s shorts. Most referees would almost certainly have blown for a foul to the defending side but Kevin Johnson, although he did end up booking seven players, was lenient in the extreme. More of him later. Mackie of course just kept going and side footed home.

We were now creating more chances and before the hour mark hit the frame of the goal for a third time. This one being a Dickie header from a corner. Luck just wasn’t with us.

That may have given Barnsley heart. That and them knowing they’re a decent side. In the 70th minute they’d pulled one back and from then on the game began to swing their way. We had a few players visibly tiring and with nothing of note on the bench to properly stem the flow of the game or inject an extra spark from an attacking perspective, I feared for the outcome. And when Barnsley got a second nine minutes after their first the worry was that we wouldn’t even get a point. That worry increased when the board showed six added minutes but we came through with our first home draw of the season. Let’s hope we have another first at the Pirelli Stadium on Saturday getting that elusive away league win.

Barnsley’s first goal came when they had a throw-in deep in our half on the left and, retaining possession, passed their way through us. It was very poor defending and I’ve witnessed time and again how crap we are at throw-ins, both ours and when it is our opponents turn to toss the ball back into play. We didn’t bring enough men over to mark up properly and, including the thrower, were a man light. This meant Barnsley men were soon goal side of Whyte and Hanson and we were in trouble.

I’m not sure whether their second was a cock up by Hanson or just bad luck. At the time I thought he’d just come rushing forward and missed the ball to leave Jacob Brown in acres of space on the left wing. Karl Robinson though mentioned a lucky bounce and having watched a replay he could well be right. The turf in front of the dugouts does look to be a churned up mess and not a surface conducive to pure passing football where everything runs true. Who to blame? The Stadium company or those sub contracted to provide a playing area fit for purpose?

The pass was perfect for Kieffer Moore to poke past Simon Eastwood.

Very disappointing of course but we shouldn’t be too down because for the most part we played well and lived with a top three team who are better than at least one team above them. We had some excellent individual performers and went toe to toe in a really physical battle where we refused to be bowed and hung on at the end when many were running on near empty.

I said I would come back to referee Johnson’s performance and have to say I’ve not seen one like it for many a year with regard to what he let go. I suppose you have to praise him for letting the game flow but there are limits and I want to see the man who should be in charge actually being in charge.

I want to see football triumphing over cheating, thuggery and cynical play to stop an opponent’s skill winning the day.

Dickie should have been booked really early on for holding a player who had got past him on the bye-line and was heading into the box; just a free-kick. In the second half he committed a semi-rugby tackle for which he was rightly shown a yellow.

In the first half in front of the North stand we had a player taken out as he progressed down the wing at speed. Cheating, cynical anti-football. We did get a free-kick but I don’t think a card was shown. It should have been – perhaps it was, but if it was, it possibly wasn’t the right colour. Then we had similar in the second half right in front of us. Whyte was away; Lindsay knowing he couldn’t beat him in a race decided to smash into him at full speed and send him flying off the pitch. He was shown a yellow but only after much yelling from the stands. It wasn’t mistimed it was an assault. Red all the way. There were full on rugby tackles (well worse than what Dickie did), obvious intentional kicking of our players and not one dismissal. We’re no angels now ourselves, thankfully, otherwise we’d be relegated already by now, but we’re nowhere near that horrible.

There were plenty of contenders for man of the match and everyone contributed to this hard earned point, for that’s what it was.

Eastwood wasn’t to blame for the goals conceded and made two very sharp low saves in the first half when we were second best. He no longer looks injured. Phew!

Hanson at times probably gives his man too much space but he’s a footballer and, looking at him, really has his heart in it. I’ll forgive him his supposed mistake and say it was just one of those things.

Ruffels was solid, steady and a goal scorer. He produced one sliding crunching tackle in the second half that immediately set up Jordan Graham for a run on goal. Proper full-back play from someone I still look on as a midfielder.

Dickie is a player a few around me question, wondering whether he is L1 standard. I can understand that as he often looks much less assured on the ball than most around him and can be exposed as lacking pace when up against a quick forward. However he is a battler and is starting to win lots of headers when we have a corner. Plus he made one magnificent last ditch saving tackle when we’d been exposed in the second half.

Curtis Nelson is just class.

John Mousinho had a great game, reading things and tidying up as required. He’s also assured in possession and uses the ball wisely.

Brannagan is becoming very much a focal point in the middle of the park. A hard worker, a tackler and someone who can pass a football. He wasn’t bad to start with but with games under his belt he’s growing as an Oxford United footballer. In a way he reminds me a bit of Ryan Ledson.

Henry may not have had his best of games but he still gets quietly involved in a lot. He was one of those who I thought really tired as the game entered the final quarter.

Another was Whyte whose legs seemed to have gone by then. He was, up until that period, a player Barnsley had a lot of trouble handling by fair means.

On the other flank Graham wasn’t a stand out. I don’t know if that was because he’s not 100% fit or because three black shirts were detailed to crowd into him every time he got the ball. There were still glimpses of what he can do.

On the evidence of what I saw the one player who I would say had the biggest case to claim he was completely cream crackered was Mackie, yet somehow he just kept running and running and being a menace, never giving their back line a moment’s peace. He never shirks a physical challenge and looked like his motto might be the bigger they come the harder they fall.

We didn’t see enough of the subs to make much of a judgement but Ahmed Kashi looks way off the pace. I worry that having previously played under KR’s management he will now be given more game time than he deserves.

So, Burton here we come. Now out of the bottom four but just two points off second bottom and on the same points as three other teams. Tight or what? Good job there’s some good beer to be had in that particular town before the game – it may be needed. The Coopers Tavern (and other ale houses) here we come.

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 31st, 2019 at 12:32 pm and appears under News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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