Fan’s view – 18/19 – no.51 – Charlton at home

Article by Paul Beasley Saturday, April 20th, 2019  

OXFORD UNITED 2 CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1

There have been many dark periods this season. We lost the first four league games. In both September/October and December/January we had a spell where we acquired just two points from six games. The latter was ended by beating Pompey at the Kassam but we couldn’t follow that up with decent form. Three draws followed and then it got worse with two defeats that left us in 22nd position on 19th February. We’d witnessed some depressingly dire showings although as I’ve said all along we had good players but not a good side.

The team and Karl Robinson were rightly questioned.

Every club has good and bad runs of form during a season. (NB: Luton were on just one point after their first three fixtures).

We’re now looking a really good outfit, but not good enough for the Championship in case anyone thinks I’m getting too carried away.

In the interest of balance it has to be said that we’re now being served up with utterly fine dramatic entertainment where there’s a mix of quality football and deep desire and will to come out on top.

What we saw against Charlton was more of the latter than the former but given what unfolded throughout the ninety plus minutes this has to be one of the most satisfying displays from OUFC for years. Also throw in the fact that for us this was a dead rubber yet we played like there was the prevention of relegation at stake or promotion to be won.

Those posters on social media who refuse to believe we’re any good or that KR is anything other than the devil reincarnate always come up with some negative bollox when we’ve done well. Apparently our recent impressive run had meant nothing because we’d not played anyone any good. Once we came up against a side from the top we’d be found out for the crap we are.

Well take a look at the form Charlton brought into this game. In the preceding 17 they’d won ten, drawn six and been beaten just once. The previous Saturday they’d ended Luton’s 28 game unbeaten run. They’d got the third best defensive record in L1 and had let in just one goal in their last five matches.

I’m not convinced these glass 110% empty merchants actually go to games, or if they do, keep their eyes open, because if they do they would have seen that Charlton are a very good footballing outfit playing with total confidence.

And we beat them. And weren’t lucky. And we had a man less than they did for 20 minutes. And we had to play with a rookie keeper for 42 minutes.

Bloomin’ marvellous.

The visitors meant business from the off and showed us why they are where they are. They didn’t need help from referee Darren Drysdale. With just five minutes on the clock from the back of the SSU that’s what it appeared they’d been given. Drysdale was of course a lot closer than I.

The arrogant Lyle Taylor with his oh look at me hair walked up to the ball at a pace a 90 year old with a walking frame would have been disappointed with before slamming the ball past our first keeper of the day. Hate him. Bastard.

But if he were wearing yellow he’d be a hero and I’d love him and what he does.

We do though have Jamie Mackie. I’d likely be hurling abuse at him if he were turning out for our opponents but as it is I can’t get enough of him. He does all that old timer professional cynical playing on the edge stuff that we’d long lacked until we recruited him.

Every team at this level probably needs one of these types.

We didn’t get to see Mackie until the 63rd minute when he replaced Ahmed Kashi. The removal of Kashi was a very wise move by our manager. The ex-Charlton man again showed his quality but the perfection (okay, I exaggerate) of recent games wasn’t quite there. He slipped to lose possession when we gave the penalty away and was harried out of it a couple of times by red shirts that needed no invitation to surround him. Having picked up a card for whacking the ball into the stand after we’d got our second he was treading a fine line with some of his challenges.

At 1-0 down I’m thinking oh dear we had a hard enough task as it was but once more we’ll learn more about what we’re really made of. The recent evidence told that we’ve got substance so I wasn’t totally deflated but I knew the Addicks were a very different proposition to the likes of Bradford.

“Robbo, Robbo what’s the score?” sang the 1,806 visitors. Much less rude than the AFC fans but making their point nonetheless. Not worth it guys (and others) because it can be turned around and make one look rather foolish. “Your support is fucking shit”, they sang too. That probably annoyed me more.

We were only behind for thirteen minutes. From our first proper attack of the game we won a corner when good work by Mark Sykes down the right resulted in a Cameron Brannagan volley into the turf being helped on its way over the bar.

Photo, Darrell Fisher

A beautifully flighted Luke Garbutt corner with bend on it was met at the far post and volleyed home in emphatic style by Curtis Nelson who had turned and arched his run around the back of all the bodies in the centre of the penalty area.

At one time we were total pants at corners. Now we’re looking threatening and this was special.

Scoring from set pieces makes such a difference. This was the first.

Five minutes on and we’d done it again. Suddenly we’d looked a bit more threatening and Charlton were forced to give away a free-kick about 25 yards out. They’d probably thought there was minimal risk to their goal if they set their wall up correctly. Garbutt though can strike a football very sweetly thank you very much. It was curled in and keeper Dillon Phillips was blameless which tells how good it was.

It was now our turn to sing “Robbo, Robbo what’s the score?”

At this stage I thought no way will it remain at 2-1. Naturally I was very glad to be proven wrong.

In football little can be taken for granted because game changing incidents can happen in a split second. That’s what I thought had happened here. We’d proven we could do well when reduced to ten men at the Bescot Stadium but Charlton are way better than Walsall and to have to face 40 plus minutes of them attacking with us having a rookie keeper between the sticks was a formidable task. The biggest test yet in the examination to determine how far we’ve come with this current squad of players.

Eastwood had to go under the laws of the game. It was a miscalculation. Coming out was the right decision but getting his head on the ball would have been the correct option, no?

I’ll hold my hand up and say I feared the worst but as the minutes ticked by I realised we were doing alright without having total confidence we’d get a point let alone all three.

The longer it went on that confidence naturally grew even if Charlton were the ones asking the questions. We stayed firm and went about our work and they didn’t get a telling crack on goal.

Without any of the guys with pace – Gavin Whyte, Marcus Browne, Jordan Graham and Sykes as he was the sacrificial lamb after the sending off – a breakaway goal was, I thought, unlikely but we came close to getting one when a Charlton player slipped just inside our half and was robbed by Jerome Sinclair. He legged it and was away but really could have done with help from colleagues. That help never materialised because Mackie and James Henry bumped into each other leaving our loanee outnumbered before having a goal bound effort blocked by a defender. A man light we weren’t going to get many of these opportunities.

Wasn’t long after this before it was even numbers again though. Chris Solly was told to remove himself from the field of play after he’d fouled Mackie. Red, amber or yellow I’m not sure. As fans we do our job which is yell for the former. We all have our part to play.

I don’t think this greatly changed the pattern of play. The visitors still believed they could do it and we were still going to do our damnedest to stop them.

Charlton were getting a lot of men and the ball into our area and from one of these excursions it looked like they were about to get what they’d been striving for. Fortunately for us the initial chance came to a defender. Jason Pearce mis-kicked and it then fell to another defender, Patrick Bauer. He made a connection from close range which Jack Stevens managed to get an arm or hand to but the ball still maintained its goal ward path albeit now at much reduced velocity. Another save was therefore required and young Stevens spun around and knocked the ball away with his other hand. Phew! On a very warm day, even at the back of the usually ice cold SSU, that provided more warmth deep inside our footballing souls. “Jack Stevens, he’s one of our own”. Quite a memorable moment.

Photo, Darrell Fisher

With only a few of the ninety minutes left and red shirts continually asking all the questions, we had another rare breakaway. It was again Sinclair and again he ran from our half. As he angled towards goal he was clipped by substitute George Lapsie and brought down. Accidental or deliberate will depend on who you support but the result was Sinclair ending up on the deck through no fault of his own. A further red card would have been the obvious outcome if Garbutt had not arrived on the scene, taken possession and shaped as if to put the game firmly to bed. His side footed effort was well saved by Phillips who came rushing from his line and stretched out a leg and the ball went behind for a corner.

We weren’t done there though and for me produced one of the standout memories of the season in added time.  Josh Ruffels got possession in his left back position. No tired hack the ball as far away as possible only for it to come back again thinking from him. Not tired of mind or body, he set off on an angled run which took him into the right wing position just over the half way line where he produced one of those step over things that players do at speed to beat Bauer and continued his progress. He then fed the overlapping Jamie Hanson before getting into the box and narrowly failing to get a touch on the return pass for what would have been one of the greatest OUFC goals of all time.

Is there a fitter player than Ruffels in L1?

So we emerged into the bright spring day and it was still not yet three o’clock. Why the police had decided proceedings had to commence at one I can’t work out but they’ll have intelligence that we members of the public won’t. If it’s to prevent excessive drinking and public disorder I don’t get that. Fans that really want a beer will just start earlier. Walking from Sandford we encountered a small group of Charlton fans that had clearly had a few. They were only shouting about and as far as I could tell not looking to provoke anyone. And what about afterwards, any drinking session can continue but with fans more dispersed. Good or bad?

Another thing that doesn’t quite tally with police insistence that start times be altered is that the final round of fixtures all kick off at the same time and that time is 17:30. How much time does that leave for alcoholic intake before fans turn up at grounds around the country where stakes can be the highest they’ve been all season and passions running a max plus?

For all the police presence and stewarding, how come smoke bombs were able to be taken into the stadium? And from reading a Charlton fans’ forum there were a number of seats in the away end deliberately smashed.

Like all sets of supporters they’ll have good and bad amongst their number. We know Charlton fans and they’re fine upright citizens. The old fella with a pipe we met in Sandford who, on chatting to, we learned lives in Coventry and drinks in the Brewhouse Bar at Byatts brewery which I was raving about after we’d visited the Ricoh, was clearly a good bloke.

That’s what football fans should do. Have a beer together. Share experiences and pain plus of course our deep love of the game. Not all this constant gesticulating to rival fans while barely observed action is taking place on the pitch.

Anyway back to the cheer our performance brought. There were so many individual performances that warrant mention even if quite a bit of this is becoming repetitive which says though that we’re now achieving that much sought after consistency.

Nelson, class. Rob Dickie, big strong and commanding even if he did give the ball away twice in the first half.

Full backs, local lads who give their all. It wasn’t only JR who didn’t run out of energy, Sam Long too more than played his part although there was a small period in the second half when I wondered if their wide men were going to get the better of him. They didn’t.

Brannagan’s work rate and whole heartedness are so important to what we’re now achieving.

Sykes may well turn out to be a gem. For a guy who has hardly played at this level his confidence is sky high. I wonder if he and Whyte can push each other ever further forward as they try to prove each is better than their countryman.

Garbutt is now showing that he’s from another level.

What further can be said about Mackie? He was called a thug by one Charlton fan on social media. I wouldn’t go that far but I will take it as a compliment and acknowledge that he’s the best we’ve got at helping our game management have the desired effect. On that matter some Charlton supporters were moaning about our time wasting. Whether we did this or not is irrelevant when the time is added on, all six minutes of it. Still they couldn’t score. Four additional minutes used to be the norm but we’re seeing six extra more and more now. Has there been some kind of directive we fans have not been made aware of?

I’m now left with a couple of players who I think can do better.

James Henry still isn’t back to the top of his game and it’s been a while now since he was the man who was scoring goals. He doesn’t get back into a defensive position quickly enough once he loses the ball or a move breaks down.

When we’re winning it’s impossible to have scapegoats and I’m loathe to be continually critical of any player game after game but Sinclair really frustrates me and I’m continually thinking he’s got to do better. The poor guy was dead on his feet long before the end but had to keep digging deep to go again. I fully understand that the lone striker role is a lonely and most of the time thankless task but for all that what does he bring? Early on when his tank is full how much of a nuisance does he make of himself, how many headers and free-kicks does he win?  Not many. He’s not small and should be learning from Mackie. When he’s running with the ball he doesn’t seem to have many tricks compared with lots of others we’ve got. Am I being too harsh?

Our medium term?

In the previous FV I asked what does the short, medium and long term future hold for our football club? Having covered the short it’s now time to quickly consider the medium term. Whilst this period is strongly linked to the long term it’s all about the playing budget and what squad we’ll have for 2019/20.

There’s mention of a slightly reduced budget to the one we’ve had for this campaign and that was supposedly a top eight one. So we’ve not been paying and spending peanuts. That it may well be a little less this time around doesn’t greatly concern me. It has to be about how wisely it is spent, on both transfer fees paid, if any, and contracts handed out.

Without taking some risk I doubt any football club would ever progress. There has to be common sense applied too. No more Ricky Holmes type loans please. How mad were the Gills to take him? He hasn’t played for them.

There’s luck too. We can’t be as unfortunate again can we? Long term injuries to Robbie Hall, Samir Carruthers, Jon Obika (I like to think he would have gone out on loan if fit) and also Shandon Baptise (he won’t yet be on much) meant that significant wages were being paid for no return whatsoever. I wouldn’t have thought many other clubs would have had so many out for so long but could be wrong.

We’ve now got good players playing as a team and what we’re now producing points and performance wise is play-off standard. Too late for this season though and next season as always will see a (very) different squad as is always the case. Many moan that we’ve got too many loan signings and they won’t be around. I think they need to wake up and realise that’s the way football works at our level in this day and age.

Our starting line-up contained three loan signings, Garbutt, Kashi and Sinclair. Charlton began with two, Josh Cullen (WHU) and Krystian Bielik (Arsenal) so not much difference there.

Sometimes loanees return either for another loan spell or on a permanent basis. There will be those we want again and those we don’t. Some we’ll really covet but can’t afford. If you had your pick from Marcus Browne, Jordan Graham, Sinclair, Carruthers, Garbutt, and Kashi (Gosh that is a lot of loans we’ve got) who would you take?

I’d take Garbutt in a flash. Kashi too and I think there may well be a good chance he’ll be around when it all starts again in early August. Some of the others I’d be quite happy to retain too but as for a centre-forward I’d prefer an alternative.

But we do have the basis of a sound squad with many players still contracted for further Oxford United adventures, good or bad.

We’ll need at least one more centre half and competition for our two local lads at full back.

There could be fruitful times ahead but this positivity I’m feeling could be wiped away in an instant if breaking news were to yell: Oxford United hit with another winding up petition because of failure to pay £x to whoever. Which links in with the long term and ….

I’ll leave that for another day but don’t expect any great insight, it will just be speculation.

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