Fan’s View 2017/18 (no.50) – Another season over / Blackburn away

Photo courtesy of Jon Whiles Photography
Photo courtesy of Jon Whiles Photography
Article by Paul Beasley

ANOTHER SEASON OVER

I’d swear that as one gets older the seasons whip by at an ever increasing pace. It only seems like yesterday that we rocked up to Boundary Park and beat Oldham 2-0. That was followed by a 3-0 home win over Pompey and the future looked rather bright for the glasses half full types. Six games in, we were in a play-off slot. But that left another 40 to go and there was more than a little clue of what was to come when we were incapable of  holding on to a two goal lead at home in the first round of the Carabao cup against League Two Cheltenham. No cup run there.

Nor in the FA Cup when we again went out at the first time of asking against another League Two outfit. Port Vale only escaped relegation to the National League by one point.

That happened in early November and by then we were experiencing a whole lot more of the bad stuff than the good. For every sparkling display, and there were some – don’t forget Posh and Plymouth away – there were many more depressing watches with the utter humiliation in our own back yard when Wigan came to play being incredibly hard to take.

Without back bone, fight and defensive organisation and solidarity we were heading one way but kept doing just enough to trick us (well some of us, not the glasses half empty brigade) into thinking we would easily survive in L1 and might even mount a meaningful push for the play-offs.

At the start of 2018 we won at home on New Year’s Day and then again five days later. Truth be told though, MK Dons and Blackpool weren’t the most challenging of opponents. Not that this necessarily has much to do with it as we contrived to then get done for a second time by the inept bottom of the table by some distance Bury after we’d lost at Walsall.

So bye bye Pep leaving behind a squad of players that included many that had gone nowhere near justifying the wages we all believe they were / are being paid.

Where to from here? That performance at Charlton, that’s what. Bastards. Give us some hope why don’t you.

But it was soon a case of reverting to type under Fazz’s temporary charge. Three defeats, then a draw followed by another defeat. By now I’d long regretted writing sometime earlier that we were not going up or down. One bit of that statement I’d clearly got bang on. As for the other, it could have made me look bloody stupid.

After yet another loss we actually got a win when we completed the double over Peterborough.  That turned out to be Fazz’s last game as no.1 with Karl Robinson entering the building.

Two points from 15 suggested that the tide had not been turned and we could easily be swept back down a division. More careful inspection though gave hope despite that 3-0 reverse at Fratton Park just three days after we’d acquired a new manager. That game of course will be remembered for the Alex Mowatt sending off but things could have been so very different if he’d converted from the penalty spot. We’d shown signs of playing some decent football again and at times looked the better team.

But what came next was draw, defeat, draw, defeat. This was taking us worryingly closer to the trap door. Other than at Shrewsbury though, we were not conceding goals, or if we did it was just the one. Keep doing that, which we did, and wins will eventually come even if the so called strikers are, how shall we say, not in prolific goal-scoring form. (Wes Thomas, one in the last 14 games. Jon Obika, none in the last 15).

And that is what happened with three wins out of the last four before we went to Ewood Park.

This may have been the final game but it was the only game all season when we knew failing to collect any points didn’t really matter.

And 50 points yet again turned out to be enough, provided goal difference was better than minus 17, but don’t tell me it was easy even though we ended up with six more on the scoreboard than 21st placed Oldham.

Blackburn Rovers 2 Oxford United 1

Although I wouldn’t have agreed with it, for us this could have been one of those already on the beach affairs. It wasn’t by any means though.

On that subject I’ve found it quite hard to motivate myself to produce this last FV of the season. We’ve had a bank holiday, the sun’s been out and there were other football matches to subsequently attend.

I witnessed Brackley Town in baking heat get the only goal of the game late on in extra time on Sunday as they saw off Bradford Park Avenue. The visitors to St James Park (yes, yet another one) were captained by Nicky Wroe and also had Ollie Johnson in their side. So an Oxford United connection there. Brackley are now one game away from reaching the level we played at from 2006 – 2010. The population of this Northamptonshire town was recorded as being just shy of 14,000 in 2016. Makes one think. But then again we did go to Histon (Impington), and Forest Green Rovers (Nailsworth – population in 2016 only 5,709) are now a Football League side. Anyway, good luck to them at Harrogate on May 13th.

And then a day later there was Les Robinson’s testimonial. Again it was a scorcher and those guys, given their ages, deserve huge applause for moving around at all, let alone running at various speeds.

Paul Walsh played like he is 25 not the man that he is with an additional 30 years on the clock. Paul Kee flew through the air a couple of times and some of our strikers could learn from Paul Wanless’s finish. There were also some players rotating on and off who were not called Paul. That the game wasn’t played at the most furious of paces didn’t matter because we were entertained trying to work out who was who. The turnout was impressive and no more than such a loyal club man deserved. The only downside was the nasty injury sustained by Phil Gilchrist who’s Achilles just went resulting in him being stretchered off and taken to hospital.  All Oxford fans will wish him well in his recovery.

So back to Ewood Park and I’ll try and remember what took place. After the game I heard many of our fans expressing the view that we’d played fairly well. I’d 100% concur with that sentiment. “Fairly well” but not “very well”. A team without an effective strike force is not going to achieve the latter very often. Playing fairly well as we did here is an improvement on many of the displays we’d put on earlier in the season. Playing fairly well will see a team beat poor and mediocre opponents on a regular basis but that isn’t good enough to get three, or quite likely even one, point(s) against the very best teams in the division. Until that can be achieved, automatic promotion is an absolute no go and a play-off spot a bit of a pipe dream.

But Karl Robinson does have a reasonable base from which to build and it is reassuring that he has decided who he doesn’t want next year and is already talking to potential new recruits. There is of course that thorny issue of not losing players who currently appear a formidable part of that base who may be prised away with bigger carrots dangled in front of them than OUFC can afford.

Simon Eastwood is again putting in top quality performances and the defence in front of him, despite letting in what appeared a routine header for Blackburn’s first definitely has a solid look to it.

We let in 66 throughout the campaign at an average of 1.43 per game. Every team in the top ten let in fewer. However in the last seven we’ve only conceded five at an average of 0.71 per game. That’s some going.

Problem solved? Well, we can’t say that because we don’t know who will be in our rear guard for 2018/19.  Some of the stuff flying around will just be daft rumours but there will be other snippets posted online and whispered in pubs that will have more substance. Simon Eastwood? Curtis Nelson? Todd Kane was just a loanee. Josh Ruffels is doing a sterling job at left-back but he’s not a natural there. (Or is he proving he is?). Ah, Rob Dickie. I’m pretty confident he’ll be one of our two trustworthy centre-backs.

The midfield looks fine now as regards battling and passing the ball to fellow yellows but if I was to be hyper critical it would be a lack of that little bit of extra creative quality in that department that one or two sides have. They did a good job in this one.

There was the inevitable talk of Ryan Ledson going. Being such a pessimistic lot when it became evident his Preston gig had not actually been confirmed it didn’t take long for some to conclude that we would probably lose Joe Rothwell instead.

Fact of the matter is there will be comings and goings and we fans can do absolutely nothing about it other than to thank leavers for their services and welcome all new comers to the yellow family.

Up front we’ll see rather a lot of change. Our 61 goals scored was the sixth best in L1. We even out-did half of the teams that made the play-offs. Whilst that may sound a tiny bit impressive (61 isn’t a big number when it comes to scoring goals is it? I mean, Dixie Dean could just about do that on his own in his hey-day) they’d very much dried up towards the end of the season. We couldn’t even average a goal a game in those last seven fixtures.

So as the defence has become sorted the attack has become anything but.

Thomas wasn’t on this trip as he’s not going to be here next season. Mehmeti is gone. GVK is gone. I also suspect that Obika may well have been grouped with them had he not had another year on his contract. I don’t think either he or WT were brought in specifically for their hold up play or to set up goals for others. It would have been nice if they had that in their games on a regular basis but they didn’t nor were they scoring goals. Up top I suspect we’ll look very different.

We did have shots against Blackburn but very few on target. Blackburn had shots too, with many on target. Eastwood had to pull off many saves. I can’t remember David Raya, the Rovers stopper, having to do the same.

Well that we did, I think they just had the edge in many departments and that was without the influential Bradley Dack.

It was early on that we went behind this time. Blame I suppose has to go to Nelson. That is if Darragh Lenihan was his man. Our captain let the Irishman go and never got into a position to make a meaningful aerial challenge thus allowing the home defender to get his first ever goal for the club on his 65th start. (So, if any prospective buyer just happens to be reading this – he’s rubbish. He makes mistakes. Not worth whatever you were thinking of offering.)

This type of set-back doesn’t really phase us now though and although Blackburn looked dangerous as they kept coming at us we didn’t buckle even with huge home support roaring them on. For the record the followers of the away team were more than playing their part too.

If they’d scored a second before the break it wouldn’t have been a surprise but nor was it a shock that they didn’t.

If  anyone is bored try counting the number of fans more intent on recording the incident on their phones than actually watching our magnificent keeper. Photo, Steve Daniels

It was however very much touch and go that we achieved this with Eastwood having to show lightning quick reactions to keep out a very well struck penalty after he’d toppled Elliott Bennet.

There were spells in the second half when we had Rovers more worried that they’d been in the first, not that they were ever in a position where they could relax a little.

Approaching the mid-point of the second period we were rewarded for our efforts. An attack broke down but Obika speedily re-gathered possession. His pass inside found the advancing Ruffels whose second touch was a ball bent in to pick out James Henry. The finish was sublime. One of those flicks mere mortals can only dream of.

That’s 10 league goals for Henry now, equalling Thomas. The conversion rates are not that much different, 18% to 21%. Minutes played per goal is 256 to 298. WT wins on both counts but JH is not a striker. But what is he, other than a very good player, a forward, a winger, a wide man, a midfielder? To be honest I don’t really care but am well pleased he’s signed up for a further two years. There’s way more good than bad from him.

It was a shame though that ten minutes later we were done by a deflected Jack Payne shot. A case of if you don’t buy a ticket I suppose. It was cruel on Eastwood to be beaten like that given the way he’d played.

Just like the first time we didn’t give up and were having quite a lot of the ball without looking much like scoring, but you never know.

We were still trying to take the game to them in the final stages when the pitch invasion happened. Just imagine if we’d gone into this game needing a point when this happened.

Photo, Steve Daniels

It was lunacy but lunacy kicks in on the last day. Blackburn’s average attendance over the season was 12,832. For this 27,600 were present. How many there just for the occasion and because it was a tenner?

Whatever, there was no need for the invasion, and it wasn’t just a handful either. They hadn’t just scored a goal, let alone a goal that secured promotion. There was still a bit of time left. What goes through these tits’ heads? And the fact that our manager felt the need to have to protect his players says something deeply disturbing. It’s this sort of behaviour that led to fences and penning in. It’s this sort of behaviour that does the campaign to bring back safe standing no good at all. But I suspect that it wasn’t the Barrow away on a Tuesday night boys (and girls), or whatever Blackburn’s equivalent is, that were on the pitch but the once a season I’ll grab some glory morons. No wonder there were some fists thrown when one or two jumped back in the crowd. The genuine supporters were very angry. Very angry indeed.

When the pitch was eventually cleared, after a few had left the stadium none the wiser, the game was re-started then almost immediately curtailed. Prematurely I suggest. What did we lose? A minute, or two. What was it that someone once said, “it only takes a second to score a goal.”

Wouldn’t it have been sweet to have done so after that unscheduled interval. But as we weren’t given the opportunity we’ll never know.

To all proper Rovers fans, those that were there “when you were shit”, good luck next season. To the dick-heads, please stay away from football matches.

I’ll just add that I felt the same way about people from Oxfordshire who did something similar at the KasStad in 2009 when Northwich Victoria came to visit, although not in such numbers.

One last thing about these end of the season shenanigans – Cardiff City, end of the game yes, fans on the pitch yes, but there was a close up picture on the TV of one on someone’s shoulders holding up a smoke bomb / flare bellowing out blue smoke. I’m not for one moment saying that this person should be prosecuted because they were celebrating promotion in high spirits but I thought it was illegal to be in possession of such things in football grounds as is encroaching onto the field of play.

Six years ago we had a fan jailed for three months for holding an unlit smoke bomb. He was also given a six year banning order. (I don’t know if this changed in any way on appeal). At the time Amanda Jacks, of the Football Supporters’ Federation, said: “I think they’ve made an example of this man in the hope it sends out a strong message”. Yes, that bloody well worked didn’t it? To me it all seems so discriminatory.

But anyway, the season is over, so I must move on …. To the World Cup and plenty of hours in front of the TV.

Apologies for the lateness of this final effort of 2017/18. And also apologies if it is a bit all over the place.

Have a great summer one and all.

It’ll be August before you know it.

13 Responses to Fan’s View 2017/18 (no.50) – Another season over / Blackburn away

  • Jon Tudge says:

    Many, many thanks, Paul. I really do enjoy your reports. Maybe this one more than others, though, as I actually was at the game. I usually get over for a game at the end of the year, but hadn’t done so this year. This trip over (from N. Carolina) was great, not for the excellent weather (I get enough sunshine in NC) but for the game. But even when I’m not at the games, your report gives me something of the feeling for what it’s like. Thanks again. Jon

  • Paul Carter says:

    Paul, many thanks for your fantastic and insightful reports throughout the season. I’m unable to get to any games these days due to ill-health issues. But my first port of call for OUFC match analysis is the Rage Online site – with your summaries. And your analyses of opponents financial/ ownership history has been brilliant. So thank you so much. My instinct is that Karl Robinson knows what to do for next season. We’ll see.

    Paul

    • Paul Beasley says:

      Hi Paul,
      Sorry to hear that you can no longer make it to games. Perhaps Jerome & co. on Radio Oxford keep you entertained during matches (if you live in the Radio Oxford area).
      Thanks for your positive feedback. Glad I can be of a little help.
      My instinct too is that KR knows what to do. But as ever I’ll wait and see what happens. There will be a fair few other managers that know what to do too.
      Cheers

  • Marcus says:

    Hi Paul, just a note to agree with Jon that your reports are really appreciated. I’m not as far away as USA, just west Lancashire but logistics and other commitments mean I’m only usually able to get to 2 or 3 games a season. Your well written accounts resonate with us that still remember the glory days of the mid-80’s viewed from the London Road. I made it to Blackpool and Blackburn this season and on this small sample together plus your reports and a manager that appears right for the job, I think we can be optimistic for next season, just need to sign the 2018 equivalent of John Aldridge and Billy Hamilton over the summer. COYY. Marcus

    • Paul Beasley says:

      Hi,
      If we did get an up to date version of Aldridge and Hamilton we’d have a good chance of storming L1. We can only dream but there are positive signs there.
      UTM

  • Hamish says:

    Paul – I don’t know what you do for a job but you have a real quality about your reports. Keep it going for next year as I am an avid reader from New Zealand.

    • Paul Beasley says:

      Hi Hamish,
      No job anymore. Retired. And keep thinking I should leave this type of stuff to the younger generation but season after season I keep doing it.
      COYY

  • Geoff Millward says:

    Dear Thin bloke.

    Thanks for the level headed and factual reporting throughout the season. It has always been good to read your take on matters adding some reality and easing the post match depression we have suffered (again) this past year.

    I heard Rob Duffy is re signing in the close season…..😉

    It’s such fun being a Yellow, isn’t it…

    Ox4d Oldman

  • Geoff says:

    Dear Thin bloke.

    Thanks for the level headed and factual reporting throughout the season. It has always been good to read your take on matters adding some reality and easing the post match depression we have suffered (again) this past year.

    I heard Rob Duffy is re signing in the close season…..😉

    It’s such fun being a Yellow, isn’t it…

    Ox4d Oldman

    • Paul Beasley says:

      Oh yes. Fun indeed. Hopefully not so much post match depression next season.
      Cheers

  • Tom says:

    I echo all of the above sentiments
    I don’t get to more than 3 or 4 games a season, so this keeps me in touch with what is going on.
    You do a very good job Paul and it is very much appreciated by your loyal audience
    have a good summer

    • Paul Beasley says:

      Hi Tom,
      I’ll try and have a good summer and hope England’s efforts in the World Cup may add to that.
      Thanks for your feedback.
      Cheers