Fan’s View 2017/18 (no.30) – MK Dons at home

Article by Paul Beasley

Oxford United 3 MK Dons 1

We drew with the Dons at Stadium MK on 2 September. My recollection is that it was no more than an okay game with us being the better side initially only for the home side to come back into it and then we missed golden chances to have taken all three points later on. Robbie Hall was playing well and I was moaning about our lengthy injury list. (Oh how times have not changed).

That was five games in, leaving us ninth on eight points and the Dons 20th with four points. I’ve got a mate who supports MK and he doubts they’ll be in L1 next season. Since our last encounter they have averaged 1.25 points a game and prior to their heroic nine man victory versus the Posh, had picked up just four points from seven games, all from draws.  Rather worrying for them I’d say.

Also worrying is our record in those subsequent twenty games. We’ve done marginally worse, averaging only 1.2 points per game and if they were to pick up all three points they would be on the same number as us. A six-pointer then?

The conclusion to be drawn from this is that two poor teams would be on display. My prediction: a draw which I obviously wouldn’t be happy with. Even a win without playing well wouldn’t have me believing in a bright second half to the season.

In a previous FV I’d said I look forward to a greater or lesser extent to every Oxford game.  On waking on New Year’s Day, grey was the colour, all dull and heavy rain. My team had not inspired me for many weeks. Our opponents were a club I still despise. I didn’t feel motivated to get my arse in gear and get up the Kassam and could fully understand any non season ticket holders staying in bed for the day, particularly if there were hangovers to be slept off.

It’s not just about the football being played and results though it’s also about the vibe within and around the club at the moment. During the Kassam era the heartbeat of OUFC began to weaken at an alarming rate but there was life support that kept it going in the form of some stalwarts at the very core of the club and the loyal supporters who stick with it through thick and thin. When Darryl Eales arrived health appeared to be fully restored and a little bit extra. He was a regular in the pubs and on the terraces at away games. Hot dogs were free on a couple of occasions. I never partook of this giveaway food but thought that’s a rather decent gesture. (Others of course just took the piss as is the way of things). Then there were the pre-season tours. Again I’ve not ventured abroad with the Yellows (well not since the Irish tour back in the ‘80s under Jim Smith) but I’ve only heard positives. Bonding and we’re all in this together kind of thing. One big united family taking us onwards and upwards.

All that seems to have gone. Gates are down on last season. Numbers travelling to away fixtures have dropped off. We took just under 3k to MK four months ago but I’m not even sure we’d reach four figures if that fixture were to be played next weekend. The bare walls where the Ultra’s banners used to reside was a depressing reminder that things ain’t what they used to be not that long ago. The heartbeat is growing weaker once more.

P1070048

Drab

Walking to the ground from Sandford there were no queues of cars streaming towards the stadium. All very low key for a home fixture on the first day of the year. Only 7,628 turned up and we couldn’t quite manage 7k home fans amongst that number. That said, just 650 from over the Bucks border was pretty pathetic.

For all this, as I got closer to the ground, that little bit of optimism that lies deep within all football fans even at the darkest of times began to surface. I even felt obliged to tell Mrs FV so.

At half time I was asking myself how come we can be pretty crappy yet still winning? The answer was obvious actually. Milton Keynes were crap too. And on more detailed investigation a bit more crap than we were.

Also on further investigation we perhaps weren’t quite as crap as I’d told myself we were.

Both goals scored were well worked affairs and a glaringly obvious positive was that we had some real physical presence up front in the form of Jon Obika and Gino van Kessel. GvK was again selected to play wide in the midfield four but made it clear in his post-match interview that playing centrally as a striker is his preferred role. Those two give us some pace too.

Given that we’d hit the bar too I should probably have been more upbeat than I was. But I was in great to be winning but not happy with performance mood.

For lots of that first period I thought our tempo was too slow and there was a short spell where I thought the Dons had established a slight ascendency in the middle of the park. Ryan Ledson was not on his game and Josh Ruffels too appeared to still be out of form.

When they began to find space, which wasn’t that difficult, and were getting crosses in and winning corners it was hard not to think the inevitable would happen and our 1-0 lead wouldn’t remain intact. We know we’re not great at defending set pieces and I’d said to Mrs FV that if we keep conceding corners a goal was bound to follow. As soon as I’d finished that sentence it was 1-1.

That equaliser came on 24 minutes and met with little Oxford resistance. The ball was initially won by George Williams and his headed flick was nodded home by Alex Gilbey. Heads they win, tails we lose a goal.

Our opener with a quarter of an hour gone was very well worked. A long accurate ball from the back down the right wing was controlled by Obika as he maintained his forward momentum. He headed towards and into the penalty area, employing his trade mark rollovers before slipping a pass to the upright running GvK. In a couple of strides Gino had got to the bye line before pulling a perfect pass back to Thomas who, un-marked in the six-yard box, genuinely couldn’t miss. That’s his poacher’s instinct. That’s his 9th league goal of the campaign. Only eight players in the division have got more.

We should have got the lead back a quarter of an hour before we actually did. For once we took a quick throw in and set up an attack for ourselves. This makes a pleasant change from often immediately losing possession from such situations. Canice Carroll was a quick thinker, as was GvK who made the run. His first time clip back found Obika in the box with no red shirts near him. Instead of opting for a mix of accuracy and power he went all in on the latter and crashed the ball against the bar.

If a goal is scored in added time at the end of the first period it always goes to the opposition doesn’t it? I can’t remember when we last got one until we did so here.  What a pleasant surprise it was.

Obika was involved again, stroking the ball across the park to Jack Payne. With a combination of trickery and nearly falling over, our little man got past attempted challenges before firing a low shot that would have gone in very close to the post if it wasn’t for keeper Lee Nicholls getting down very quickly to keep it out. The way Nicholls then jumped on the loose ball instead of securing it within his grasp knocked it away and possibly out for a corner. But we were alert and predatory. Ledson pulled it back with his first touch and GvK unmarked in the six yard box put it away. There’s a pattern here and a very pleasing one too.

For all that it was the second half that left me with a bit of a glow and a feeling that we just perhaps may have something about us after all. At the same time it mustn’t be forgotten that our visitors were one of the worst sides we’ve come up against this season. Can only beat what’s in front of you though. Obviously.

After the break the game became much more open and it was one of those where the importance of the next goal, and it seemed certain there would be one, was high. To lose a lead for a second time probably wouldn’t have done our confidence a lot of good knowing how bang average our home record is. With the Dons’ poor form a third for us would surely break them.

Chances came for both sides. We needed Simon Eastwood to produce a quality save to deny Keiran Agard. Thomas with just Nicholls to beat failed to do so. That was the type of chance that Wes would have buried if he had been at the top of his game. The through pass to WT had been made by Ruffels. Both Ruff and Ledson performed much better in the second 45. That’s one mark of a good player; keeping at it when things are not going right and coming out the other side.

That wasn’t the only quick long accurate low pass through the middle, or down the flanks come to that, played by JR. He wasn’t the only one making such passes either. It began to look really positive even if we remained on edge because recent evidence suggests we can let a goal in just like that.

I also thought that our closing down became more effective and seemed to be done collectively. Payne was a factor in that. He did well throughout and none of this getting easily brushed aside in this one. On that showing I want him to stay as he has lots to offer. Probably helped by the more muscular presence of some of his attacking colleagues.

Just before we reached the hour we’d established a two goal lead. The first time pass from Ruffels was both incisive and intelligent and had Obika haring towards goal. I’m not advocating 90 minutes of long hoof ball but getting the thing forward quickly with strong runners on the end of it makes such a difference. Thomas was with him for another tap in / miss but Obika didn’t need him. Left footed low across the keeper, 3-1.

We were now in control and beginning to shine. There always has to be a nagging doubt though doesn’t there. For me that doubt here came in the form of fitness. In a couple of recent games I’d say that our opponents appeared to have a bit of extra running in them at the end of proceedings. Plus there had been one incident in the first half that had me wondering just how big some of our tanks were or how much we had in them.  I think it was Obika who was fouled but referee Andy Woolmer played a very good advantage. We broke away. Well three yellows did, Payne, Thomas and GvK. No one else got out of our half. Faced with most of the MKD team, that attack, understandably, came to nothing. (Of course it was clever conservation of energy but I had not appreciated that at the time).

As the game entered its closing stages with that two goal lead and Oxford in control what could possibly go wrong? Ricardinho, that’s what. Correctly red carded for an absolutely brainless challenge in an area of the pitch where we were under no threat whatsoever. Behaviour like that needs to be eradicated from the game and the three match ban is justice for such stupidity. The crazy thing is I can’t recall him ever going in like that before. I can’t even imagine Ledson launching in like that.

So what now? Would this revitalise the Dons in the last few minutes? They get a quick goal and then we’d crumble? After all defensively we’re not that sound with 11 so a man down could prove problematic, no?

We’d already had a big scare on 67 minutes when defending a long free-kick launched into our area –  Carroll blasted against the crossbar.

Ironically it was the last few minutes of the match after the dismissal when everything could have turned sour that gave me the most pleasure and optimism for the future.

The Dons never hurt us. We looked the fitter, stronger side and found more space than they did. A proper professional showing.

After Bradford I thought it wasn’t, but perhaps Wigan was Pep’s equivalent of Mapp’s Cambridge moment after all. He’s been criticised previously but merits great credit here for team selection, the way they played and also the substitutions.

Bringing Dwight Tiendalli on to fill the left back berth made total sense and with just two minutes of regulation time remaining, Malachi Napa for GvK was a clever move. In the seven minutes we saw of him on his league debut we witnessed a lot of buzzing about. Just what was needed to keep the visitors defence honest and in their place.

The other substitution had been made on 63 minutes. We’ve not seen much of Agon Mehmeti yet. Noticeably his touch wasn’t there which is to be expected with his having been out so long, but also it was evident that he’s quick. Is it possible that we could go from a static slow side to a pacey forward moving outfit in a matter of weeks?

A Martin

Aaron Martin. Photo, Simon Jaggs

Another player worthy of praise was Aaron Martin. Quite a commanding performance from him at the back.

On the praise front it is only fair to mention the referee. One of the best we’ve seen. I can’t think of anything to complain about, which is unlike me. I was a bit surprised though when Thomas had to leave the pitch after being fouled and needing treatment when the culprit was yellow carded. I was darned sure the laws of the game last season dictated in such circumstances they were allowed to stay on. I can only assume there has been yet another change.

Finally a few stats and there’s always something there that surprises me:

Only Rotherham have scored more home league goals than we have this season.

We’ve scored over two and a half times more home league goals than Northampton. (Could they become the best team in League Two again soon?)

After the Bradford defeat we were two points down compared to the same stage last season and 25 games in that was the first time that was the case I believe. Now we’ve edged back ahead of last season’s points tally. Just by the one, 35 to 34 but I still find that quite amazing and revelatory.

2 Responses to Fan’s View 2017/18 (no.30) – MK Dons at home

  • Adam Strand says:

    Just wanted to say great job (as always) on your FV’s in 2017, always enjoy reading them and look forward to them each week (as a savage ale lover and glutton for punishment/sheer disappointment & despair as a fellow Yellow)! Happy New Year to you and Mrs FV, all the best for 2018 and fingers crossed for better times ahead for the Clotet era!

    Note… Last time we score a goal right on HT wasn’t that long ago,vs Blackburn on 21/11/17. Considering how dreadful we were (that game), are (currently) & have been since (that game)… I’m not surprised you’ve forgotten it ;-). #believe #keepthefaith COYY.

    • Paul Beasley says:

      Thanks. That’s appreciated. Had totally forgotten that we scored at all against Blackburn.
      Happy New Year to you too.

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