Fan’s View 2017/18 (No.6) Shrewsbury at home

Gino van Kessel crosses past Alex Lacey
Article by Paul Beasley

PRE-MATCH THINKING

If you had asked me at the start of the season which of these two teams would be higher in the table going into this fixture I wouldn’t have said the Shrews and I would have been even more confident it would be us if I had known we would be on six points. But that’s not the way football works and if it did that would be pretty boring.

Last season they were only a couple of points off the relegation places but have brought in 14 new players since then. They’ve had the same chairman for 20 years. Roland Wycherley is far from being minted enough to finance a football club but I don’t think he, or anyone else needs to.

I’ve not done any detailed research on this and also not being a qualified accountant may be talking crap, so please bear that in mind when reading the next bit.

I’m sure we’re looked on as being a bigger club than Shrewsbury. No disrespect intended. We get bigger gates, have been in the top flight and have won the League Cup. There’s probably an expectation then, that all things being equal, we would have much more financial clout than them. But when did this all things being equal thing actually apply to football? Never probably and certainly not for decades.

I believe Shrewsbury Town F.C and their stadium come nicely together. Even when Firoz Kassam owned our football club and the stadium, with its attached conference facilities, no way did this arrangement genuinely benefit OUFC. Even less so now we’re his tenants.

Looking at the accounts for the year ended 30 June 2016, the latest published, I did a quick comparison between Oxford and Shrewsbury.

PROFIT & LOSS A/C OXFORD SHREWSBURY
Turnover £5,148,655 £6,859,554
Cost of Sales (£4,759,712) (£4,872079)
Gross Profit / Loss £388,943 £1,987,475
Administrative Expenses (£2,203,339) (£758,805)
Operating Profit (£1,814,396) £1,228,670
Overall Profit / Loss (£1,870,304) £1,233,215

 

BALANCE SHEET OXFORD SHREWSBURY
Shareholders’ funds(P&L account plus called up share capital etc.) (£12,059,892) £13.085.167

So basically then it seems to me that just over a year ago Shrewsbury were £25m better off than us. Their wage bill for that year was £3.39m. Not peanuts I think you’ll agree.

All this does is just annoy me knowing what we’re losing out on. The simple argument is that to get to the next level we need the bloody ground but … well let’s not go there. It’s not worth the asking price – whatever that is – unless some foolhardy soul is willing to throw away lots of millions of pounds.

Amazing then that we can even compete with teams like Shrewsbury, but hey they’ve only beaten teams in the bottom four to date and those teams have only picked up two points between them.

OXFORD UNITED 1 SHREWSBURY TOWN 1

This feeling of belief, or lack of it, that can be detected in the air amongst both home and away fans when visiting grounds around the country often speaks volumes. Entering the Kassam Stadium there was no buzz whatsoever of note.

Why this was I don’t know but it doesn’t help our cause. Perhaps the talking down of our ambition under DE in certain sections of social media? Or more likely the Marvin Johnson saga which is probably draining something from the club and fans alike particularly as we’ve lost so many quality players from last season already. Only time will tell whether the new boys we have on board have adequately filled vacated boots.

The chances of seeing Johnson in an Oxford shirt again are about 0.05%. His reaction after scoring against Cheltenham told us all we needed to know. Having a man with such a mind set in the building does nothing for the morale of those in close proximity. We gave him a lengthy contract which means that we can hold out for a fee of somewhere between £2m-£3m. He’ll go to a Championship club where he’ll be paid circa £500k p.a. That’s just the way it is now. And don’t start me again on bloody parachute payments. From Johnson’s perspective you can see why he would want to move on after such a short time at the club. He will be 27 in December and his game is all about pace. At what age do footballers lose that?

Compared to your average working fan who has turned up to watch him playing for Oxford he will still have been earning money they can only dream of and that is why in my opinion he should have got his head down and hamstring in order giving 100% for his employers. If there were no offers from elsewhere he would have been quite happy to have continued taking that money. It was OUFC who brought him to the Championship’s attention and OUFC who helped him through that crisis of confidence he had at the start of last season. So, gee thanks Marv.

Whilst we’re waiting for the Johnson offski confirmation, which may well have happened before this is being read, almost in the words of Slade’s 1972 hit its “Gudbye to Kane.”   It may only be a season long loan to Mansfield but he is not a Pep signing and does not seem to fit in anywhere in the team the way we are now trying to play. His goal-scoring record in Scotland just goes to highlight the gap in standards between that league and the professional game in England. For me he lacked pace and tricks and never looked like making anything happen himself. Many people said that we didn’t play to his strengths but I never worked out what they were. I saw him put some chances away but equally missed some he should have buried too. He has scored six league goals in 22 league starts and 18 substitute appearances for us.  That’s not good enough. We signed him for an undisclosed fee on a three year deal.  Good luck to him in League Two. He may well do better there.

Whilst we have come up trumps with some of our recruitment, we’ve got it wrong on occasions too. You’re never going to win them all though. As far as I know Paddy Hoban is currently without a club. I guess the standard in Ireland is even lower than in Scotland. John Campbell anyone? Last heard of playing for Newton Aycliffe.

We never really looked sharp in this game nor properly at it except perhaps for a short spell after we made the substitutions in the 59th minute. Replacing Robbie Hall and James Henry with Joe Rothwell and Jon Obika improved us no end as an attacking force.

Obika

This man made a difference. Photo, Simon Jaggs

Gino van Kessel did not look suited to the role of the man down the middle. He was wasted there. We needed someone who could at least win the odd high ball because at times that was what we had to play forward. The reason for this was lack of intelligent movement and Shrewsbury being quicker at closing down and getting a foot in to stop us playing. There was little other option, an option GvK provided when he was eventually played wide. Obika looked so much more the part. With Wes Thomas injured, again, he should have started and perhaps we would have then taken the game to our opponents from the off as home sides should do unless the manager has some cunning plan up his sleeve. There didn’t seem to be any cunning plan here.

As it was, Shrewsbury got into our half almost immediately after kick off and set up base camp there around which most of the first 45 minutes revolved. They won almost all the battles and looked that bit quicker and stronger than us whilst finding space between our lines. I had less faith in our defence not conceding than I had done in previous league games but we managed to get to the break on equal terms. That was thanks to one tremendous block by Mike Williamson.

Our towering centre-half didn’t have the best of games. It was he who ended up with possession time and again almost in the area that Lunny used to boss and Ryan Ledson popped into a few games ago. We would have been better off with the ball at Curtis Nelson’s feet but the Shrews had probably done their homework. With nothing on, Williamson got caught dawdling on one occasion and we nearly paid for it. Shrewsbury were playing as a team and helping each other out. We weren’t. I don’t think Williamson even got a call.

Yes, homework had been done. Apparently they changed their set up to counter Jack Payne. This worked. It wasn’t something we were expecting apparently and was evidence they had out thought us. But what were we expecting? Them to allow our most talented player to play unhindered? Talented player he is but he was often a fraction of a second too slow.

With extra attention paid to one player there should have been space for others who had perhaps slipped under the Shropshire scouting radar to have stepped up. None did. Hall had a very quiet game. Henry is very workman like but unlikely to turn a game. The same could probably be said of Josh Ruffels too here and Ryan Ledson wasn’t as influential as he has been.

Sixteen minutes after those substitutions we took the lead. Certainly not deserved on the 75 minutes that had gone before but possibly so on the last 15.

Payne’s corner looped into the six yard box where there was a whole host of bodies. The ball came off a defender and was only kept out by Junior Brown on the line. Ruffels, who was having his shirt pulled throughout the whole incident then tried to force it in. This time Dean Henderson, the keeper, kept it out but GvP wasn’t to be denied.

Did we have the steel to see it out? No is the answer.

On 83 minutes we failed to stop a cross from, not over, the bye-line from Alex Rodman which evaded both our central defenders and with Ricardinho reacting marginally late, a goal looked on. Lenell John-Lewis’s shot hit Williamson. It could have gone anywhere and ended up with Stephan Payne for an easy finish. It was a poor goal to give away. Shrewsbury will say the same about the one they let in.

We got carved open way too easily and in stoppage time their Payne missed a sitter.

So after the event what has this really told us?

Firstly I’ll say Shrewsbury really impressed me. My mate went as far as saying they are a really really good side. A few years back when we were at a lower level I recall at one time people kept saying when we hadn’t won, yes but opposition were a good side. My input was that is as may be but that is what we are up against. That said I think in the last two games we have played two very good sides. Sides that will be there or thereabouts at the end of the season in the scramble for play-off places. This is indeed what we are up against. We’ll play teams worse than Shrewsbury this season and also teams that are better. The better ones will be battling it out for the automatic promotion slots.

P1060440

They’ll have gone home wondering how they didn’t take three points with them

As for us on that showing I’d say we’d finish somewhere between just above the drop zone and mid-table.

The stats on this game paint a slightly different picture to that of us being well second best. We had 49% possession. I would have said it was a fair bit less than that. Possession alone counts for nothing though. We had nine shots to their ten but came out on top six to three with those on target. Again that doesn’t tell the story though. There are efforts on goal worthy of the name and others that are not. A GvK header in the first half stretched but didn’t extend Henderson and none of the other attempts we had really worked him.

Carlton Morris’s effort in the first half so very nearly gave his team the lead but the fact is that whilst it was possibly worthy of a goal, the ball somehow dropped from the sky and landed on the goal line not over it. Physics will explain how the ball then bounced up onto the bar and out instead of into the goal. I can’t.

We’ve now scored six goals from four games, with three players on two each, which isn’t bad. This is at about the same rate as last season but is an area we recognise needs to be improved. You have to drop down to 14th in the table to find a team that has scored fewer goals than we have and noticeably the two teams that have scored the most are first and second. Posh have scored double what we have.

On the bright side we’ve only let in two and no team has bettered that plus we’re the only club to have taken a point from Shrewsbury so far.

Onwards and hopefully upwards with a new face in, despite the signals coming from the club. There are games being played on and off the pitch.