Fan’s View 2019/20 – No. 1 -Pre-season

Article by Paul Beasley Wednesday, July 10th, 2019  

PRE-SEASON 2019/20

Another close season that’s just disappeared

The Champions League final (has there ever been a bigger anti-climax of a football match?) was a whole month after our last league fixture and then we had the Women’s World Cup where our gallant girls followed in the path trodden by their male counterparts in proving that however close we get we’re just not as good as the very best.

And before you know it the friendlies are upon us. Many friendlies are not on my agenda but the opportunity of visiting Ibrox for the first time was too good to pass up.

Reflection on 2018/19

Before I move on to the trip over the border, time for one last reflection on 2018/19 and expectations for the coming campaign.

I did something similar a year ago when I wrote, “I do though think that more Yellows will have been disappointed with 2017/18 than were happy. I know I was, but having taken a breath I’ve changed that view by a degree or two.  Our 16th place in tier 3 was our second highest finish in nineteen years. On reflection I’d say that those who played regularly and ensured we ended up with those 56 points did quite well in the circumstances”.

Which mean last season’s 60 points and 12th spot is the second best we’ve done going back two decades. We supposedly had a top eight budget. I don’t think anyone knows that for sure but if they did and that comes directly from the club, I take “top eight” to mean “eight highest”. All things being equal that should mean finishing eighth. A team finishing eighth is neither promoted nor relegated and the same goes for a team finishing 12th. So not much difference really. In Karl Robinson’s defence we did suffer badly from injuries but whether that is to a greater extent than other clubs I don’t know. Early on though we were pretty awful but by the season’s end we’d turned it around going unbeaten in nine before that final day defeat at Kenilworth Road when we were well beaten.

Realistically we are currently a L1 club and I don’t think we’re in any way ready for the Championship. Yes teams do punch above their weight, examples being Accrington at our level and Burton managing a couple of seasons a tier above. The other side of the footballing coin is obviously underachievement and in some cases clubs deliver this massively.  Notts County were funded to be playing us this season. The bookies thought they would be. Instead they’ll be going to Harrogate, Chorley, Bromley, Barrow and …. well the list goes on.

Whilst knowing that no player or team plays well every week, I’ll be satisfied if we’re competitive, play some decent football and comfortably survive. That in no way means I’m happy to settle for mediocrity but that’s just where I think we are right now.  Or should I say where we should be right now. I’ll come back to this later.

Rangers 5 Oxford United 0

It wasn’t the result we wanted obviously, but hey it’s only a pre-season friendly, and it gave Mrs FV and I the excuse for a few nights away and that always provides memories that won’t be forgotten.

On Friday night we stopped in Penrith where we visited the Fell Bar which is a Tap pub for the Fell Brewery. The beer was of top quality and whilst supping I did a bit of people watching as you do.

Before we’d set out from the Premier Inn to the pub Mrs FV had been talked into buying a couple of raffle tickets to win a bottle of wine, the money going to Great Ormond Street Hospital. A great cause but seems not half an hour goes by these days without being asked to donate to this, sign up for that or buy the other. Anyway when she handed a couple of quid over, the girl taking the money asked my name. “Paul.”

When we returned to our room after eating we found a bottle of (cheap) wine and two glasses on a tray with a printed sheet saying “Congratulations Room 114, Mrs Beasley & Mr Ball”. Oh how we chuckled.

On Saturday after breakfast we pushed on to Edinburgh where we’d opted to stay. After a trip round the hothouses in the Botanic Gardens we went into the Guildford Arms for a drink. The quality of the beer Fell short of the offering the previous night but it was easy to again slip into people watching mode in between short bouts of conversation. When one guy entered the establishment Mrs FV said to me he looks like someone we saw in the Fell Bar last night. I’d thought the same but said it can’t be, Penrith is 120 miles away. It is you know, he’s a creature of habit having bought a packet of crisps each time. As we’d never know unless I asked I went and had a chat. He confirmed we were indeed right and he added “I thought I recognised you”.  He’s a resident of the Cumbrian town but was visiting. What’s this got to do with football? Absolutely nothing but it’s all part of the crack.

On Sunday the train took us to Glasgow and after a whisky in the Horseshoe bar and one in the Bon Accord we walked the couple of miles to Ibrox.

I’d driven round the stadium once 28 years ago on a non-match day but had never been inside. Obviously it is much changed since then but remains an iconic stadium.

I knew they were a big club and that the sectarian divide is a huge part of what they are but hadn’t quite appreciated to what extent until I saw the numbers that turned out for this, the way they celebrated when they scored and the flags and banners on display. (Mustn’t forget though that there are Catholics who support Rangers and Protestants who support Celtic.)

In terms of numbers there’s no question we had good support but I really think a minority let us down with their behaviour. Some of the songs from our younger element were uncalled for imho. And to see one or two of our supporters close to the dividing line separating us from the home fans giving it some abuse and the big come on was beyond understanding. If there was a time and place, which there isn’t, this most certainly wasn’t it. This prompted Mrs FV to tell me such behaviour is one of the main reasons she doesn’t go to many away games. I knew that already.

Irritating as this was it wasn’t the most annoying thing that got on my nerves during the time we were in the ground. Back to people watching (and listening) it’s often the case that within a couple or group of people there will be one who dominates the talking in loud voice, never letting the others get a word in, thinking they’re interested in what’s being said, and expecting them to agree or be sympathetic. It does my head in. I want to shout shut the fuck up.

I don’t wish to fall out with or take the piss out of any fellow Oxford fan but there was a woman sat just behind us who never stopped from the very first minute. At times I was able to periodically shut out the drone but for long periods wasn’t successful. I heard someone near me comment “verbal diarrhoea”.  Yes, some of the worst I’ve ever heard. The bloke sat to my left wasn’t particularly impressed either.

We heard about the NHS and anaesthetists, the passing of various pets (I had some sympathy until I realised it wasn’t people being talked about), the problem of not being able to get a bank card abroad, the most talkative person in the family (I beg to differ) and living in a one bedroom flat. These are just the highlights and I’ve spared you the detail. “Oh, they’ve got a third”.  Indeed, and you would have known at the same time as everybody else if you’d actually been watching the game.

I may have been harsh here, but bloody hell.

As for the game, I thought Rangers looked like they could score at will. I was expecting to go down by a couple of goals and hadn’t expected them to be quite so up for it.  It was though pointed out to me that Stevie G has got them very much fighting for their places and it seems he might have assembled a squad that can genuinely challenge Celtic.

We looked incredibly vulnerable down the flanks. That may have been down to how good the opposition were or that when we’re playing a better class of team our full-backs are to be found wanting. I’ve not worked it out but think one significant factor is a lack of help from the midfield wide men.

I can’t see a centre-half pairing of Rob Dickie and John Mousinho cutting the mustard.

We’ve got some decent midfielders but the men in blue were picking up every loose ball and also able to find space with ease.

Without the injured ageing Jamie Mackie we all know we have not got another centre-forward at the club and it showed. There was nothing up front doing the things a number nine should be doing.

The few corners and free-kicks we had that were delivered into the Rangers box might as well have been handed over to them to restart the game and get on with things as we were never able to land a head on the ball.

We had a little spell in the first half when we put a move or two together but all the cutting apart was being done by Rangers.

We had not one player playing as if they were a leader.

I’d say on that showing and with the squad currently at the club a relegation battle is on the cards.

So doom and gloom then.

Well no, there’s many reasons why not.

There’s probably at least half the teams in L1 in a similar situation trying to build a squad to do battle in the months ahead. That’s the way it is and is likely to be for many years to come as loan signings that were integral to success have gone back to their parent clubs and the better players have moved on to bigger clubs and more lucrative packages.

It’s a no shit Sherlock statement to say that we need a ready to go quality centre-half, if not two, and a proper centre-forward. One that scores goals would be nice. I’d say competition for the full-back positions should be carefully considered too.

Another reason not to be too despondent is that Rangers, who played a Europa League qualifier on Tuesday, are weeks ahead of us with their pre-season. This was our first friendly and we made so many changes during the game with so many youngsters involved on reflection what happened was almost inevitable.

I didn’t go to Oxford City or Thame and am unlikely to go to Brackley. I’m considering Solihull and Eastleigh as they are grounds I’ve never been to but won’t rock up to the Kassam until the Posh come a-visiting.

Meanwhile though I’m expecting more signings, the team structure to come together and optimism to rise.

We’re told that the latest budget might be slightly reduced but if we spend wisely and borrow in better fashion than we did when early hopes were pinned on Sam Smith a year ago, we might make it to 10th this time around.

UTM.

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