Fan’s View – 2019/20 – no.37 – Blackpool at home

Article by Paul Beasley Monday, February 3rd, 2020  

OXFORD UNITED 2 BLACKPOOL 1

These were two teams bringing poor league form to this fixture. We’d not yet picked up three points in 2020 taking just two from 12 available. Blackpool’s record was much worse with two draws and five losses from their previous seven league games although each of those defeats was by just a single goal.

If I had to provide the briefest of summaries it would be that we didn’t play that well but deserved to win even though we got the luckiest of let offs imaginable right at the end. And obviously that the wind was yet again a huge factor.

A week earlier the support given to the team in terms of numbers and noise all those miles away at St James Park was quite rightly given high praise. Here the contrast couldn’t have been starker. Yes, on our day we’re something special, as many clubs will claim to be of course, but on other occasions I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a great sense of disappointment.

It might have been a touch of after the Lord Mayor’s show and the contrast between St James’ Park and the Kassam Stadium but there’s so little vibe about attending many home league games. I’ve said it before but the derelict Priory does nothing other than throw a drop of dejection onto those passing by on their way to the match. That there were cones preventing any vehicle from parking down the footpaths there was a good thing from a safety point of view but just added to the sense that it is now a ghost of a structure.

That tells much of the relationship between FK and Oxford United FC, a relationship that when we’re doing well is quite easy to forget about but until is solved is a massive weight holding us back as we try to move forward to the Championship as a sustainable football club.

There were few people in the Quadrangle and fewer still putting their money over the bar. Good. As we walked the steps (there were about a 1,000 less than last week) to the SSU we passed a door to an empty room. There was a time when that was full with people having a drink and a biscuit or whatever pre-match. No more. Those three locations could in the right circumstances all provide a proper gathering place before games which would help add to the vibrancy of what was to come and other than the Priory also provide some income for OUFC.

Some newspapers quoted the attendance as 10,775. That’s what we should have got. The reality being 3,000 fewer spectators were present. That was disappointing beyond belief as the club had allowed all season ticket holders to buy one additional ticket each for a fiver to get someone else through the turnstiles. How many season ticket holders do we have? About 5,000?

My wife got a ticket for our son. I got a ticket for a mate. Both would have gone anyway and I suspect that was the case with most of those who got in for the much reduced price meaning that financially the club have lost out. Ticket prices for adults range from £28 to £20 or for members £26-£20 so the difference ranges £23-£20 per ticket. At a £20 difference with say 1,000 sold for £5 that’s £20k the club have missed out on.

Why we could not have shifted more is beyond me. At the start of the second half the ground was the quietest I can remember it. It was as if the spectre of the Priory had floated over ground.

Come on Oxford people what are we? We can talk a good game and on our day play that out on the terraces and in the stands but a football club is for 40 plus league games as well as the occasional glamour or high profile game.

Yes it was a top of the table clash but at the same time about 30 miles away 13,095 were witnessing Exeter getting beaten. This was of course taking place in the division below ours. Again, come on Oxford people think on.

It may have been all this that meant I wasn’t feeling as joyful as I probably should have been having broken our winless run as I walked back to Sandford.

There’s also the transfer window story. Yes I am disappointed that we did not bring in a forward or get full-back cover. Also a little sad that we’ve lost Tariqe Fosu and Shandon Baptiste. However I’m angrier with the reaction of some amongst our supposedly fantastic fan base to the goings whilst ignoring the comings. “That’s us ****ed.” “Robinson needs to pull his finger out.” “Club has no ambition.” These were the type of comments posted on social media. Whilst this stuff is coming from a small minority negativity has a nasty habit or spreading particularly if brought along to football grounds. Perhaps that explains something about Saturday. Or perhaps no.

Apparently the lack of a new forward or full-back coming in as deadline approached wasn’t for lack of trying according to KR before the game. We supposedly made big money offers that were rebuffed for one reason or another and we’d been let down by another football club. He appeared to stress that it wasn’t anyone within our football that had done the letting down.  As the window shut there had been much talk on social media of him not being backed by the board. I’d not picked up on that but there is so much to consider.

When people come out with “being backed by the board” what do they actually mean? Board member gifting money to a football club is not the way football finances work. Football clubs rarely have money to spend burning a hole in their pockets. These finances are basically arranged in one of three ways, shares, bank lending and loans from the owners, usually through one of their other companies. People so easily forget that debt attaches itself to the balance sheet and has to be paid for with eventually no further lines of credit available. Eventually if it can’t be paid for you get a Bury, Bolton and Macclesfield.

Our business model is a selling one. We need a million pounds here and couple of million there coming in this way on a fairly regular basis to keep us going in reasonably competitive fashion.

We’ve now got the squad that is to see us through to the end of the season.

The lack of full-back cover does worry me but with a deep breath and bit of thinking isn’t as bad as first thought. Karl is confident that Jamie Hanson and Anthony Forde can do acceptable jobs there. After all Josh Ruffels was converted to that position from midfield and has done a job there that’s regularly been described as “7 out of 10” week after week. That indeed has been true but even Josh is human and now appears to be running on a much emptier tank physically and mentally. He deserves a rest. On the other side Sam Long has been quite sensational since he stepped in for the departed Chris Cadden. Described by the manager as the best natural defender at the club he’s now contributing attacking wise and is another who never seems to tire even as games draw to a close.

As for needing another forward the first question to ask is why? Is it because we don’t score enough goals? Wouldn’t have though so because we’re the third best with on average 1.66 scored per league game. Okay, we’ve now lost Tariqe Fosu who got eight and Shandon Baptiste who got one but Marcus Browne has not been back in the building long and wasn’t brought back to play in the position he did against the Seasiders but will probably end up with a better goals to minutes played ratio than these two. Matty Taylor our most natural of finishers was back on the bench here after being out injured. And our leading scorer, James Henry returned.

If it’s more down to needing bodies to do a job that’s a different matter. We’re talking Jamie Mackie and Dan Agyei. Mackie never has been a goal-scorer but has really struggled recently even with his shithousery. If he’s as fit as he can get but can’t do any more in the minutes game time he’s getting then he could be finished. Agyei is yet to prove himself. Clearly KR doesn’t think he’s ready for what we want as it has been said that if we’d got someone else in Agyei would have been loaned out. I’ve got a funny feeling we really need him and that he might surprise us.

As for losing Fosu and Baptiste start by referring back to my earlier comments regarding the way our business model is constructed.  When we brought in Browne, Nathan Holland and Liam Kelly early doors in the window I thought we’d become ridiculously overloaded in certain areas of the pitch but that they were good signings none the less. By the way I didn’t hear the moaners moaning then.

Perhaps we already had an inkling that we might be losing Fosu and Baptiste when we recruited those three.

I was a bit sad to see them go but perhaps not as much as you might think. For me there’s always two big issues in such things. Firstly we need to get the right deal for Oxford United in that the transfer fee and sell-on clauses have to be very beneficial. (No shit Sherlock). Secondly, there’s not much point keeping a player who would rather be somewhere else and if that somewhere else is at a higher level where wages will be doubled, trebled or quadrupled then nature has to take its course. There’s a balancing act to do between the two.

I was surprised when Fosu signed for us but if as seems to be the fact he had a £750k release clause written into his contract then I can understand it. I can also see that he wasn’t particularly dedicated to us anyway, not that it showed in his performances although they were nowhere near as good towards the end of his short time with us as he was at the beginning. His goal against Gillingham was his first in the league since 26 October.  He did have terrific dribbling skill but there were times when he just ran into trouble and wasn’t quite enough of a team player for my liking. By that I mean he didn’t make the simple pass to a team mate often enough instead of losing possession. There are many players of a similar ilk and skill level to him around. I honestly can’t see him getting into the Brentford starting XI. Even less so if they make the Premier League next season.

Shandon could be anything. An England player. Someone who flatters to deceive with the utterly spectacular every now and again. Injury prone. Who knows? He only made 16 league starts and 11 appearances as a sub for us and now he’s gone. We truthfully know very little about him. He is another though who I wanted to see pass the ball a bit more. I wish him well but aren’t entirely sure how things will go for him at Brentford either.

Now back to the game itself. We started kicking towards the Jim Smith stand with the gale at our backs. I noted how quickly we were moving the ball but it soon became evident that we had mistakes in us too and there was an element of rustiness in the returnees. This was particularly so where with regard to James Henry and it should also be noted that Mr Robinson said Cameron Brannagan would not have played if Baptiste had still been one of ours.

Once the game settled down to some kind of pattern Blackpool looked quite threatening even if the blustery conditions were telling them they shouldn’t be.  Whatever one thinks of Armand Gnanduillet the fact is that he’s scored 12 league goals this campaign which is more than any of our guys. I’ve always though he’s decent enough and his hold up play was helping the visitors here. They had many new players, loanees and permanent signings, in their team and were much changed from the side that beat us at Bloomfield Road. One or two looked quite tricky on the ball with neat close control.

0-1. Photo Steve Daniels

It was on just ten minutes that such play from Gary Madine on his second start, having signed from Cardiff in mid-January, put the Tangerines ahead. He’d been gifted the ball when Rufffels and Mous got themselves into a tangle by tackling each other.

It was possibly time to fear the worst as it looked like the game might continue in similar vein. That was my built in pessimism overlooking the fact that we had Browne, the best player on the day, in our side and some other decent players on the pitch too.

It needs more than a goal-keeper and a defender to stop him. Photo Steve Daniels

Wind assisted we drove forward at pace and had equalised just eight minutes later. A Long cross was intentionally, or otherwise, chested into Browne’s path by Ruffels. The ball was struck first time and true finding its way into the back of the net via the slightest of brushes off Mark Sykes. I think the goal has now been credited to the one who morally deserved it but technically that may not be correct.

With half time approaching he got another which was 100% his without dispute. A Henry free-kick bent high and into the box had the Blackpool rear guard at full stretch. The defender who got his head on the ball could only do so under pressure sending it behind him with no idea who was lurking there. The lurker was Browne who controlled with is first touch and with his second swept the ball into the far top corner from quite a tight angle. Lovely. Incidentally, the person who originally played the ball to Long was Browne himself.

At the break I was convinced that we would need at least one more goal if we were to take all three points. As it turned out I was wrong and on reflection defending very stoutly with the wind taking its turn to be much more their friend than ours. Such defending will of course count for very little if undone by a monumental cock up. When Ruffels made that back pass in added time it was inevitable that fans of a certain age would have a Kevin Brock / Adrian Heath flashback. That’s what immediately formed in my mind. I heard someone sat close by mention it and it was brought up on Radio Oxford afterwards. There’s no getting away from blame and that lies mostly with Mackie. Instead of getting the ball away downfield he went backwards. The next pass, from back at last George Thorne, wasn’t very friendly and in the blink of an eye two points had been squandered. (But wait).

On such moments season can turn. Made or lost. Like Mackie’s goal against Bradford last season. We then never looked back and relegation that had been a really worry at the time was seen off with plenty to spare. Our focus is now on the other end of the table.

Madine wouldn’t miss this. He proved what he can do with his first and this gift was so much easier to take. Time stood still. I hadn’t written the season off, that would have been stupid, but part of it had disappeared. With the side of his foot the Tangerine man in blue stripes got the ball past Eastwood with ease. Goal bound it went. No, make that post bound then goal-kick bound. There was much amazed relief I can tell you.

Other than that we’d had the better chances in the second half and it was Browne always at the heart of things. He set up Holland when our man from West Ham should really have done better.

A couple of other observations before I sign off are that Kelly looked tiny and I noticed a lack of pace in Alex Gorrin that I’d not spotted before. Oh well, we won so who cares about such trivia.

This leaves us in eight position with no teams below us other than bottom Bolton having games in hand on us. Of those above we’ve played a game fewer than Sunderland, two fewer than Ipswich, Wycombe and Rotherham and three fewer than Peterborough. Based on points won per games played we’re seventh best.

With what we’ve got at the moment how do I think we’ll do? Well I’d say automatic promotion isn’t very likely. As for the play-offs we’ve got a decent shout but that is in no way guaranteed. Keeping Marcus Browne fit and firing is absolutely vital.

Back to the F.A Cup on Tuesday and a temporary stand ready for the BBC. Photo Simon Jaggs

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