Fan’s View – 2019/20 – Play-off Final

Article by Paul Beasley Tuesday, July 14th, 2020  

LEAGUE ONE PLAY-OFF FINAL

The build up

After the semi-final I was emotionally drained but clearly in a good way. I was pleased to have a whole week to recover. My approach was to try not to think too much about what was coming. Just relax and get my head ready to, as they say, “go again.”

Having read comments on social media and seen clips of celebrating fans too it’s good to know that we’re not alone in getting into the states we do. For better or for worse. It’s not just fans of OUFC though, it’s the same throughout the football world. It runs deep.

Even before we knew whether we were going to make it to the final I’d reminded myself and my family that League One is a very good standard of football.  The “size of a football club” debate is one that will continually come up and can fill hours over pints in pubs or sat in cars travelling away. It is an argument I really enjoy but putting all the detail aside it is obvious in many instances that club x is bigger than club y. Off the top of my head I’d say our natural level, if there is such a thing, is L1. My son agreed but added, “yes but quite close to the top”. I concurred meaning we should be play-offs or thereabouts.  But if size was everything football would just about be dead. Sunderland, Portsmouth and Ipswich will all be playing in the third tier during the 20/21 season. They’re bigger than us. We have just seen off Pompey. Wycombe are smaller than us and I don’t mean that disrespectfully. It counts for nothing here.

As the days ticked by I largely had it all under control with just the occasional shakes trying to grab a hold but they were fended off with little effort. Now though with just a few hours to go as I write this it is very different. I’m not sure where the nervous energy is going to take me.

One thing that did get the pulse racing with pride and passion was the 2020 version of My Oh My and accompanying video on YouTube.  Whilst trying not to get sucked into it all too early, that had to be watched.

One other clip I clicked on was Sky Bet’s “Oxford v Wycombe: What Wembley Means to the Fans”. It features two fans from either club. Lisa and Donna from Wycombe and Oxford supporters James and Thom. I didn’t recognise our guys. That’s not to say they’re not 50 games a season types. I’ve got to know many people following OUFC over the years with a lot becoming friends and some very good friends. Others I know by sight and there are others still that I’ve had no idea who they were but having ended up chatting to in a pub at some random away game, turns out will have been at 100s of matches that I have too and have shared the same experiences without our paths having really crossed. That’s the football family.

I’d be fascinated to know if SkyBet had fed the featured fans a script. Lisa had not missed a WWFC game since 2011 – except of course one assumes their semi-final games – and Rochdale this year was her 400th consecutive league match attended. Well done and fair play. Her team is in her blood the same as our team is in ours. She said “we shouldn’t be doing what we’re doing. We’re a little club out in the middle of Buckinghamshire”.  Then added, “Not allowed to say we’re little anymore.”

James said that “we are the same size as Derby, the same size as Swansea.” Perhaps people get carried away and say all sorts of things with a microphone in front of their faces but I started to feel we were being set up. My initial reaction was wait a second here, OUFC are no way as big as Derby County or Swansea City.  I then thought perhaps he’s talking about the size of the places and was happy to agree with him. Except that didn’t work either because both Derby and Swansea have populations that are approx. 100k larger than Oxford.

I’m not getting suckered into little Wycombe versus bigger/entitled Oxford. Forget that crap. Focus. But when James said of the Championship: “we deserve to be there” I had to take exception. By the time anyone reads this either Oxford United or Wycombe Wanderers will be in the Championship and the other will remain in L1. Prior to the final we no more deserve to be there than Wycombe. When we ended up in the Conference we deserved to be there because we had been shit for years and got shittier and shittier.

Perhaps I’m just in that wound up argumentative mood with kick-off getting nearer.

Before the semis I wrote this, “I wouldn’t write off a Gareth Ainsworth team. He’ll set them up for a battle” and that has been seen to be a decent assessment I’d say. After they battered the Cod Army in the first leg, any Fleetwood come back would have put them on such a high that Wycombe may well be the team we would rather have faced. Not quite sure though. Wanderers proved they can get the job done although I would have liked them to have lost the second leg by a goal or two instead of then equalising in added time.

Fred Onyedinma, who didn’t play at the Kassam in November, looks strong, skilful and dangerous.  Adebayo Akinfenwa won’t do 90 minutes but will be motivated to make up for his sending off when he last trundled around our turf. Even down to ten men, Wycombe made us work incredibly hard for our single goal victory.

We know their style of play. They know ours. Even with the extra man in their victory against Fleetwood, Wycombe only had 36% possession. They did though have 15 shots and nine on target. Fleetwood were restricted to two on target and one not. In the return leg Fleetwood had 79% possession but were restricted to just three shots on target. I’ve no idea how close the other 18 were.

This tells us so much about them. It tells us we will have the ball a lot but it’s what you do with the ball when you’ve got it that counts. It should be a fascinating contrast of styles for the neutral. For those of us who are blessed/cursed not to be in the neutral category it will be sod the style; get the result. Now wouldn’t it be beautiful to get a win in style? With that dream in mind, who’s the referee? Rob Jones, is he any good?

Empty Stadium, Empty Feeling.

OXFORD UNITED 1 WYCOMBE WANDERERS 2

First half Wycombe were the better side although we improved after about 20 minutes. Second half it was us but in the final analysis individual and collective errors plus very poor decision making meant that we were “architects of our own downfall”.  If we had any grumbles the main one would be that the officials didn’t spot the marginal offside in the lead up to their penalty. VAR would have done so. I want VAR, a force for good. I’ll caveat that with: if used properly. Once that wasn’t spotted our opponents could argue that Simon Eastwood should have been shown a card of some colour.

My other big moan was that of the five minutes added time at the end we saw probably about two when the ball was actually in play. I don’t blame Wycombe for that. They had a mission to accomplish. If the boot was on the other foot I’d have been well pleased. It’s down to the referee to show who’s in charge. He was awful at clamping down on time wasting throughout. Ryan Allsop in the Wanderers goal was adept at going down whenever he caught the ball. That’s part of the art of keeping. All keepers do it when their team is winning. However when he got to his feet, the time he often took before releasing the ball was about 15 seconds which is pushing it to say the least. Referees have ignored the six second law for years. (NB: I first wrote six second rule but heard Womble in my ear, “there are no rules, there are laws”). One should have the guts to penalise a keeper for a breach. None do. Here it seemed quite extreme. What will it take before one does? 30 seconds? A whole minute?

The difference in the way the two teams play was highlighted by the Sky TV stats before kick-off and I had not realised the gap between us and them could not have been any bigger. In everything in L1 regarding passing and possession we were number one, the top boys. Wycombe on the other hand were 23rd and remember with the sad demise of Bury only 23 teams competed. Doesn’t this just emphasise that there’s more ways than one to win a football match?

We didn’t start the game well but neither did they. Nerves were to be expected but us having the ball and doing nothing much with it would have been their game plan. We would probably have been quite happy with that too. Keep possession, build, be patient, be solid and eventually create something and score but no need to force things early on. If that is how it pans out it can be argued that tactically it was a great performance. In the first few minutes I wasn’t unhappy but thought we needed a bit more zip in moving the ball quicker. They looked a bit sharper in the challenge and really happy for us to have the ball in areas where we never looked like hurting them. That early in the game it is all about setting down your marker.

Knowing what they are all about Wycombe were quite happy to wait and they didn’t need to wait long. Do nothing much, win a throw. From the throw win a corner, get the ball over and see what happens knowing they score lots from set pieces.  The dead ball was a testing one expertly bent into the six yard box at the far post by Joe Jacobson. In a crowd scene Simon Eastwood didn’t get his positioning right. Anthony Stewart massively out jumped Josh Ruffels and in it went, possibly off our keeper, possibly ricocheting off another Wycombe man. Easty was never going to get it and would have been much better off just staying on his feet and making himself available to make any save that may have then been required.

Deflated almost from the off I took some consolation in that it could have been worse. James Henry with a natural instinct to keep the ball out tried to do so with his hand. If he’d managed it they would have had a penalty and we would have been a man short.

After Fleetwood’s Alex Cairns all but gave Wycombe the semi-final, the Chairboys must have thought once again their opponents’ number 1 was helping them along the route to the promised-land.

For a few minutes I feared the worst thinking that Wycombe could well do much the same again but that didn’t happen and without looking like we were bang on our game, we did begin to improve. Our best player I thought by some distance was Mark Sykes.

Playing forward passes increases the chances of losing possession but clearly Wycombe were content to let us have the ball for the remainder of the game as long as we just knocked it slowly between ourselves in and around the centre circle. When a ball down the right touch line sent Sykes away he, after a couple of tricky step overs, cut it back to Sam Long who had broken into the box. It’s hard to tell how close the shot was to the goal or if the ball was anywhere near the waiting Marcus Browne and Matty Taylor.  Sykes’ skill had not quite been matched but this was an improvement.

The high ball was still causing us problems and when Onyedinma got onto a flick on and beat Long he blazed over. That wasn’t Championship level finishing. If it had been it could have been game over.

Stewart produced one of the best blocks you’ll ever see as he cut out an excellent Sykes pass that would have found Taylor for a tap in. If only others had performed at the same level as our blonde Northern Irishman we’d now probably be looking forward to a trip to Norwich, Covid permitting.

Alex Gorrin is usually well worth his place for his midfield battling and covering but he’d been booked in the first half and the manner in which Wycombe play there’s not a big requirement for the type of thing he brings to the party. Bringing on the more creative Liam Kelly was a very sensible move particularly given that there would likely be plenty of room for him to operate in. Could he play the killer pass? Would white shirts be making runs to enable him to do so against such a stubborn opposition?

We did indeed now have some zest and began to boss the game. Wycombe no longer looked as comfortable as we went about things a bit quicker.

Fittingly it was Sykes who drew us level 12 minutes into the second half. The move was started by Kelly who found Sykes and as soon as he had moved the ball onto Henry he set off scampering down the wing once more. Having got the ball back, his cross which was looking for Taylor instead found the back of the net.  Flukes count just the same as worldies.

We’d now got ourselves into a position to win the game and we clearly should have done so.

Moments later I thought this is it, we’re on our way. We were passing the ball about quite neatly when a Rob Dickie return to Sykes was a little short. A 50:50 challenge was required. The ball broke our way. In the first half it wouldn’t have. It ended up with Cameron Brannagan who quickly turned and played Henry in. there was no defender between him and the goal. He had to shoot. A striker who only had eyes for goal would have shot. Matty Taylor would have shot. Instead of pulling the trigger Henry looked to give Taylor an easy chance which given the fact that there was a defender there hugely decreased the likelihood of us scoring. Plus I think Matty was offside. That man Stewart got a toe to it. The referee gave a goal kick. That moment is going to haunt me just like Rob Duffy going through with a one on one against Exeter in the Conference play-off semi- final.

But only ourselves to blame. As the commentator said, “Oxford fluff their lines” and “what a moment that might turn out to be”.

Although there was that nagging thought that we’d blown it we were still looking much the likelier of the two teams to take the lead. We were now winning high balls played into the Wanderers box. From one free-kick, taken by Henry and won by Sykes, Ryan Allsop had to push a Dickie header round the post. That was a fairly routine save. From the resulting corner it was the same man who got head on ball. This time the save was world class. It’s stuff like that that helps win football matches. Allsop got down low at lightning speed to keep his goal intact.

With just over 10 minutes of the 90 remaining so much happened so quickly. Deep breaths were needed but unfortunately we were the ones who came out of it holding our heads when we should have been celebrating.

Wycombe had a free-kick which when played in resulted in a strong handball claim. But no VAR and the officials were not an eagle eyed lot so away we went. A quick break was on. Brannagan brought it out, looked up and hit a long ball to Browne. Off he went but Jack Grimmer got there first. Wanderers don’t have silky skills at the back. I was expecting row Z to be aimed for. Grimmer tried to control it but didn’t do so very well. The ball looked like it might be going out but I don’t think it did. The Wycombe man then tried to play it back to his keeper but didn’t get much on the ball at all. I sat and watched in horror as Browne, instead of chasing it, stopped, turned and put his arm up appealing for the throw in. The pass had so little pace on it our loanee would have caught it easily.  By now I was yelling at him. WTF. Play to the whistle. I’m writing this on Tuesday lunch time and am welling up with anger as I do so. Up to now I’ve been a great fan of MB. I have thought him to be very professional and in no way prima-donnaish. Players make mistakes that’s a given, it has to be accepted and they have to be forgiven provided of course it’s not the same thing over and over again. This though I am finding hard to ignore. What was he thinking? I can’t do anything but blame him because doing what he did was not acceptable even in junior football. Will I ever get over it? This was another “Duffy” moment for me and probably worse.

And, well we know the rest. It got worse a second or two later. As bad as it could. Allsop, instead of picking the ball out of his net, (okay we had to put it there first) was able to whack an almighty clearance deep into our half. Kelly, who had a much greater distance to travel than Browne, did his best to prevent this from happening.

Elliott Moore ducks under it, Eastwood rushes out and Onyedinma is taken out. Clear penalty. Eastwood doesn’t even get a card.

Apparently Moore said he heard a call of leave it. Eastwood said it wasn’t him. Who was it then? Adebayo Akinfenwa was close by. Onyedimna? Was there really a call? Will we ever know? If it is called by an opponent I believe that to be an offence but when was the last time a referee pulled someone up for this?

The spot kick is put away with meaning and we have a few minutes left to come from behind again.

We don’t. We tried but we royally ****ed up a gilt edged opportunity to get to the next level. Errors are costly. These were awful.

On top of that in the cold light of day our goal was lucky, we only properly stretched Allsop once and only Sykes was at the top of his game.  Still the better team though which is so very galling.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 14th, 2020 at 12:46 pm and appears under News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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