Fan’s View 2020/21 – No.10 – Milton Keynes at home

Article by Paul Beasley Wednesday, October 21st, 2020  

SEASON 2020/21 – FAN’S VIEW No.10 – MK AT HOME

How bad?

How bad was that, is a question I ask after most defeats and continue to keep pondering long after I’ve let part of my frustration out into the wild in the form of these FVs. Probably the question I should be mulling over is not how bad was that but “how bad is it” thus encompassing all things OUFC at this point in time. After all Peterborough was just 90 minutes. (As was Lincoln, Sunderland and Gillingham).  So too Accrington in the interest of balance.

Time to search for positives but every time there’s a straw to clutch there’s a counter argument to whip it away. I’m trying, I really am.

In the last two games we’ve had 45 shots, twelve of which have been on target. So it’s not as if we’ve not had chances. Keep that up and they’ll start going in won’t they especially with Matty Taylor and Sam Winnall in our ranks?  So far we’ve averaged just a goal a game putting us joint 17th in L1 along with amongst others our opponents. They’ve played a game more. Beat them and we climb above them in the table. Win by a margin of two and we go one position above Swindon. If that isn’t incentive enough before Saturday I don’t know what is.

But whilst goal scoring is one thing, goal leaking is another and we’re rather incontinent at the moment. We have averaged two goals a game conceded and only Burton have performed worse at that end of the field. Mous returning should help but I don’t go with KR on being happy with what we’ve got at centre-half. We knew Rob Dickie was off but made no move to strengthen. Rob Atkinson was already here but was looked on as very much one for the future and until 2020/21 had not set foot on the field in a league game for us. Elliot Moore is obviously further along his Oxford United path and has to be the new Dickie. Karl though often gets it right and I have to say it took me a while to fully appreciate Dickie but he did get into the side as a starter immediately on arriving, clocking up 85 league starts by the time he left. Moore started with us as a sub coming on for just a minute then after a few games starting went back to nipping on for a few minutes to help see matters to a conclusion. KR’s preferred partnership was Dickie/Mous with Moore getting a game only when all three were selected. Then Mous got injured and it was by default Dickie/Moore which was the combination that saw us through the five game winning streak that got us into the play-offs when the season came to an abrupt halt. So he can play but can he be the main man and not the side kick? Mous will be 35 next birthday.

Fans like to see players that excite. Players that make things happen. Players that can produce something out of nothing. Marcus Browne was such a player. We didn’t count any chickens but I suspect we were a little bit annoyed when this time Middlesbrough wouldn’t let him out of their coop. So we went for a Ranger that was freer. (Okay I’ll stop now).  Olamide Shodipo, over to you. There’s a vacancy to be filled. Joel Cooper should have his eye on that too.

It set a few alarm bells ringing when Robbo said perhaps a few of them aren’t as good as we thought they were and is now talking about looking at free agents, but to get them in we would need to get some of the current 22 off the squad list with the salary cap casting a shadow over future wheeling and dealing. Could it be though that there is value to be had by bringing on board some of those that are currently unattached in these times of financial uncertainty?

First name on the team sheet? Mine would likely be Cameron Brannagan. Naturally I wish the lad all the very best and a speedy recovery and at times like this the priority is his health with football being a quite distant second.

Without knowing the full details, and quite rightly it is a private matter, it seems that he could be out for some time with no timescale for a return being set at this stage. If a footballer can’t see properly that is his game gone. No point whatsoever rushing back. He seems incredibly unlucky as the infection is, according to KR, incredibly rare with the JR only having at max two cases a year.

The infection is a reaction to an illness he had last month. What that illness is we don’t know but I do recall there was something going through the camp and if I remember rightly Covid tests were taken and a few players travelled to Accrington separately in cars, away from the bulk of the squad, awaiting results. CB, who was one of those who had not been well, only made it to the bench and not onto the pitch until the hour mark. I was hoping to conclude from this that we can tick along quite nicely until he returns as we won 4-1 there. However, we were only 1-0 up when he appeared. It is what it is as they say. We’ve got to get on with it but for now that squad of 22 is really a squad of 21.

I thought I’d talked myself into a more positive frame of mind but with the Cameron situation in the mix I’d now be fibbing if I said it have fully worked. So, I need to add something else. Even in these days of fan-less football there still seems to be a home advantage. Of the 400 games (nice round figure) that were completed last season 46.25% were won by the home team. There have been 69 so far this season and in 47.83% the hosts have triumphed. So far we’ve played away four times and just once at the Kassam and that was against a Sunderland team who have started just about as well as anyone and are unbeaten with just one goal conceded.

There, that’s just about done it. Pre-match psychological warm up completed.

OXFORD UNITED 3 MK DONS 2

This provided obvious relief and not a little joy mixed with frustration and anger/despair at some of our play along the way. At half time the visitors deserved to be winning but by the time proceedings were concluded it was us who were worthy of the three points we took.

I don’t agree with those who had concluded that we’d played well in games leading up to this one and whilst I don’t want to emphasise the empty half of the glass here any realistic analysis of the performance cannot fail to highlight collective and individual weaknesses. The text messages that were read out on the radio at half time had the same thinking as me. Now that the only way I can get my OUFC fix is through iFollow for the first time since I’ve been watching the yellows I’ve had the Radio Oxford commentaries team and summarisers to go with it. They’re a great bunch and I know they have to be biased but they’ve been interpreting what takes place on the pitch in a much more positive way than I have.

MK have an awful away record and I know that sometimes can mask how good a side are but Nick Harris talked them up rather a lot. I’d say they were okay but if we’d been up against one of the best sides in this division, playing as we did, we would still be on three points. We can’t defend. The average number of times we’ve been breached per game remains exactly two. I can’t see where the improvement is going to come from.  At this rate it will be 92 in the “against” column when the season is put to bed.

We may have been one up in six minutes but we started really poorly. Passes were bad and defending sub-standard. I felt a long night ahead of us.  But with just six minutes on the clock we scored.

In my opinion Rob Atkinson’s contribution to this opener was the best bit of individual play by any Oxford player in the entire game, even though we had a debutant scoring his first ever league goal two minutes after coming on.  Atkinson picked up the ball from a Josh Ruffels throw in in the left-back position level with the start of the penalty area. Not for the first time he moved forward in possession like Dickie and as with previous efforts, covered a greater distance than we saw from the departed one before off-loading. He beat one man then went between another two without seeing a challenge of note that needed shrugging off. A deft feint that was almost undetectable took him past another red shirt and suddenly he had crossed the half-way line. Mark Sykes was being marked by George Williams, the MK number two, but being even wider Marcus McGuane was left free. Sykes pointed where the ball needed to be played and when it was delivered by the outside of Atkinson’s left boot (it had all been left boot) he let it run on to McGuane who drove on. First touch was with his right playing it into the box and second touch was a left-footed pull back. The Dons back line were back-pedalling and not properly set. Thankfully James Henry wasn’t the one who connected because he would have been offside. Instead Taylor controlled and finished in the fashion of a true goal-scorer, which indeed he is.

Poor defending I said at the time and that is the biggest thing for me at the moment. It stems from my viewing of us this season but seems to be everywhere. There could be Fans View after Fans View about this topic alone. Just look at the goals being conceded in the Premier League and old school defenders who are now pundits bemoaning the lack of organisation, showing an opponent onto his weaker foot, not getting caught out of position, not over playing at the back, failure to take the no nonsense approach with a launch into row Z.

Afterwards I said if I was a MK supporter (wouldn’t happen for a million quid) I’d likely be raging about their defending in the same way as I have, and probably will continue to, rage about ours.

And well, some of that rage spewed out five minutes after we’d gone ahead. MK had played the ball from right to left in their own half and it didn’t look like there was a lot on provided we kept our shape and remained switched on. Sean Clare tracked Daniel Harvie which was fine. When Harvie released the ball he kept moving at running pace, Clare didn’t, he just jogged for a split second leaving himself well out of position and wrong side of the man he should have been marshalling. Two passes later we could see the damage being done unfolding before us. Moore had been enticed much further forward than traditional defensive centre-half territory and in a trice both Atkinson and Ruffels were also the wrong side of their men. Cameron Jerome hammered home Harvie’s pass from close range giving Simon Eastwood no chance. I let go some ripe old language I can tell you.

For the rest of this half they were the better side. We reverted to how we’d opened, wayward passing and porous defending. Taylor was isolated, but working hard, Henry was almost anonymous and McGuane, who looked like he might be influential early on, turned out not to be. There was little understanding between players and certainly no evidence of formation of partnerships that will serve us well in the weeks to come.

That we got to the break still all square was a relief and there was a noticeable improvement as we began the second 45. Optimism rose. Then it was smashed when Atkinson went down and off with not even 10 further minutes on the clock. Injury prone? It’s not as if we don’t have enough issues in central defence already.

Picking a man of the match is not something I consciously think about when I’m watching football but there’s a tiny part of my brain, like a computer programme working away deep in the machine’s RAM, which does so. Up to that point I had Atkinson as MOTM but once he’d departed that title attached itself to Sykes whose play during the many remaining minutes merited such an award, however meaningless.

It must be added here that Atkinson’s replacement, Sam Long, didn’t do his reputation any harm at all. The defence became no weaker following this enforced change. Another gap successfully plugged by the local boy. And there was that little matter of his headed goal from Anthony Forde’s excellent free kick four minutes after his arrival. That’s his 3rd goal in 44 starts and 14 sub appearances. A better record than Dickie who scored just twice in 85 starts.

Kicking towards the empty East stand we’d come quite close before we actually took the lead back.

MK were one of those teams who like to play it about at the back. In fact they did this very deep and I have never, at our level, seen a keeper so involved. Lee Nicholls may have been in purple but there were times when it would have been appropriate for the colour of his shirt to be red as he appeared to be playing right back. It was a new one, an outfield player passing the goal kick to the keeper to set a move going.  The voices from the radio, I think it was Rosie was confident that we would be able to benefit from them over playing at the back. I didn’t think so but he was right and I was wrong. A busier Henry spoilt the little game the ghost of Dons past, Dean Lewington and Nicholls were playing and but for an excellent piece of last ditch defending would likely have set up Sykes for a goal.

Now we were picking balls up where earlier we had not been. Clare did just that and then ran 40-50 yards (ah, is that why we recruited him?) but couldn’t compose his finish, instead screwing his shot well wide. Promising though.

The match became increasingly feisty and was handled by referee Kevin Johnson in a style all of his own. His decisions were given at random and I thought at the time favouring neither team. Some “coming togethers” were ignored, other penalised where the team winning the free-kick must have done so by Johnson visualising a coin being spun. Henry got booked for an arm into an opponent when he jumped for a ball. Moore got one in the face in fairly similar circumstances but didn’t even get a free-kick. Players were taken down but play allowed to carry on with “advantage not being a factor” where with a different official out there a card would have been waved. I saw Taylor kick out, off the ball, and also get kicked. Perhaps Matty has now decided to pick up the mantle, or more accurately manual, of shit-housery left by Jamie Mackie. We knew we had to become nastier. Survival and all that. Clare got a proper punch in the back of the head from Harvie and he wasn’t the only one to get hit. On another day there could have been a red or two.

There’s no way I thought we would win this without getting another but chances were just thrown away.

Elliott hammered the ball (no messing get it away when the time is right, tick) to the half way line where we kicked away at man and ball with determination to come out on top. The real Henry had returned and he, at skilful speed, nipped out of a tight situation and away from two red shirts then sent McGuane, who had timed his running perfectly to remain fractionally onside, away. He was soon facing Nicholls but failed to open his body up enough and put the ball wide. That was a bad miss.

At least we were making chances and making them look uncomfortable and at the other end Clare was showing that he can do some good defensive work, heading away a dangerous cross at the far post. The completed clearance resulted in Taylor doing battle with Nicholls just outside the area. The keeper got his head to it but was obviously out of position when Sykes ran on to the bouncing ball. An accurate lob would have done the job but I don’t think the chance was as inviting as it first looked. I think the spin of the ball made it awkward and the effort had little height and instead was cut out by a defender.

So it remained just the slenderest of leads and Harvie easily went past Clare but a shirt pull may have helped our cause with the cross going out of play.

Then our midfield scrapping, harrying and scurrying about should have paid dividends. Alex Gorrin being back in the side was probably a reason we saw more of this than we have done in recent games. Others follow where battlers lead. Sykes snapped away at Ben Gladwin’s ankles and the ball with another of those tight claustrophobic situations developing. He forced it towards Dan Agyei who had replaced Forde with just over twenty minutes left. Agyei seemed to be flipped through the air meaning the reds got possession again but McGuane and Henry joined in the very tight press forcing Lewington to play the ball backwards. This meant McGuane was onside. He raced onto the ball and Nicholls came out of his area to join in but got nowhere near. McGuane cut the ball back and Agyei who was now back in the game had been given the sort of chance any striker worth their salt dreams of. Instead of running onto the ball at full speed for a tap in he dropped down a gear, or two, and tried to dummy a defender who was desperately trying to get back when nothing of the sort was required. Even then he had time to stop and pick his spot even though there were now a red shirt or two between him and the target. None were near him. But what does he do? Not that. He just swung at the ball and fell over. To be fair the shot was on target but a defender was now able to slide in and concede a corner. That was a bad miss, a bad miss with a cherry on the top, a fecking hideous miss. The effing and jeffing at this point may have made the earlier outburst seem tame in comparison. WTF? Henry’s reaction says it all.

I really don’t like having scapegoats but when another ball came to Agyei in the box that he failed to control I was shaking my head in resignation, thinking John Obika, Kane Hemmings and the like.

At least the clock was moving onwards, albeit slowly and we were still in front. Perhaps we would see it out without needing a third after all.

But we got one anyway.  Although it started with our throw, we again crowded out an opponent with the ball deep in their own territory (Rosie had certainly called that one correctly) and then took it back for ourselves in the form of Olamide Shodipo.  He just ran directly into the area and let one go from the edge across Nicholls and in off the far post. For the first time in the evening I had a proper leap around the living room, with “get in” being yelled knowing that we’d done it. Simultaneously I and a few thousand other Yellows were all thinking Gino Van Kessell with the added, hope not.

Now we could relax. Into added time we went. Four minutes didn’t seem too bad especially given the time Clare took to despatch his throw-ins.

Except our defence is what it is. And our ability to see out a game seemed lacking. A team proficient at this would have made it to the corner flag given where the ball was thrown in from. Not us. Shodipo ran into traffic. Football is about a helluva lot more than scoring goals, mate. The Dons played the ball out. Sykes instead of just holding his ground sprinted to try and intercept but failed thus being removed from the game. Schoolboy error. Gladwin now had open ground to run into. A tired Gorrin did his best to bring Gladwin down but failed to make contact so saving himself a yellow card. On and on Gladwin went before firing past Eastwood who I thought should have been a bit spritelier in trying to keep it out. Moore backed off and did bugger all to prevent the shot. I’d expect a dominant centre-half to do something of note.

We should not have been feeling how we did in the final two minutes but we got there.

I may well have been too critical. Perhaps the stats support that. They certainly make for some interesting reading and I was going to cover them but having written much more than enough will stop now and fixate on the coming game.  And we all know who that is against.

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