Fan’s View 2020/21 – No.13 – Rochdale at home

Article by Paul Beasley Wednesday, November 4th, 2020  


NB: This FV was finished around lunch time on Wednesday but thanks to Virgin not published until later. They were an ISP I would have recommended until a couple of months ago but no more. Regular loss of service in our area for hours on end now. I assume it is pissing off many customers beyond my family.

Lockdown number two is just two days away. I could debate the rights and wrongs of this for many an hour. Is it optimum timing? What’s included that shouldn’t be and excluded that should? But as this is a football blog I’ll not veer much off course. The news when it came told us that the “Premier League and other elite sport” would be allowed to continue behind closed doors. That’s us buggered then I reasoned because we’d been anything but elite to date this campaign. Turns out that eliteness exists all the way down to National League North and South, but not beyond down to the likes of Banbury United (but they’re allowed to be a bit special for FA Cup purposes), so I needn’t have worried about not being able to watch OUFC even on television.

With pubs having to shut their doors, even if they’ve taken all the precautions asked and incurred the costs of doing so, we thought we’d nip out for a couple of drinks late afternoon/early evening before kick-off. I’m a Bicester man and there’s only two pubs in our quite sizeable town that I’d recommend, the Bell and the Angel. I chose the latter and sat there supping beer brewed on the premises knowing I had a walk of just under a mile before I could sit and watch the Yellows. I suddenly had an away day feel come over me and how I have missed that. I also have to say the ale was way superior to anything I can get near the Kassam.

As I left the pub by the one way system I heard a voice from a corner shout “Beas”. It was two mates who I hook up with for beer festivals – something else I’m craving – but I told them I couldn’t stop and chat (was I allowed to?) because Oxford were playing in under an hour’s time. “Are they? Who are they playing?” “Rochdale” “How will you do?” I couldn’t think what to say other than listing the considerable weaknesses we have displayed this season but I had no time for that. The “we’re shit” just came out. I don’t like slagging the team off face to face and felt a little bit guilty. Truth is though that’s the impression left after many games since the start of the 2020/21 slog.

That Marcus McGuane was back and Sam Winnall on the bench meant that the squad was a bit less threadbare than it has been in the last game or two but obviously it was all down to how the eleven on the pitch at any one time performed.

Would they be boosted by the piped “come on you yellows”?

Early on Rochdale looked the more confident as one would expect from a side unbeaten in four. Impressively one of those was a draw against the high flying might of Sunderland. We on the other hand weren’t great although not as dreadful as in the last couple of games. Passes were going astray and a number of players were quite anonymous. McGuane showed a bit early on but faded noticeably before being replaced half way through the second period. Dan Agyei was probably the one who caught the eye most, not that there was much from anyone else demanding my attention. I’m not sure whether that is because he really is producing things of substance for the team or he’s one of those you can’t take your eyes off because you don’t know what he’s going to do next. I have not worked him out yet and perhaps the same can be said of defenders who have to face him.

We were giving Dale space to get crosses in and also shots but this time our marking closer to goal was rather better. This may well be down to players getting to know each other as this was the same back line for the third game in a row. It wasn’t until the 21st minute that the visitors had the first proper effort on goal of the game and that was blocked by Elliot Moore for a corner.

Almost immediately we too had goal attempts, an Agyei shot and one from Matty Taylor which didn’t trouble Gavin Bazunu which was a shame because the teenager on loan from Manchester City was easily troubled. Any weakness detected should be played on to the nth degree, however cruel.

By now the game was opening up which is something that isn’t usually said until the second half has got well underway. Simon Eastwood stretched to save a shot which would probably have snuck just inside the post.

Whilst it was a bit end to end that description probably gives the game a quality and excitement which wasn’t really there although I’ve seen a lot worse.

With just over half an hour on the clock Bazunu produced a very strange fumble in an incident where Taylor was on the premises. If he’d been our keeper I wouldn’t have been filled with confidence. A couple of minutes later that view was proved correct.

Anthony Forde is the best at dead-ball delivery that we’ve had for some time. He takes free-kicks and corners from both sides with his right foot bending them in from the left and away from the right. When this works as it did on the day that is some weapon to have in our armoury.

One such delivery had not been cleared very far by the Rochdale defence and we were able to get the ball back into the box very quickly. James Henry’s cross was not dealt with by Bazunu who had a little help from Taylor in this regard. Moore was able to stick a leg out to his right in somewhat unconventional style and give Oxford the lead. Many Dale men were in close proximity but none could do anything about it.

Great, now all we had to do was get to half time with this advantage and then sort out a game plan to ensure it still remained at the close.

But given the way our season is going, that never happened. Under the new interpretation of hand ball it was definitely a penalty and to be honest where Sam Long’s hands were under all the previous interpretations too. What a shame, because other than that he had a really good game again.

Would we crumble? Presumably yes as we’d shown a fragility up to now when under pressure.

Rochdale sensed that to be so and went for us from the re-start as if they really thought they could take us. They didn’t. We were creating chances. A header by Long from a Forde free-kick didn’t go in as it had done against MK.

But none of the chances thus far had been a gimme. That was until the 56th minute when I’d all but written the latest score down as 1-2. Jimmy Ryan hit a low shot from distance and I was screaming at Eastwood (I mean the TV) as instead of pushing it away from goal he put it on a plate for Jake Beesley to tap home. Beesley tapped it wide. Beesley, you wanker. A phrase I’ve heard quite a few times in my life (although the spelling would be slightly different). Sometimes deserved, sometimes not.

On such things football matches turn. Not long after we were the team in front and the lead was regained with a quality goal. We were starting to find a rhythm. Players were running into space and the ball was being passed to those players. Henry played McGuane in on the right flank and his cut back pass to the other side of the penalty area was met by substitute Olamide Shodipo who, with the finish, has already proven beyond all doubt that he is not another Gino Van Kessel. I wait with interest to see what he truly is. Could be something.

Rochdale didn’t give up and had what I thought was another strong penalty shout that no-one cared much about but we were now the outfit that looked like we’d mugged them and stolen their confidence. We began to look the fitter and stronger and had more running in us than they did.  We were the ones anticipating and intercepting. This brought joy to my heart.

Players that had been off it began to show their true colours. Josh Ruffels got a shot in. Sean Clare couldn’t be picked out as a square peg in a round hole and did some proper defending and also looked quite threatening when coming forward.

Forde’s corners continued to cause grave concern to the blue shirted men and from one of these Moore scored with his head. As soon as it went in I said that was a bullet. I don’t think there’s any other word to describe it. That’s what Nick Harris said too so it must be right.

Given his size that was exactly what I envisaged Moore doing when we signed him. Many repeats please.

We still had eight minutes of normal time to negotiate and obviously if we had let in a second the very final stages of the game would have been too nervy for good health. However, by now we were well on top and never looked like giving away what we’d put in the bank. If Beesley had not cocked up it could have been very different but putting that aside this was a vast improvement defensively. Yes we again failed to keep a clean sheet, but the only goal against came from the penalty spot. There no longer seemed to be holes everywhere.

There were probably things going on all over the pitch that contributed to this victory that I’ve not picked up on but as the game played out to its conclusion I thought Mark Sykes, who had only arrived in the 67th minute, was outstanding. He did nothing spectacular and actually had me cursing when, with the score at 2-1, he missed a chance that an on form goal-scorer would have buried. Instead of hitting the ball first time when it appeared to be ideally set up, he took a touch, went too wide, and allowed a save to be made. But the rest of it, which was carried out with a painful hip, was exemplary. The sort of stuff that wins football matches. He was busy. Whenever we lost the ball he didn’t recklessly try and win it back but sensibly blocked space and got goal side of opponents. All of a sudden we looked solid in the area where a left winger or attacking left sided midfield opponent could do us damage if we weren’t concentrating. Helping out made Clare look like a proper defender.

We saw the game out with no trouble.

No way should we get carried away after one much improved performance but this result was achieved against a team that showed they could play a bit. They had marginally more possession than we did and as a consequence made marginally more passes but we had more shots than they did and more on target too.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 4th, 2020 at 6:13 pm and appears under News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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