Fan’s View 2020/21 – No.21 – Blackpool away

Article by Paul Beasley Saturday, December 12th, 2020  

SEASON 2020/21 – FAN’S VIEW No.21: BLACKPOOL AWAY

But first Papa John’s

Perhaps, just perhaps, my attitude to this competition is changing very slightly but nowhere near enough yet to attend in person even though until last Saturday I’ve been starved of the real thing over the last nine months. Also as I was lucky enough to be there for the Hull game, it’s only fair, as it was a non-season ticket game, to give others a better chance. Wasn’t a sell-out though was it?

When I say lucky enough what I really mean is less unlucky than those ST holders who wanted to go but were let down by technology, Ticketmaster or were just too late to try, whether through no fault of their own or otherwise. What’s lucky about getting something you’ve already paid for and in some cases getting something inferior?

It’s the big clubs U21s involvement that killed this already very much minor competition for me. Should I take a different stance once they’ve all been knocked out? None have survived in the Southern section and only one, Leicester City, in the Northern.

What does appeal to me is seeing what our fringe players have to offer. Fringe and the youngest of youth given brief try outs. I’d not heard of Leon Chambers-Parillon until the Walsall game. Sounded like he has some talent and did so again here. Then there’s Gatlin O’Donkor. Only 1036 can say they were there for the debut of our youngest ever player. It might not be one of those iconic football moments that live forever in the minds of many millions around the globe, but in its own way is just as memorable at a local level.  Us fans of all ages can but dream the impossible dream of kicking a ball just once in a yellow shirt in a proper OUFC game. That’s exactly what just turned 16 years old GOD (That’s what he has to be called is it not, as Callum O’Dowda was COD?) did. In the short period between coming on in the 86th minute and the final blast of the referee’s whistle he touched the ball just once and that was with his chest. Then he did. First kick. First penalty. First time in the lead on the night.

The kid has got a long way to go and he will know that as, obviously, will all the staff at the club but what a story even if we never hear of him again. As he’s back at school sat behind his desk I wonder what’s going through his mind. Can he concentrate on his studies? I sincerely hope so but equally so on his football.

For all the sins of the EFL Trophy now that there are far fewer restrictions on who can be picked and who can’t, this gave Karl the opportunity to experiment. Except for Jordan Obita none of the others had started against the Tigers and he was being tried at LB to see if he can provide cover there should Josh Ruffels need to be replaced for whatever reason.

So it was a reserve team in all but name. A centre half pairing of Mous and Nico Jones. The former is now in the veteran stage of his career but we’ve also been led to believe he’s crocked and in need of a knee operation so can’t last more than a few competitive minutes here and there. In this he completed the full session and scored the penalty that ended it all. I’m not sure what that tells us. The latter is still only 18 and whilst he may not have progressed as we thought he might when we first saw him at the back end of the 2018/19 season, time is still on his side. Should one of our first pick centre-halves be unavailable one of these two may well have to come in depending on whether it is thought Sam Long is of more value at RB or in the middle.

As for the rest well it was up to them to shine to an extent demanding their boss give serious consideration to including them in the first team proper. Having only listened to the Radio Oxford commentary I can only say it sounded like they did okay but nowhere near enough for that to happen.

Blackpool 0 Oxford United 0

We went in at the break lucky to be level. The game had been of poor quality with neither side doing anything to set the pulses racing for most of the half. More mid-table L2 fare than on form L1 stuff which is what the Seasiders should be producing based on their recent record of five wins from their last six league games coming into this but with five to ten mins left they began to assert themselves and hinted that there was a gulf between the two teams.

It’s always scripted now that Josh Ruffels will face a menacing opponent or perhaps it’s that his high standard of recent years has dropped somewhat but we need to remember that he didn’t start out as a left-back. CJ Hamilton, who didn’t get where he is today by giving full-backs an easy time, was the man he was up against at Bloomfield Road. A dangerous CJ ball into our box looked a nailed on assist to give the home side the lead. Sullay Kaikai slipped instead of finishing and we survived.

Two minutes later out of nowhere Hamilton hammered a shot from outside the area but we once again got away with it, this time thanks to the upright.

Then we were undone down our right. Stevens came a long way out and got a little lost but once more the footballing gods smiled on us. Full-back James Husband’s angled effort found neither the goal nor a tangerine shirt for a tap in. A foot or so either way and we would almost certainly have gone behind.

My conclusion at this stage was that we were poor. We looked at our most threatening when Rob Atkinson flicked his gears into cruise control and came gliding out from the back. That’s not going to be enough to win many football matches. We need more.

What we had in the attacking department was not a lot. We did not play the ball around neatly in midfield and showed little, if any, creativity. There were more long balls than is good for us particularly given the size of Matty Taylor who once more ploughed a lone furrow in that thankless role which wastes a goal scorer like himself. Even playing like this he will get the very occasional chance but although he’s not slow, he’s not the paciest of individuals either so has to very much risk off-sides. Rightly or wrongly the flag won out. Pity we have not got wingers who can get to the by-line and pull the ball back for him.

The only real chance I can recall in the first period was when Marcus McGuane slashed the ball wildly over the bar. He’s someone I’ve warmed to a lot over the past couple of games but this represented a lack of coolness. That bit of composure that marks out the classier player from the crowd. There was nothing about this that said I’m a Championship player I’ll be back at Forest next season and in the team.

But at least we’d, by hook or by crook, negotiated 50% of the game without conceding and although Blackpool had not let one in themselves in the last four in all competitions, I didn’t think they looked totally in control at the back. Not that we were asking them many questions mind.

It didn’t take long after the re-start for me to think we’re just getting more of the same here. Then it got worse. Rob Atkinson was unable to continue after a challenge with Gary Madine. It wasn’t clear what the problem was but probably hip or ribs. He’s known to be a player that breaks down and this could be a real pisser just as we have got a settled back four. Plus he’s an asset with re-sale value assuming there will be ways and means to pass the medical. We still do have the same business model, don’t we? In these Covid times for a club like ours wheeling and dealing in the transfer market is more important than ever.

Would his replacement, Mous, be able to churn out about half a game after his exertions four days earlier? The early signs defensively after this enforced change weren’t good but we did settle and his experienced head probably helped us through more than we noticed.

Just before the hour was up Taylor was caught offside again. The new Beano in this regard?

Then Karl made two changes. Off went Jordan Obita and Liam Kelly. Both had done okay (that phrase again I probably have lazily used too often). Okay though means nothing special that’s going to win the game. Nothing standout.

For someone without a club until quite recently Obita has played a lot of football and had earned a sit down. Kelly for some reason only known to the referee was the only player to receive a yellow card. A case highlighting the lack of consistency if ever there was one. Book him for what he did and four or five others should have been given the same punishment.

The replacements were almost forgotten man Jamie Hanson and Dan Agyei. Dear me, Dan Agyei. We needed something from him. Initially we got a player who couldn’t hold the ball up or pass it accurately a few yards to someone else in a white shirt. The more I see of him the more I conclude we’ve wasted some cash here.

The game was as scrappy as it had ever been but on 65 minutes CJ was at it again. The fall of Oxford and rise of Blackpool looked imminent but yet again the luck was ours, this time in the form of the crossbar.

Agyei continued to be involved giving the ball away but then upped his contribution by being in the mix at a bit of pinball when we endeavoured to score from a corner. As it turned out Blackpool broke at pace and we could have fallen for the sucker punch. That didn’t happen because we had three players who bust a gut to get all the way back and crowd out the attack. This gave me the best feeling I’d had all game. We might not have been playing much football. What we were serving up was a turgid watch but this said we had that deep inner resolve not to go under.

Then Agyei did a couple of good things and I thought perhaps we’re turning the corner but no he then reverted to more crappiness.

With nine minutes remaining KR made his final two changes with McGuane and James Henry being brought off and Robbie Hall and Olamide Shodipo appearing. We’d swapped two quite reliable sorts who had not hit any heights to inspire us towards victory and replaced them with one player I keep thinking has his best days behind him and another yet to really prove himself since he arrived on loan.

A gamble to go on and try and win it at the risk of losing?

We did immediately look better. Hall played a pass that was probably our best of the entire game and Shodipo did something none of the others had done. He beat men and got into the box. Such had been the paucity of our attacking up to that point I even forgave him for shooting straight at keeper Chris Maxwell at the near post when he should have done a lot better. That’s very unlike me.

A bit late to say the least but we now looked much more capable of scoring than we’d done for most of the preceding minutes. In added time Mous got on the end of a very well delivered Hall free-kick and forced Maxwell into a top save which did the trick for his team along with a post and goal-less it remained.

If that had gone in, any Blackpool claims of robbery would have been hard to disprove in court. Yet for all this the stats for almost everything show it to be very even. We had five shots and they had six but both only had two on target.

We might not be scoring but as the boys from Radio Oxford said, keeping clean sheets and getting draws against Ipswich, Hull and Blackpool provides a very solid base on which to build. They’re the three games Jack Stevens has played and he’s allowed the ball to by-pass him just the once.

For now I’ll therefore put aside that I got almost zero entertainment from watching this on iFollow. Solid base maybe but I don’t think we’ve got the building blocks to put on that base without making good use of the January transfer window.

I will sign off on a positive note or two though.

Sorry for being repetitive but Sam Long is just heroic. Yes he did, like all players, give the ball away once or twice and was caught out of position once but he defends like a defender should. I can picture him alongside a Gary Briggs type back in the day giving just as much as Rambo did within the limits of the accepted but unwritten laws of the game at the time. If Sam had ended up on the losing side it would have been a travesty and he doesn’t just defend now does he?

Then there’s the league table. With just a point gained one wouldn’t expect much if any progress up the table but we’ve hopped over Swindon and Rochdale and out of the bottom four. And not just that, we’ve got a game in hand on the two teams above us who are only two points ahead.

One of those teams being Northampton who make the short trip to our place on Tuesday. I intend to cover that in next FV obviously, oh and that little issue about the rights and wrongs of the and method of allocating the limited number of tickets from the next three home games.

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