Fan’s View 2020/21 – No.5 – Accrington away

Article by Paul Beasley Sunday, September 27th, 2020  

SEASON 2020/21 – FAN’S VIEW No.5 – ACCRINGTON AWAY

Covid 19 (or more) Football 0 (or less)

I wrote this in the previous FV, “ ….  with the large continual increase in the number of Covid-19 cases I’d say the chances are more than 50:50 against there being any fans in attendance when the Railwaymen visit.” As I’m often accused of being a pessimist I put it in these terms. My true thinking was that the chances of 1,000 Oxford fans being at the Kasstad was only about 15%.

And sure enough pilots are no more.  Rightly or wrongly? On the face of it given what is going on probably rightly from a beat the virus perspective. A few clubs have already run these pilots but that has obviously turned out to be a waste of time and money putting the event on with strict safety measures for such tiny crowds. Meanwhile clubs in tier seven and below are allowed to play in front of up 600 depending on the lay out of their grounds.

After taking that small tentative step forward we’re now very much in retreat. Perhaps it’s a case of losing the battle to win the war but as matters are at present, football as a business at many levels could be all but screwed. It is of course not the only industry in dire straits.

Many clubs below Premier League level were not far from the brink prior to Covid wiping away the world as we used to know it. Without doing any proper research whatsoever I’d guess that more were in debt than not. Now there’s no match day income other than the ten pounds people pay to watch behind closed doors games on iFollow. That income isn’t going to pay the players wages or fund the debt. A whole family can watch for that tenner.

Season ticket holders rightly get to see their team’s home games without paying again meaning any other family member can therefore watch for free if they so choose. I’d made the assumption that every £10 a fan pays for an iFollow pass to watch their team playing away would go to the home club as it was all going in the world as we used to know it. Not so apparently.  The way it works is that the home side gets the income from the first 500 away passes purchased through their visitors’ iFollow site and the rest goes to the travellers.  For example last week Bolton sold 2,000 for their trip to Colchester. From the “away” fans the other U’s made £5k but Bolton took £15k. Not to be sniffed at in these hard times.

I know watching on TV doesn’t much appeal to some fans, even including those who used to go to most matches home and away when we were allowed. Additionally watching a contest with no atmosphere emanating from the stands further reduces the quality of the spectacle.

Although the overall enjoyment is now a fraction of what it used to be I still feel a 100% compulsion to watch every OUFC competitive game (excluding the EFL Trophy) by whatever method available.

“How many did they take to x?” “How many are you going to bring?” That’s all gone now as is obsessive fans poring over the attendance figures as much as the results and goal-scorers. I’d like to see the iFollow numbers published, home and away. Throw in season tickets and we’d get some idea of the new world “gate” figure.

Perhaps if OUFC were to strongly publicise that there is money to be made from virtual away days provided we turn up in numbers in front of our television sets/computer screens more would participate for the good of the club. How many turned up at Wembley for York, Barnsley and Coventry? (Not Wycombe of course).

The debts will be growing by the week. There is no end in sight. We’re months and months away from even getting back into pilot mode let alone full grounds again. A year? Years? Ever?

Let’s say we somehow get through the 2020/21 with League One actually being completed but still no likelihood that 2021/22 will be back to pre-Covid times. I doubt supporters who so readily renewed for this campaign will do so again knowing they won’t be getting much for their money. Also cash is going to be much tighter for many anyway with unemployment and hardships to come.

It wouldn’t take much for a coronavirus wrecking ball to devastate the fixture list. In the week Orient suffered a widespread outbreak in their squad. Testing of players in the Premier League is mandatory. It is not in the EFL. Spurs, who were due to play the O’s in the EFL Cup on Tuesday, paid for their opponents to be tested.  Just as well they did isn’t it? The game was only called off two hours before kick-off.  Orient have now had to forfeit the tie and their match at Walsall this weekend is also now off.

On Friday it was announced that Grimsby Town’s next three games will not go ahead after a player tested positive for coronavirus.

The top flight are not immune. There’s West Ham.  David Moyes and two players, Issa Diop and Josh Cullen, who were on the team sheet to play Hull in the EFL Cup, tested positive. They were asymptomatic but that’s not really the point. Testing did its job but they caught it from somewhere. Worryingly Hull turned down West Ham’s offer to pay for tests for their side.

Given this backdrop to the game we love I’ve set my sights vastly lower than they were when we were putting that fantastic run together before the national lockdown (number one?).  At this point in time, as always, I obviously want to win games of football, but I’m not looking much beyond survival in League One, or possibly even as a football club in its current form. The path ahead is full of minefields for us and every other professional club.

KR, who signed a new four year contract a few weeks back, is now questioning how long he can continue if football remains behind closed doors. I know how you feel Karl but we all have to dig deep and do that soul searching thing. Wonder if it had been two wins and not two goal-less defeats if he would be feeling quite the same?

Thoughts on Accrington

Accrington away was the only league fixture I missed last season; a wedding got in the way. For some this trek doesn’t have much appeal. Small club, small ground, small town. It’s about the size of Bicester. Give them trips to Sunderland and Pompey any day.  Me, I look forward to the Wham Stadium and Stadium of Light equally.

No beers in here this season

Today I can only re-visit days gone by. Leave early. Park within a stone’s throw of the away end. Walk to the Peel Park Hotel. Traditional hostelry. Traditional beers. Thoughts of the previous incarnation of Stanley as we’d be sat yards from where they used to play. Finish the Tetley’s. Then off to Grants Bar, home of the Big Clock Brewery. A more modern set up but good range of beers brewed just a few feet away. After sampling one or two walk through the town, up the hill. Stanley used to get a couple of thousand home fans in their ground but strangely we never used to see them. The town would be all but deserted. Were they teleported in just before kick-off then out again on the final whistle?  If time possibly a quick one in the Grey Mare before onto the terrace, concrete or metal. Then a live football match.

Every time we play them I say how much I admire them. They’re probably punching above their weight more than almost every other club in the top four flights. “The Price of Football” podcast keep quoting them as a well-run club, definitely not owned by a “wrong-un”.  On the field they always give their all. John Coleman is a canny old school manager. They’ve won their only home league game so far, beating Peterborough 2-0. The Posh were fancied pre-season. And so were we according to the bookies but look at our start. There’s undoubtedly a lot of pressure coming in to this. No points from nine would be almost unthinkable. One from nine would be pretty shite too.

Accrington Stanley 1 Oxford United 4

Pre-match thinking:

Having seen the team sheets its staring us in the face – this side does not look as good as many we’ve had the pleasure of seeing in recent seasons. That’s down to injuries and illness too.  What a pisser that Cameron Brannagan was only fit enough for the bench. He’s one I really do have faith in. But it’s not just that. We have not replaced quality with similar. Rob Dickie. Marcus Browne. Tariq Fosu. Shandon Baptiste. I know I must let this go but it is difficult when you look at the league table.

I look at the Accrington line up and could not tell you anything about any of their players. What I do know is that they will be well organised, hard-working and committed. If we play as we have done so far in 2020/21 that will probably be enough for them to beat us.

And to add to the craziness in this mad world we currently inhabit the team bus failed a breathalyser test. Yes, the bus not the driver. Or something. That wasn’t going to stop us, the team turning up in taxis and cars already kitted and ready to go just like village footballers.

At times of adversity you learn a lot. Here it was that despite our poor start to the season this squad does have character.  To be honest poor starts are something we should be used to by now under Karl. In 18/19 we lost the first four. Last season although we were unbeaten in the first two we then lost four and drew one of the next five.

We’d demonstrated in the first half that we were the better side it but it nevertheless looked like we would be going in at the break with nothing on the scoreboard.

We were moving the ball quicker and there was improvement all round both individually and collectively. Our passing game had returned and whilst not looking a fully tuned clinical machine we had the chances before we got our just reward in the 45th minute.

From a well worked corner Dan Agyei helped a James Henry centre on its way but onto the crossbar not the back of the net. Rob Atkinson had a shot cleared just before it reached the goal line. The home sides appropriately named keeper Toby Savin stretched tall on the edge of his area to collect a Matty Taylor lob. Other than that our attempts at scoring were rather more wayward until we engineered the chance that put us one up.

Liam Kelly bent a ball down the left touch line with the outside of his boot and into Taylor’s path. Matty trod on the ball but recovered and played in Agyei who had quickly pointed where he wanted it, sneaking between two defenders. He’s a strong lad and he shoved the ball across the 6 yard box as he tumbled under a challenge. Robbie Hall jumped at it but couldn’t connect. The incoming Henry could and after five halves of 20/21 league football we’d got our first goal.

The second half was one of those that can be described as “full of drama”.  Accrington began to pose much more of a threat and as is now quite a common theme we struggled with high balls played into our box. Corners worried me. It was from one such dead ball that Simon Eastwood had to tip a looping header over the bar.

A minute later he came with extended arm to punch away a free-kick. The connection was perfect except for one thing, it wasn’t the ball on the receiving end it was Harvey Rodgers’s head. Referee Ross Joyce staring straight at the incident was unmoved doing that crossed arms thing to signal nothing doing. Red shirts surrounded him.  I’d not heard anything when watching at the time but on the brief Sky highlights a shrill apoplectic scouse accent is yelling, “Punched him in the ‘ead”,  “Punched him in the ‘ead”. Indeed Easty had and after looking towards his assistant Rodgers correctly gave the spot kick and we were no longer in the lead.

I was just about getting ready to fear the worst but there was no time for that. Joel Cooper who’d hardly had time to become acquainted with proceedings was instrumental in us getting our noses back in front just a minute later. Taylor leapt into the air to back heel the ball to Cooper down the left flank. Our man from N.Ireland took it on, stopped then started again, feinted to go on the outside then beating his man before coming inside. His low ball in, be it shot or pass, pinged off one defender away from goal and then off another directly over the line. We’ll take that thanks. Again language can be heard, “Fucking get in there”.

It was now becoming difficult to keep up. Two minutes later the game turned even more our way.  The single camera provided by iFollow doesn’t give the best of coverage and at a place like Accrington with no stand of any size to set up shop in this is particularly noticeable. A corner came over with bodies crowded around the goal, some on their feet others on the floor. We didn’t deal with it. Easty flapped about. Well that’s what seemed to have happened but the coverage didn’t provide clarity. Coleman was off again, “Come away. Come away” in exactly that tone of his.

Dion Charles was shown a red card for what I don’t think anyone other than Joyce really knows. There was talk of a stamp yet none of our lot said they were stamped on.  Luck was on our side with that me thinks but Accrington could easily have been reduced to ten before this when Elliot Moore got a smack in the face/neck off the ball. This was picked up on camera.

Even now although we were playing well I wasn’t totally confident that we would see it out. Stanley were still giving it a go and when they got a free-kick right on the edge of the box it produced a “here we go” feeling. But they didn’t hit the target and from then on it was all relatively comfortable. We passed the ball around with efficient ease and Accrington knew they were beaten.

Given what each side had produced we deserved to win by more than a single goal and in the final few minutes Taylor gave the score line the look that better reflected what had gone on.

His first and our third was an absolute treat to watch. A striker at his best. The ball pinged to him by Henry travelled half the length of the pitch and could not have been more accurate. Matty took it on his chest with his first touch and with his second, with perfect technique, smashed it past the keeper who wasn’t for saving it. A master at work. It reminded me a bit of John Aldridge – fist touch places the ball in a position where the second touch can be a goal-bound effort. Defenders don’t have time to work it out, all they can do is watch and begrudgingly admire.

That was certainly game over. I knew it by my relieved celebrations. Three points at last but we weren’t done yet. Two minutes later he’d got another. Anthony Forde had all the time in the world to get a cross in from the right. A defender jumped a lot but didn’t make contact with the ball. Taylor had placed himself where jumping a little was sufficient and headed at goal and Savin too. The keeper got a hand to it but according to the officials, Taylor’s reaction and that of the Accrington players too couldn’t prevent it from going over the line. The iFollow coverage was inconclusive.

So where does this leave us after shooting up from bottom to 12th?

It’s the usual don’t get carried away after one win and we have to take account of how well the opposition played on the day. Accy were not great and I can’t agree with Coleman when he said there was only one team would have won it if it hadn’t been for the own goal and sending off. I think their fans on social media were more correct but perhaps had gone over the top about how bad they were. One season ticket holder even went as far as saying “free of charge, they felt like they were not getting value for money watching Stanley”.  Another was kind enough to say “Oxford looked the bees knees today, can’t think why they haven’t won any league games until today.”

Defensively we still have much room for improvement. Centrally Moore, Atkinson and Eastwood need to sort out who is going to go for and take what.  We’ve got the height to do better, surely. Other than that, and it is a big that, in normal play they’re fine and again we saw Atkinson bringing the ball out with confidence. Bearing in mind that Sam Long isn’t a natural left-back, defensively he did really well. If only his crossing could go up a level. This week Sean Clare appeared to be properly fit, which obviously helps. He performed his defensive duties to the full as well as looking confident when further forward too.

Pleasingly we were able to get half an hour out of Cameron Brannagan but his earlier absence left a void and for me that was filled by Forde, my man of the match. He was a steady influence, doing nothing flash, readily available and kept at it from first to last. He’s another with good technical ability and can deliver a telling dead ball.

There are times when Kelly looks so slight I fear that the hurly burly of L1 will swamp him. I thought the same about Jack Payne – who incidentally is now at Swindon having been released by Mapp on a free from Lincoln – when he was with us. But when we’ve got control of a game and others are firing around him his ball playing skills can flourish. They did here eventually.

Henry was approaching his best although there were a couple of occasions when he tried to go past an opponent and lost the ball very easily by either being out thought or just running into the red shirt in front of him. I’m being hyper critical here but that’s because I know what a good player he is.

Robbie Hall had an hour game time and I have to say on that showing looked easily up to L1 standard. I hold my hand up as it is not something I thought would happen after all his injuries. He’s not the same player we first had. He’s lost some pace but can still beat players and play the game. He also looks a bit chunkier now and can be very solid in the challenge.  This is very good to see.

Agyei is a player I have warmed to and am ready to warm to even more. His presence provides the option of going long which is quite good to have to mix it up a bit. He’s strong, can hold it and lay it off and is much more likely to win a bit in the air than MT. He can be quite quick too when running with the ball. There is the odd time though when I think he is too slow in doing something with it when it is at his feet. Again probably over critical.

Finally a mention of Cooper. He’s come on as sub in all three league games and this was the first time he looked a threat. It was against the tired legs of 10 men but hopefully bodes well for the testing times ahead.  And make no mistake they’ll be testing on the pitch, off the pitch and way out there in the wider world.

For all the shit that is going on out there your team winning a football match doesn’t change that at all but it does provide a gentle lift in its own unique way.  I know I’m feeling better now than I would be if we were still goal-less and point-less

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