Article by Paul Beasley Sunday, October 1st, 2023  


Pre-match thinking

Stevenage might be one of the smallest clubs in L1 but given they sit third in the table, with us one place above them, this is one hell of a big game.

We both came up from the Conference back in 2009/10. They didn’t hang around in L2 and immediately got promoted again. However they lasted just three seasons there and were demoted having finished bottom in 2012/13. This is their first season back at this level and consequently this will be our first visit to the Lamex Stadium for eight years. (Doesn’t time fly?) Their average home attendance so far this season is 4665, the fourth lowest in L1. Ours is just shy of 10k.

When I look at the list of the players we are likely to be facing in upcoming fixtures there are times I have to confess that I have little idea who they are. It’s a “never heard of them” or “think I’m aware of the name but know nothing about the bloke”. Other than Kane Hemmings that applies to Stevenage. However, I learned long ago that this doesn’t mean they are a bunch of nobodies and we’ll win convincingly.

It also has to be said that the manager there must be doing something right. He’s been in post since March 2022 and has a highly impressive win rate of 53.2%. The manager’s name, Steve Evans. Yes, he’s still around. Very round. Rounder than ever. Fair play though, he has recently said “Well, you don’t need to see me properly to know I’m overweight.”

Another thing I don’t know is if he still gets his teams to play the same way as he used to. I have seen a few clips in highlights shows of them scoring goals since he took over and they’ve looked quite well worked but do leopards ever change their spots? Evans claims to be mellower than he was 10-15 years ago. We shall see.

Nevertheless I’m expecting a battle and it can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that the only two teams to have beaten us thus far weren’t what purists would term footballing sides. I suspect it’s not going to be easy and the outcome may depend to some extent on how the referee controls the game.

Pre-match drinking (and a bit more thinking)

On my previous visits to Stevenage the only pub I’ve ever been in is Our Mutual Friend (OMF). That used to be Good Beer Guide listed but over the years the standard of the real ales served declined and they dropped out. With that in mind we contacted a friend who, although he moved away many moons ago, hails from the area and still has a good grasp of what’s what in these parts. He replied thus “it’s worth noting at the start that Stevenage is a shithole so we’re starting from a low base”. I decided on this particular occasion not to get annoyed about the chant which was bound to be sung – and sung it was.

He suggested driving a little way out knowing our preferred type of establishment but did note OMF and the Roebuck as being near the ground before adding that they’re pretty soulless and with a limited choice of real ale.

Nevertheless we opted for OMF and driving past on the lookout for a parking space, spotted a Stevenage flag hanging from the wooden surrounds of the pub garden. I doubt the landlady running the place back in the Conference days would have allowed such a thing. So much has changed. It’s still very much an estate pub but the two bars have been knocked through into one and it is rather more airy than it was with the style now being “sports bar”. As you often find on match days in such places there was quite a queue at the bar and that was with several staff doing their best to get the pints poured. I noted that one or two locals had glasses but the rest of us had to make do with plastic. Understandable with a football match about to take place. There was a bouncer present. There was a large Oxford contingent on the premises. The Stevenage flag disappeared into a plastic bag. There was no hint of trouble.

The place was what it was but I decided to quite like it nonetheless. The choice of real ale was only Doom Bar and Ghost Ship, both ubiquitous, and served in receptacles not of my preferred choice. However the quality of the Ghost Ship was decent and here’s the clincher, a round of three pints of the liquid was £7.20. That’s £2.40 a pint. Still can’t get my head round that.

I sensed a real belief amongst our fans in there – and I feel it in myself too. When we got back to the Football League there was a belief even though we did it the hard way. And again climbing to L1 we had belief under Michael Appleton but there’s belief and there’s BELIEF. I absolutely don’t want to get ahead of myself but I detect something altogether bigger, much bigger. It seems almost tangible. I can’t believe I’m saying this and perhaps it would be better to keep my thoughts to myself in case it all goes horribly wrong, but I’ve a need to preach. Why not share the joy?

There’s always a niggling doubt at the back of your mind but at present that niggle is the smallest it’s been since we were blitzing our way through divisions three and two under Jim Smith. Yes there will be bumps along the way, as there was then, but this is the most optimistic I’ve felt since those days.

This was my thinking in the pub and at the time that little ever present niggle was that Stevenage might not play ball. (Wonder what I’d have written here if they’d turned us over but they didn’t so here we are).

Cambridge away? Did I really say the things I did after our opener?


It’s an unshakeable habit of many fans to pick the team they think will be best suited to the task ahead or if not that then to second guess the side they think the manager will select.

With Liam Manning, don’t bother. He knows what he’s doing. He’s going to get it spot on way more often than not. I didn’t have an inkling of what was coming here. Not only will he have had plans to win this one but he would also have been thinking ahead to Tuesday and next Saturday, particularly bearing in mind that he has an array of talent to choose from.

What, neither Jordan Thorniley nor Stephan Negru starting? Stan Mills not getting any game time?

Very few players, possibly none, are assured of a starting place game after game, however well they might have done previously.

We now have a good idea what our team will deliver but not the personnel who will be doing that delivering. I thought my mate made a good point when he said at the start of the season that he didn’t think any Oxford fan would have thought Billy Bodin would have been a regular starter but there you are.

Formations baffle me a bit too. I’ve never been very good at working them out. I will however observe that we were set up superbly. We never seemed to get outnumbered anywhere on the pitch. No player ever got isolated with there always being team mates on hand to help.

When the team was announced the assumption was we were going to play three at the back plus two wing-backs. On the official site our line-up is shown as 4-2-3-1. So was Greg Leigh playing as a winger? He certainly seemed to be forward more than Finn Stevens, who I certainly had not expected to start but I also recall Leigh defending as a left back should.

This was a high tempo affair from the very first kick. Stevenage with a direct, strong, running, long ball style and they’re good at it. There’s physicality involved but whatever we’d like to believe most of it is fair and for the most part probably no better or worse than from most sides we face.

I said most, not all. Jamie Reid’s role at Stevenage corners was to try and intimidate James Beadle. Standing close by is of course legal but pushing as the ball comes over is not. Referee Carl Brook never bothered to take a look in that direction. He ignored Beadle’s protests and Ruben Rodrigues doing the eye pointing thing. If a referee isn’t doing his job in such situations it is easy for the transgressor to get inside his opponent’s head.

Whilst Brook deserves some credit for letting the game flow I suspect many Oxford fans would not have looked on him quite so kindly had we not won. A nasty challenge on Cameron Brannagan didn’t result in a card and we should have had a penalty before the game had hardly got underway. Leigh, about to get his head on the end of a Brannagan free-kick, was shoved past the ball by Nathan Thompson. I’m surprised we hardly appealed. Shirt pulling was as abundant as ever and as unpunished as ever.

It was however the hosts who put on most of the early pressure with a bit of a bombardment. From one of their corners when Beadle had been manoeuvred from his preferred placement, we needed a last ditch header on the line from Elliott Moore.

With a quarter of an hour gone though they did us. We took a throw down the line which was headed straight back from where it came. Tyler Goodrham, I think it was, just fell over instead of protecting the ball which was despatched down the wing. This team we have doesn’t have many vulnerabilities but when the defence is a bit further up the pitch a pacey break can be problematic because our back line aren’t the quickest. Kane Hemmings went round Sam Long and Reid was faster than Moore.

This didn’t change our mind set or affect our confidence.

Rodrigues glanced a header wide from a corner and we began to build with intent.

We were only behind for eight minutes. The goal resulted from persistent and patient attacking where time and again a defender managed a half clearance or half tackle only for us to pick up possession again immediately to have another go. Nearly all of our outfield players were involved and when Stevens eventually got a cross in, Bodin headed against the bar with Kristjan Hegyi well beaten, though at the time I thought it was he who had kept it out. Leigh was the first to react getting his studs to the ball. I don’t think it was a considered touch but it had enough on it to loop quite slowly over Thompson N into the net.

“Who are ya?” now rang out. There had been a little gaggle of local youth gathered in the East Stand as close to the away fans as was permitted by the black plastic sheeting. They’d given us visitors the finger and other sign language when their team had taken the lead. Now the scoring boot was on the other foot. All adds to the atmosphere as long as it’s not taken too far I suppose.

Being level at the interval was a fair reflection of proceedings and we had begun to find it easier to deal with their weaponry as our defenders were regularly getting their heads on the high balls.

That’s how it continued in the second period as our grip, whilst never having a strangle hold on, certainly didn’t loosen.  Only seconds in a combination of Rodrigues and Bodin nicked the ball off a defender leaving the latter through on goal. With no defender in front of him he hammered wide when he really should have done better.

We were now crowding them out more and stopping the ball being launched so often but that didn’t mean they didn’t have a chance or two.  Jordan Roberts’s effort though was bent the wrong way. He was never going to score like that.

A smart ball from Goodrham put Bodin through which led to a penalty appeal. At the time I thought no and having watched it back again concluded it would have been soft but Dan Butler did put his arm across Bodin’s shoulder.

This was proof we were creating chances and 10 minutes into the half we gained the lead. Ciaron Brown threw long into the penalty area. Thompson N shoved Bodin but the ball bounced on its way. Tiny Tyler jumped and the ball touched his forehead and bounced again behind Leigh. The birthday boy let it run past him then turned and swung a left foot at it in emphatic fashion. It flew home.

On 70 minutes Evans made four changes and this invigorated his troops. Our defending became more desperate.

A high ball down the middle left the fresh Elliott List and Reid relatively free centrally with the former having outmuscled Long. Brown was one of two yellow shirts who quickly got goal side but the situation was concerning. List shot through Brown’s legs but Beadle made a superb reaction save down low to his right with a strong hand keeping the ball out. His baseball cap which he had a second or two earlier thrown into the air was sitting passively on the six yard line. This – the save not the hat throwing – was a key moment although the ball was still in dangerous proximity to our goal but with it at Roberts’s feet we sensibly snuffed the threat out with numbers not wild tackles which would have resulted in a penalty.

The game was still far from won. Despite their reputation the team from Herts were playing some football and a similar ball in to that from which we got our first should have been buried by List. Instead he produced a poor header that was nowhere near the target. Proof that we’re not infallible though.

There were still spells when we kept possession with apparent consummate ease and having weathered the peak of the Stevenage storm all but put the game to bed in the 82nd minute.

We tricked them with a short corner. Brannagan played it to sub Josh Murphy with the accepted script saying the ball would be knocked back to the taker of the dead ball. Instead a drop of the shoulder and Murphy had got to the bye line, Dan Butler being about as switched on as a switched off electrical socket. As Murphy moved towards goal Louis Thompson should have stopped him but got tangled enabling our man to aim a dinked chip just outside the six yard box which Moore had anticipated and cleverly stepped back toward the ball which he deftly headed inside the near post. It was a quality finish, one which on the day I thought was more of a power header which went in centrally.

And despite seven added minutes that was indeed game over.

Job done

Stevenage were a hard nut to crack and if List had scored as he should have it would perhaps have been a different story as to the destination of the points but have no doubt this was another deserved victory.

Home fans on one of their forums are of the same opinion.

“Quite clearly the best side we have faced by some margin, who will be right up there, who looked solid defensively, dominant in midfield and attacked with intent. Who played it around nicely and were incredibly well drilled”

“We got taught a proper lesson”

“Oxford are pushing for 2nd and we are pushing for 6th, they are a notch above and it showed”

“We were outplayed in patches”

Then there was this, “The away end reeks of Tory”. I don’t want to go all political but a bloody stereotypical clueless comment that. Bit like the arseholes, usually northern ones, who sit in a line on the floor and do the rowing action as if we’re all into the boat race which is something we don’t give a **** about.

At least a Stevenage reply was this but as bad in its own way, “Edgy stuff, but most of them probably live on the Blackbird Leys shithole estate”. I’ve got nothing against Blackbird Leys by the way. Funnily though as we walked back to the car near OMF my mate described the area as being like Blackbird Leys.

As we drove away we spotted a few of the youth from the East Stand. They looked even younger closer up. Probably really is a “back to school on Monday” job. I genuinely hope they grow up to be decent citizens.

In their home game against Bradford last February a 14-year-old ran on to the pitch and tried to assault a visiting player. The club admitted failing to ensure fans did not “encroach on to the pitch or commit any form of pitch incursion” and were fined £7,500. Since then they’ve introduced a “dedicated ‘pitch invasion team.’” Was it that team who ejected one of the East Standers late in the second half? An incident I glanced at when I could have sworn I saw a punch thrown. Please, please no return to the dark old days.

And finally another bit of not great news. The injury to Kyle Edwards who in the little we’ve seen of him so far has been a revelation. The rumour going around was that he’ll be out for eight weeks. Good job we’ve got quality in depth because we’re going to need it. We go again on Tuesday.



This entry was posted on Sunday, October 1st, 2023 at 8:31 pm and appears under News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

© Rage Online 1998 - 2018 All rights reserved. If you want to copy stuff, please quote the source

another fine mash from ox4encoding