A (different) Fan’s View

From the Rage Online newsdesk Sunday, October 6th, 2019  

With Paul Beasley unable to attend the trip to Accrington Stanley, Will Green kindly steps up to review another point on the board…

Paul’s away this week, so you get me. Something of an inferior replacement, I’m afraid, but I was at Accrington yesterday and was therefore well-placed to fill in. I live in Leeds, and was raised in Newcastle, so I don’t often see Oxford play. So I’m also not much of an expert. Apologies in advance. I haven’t got a financial brain and to be entirely honest am a bit of a simpleton, so there’s no clever accounting stuff about the mighty Accy Stanley here either. Yet another apology to add to the growing list.

I have got one or two observations about the club, though. Accrington is a town of some 35,000, situated between Blackburn and Burnley. So it’s not got a big population in the first place, and many residents probably support the far better-established Blackburn or Burnley. We chatted to a few people on the way to the ground, and didn’t meet a single Accrington fan. So, clearly not a huge club, and one somewhat swamped by the two bigger local teams, and possibly the influence of Manchester some 20 miles away.

That goes some way towards explaining the stadium. The Wham Stadium (or Crown Ground for the less corporately minded amongst us) has a capacity of less than 5,500, and the attendance at the game was only 2,590, with just under 500 Oxford fans. It’s a compact ground with an open terrace for the away fans (and half of one seated stand). It’s a decent stadium though – my mate observed that the pitch was far better than you might have expected, and it’s all clean and fairly-modern looking, with the possible exception of the away end. There was a strong smell of manure, though (cue the inevitable but witty chant, ‘if you all smell Sw*ndon clap your hands!’)

Accrington themselves are probably best known for the famous milk advert (no chants about that), but they’re not a bad side. In pre-season they earned a somewhat improbably victory over Marseille (yes, the French one). They started pretty poorly and didn’t win in the league until the end of August. Since then, though, they’ve lost only one game in one competitions, against Sunderland. In the league, they had scored 12 goals (ten fewer than us) and conceded 17 (2 more than us). So, not a great side, but one that also isn’t really bad enough to go down.

We also don’t have a great record against them; the match programme was at great pains to point out that we had lost the last three games against Stanley. So, whilst on the face of it this should have been an easy three points – considering our recent form – looking at the background, such a result was perhaps less likely.

This leads on to the match itself. Accrington can’t have been eager to face us considering our form – the demolition of Lincoln and West Ham, and also the seemingly casual victories against Gillingham and Tranmere. So they set up to frustrate us – exemplified by their decision to switch the teams over at the toss, to stop us playing towards our own fans in the second half. The teams were already set up and Eastwood was forced to jog the whole length of the pitch. Their formation was also defensively-minded – from what I could tell, they were only playing a single striker, who made it his business to throw himself to the ground at every provocation. They’ve also got some gigantic centre-backs, who caused us plenty of problems at set-pieces.

The first half, though, saw us generally in control. The start was fairly quiet – Accrington were trying to break up the play with niggly fouls. From time to time we played around this, at other times we lost the ball because the referee seemed to be scared of his whistle. This was actually best exemplified for our first goal. Fosu received the ball on the left wing. One of Accrington’s giant centre-backs attempted to push him off the ball, but Fosu kept control. The giant tried again. By now the Oxford fans were screaming at the referee. Fosu somehow maintained control despite further barges and fired the ball into the bottom left corner of the Accrington goal – an excellent way to score. Oxford 1-0 up.

Throughout the first half Accrington didn’t offer much offensively, not least because Rob Dickie was playing a blinder. I don’t think he made a single mistake in the first 45 minutes. There weren’t many clear-cut chances – we had a free-kick whipped over the wall by Fosu and well cleared by the Stanley keeper, but we seemed pretty content with the one goal. Jamie Mackie was our man up top, and ran his socks off throughout the first half. I’m not convinced he was the right choice for the game – it was always going to be a battle between a technical Oxford and a combative Accrington, and the centre-backs were too big for his physical presence to have much effect – but he put in a shift.

We also suffered two injuries. Woodburn was replaced early on after a few tackles in the middle of the pitch. His replacement, Forde, appeared to hurt himself taking a corner and was subbed off for Gorrin. So, before the break, we’d expended two of our subs.

Just before half-time, Henry was attempting to stop one of the Accrington giants (he had good feet for a big lad) by tugging on his shirt. He had several goes but the Accy player kept on running, with no whistle from the referee. Eventually the sheer amount of pulling from Henry provoked a reaction – the giant turned around and pushed Henry with some force, sparking a brawl (and a pretty heated one at that). Henry and the giant were booked. The incident did demonstrate that we do give out a bit of edge from time to time (though I wouldn’t have expected it to come from Henry). We didn’t, though, try to provoke the giant in the second half, which would probably have resulted in a second yellow for him given his reaction to Henry’s foul.

It would always have been likely that Accrington would come for the second half all guns blazing and they did exactly that. Their fans got behind them and they began to gain some real momentum.

Their equaliser came when they won a cheap foul in midfield (this is one thing that we’re bad at – winning cheap fouls. Accy were savvy in this regard, and mostly got away with their fouls, whilst ensuring that we didn’t get away with ours). A long, long free-kick was swung in towards Eastwood. It was a good delivery, but that doesn’t excuse Eastwood for his reaction. He flapped at it with both hands – a cross between a punch and a catch. Unsurprisingly, his move failed to clear the ball and it fell to an Accrington player, who headed into an empty net. 1-1.

For once, Oxford responded quickly. I was getting frustrated with our seemingly aimless passing and was complaining to my mate. As I did so, Brannagan received the ball and powered it into the left inside side-netting of the Accy keeper’s goal. Another great goal. 2-1. (Side note – the feeling when you score on a terrace is unrivalled. Hugging random people. The atmosphere is also better, even compared to when you’ve got a roof over your head. I don’t think I’ve heard 500 Oxford fans create that much noise ever before).

Accrington also responded quickly. Another long ball was sent upfield. Cadden tried to head it away and merely put it into the path of Accrington players. Their lone striker knocked it into the bottom corner from just outside the box. A decent finish, but a terrible build-up based on our being unable to deal with Route One football. 2-2.

The next 20 or so minutes saw plenty of Accrington pressure. They hit the woodwork twice (one of those was before the second Oxford goal) and Eastwood made a superb one-handed save from a  shot that seemed destined for the net. Probably the best chance came when the ball came, on the volley, to an Accrington player well inside the box. Eastwood was nowhere, but he scuffed the ball with the outside of his foot, saving us from a last-minute defeat.

In the last minute of the game, we finally went Route One and launched a free-kick into the box. It was hard to see, but there was a pretty huge scramble and I’m pretty certain some of the Oxford players celebrated at one point. Eventually the Accy keeper got two hands on it and the referee blew.

We didn’t deserve to win this game. We were clearly a better footballing side, but Accrington had a better idea of how to play League One football. We actually created few chances – both our goals came from moments of brilliance. Most of our passing was aimless and some of our players dwelled on the ball for far too long.

Fosu was a major culprit. He has better footwork than I’ve seen on any Oxford player for a while – probably the most recent was Marvin Johnson – but he seems reluctant to pass. He frequently ran into opposition players and generally seemed to lack game awareness. He’s only 23, but let’s hope he learns quickly. Eastwood had a decent game, bar his mistake for Accrington’s first goal. Dickie was excellent in the first half, and many of our moves were pushed forward by him – the ball being worked out to the left, then back to the middle and back to Dickie in a more advanced position. He’s a lot better than the last time I saw him play around a year ago. Henry was OK – not great but not poor. Mackie was pretty quiet, and whilst his substitute Matty Taylor seemed animated when he came on, he didn’t do much either (and was booked for a very, very heavy tackle on a Stanley player). Mackie had already faded by then, though, and Taylor should have come on sooner. Most other players were pretty anonymous, although Baptiste had a noticeably poor game. He’s a technical lad and he didn’t really deal with Accrington’s setup (my mate noted that we didn’t have any sort of presence in midfield – the ball is always worked out to the wing, which makes little sense considering that we can’t cross the ball with any real skill, accuracy or consistency).

The last note on the game is the referee. He seemed unwilling to blow for fouls. From time to time this played in our favour – Accrington could conceivably have had a penalty – but most of the time it didn’t. I don’t think he was biased. We were just being fouled more often than Accrington, and consequently received a more disproportionate number of incorrect decisions (lots of long words in that sentence but I think it makes sense). The Accrington fans kicked off a few times when fouls weren’t given to them – especially from Taylor and Mackie. This is the other side of the referee situation – at the moment, our players are either weak and getting fouled, or strong and committing fouls (although the side as a whole seemed more disciplined than in the past). We need to have strong players who can win fouls but not commit them, whilst still providing a physical presence. Pipe-dream stuff, maybe, but we don’t really have anyone like that at present.

The final point regards pints (one of Paul’s regular features that I am able to repeat). The Whittaker up the hill from the ground (about 20 minutes’ walk) was a good pub with a wide range of beers and food, a friendly barman and a nice fire. Not too  expensive either. The next was inside the ground – I don’t normally drink in grounds, but it was Accrington Stanley ale. £4 a pint and a decent one too. The last was in a Wetherspoon’s in the centre – called the Continental Hotel or smoothing similar. As expected, the pint was half the price of the one inside the ground, but there wasn’t that much character to the pub, as was also expected.

That’s it for today. This probably wasn’t what you expected to read, but it’s a piece about an Oxford game. Hope you enjoyed it.

 

 

 

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