Fan’s View – 2019/20 – no. 35 – Gillingham away

Article by Paul Beasley Monday, January 20th, 2020  

GILLINGHAM 1 OXFORD UNITED 1 

Regular football fans know the received wisdom is that in most circumstances an away point is a decent return. Therefore given that the Gills are on a run of fine home form we should be quite happy to have come away with a draw. For a number of reasons though I’m not having any of that. I had plenty of time to contemplate as I was driving home because, unlike after good performances and results, there was much less conversation to get involved in and I couldn’t escape a sense of despondency. Of course there’s a darned long way to go and we’ve got Geordie land and a free hit to look forward to next week but that was how I felt, there’s no getting away from it.

Getting a draw after losing a lead feels nearly like a defeat, whereas coming from behind usually feels almost as if victory had been gained.

Points are slipping through our fingers at a rate of knots. We’ve picked up just two from the last 12 we’ve contested.

Whilst we’re not getting properly turned over by any team, it’s pushing it to claim we’re playing well and goals scored are now much more of a rarity.

Our passing game is nowhere near as effective as it was and there always seems to be a player or two at least some way off form.

Banging on about injuries will come across as a broken record but it is something that cannot be brushed to one side. If a team loses key players it is bound to catch up with them sooner or later. We’re not the only ones but we are suffering really badly in this regard.

In the last ten league games James Henry has only played five. When he played we won three, drew one and lost the other. Without him we won one and lost the rest. The last time we saw him was on New Year’s Day at Donny.  If it is true that he is nearly ready to return that is great news.

A fit Cameron Brannagan is a must pick. He played almost all the minutes against Wycombe, Lincoln and Wimbledon. All wins, albeit by a single goal. He was then missing when we lost at the Keepmoat and certainly not needed against Hartlepool, although I thought otherwise at half time. Something was very amiss with him when Rotherham beat us but he looked the business when he came on against Ipswich. He was supposedly sorted yet was not even on the bench here. I’m worried and possibly even more so when there are little whispers that it is in his head. Whatever is wrong needs fixing quick.

It gets worse.  We only have one predatory strike but now we learn that Matty Taylor is injured and could be out for two to three weeks. He, Henry and Brannagan have contributed almost half of our league goals so far this term.

Time and again I’ve reeled off the injury list. George Thorne, Ben Woodburn and Anthony Forde. These are all assets that through no fault of their own are not contributing but nevertheless will be to some extent draining the coffers for no return. I doubt the two loanees will be coming cheap. Now we’ve brought in three more. That’s fantastic but again Marcus Browne, Matt Holland and Liam Kelly will all be increasing costs quite significantly. Particularly the former I would guess.

I’ve got a feeling we’re spending to “go for it” but at the moment we’re not on it. I worry that even with the money the cup runs have brought this campaign – which realistically we’re unlikely to repeat year on year – the finances might not look that great and if we don’t achieve something big (promotion) or biggish (play-offs) we will see greater parsimony going forward which would be understandable.  Is it now or never?

This was not a game that screamed what a great advert for L1 football. Gillingham were direct. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not illegal. Or at least that’s how I saw it. The stats though say we made 99 long passes to their 77. There’s so much bias and stereotyping in football and at times I’m probably guilty.

Many of their throw- ins were launched into our penalty area but we dealt with them well.  In fact our defensive performance was worthy of much praise. Our tackling success rate was 93% and we made 30 clearances. We won more duels overall and in the air than the Gills and I only recall Simon Eastwood having one proper save to make from open play although apparently they had three of ten shots on target. Depends what you call a shot I suppose. We had 11 shots but only two on target. One of those was of course the goal and we also came much closer to registering another than they did.

Sam Long sent a first half header just wide from a nicely whipped in Shandon Baptiste free-kick and after the break a Josh Ruffels header from a corner looked goal bound until Brandon Hanlan also applied his bonce to the ball, diverting it onto the bar. Just before that it looked like Holland was about to open his account for us after good work by Fosu and others. Initially it appeared to be a bad miss but the truth was an excellent bit of last ditch defending by Alfie Jones, on loan from Southampton, had saved the day for the home side.

On reflection a couple of days after the event I think there was just about enough evidence to hint that we have a chance of getting back to somewhere near what we were when ripping any team we faced apart.

As against Ipswich, Eastwood looked confident and Rob Dickie much improved on what he did in that game. He was back to bringing the ball out from the back but it would be helpful if, when winning the ball in the air from our corners, he could direct his efforts at goal instead of getting under it when the outcome is bound to be a goal kick.

To some extent that Dickie had got better was cancelled out a bit by Long being not so great. There was mis-control and mis-placed passes. Sometimes that’s just the way it is and affects most players from time to time. The trick is to shake it off before the next game and play through it whilst it is happening which he did by doing stuff like winning the ball in the air when he threw himself into such challenges.

Alex Gorrin once again produced his non spectacular but absolutely essential mid-field anchor man role. It was a pity he gave away the penalty but a penalty it was without doubt. Just one of those mis-timed attempts to get the ball.

Our goal came from a bit of Fosu magic and we have more players in our side than most in this league capable of doing such things. As long as we get back to and stick with the basics as well we should be okay. That’s every player working non-stop with and without the ball. Simple passing when required. Constantly looking for space to receive possession and knowing what needs to be done next if possession does indeed come. Once this is there the extra special bits, the bits that win games, can be tacked on and we should once more shine.

I was very disappointed with Holland for most of the time he was on the pitch. I’m not one to talk but he looked so skinny and frail and was easily brushed aside when competing for the ball. He’s played about half an hour in the Premier League this season. Welcome to League One. However he came to life for his final 10-15 minutes before being subbed and there is undoubtedly talent there.

With half an hour to go Dan Agyei came on for Jamie Mackie and I was very impressed with what he produced. I’ve been trying to work out why we’ve not seen much of Agyei yet and find it strange when he’s talked about as one for the future and that he could well have been sent out on loan. He’ll be 23 years old in just over four months’ time and a football career isn’t a long one. He looked big and strong, able to hold the ball up and I could see something there that I’d not previously detected. As seasons progress surprising heroes emerge. Could he be the man, or one of them?

Karl Robinson will know why Marcus Browne didn’t come on until the 76th minute and why we’ve not yet seen anything of Liam Kelly. This emphasises that even with all those injuries we do have options. It is with much anticipation we now await the announcement of the starting XI before every single game.

Steve Evans’s post- match comments made for some interesting and baffling reading but provide yet more evidence of how blinkered and biased we all are with our football heads on depending on which club we support or are involved with. Quite possibly there’s a bit of kidology in there too and maybe some know they’re speaking bollox anyway.

Evans talks of Fosu’s “miraculous recovery”.  This raises that never ending debate – do players go down too easily but if they don’t go down they won’t get a free-kick because they’ve been fouled and why don’t referees do a lot more to stop persistent fouling that just stops opponents playing with little if any punishment?  As an Oxford fan my view is that game after game Fosu does seem to get targeted.

Gillingham were illegally doing a lot to stop us playing. A little ankle tap or kick out to stop us running away with the ball. Neil Hair didn’t clamp down. In fact he was poor at allowing a game of football to take place and for me did us no favours. I’d say of the 50:50 challenges where he decided a foul had been committed he gave 90% to the home side.

There was one incident just in front of us where I think it was Fosu had the ball but was tackled from behind. It wasn’t just a toe poke from the back taking the ball. The boot of the Gillingham man swept away both of our man’s legs before getting the ball. Hair was close by and made a very noticeable gesture of waving play on.

He also constantly ignored subtle little push after subtle little push which sent our players off balance and unable to clear properly or win/retain possession. This is something we are now seeing week after week and is probably on the list officials carry round with them under the heading of “IGNORE” like getting players 10 yards from a free-kick if there is no wall and applying the time a goal keeper can hold the ball before releasing it.

More from Evans: “Oxford are a tough team to play against, you have to go to war with Oxford, it is the nature of the game with Karl. We both fight, we are both very competitive”. “They changed their team to be very physical and competitive here and that is why the likes of Mackie came in, when you play Jamie like that he’s a handful.”  I get the Mackie thing but “war” what on earth is he talking about?  We try to play football.

Just to round the day off my despondency increased on the journey home. Headlights failed on the motor way and then I hit a pot hole and had a blow out between Tiddington and Ickford. I wasn’t the first car by the side of the road having done so. To make matters worse the wheel wouldn’t come off even when the nuts were removed and the RAC were less than helpful with their 3-4 hours expected time to get someone out. We did find another solution of sorts but it was just one of those days.

It’s now Monday lunch time. The sun is out. The car is in the garage as luckily it was already booked in for a service and MOT.  And I’m feeling rather more positive about OUFC than I was on the final whistle on Saturday.

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