Fan’s View 2020/21 – No.22 – Northampton at home

Article by Paul Beasley Friday, December 18th, 2020  

SEASON 2020/21 – FAN’S VIEW No.22

Oxford United 4 Northampton Town 0

There’s plenty more than ninety plus minutes of football that could be discussed, but given time is at a premium in this pre-Christmas period, shopping, putting decorations up and watching wall to wall football on Sky and Amazon Prime, best to stick with the positivity and again leave the ticket ballot for another day – if at all. That’s also the reason for the very late posting of this.

Defensively we did the job really well from start to finish. Jack Stevens did not have a single shot to save and this time did not have to rely on the contribution of the goal frame to ensure a clean sheet. Nor can I recall any last ditch blocks or any single one of the back line at any stage looking like a particular opponent was getting the better of them. He’s played four league games now and conceded just one goal. Better than Simon Eastwood? On current form it would seem so. Luckier? Quite possibly.

Sound defensive displays where goals are not let in mean at the very worst a point from a draw (genius to work that out aren’t I). That’s the foundation to build wins from. To do that goals need to be scored and that’s something we’ve not been doing too well this season. Prior to this fixture we’d failed to find the back of the net in eight of our 16 league games. Quite a damning statistic, that.

In the first half, whilst not being totally abject, attacking wise it looked as likely as not that eight would become nine. A move that gave a hint of the flow that wasn’t to arrive until the second half, ended with a Sam Long cross being a little too difficult for Matty Taylor to get on the end of.

For a short time it looked like Olamide Shodipo was going to be the man to worry the Cobblers enough for us to take a hold of proceedings, but they came through that.

Josh Ruffels curled one against the post with a classy right footed effort from the edge of the box on 35 minutes but at the break the summing up couldn’t be much other than this was a scrappy affair and something of an anti-climax for the 2000 present and particularly those who hadn’t witnessed the draw against Hull.

Truth be told Northampton had actually started the game better than us and by the break it was very debatable which team, if any, would go on to win this bottom of the table semi-bore fest.

The Elliott Moore/Rob Atkinson partnership had been forcibly broken up with the latter’s injury against Blackpool. His runs of considerable distance from the back were missed, but defensively there was no dropping off in performance because his replacement, John Mousinho, knows the role inside out. Knowing what we’d been told about Mous’s need for an operation on his knee I was surprised firstly that he played the full game against FGR in the EFL Trophy and secondly that he lasted so well, at least on the face of it, for nearly half the game at Blackpool when required. Call me a pessimist but my expectation was that he would break down at any time. He didn’t.

Mous will know his body better than anyone else but I suspect there’s been many an internal debate between head and heart. He’d said that he was managing this ailment okay and could keep playing on but, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to play again for nine months after the operation, will have realised when he does go for surgery that will almost certainly mean an end to him kicking a football at this level.

Thirty minutes in here Mous, after playing a pass, just collapsed to the ground holding his knee. His body language spoke volumes. He received lengthy treatment. I thought that’s it. He gave his all. Amazingly that wasn’t his all. There was another 15 minutes left. He came back on and made it to half time and I didn’t notice anything in his play that was going to cost us.

By now he knew though and in the dressing room apparently said that he couldn’t carry on without letting the team down. You’ve never done that Mous and never will. Good luck with getting yourself sorted and with the next phase of your career.

The obvious first move was to put Long from RB to centre-half. The second one was to bring on a substitute to play in the vacated position. We’ve seen Sean Clare there so it was a no-brainer – it had to be Anthony Forde.

The manager knows best and some. Clare appears. His introduction and probably a rollicking or two have turned us into an entirely different team. He might be a notional RB but is more of an additional attacker running at people, getting beyond them and passing to colleagues.

Others immediately followed suit. The ball was moved quicker. There was much to admire all over the park. Passes, flicks, movement into space, astute reading of the game, players gliding past opponents, the by-line being reached and balls pulled back, Taylor being fed and partnerships being formed.

We utterly bossed it and the goals came. After the second the visitors all but folded as we showcased our skills. Perspective is as ever needed here though. They had ten out through suspension and injury and nothing other than them being very poor can be said of their showing at the Kassam. They had been equally off it when Oxford City dumped them out of the FA Cup at Court Place Farm.

Early on I thought they might give us problems with high balls and long throws into our box with the tallest of men, Harry Smith, in their ranks, but once we got to grips with that and showed we were up for the physical battle they had little else. Relying on 33 year old Ricky Holmes tells us where they’re at. We know how injury prone he is, as do Gillingham and Sheffield United as he was under contract with them until May this year. Hard to believe, I know, but true. I have a huge amount of sympathy for players whose bodies don’t let them fulfil all they could do otherwise. Where’s George Thorne now?

I would have expected Northampton to have at least put someone down the left wing to examine Clare’s defensive credentials but they never did. That could be because, as we were doing all the attacking, they never had the opportunity or possibly because it had never crossed their minds. Even so there were a couple of occasions when he had to be deep in his own half and demonstrated that he was better suited to the grass some distance further away from the goal JS was protecting.  That said, when the fans were rightly applauding Shodipo and Marcus McGuane as they walked round the pitch having been substituted in the 86th minute, Northampton showed they had not quite expired and produced a dangerous breakaway which was thwarted by SC.  At least that’s what the bloke sat a few seats away to my right said. I don’t very often get distracted from what’s happening on the pitch but I had momentarily taken my eye off the ball to look at our two guys slowly moving to the dugouts.

We’d only been playing towards the East stand for four minutes when we scored our first. The move started on the left with McGuane passing to Kelly who moved the ball on to James Henry. He’d looked around to see what was on before it had reached him. What was on included Clare running past a static Danny Rose (no not that one, or that other one either). JH sensibly moved it on to Clare who, heading for the by-line, went on the outside of Michael Harriman and put a cross in which looped off the defender right over keeper Steve Arnold and there was Taylor to head in from an inch out with 17 year old Max Dyche, son of Sean, unable to do anything about it.

Another quarter of an hour on and we’d doubled our lead. McGuane was involved again, this time from the right (he’s here, he’s there). This time it was Alex Gorrin he found and he in turn did the same with Shodipo who cut in from the wing and despatched a shot with his right foot which went in close to the far post past a helpless Arnold who never moved towards the ball.

Nice. This is what football is all about. It felt pretty darned good to be back.

Such was our dominance it was a surprise that goals three and four didn’t arrive until so late on.

We were in the last minute of normal time when Taylor got his second header of the game. Dan Agyei had only arrived three minutes earlier. My take on him thus far in his Oxford career has been he’s got potential, is unpredictable but time may be running out because he is so bloody frustrating, cancelling out good things he does by following that up with something pretty crap. Here though in the small time he had it was good followed by even better. After a bit of twisting and turning in which he didn’t lose control, he flighted a perfect ball for Taylor. This time the header required much greater work to convert but he threw himself at the centre and accurately guided it past Arnold in the fashion of the deadly finisher he is. This time the Northampton stopper did move but only to follow the ball into the net after it had gone past him.

Even then we didn’t let up. Robbie Hall, who came on for Henry in added time, robbed Fraser Horsfall in the left back position with the ball running to Agyei near the touch line. Agyei made a direct line to goal brushing past Horsfall, then jinking beyond another defender before unleashing the perfect shot into the top left hand corner.

Bloody hell he can play, but without wanting to take anything away from him this was against an already well beaten side. Whether he’s got it in him to do the same in a top of the table clash when we’re a goal down or it’s a draw and we desperately need to score to keep promotion hopes alive, is another matter. Not saying he can’t but not convinced he can either.

I’ve taken way too long to write this but there are a few other points I want to touch on.

The officials and referee Declan Bourne in particular: This was a head scratcher of a performance. Until this season Bourne had not officiated higher than the National League. This was only his third L1 game. His attitude was an interesting one. Northampton went the extra many yards when it came to stealing ground at throw ins. Twice Bourne spotted this and signalled that the thrower should retreat the 10 yards stolen. He then turned his back. Did they retreat? No. Did they lob the ball back in from where they’d been stood when given the order? No. What they did was nick another few paces. He did though award a throw to us in the second half when he’d just had enough of what they were up to.

I liked that he didn’t always fall for players falling over and was tremendously impressed when he twice gave us free-kicks for hand-ball when Cobblers on the floor had grabbed the ball as if entitled because that’s the way it usually worked.

I was very baffled that after Arnold had shoved Taylor to the floor that it was our man who was spoken to with not a word said to the main green shirted one.

Liam Kelly: Initially I thought he might be too little a fella for the battering of L1 but he’s increasingly showing that he can mix it and combined with his undoubted skill is becoming a key part of the team. Loved the way he took one for the team and was rightly booked. That’s very much part of football these days. Fair refereeing from Bourne here. What will the starting XI look like when Cameron Brannagan is back to full fitness? A nice dilemma indeed.

Jamie Hanson: I have to say I was impressed with the quarter of an hour or so that I saw from him. Nothing spectacular but heavily involved, always available and always passing the ball simply and accurately to a team-mate. He’s been here over two years and for whatever reason has become a nearly forgotten man. Still only 25 though so who knows but competition for places in the centre of the park is going to get very hot indeed.

This entry was posted on Friday, December 18th, 2020 at 12:16 pm and appears under News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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