Fan’s View 2020/21 – No.34 – MK Dons away

Article by Paul Beasley Monday, March 1st, 2021  


Taking stock

As a fan with so much emotion invested in my football club I’m constantly taking stock with regard to our strength both on and off the field. As for the latter I’ve kind of parked the financial issues which Covid has brought to professional football, L1 in particular and specifically OUFC. Our current lease at the Kassam Stadium runs out in 2026. To use the buzz phrase which has been revived by the government pointing our way out of the pandemic: what’s the road map? Away from the southern outskirts of our beautiful city?

It would be ridiculous to write this season off as far as securing a play-off slot goes. If I did the accusation would not be of holding a glass that was half empty more like three quarters so. The league table says we’re still in with a decent shout. However on the body of evidence provided by the 28 league games so far my view is that we have not been good enough overall and that current form of the team as a whole and most of the players individually does not suggest that we are about to become so.

What does brighten me up is that I don’t see our division being as strong as it has been in recent seasons. I will though acknowledge this may be an illusion created by matches being played against the back drop of empty plastic seats and banners forlornly rippling in the breeze. Or perhaps the lack of baying, encouraging, cajoling, abusive spectators may mean that extra bit of skill, effort or belief remains untapped.

Those league games to date can be roughly broken down into batches but there’s no clear dividing line between bad, good and indifferent. There’s a merging here and there.

No denying that until mid-December we were pretty rank. On the 13th of that month, after a goal-less draw at Blackpool, we were 16 games in. We were 19th on the same points as Swindon who occupied the last relegation slot and had averaged just a goal a game scored whilst letting in 50% more. And to thoroughly rub salt into the far from happy situation, we’d lost to them on our own patch – and it wasn’t as if they were any good.

Then we had seven straight wins reaping a juicy 21 points that shot us up to eighth with games in hand on five of those above us. In this period we averaged exactly three goals a game – but we were not playing good sides. There was rightly a question to be asked.  Could we do the same to teams above us?

On the sixth of this month we travelled to Doncaster who were third and with games in hand could have gone top. The answer was no, we couldn’t. Although the argument that but for a mad few minutes defensively we could have got something from the game was put forward and we did only lose by the odd goal in five.

Our next two games were against clubs in the lower reaches, Bristol Rovers and Wigan. We beat both but it was easy to detect that these were not easy wins and we weren’t playing particularly well.  This brought us up to date with a 0-0 at Ipswich and that home defeat to Pompey when we failed to score in both.

MK Dons form over the past five games is better than ours. Ten points for them. Seven for us. They’re clearly not one of the L1 elite, not that there’s really such a thing, but are a club with some ambition as shown by bringing in Will Grigg on loan. I think the guy is over-rated but we know he can do us damage and from what I’ve seen of Sam Winnall thus far do wonder who made the better move.

So, another match that will tell us much. Lose and there will be even less in that three-quarter empty glass. Win and that old belief will come back and we’ll think we can lay down a real marker by beating top of the table Peterborough on Tuesday. About time we beat a really good outfit. But one game at a time.

MK Dons 1 Oxford United 1

When I called James Oldham a fucking wanker (*) it was delivered with such ferocity that the whole street probably heard. (*) – No apologies for the totally appropriate language. Every now and again there’s an apologist for referees and a statement made that the abuse they get is bang out of order. I consider this and think yes, you’ve got something there. These guys are human beings just like us and deserve to be treated with respect. Then we get this and it all goes out the window.

Dan Agyei is onto a back pass. He gets there before keeper Andrew Fisher. All white shirted defenders are way behind the ball nearer the half way line observing social distancing and some. Agyei knocks the ball beyond Fisher who is now well past the curve of the penalty area. Fisher brings our marauder down. An obvious red card for sure, or is it?

Looking through Jimmy Oldham’s eyes.

Jimmy might use his eyes to see.

But Jimmy’s eyes and brain have parted company.

I’ll confess to often getting confused about the laws of the game and the guidance, or whatever it is called, that goes with it. I know there’s no such thing in writing as “last man” denying a goal scoring chance. However Law 12: Fouls and Misconduct includes this –

“A player, substitute or substituted player who commits any of the following offences is sent off:

  • denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by a handball offence (except a goalkeeper within their penalty area)

The following must be considered:

  • distance between the offence and the goal
  • general direction of the play
  • likelihood of keeping or gaining control of the ball
  • location and number of defenders”

All boxes ticked in my box ticking book. Don’t anyone give me that “going away from goal” bollox. Agyei would have been able to catch up with the ball and turn towards goal and slot home. That he might have missed is immaterial.

The first thing of note about this encounter was the pitch. There’s no denying when compared to most other grounds we visit, the home of MK is plush indeed so why then have a pitch that is one of the shittiest? Makes no sense particularly given the style of football they like to play. Do the concrete cows nip over under cover of darkness and have a little frolic and a nibble? In his summarising role Eddie Odhiambo referred to a player covering every blade of grass. Yes well, that wouldn’t take long.

Surfaces like that don’t help our cause but for a change we set off on the front foot. The pressing was working and the game was mostly being played in the MK half. They were doing nothing. Well not nothing actually, they’d been watching us and whilst they were at it didn’t have to do anything of note to keep their goal intact.

Then they did something. Scored a simple goal in the thirteenth minute. Can’t argue that the ball broke for them but Andrew Surman’s low effort from just outside the box didn’t have a great deal of welly behind it and nor was Jack Stevens unsighted. Surely it should have been saved or the goal stopped one way or another.

Game plan or not they now had us where they wanted us. Possession was now mostly theirs and they like to play football. They were defending well too. Blocking when necessary but for the most part they were reading the game much better than we were and were anticipating what was about to happen, stepping in and taking the ball whilst our lot just waited. Old heads equals old legs but we never manoeuvred proceedings in such a way that we could exploit ancient limbs.

We did have a few shots of sorts but they were never hit well and we never looked sharp. Our most likely source of a goal appeared to be a fluke or lucky deflection.

“We’ll score again, don’t know where, don’t know when, some sunny day” was bouncing about in my mind.

Fisher, like at the Kassam, operated pretty much as an out-field player some of the time as well as the last line of defence. We weren’t able to seize on this as a weakness. Nothing was clicking offensively. Indecision was evident and many recent weaknesses were there to see once more. Matty Taylor was an isolated figure up front as our link up play didn’t exist. Chances were not being created for him.

When we were awarded free-kicks delivery was back to being average at best.  We had nine free-kicks awarded our way. The hosts had 16 which was utterly ludicrous. Oldham was one of those referees who penalised incident x one moment then when x happened again did nothing. Something to do with which colour shirt was playing which role I suspect.

That first half had brought frustration. I was almost resigned to writing the season off. There was tension in the household. My good lady wife was getting even more annoyed with what was going on than I was and I in turn was also seen as moaning too much by my son. “You two are way too critical. Yes, we’ve not been great but we’re playing the best team we’ve come up against this season and we’re only one down”. He had a point, which at that stage is more than could be said for OUFC. That’s our club for you. In the blood but also under the skin and an irritant at times. It means so much.

However dispirited I’ve felt after an initial 45 minutes there’s always a little voice inside somewhere whispering, we’ll be much better when the teams return.

That didn’t happen, at least not initially. We couldn’t keep the ball. Same old same old as in these last few games.

It took an absolutely immaculate tackle from Alex Gorrin after he’d tracked back at pace to prevent what may well have been a second goal conceded.

At just that one goal behind we were supposedly still in the game but I felt it was drifting by and when it looked like we might get going a man from MK bought a foul that would have looked over-priced even at Poundland.

The hour came and went and still no substitutions were made. I thought Olamide Shodipo had been poor and wasn’t sure why he was still participating.

We needed real aggression properly focussed but were getting none of that. Taylor did though close down a back pass all the way into the six-yard box and nearly made Fisher pay for a bad first touch. Perhaps we could exploit the tendency to over-play after all. (Admission – through my OUFC tinted glasses I never for one moment thought at the time that it was a nasty challenge by Matty worthy of a sending off. Clumsy perhaps but not nasty. Having taken a glance at social media I’ve looked at it again. Just an attempt to block the clearance in my opinion.)

Changes were eventually made. Out went Shodipo, Taylor and Barker. The new arrivals were Sam Winnall, Dan Agyei, and James Henry. Being honest this didn’t raise my spirits. Winnall is yet to do it and I would have liked to have seen our best finisher, admittedly an out of form one, remaining and being set up by fresh legs to break his barren spell. JH has been out of form and the last I saw of DA I thought he was awful. For a bit of noticeable zest I’d have had Mark Sykes out there for the latter stages.

We’ve compared him to Chicken George before but immediately we saw it was mainly the good half of the curate’s egg on display here. Agyei had me leaning forward slightly in my seat in anticipation that something positive might occur. In the 74th minute he put a low shot narrowly wide. “Got to hit the target” said the commentary team. Harsh I thought as it was the best we’d produced all afternoon and there was a keeper to beat who was perfectly positioned.

That slight bit of optimism was tossed aside when Winnall, who did have a bit of presence, lasted just seven minutes. Bloody hell, stick his personnel folder in the filing cabinet next to George Thorne’s and add an item for the next Executive meeting to discuss the need to reassess the risks associated with signing massively injury prone players.  Oh, what’s that? Karl has said it’s nothing much just a kick on the ankle. In that case strike this from the record.

After Winnall’s cameo we did get Sykes and he did bring a liveliness with him but we were still nowhere near the fluid footballing team we aspire to be. In one word I would have described us as disjointed.

With under a quarter of an hour left the commentary team offered the view that from an Oxford United perspective there was a danger that it was “petering out”. Difficult when we’d never petered in.

Then came the non-sending off. There has to be section in the referee’s manual that fans are not allowed to see.  A section that allows those wearing different coloured jerseys to the rest to behave in a different way to the rest and go unpunished or with just a little slap on the wrist. Schumacher on Battiston. Pickford ending van Dijk’s season and completely screwing up his team’s local rivals.

This fired me up no end. The blood was pumping at an incredible rate. I think the same applied to the team.  With a couple of minutes of normal time left we were getting close. Agyei had a downward header from a Josh Ruffels cross well saved by Fisher who needed to go down low.

Anthony Forde an 88th minute replacement for Gorrin then hit the post with an effort a bit similar to the one MK scored from. No luck.

Why had we left it so late again?

Six added minutes. A lot perhaps but not when you look at how long it took the opposition to take free kicks and what have you. 30 seconds lost here, 45 there. But even that wasn’t going to be enough.

Patience wasn’t the name of the game in my head. Thankfully our team never just hit hopeful balls in even in the 97th minute.

A Stevens throw put Ruffels in trouble but Josh’s determination won out. After taking it on, his cross field ball was picked up by Sam Long. Ah, both full-backs forward and involved. He passed to Forde who shaped to cross but didn’t. No panic. Well I was. Get the bloody thing over. He move it on to Henry. My heart said get the bloody thing over. Brain could see he wasn’t best placed to do so. Back to Forde it went. This time it was delivered to the far post where it was won by Agyei. His nod back was in turn headed in from point blank range by Elliot Lee. That’ll do. 96 minutes 20 seconds on the clock.

Final stats – shots 15; on target 4. Theirs 10 and 3. Proof we deserved the point. Why do I get so caught up in it all and can’t stay cool? Within all this our back line looked up to the job over the entirety and Ruffels came out of it with credit up against a handful in Manchester United loanee Ethan Laird coming down our left.

So where are we now, after a further stock take? Probably slipped back a little. Down a position in the table and without games in hand to catch any team above. Plus Blackpool are now only two points behind us but have played two games fewer.

It will soon be now or never. Now is the time to start winning games again and we need to do it against the top teams. To date we’ve not done that. On Tuesday Peterborough visit. They’re top. They’ve won the last six. They’ve lost only one of the last 14. When they went to Milton Keynes in mid-December they only drew 1-1 though.

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