Fan’s View 2020/21 – No.47 – Gillingham at home

Article by Paul Beasley Sunday, April 18th, 2021  

SEASON 2020/21 No.47: GILLINGHAM AT HOME

Building for the future – the team

In a recent post-match interview Karl Robinson mentioned the importance of essentially keeping the bulk of the squad together pointing out that the most successful teams in L1 have not had much player turnover compared to last season. I assume that stands up to scrutiny even when loan signings are considered in the equation.

Players in on loan make up a significant minority in most squads. We’ve got Brandon Barker (a starter but possibly now injured), Olamide Shodipo (nearly always gets some game time), Marcus McGuane (a highly influential starter until injury put paid to him), Elliott Lee (a starter now fit) and Liam Kelly (now slipped down the pecking order). Joe Grayson I nearly forgot, which probably says a lot. Next season they could be almost anywhere. Some of these we’d love to keep whether permanently or just for another year.

We have quite a few players whose deals are (or were) due to expire at the end of this season.

Simon Eastwood has signed a new contract through to the summer of 2024. This one surprised me. He’s either happy to sit on the bench and take the money or thinks he can recapture his form of old and genuinely compete for the number one slot. Over the last couple of years we’ve heard he’s definitely leaving because his wife has gone back up north and she’s been selling furniture. People who think they know often don’t know at all do they?

I think Sam Long was already signed up until 2022 but he’s now got an extended deal also keeping him with us until 2024, no doubt on much improved terms given the way he has been playing.

His full-back partner Josh Ruffels has not yet put pen to paper. No doubt negotiations are continuing between player, agent and club. Josh will be 28 in October and this may be his last chance to be signed by a Championship club on quite a bit more money than we can reasonably offer, not that he’ll be on peanuts at OUFC. Millwall have sniffed around previously. It’s what’s best for all concerned and he owes it to himself to maximise what he can get but I wouldn’t be surprised to see us starting 2021/22 with the same two full-backs.

The club have a one year option to extend Mark Sykes’s contract and that surely must happen even if the relationship between player and manager at times appears strangely strained.

Anthony Forde is another whose deal I think ends. I have no idea what’s happening with him – I can’t keep up – and James Henry, there was an option for a further 12 month extension beyond this summer. There may well have been pen put to paper that I’ve missed in the press.

Mous clearly won’t be playing again and it would be a huge shock if we were to retain Robbie Hall.

Remember Dylan Asonganyi? Thought not. Loaned out to Chelmsford City of National league South but the season was curtailed back in February. Wonder what his future holds?

Building for the future – the board and investment

 Talk of a takeover, shift of power, new investment, call it what you will, that was bouncing about a few weeks back has gone quiet. The fans are in the dark as is the default setting and perhaps that’s as it has to be on this and other matters. (NB: I’d written this just before I read the OxVox update. Sterling work people. It’s clearly a challenge.)

I have to keep reminding myself who sits on the board of the football club. Sumrith ‘Tiger’ Thanakarnjanasuth of course but also Horst Geicke and Anindya Bakrie. No one else.

I’ve lifted this from the Oxford Mail on 20 March, “Former United director Erick Thohir – who used to own Inter Milan and was the majority shareholder at American club DC United – is also thought to be backing the consortium. Thohir was forced to stand down from United’s board in October 2019 when he took up a role in the Indonesian government, but has a longstanding relationship with Bakrie.”

I can’t help but get a little bit excited when Thohir, Inter Milan and Oxford United are mentioned all in one but perhaps we need to look East Midlands way. Derby County have been a bit of a financial basket case for a while and a takeover deal has now been announced although yet to be signed off by the EFL. A guy called Erik Alonso, a 29 year old Spaniard appears to be in charge of this takeover but as always he’s not the main man, he’s not got the big bucks. He’s just a fixer. By the way Alonso was involved with Sheffield Wednesday (another club you could probably put into the same category as the Rams) but fell out with the owner and left in January. The real money is allegedly coming from an Indonesia consortium containing Raja Oktohari who is the President of the Indonesian Olympic Committee. Oktohari is mates with Thohir and apparently they are co-investors in mining operations.

None of this is gospel. It never is. Dig a bit into Alonso and there’s a bit of a Walter Mitty comes to the surface but make of it what you choose. If Thohir is in any way involved I’d question whether this has altered what may happened at OUFC. That said, Thohir should be way too clever to be taken in by a fantasist but then again we can look back a few years at our club and wonder. There are always individuals, genuine or otherwise, consortiums, hedge funds etc. with an eagle eye for a football club to acquire. Any club will do, perhaps.

On that note what about Ipswich? They’ve just been taken over by Gamechanger 20 Ltd which is 90% owned by an investment organisation which is ultimately funded by the Arizona State Pension fund. Seriously, impossible to make up. Bear in mind the Arizona State Pension fund will be looking for a profit. Good-luck with that. If I was a Tractor Old Man I wouldn’t be happy with this.

Should I mention Swindon? Well okay, just a little bit. Lee Power. Seebeck 87 LTD. Swinton Reds 20 LTD. (Yes with a t not a d). Axis Football Investment Ltd. Michael Standing. Gareth Barry (Yes, that one).  First Touch Pro Management. FA charges.

We should be thankful.

Building for the future – bricks and mortar

Not a clue. How long is left on that lease now?

Our opponents

It’s not so much Gillingham as “Steve Evans’s Gillingham” now. Wherever he has managed he’s got his teams to do certain things and behave in a certain way that the majority of us who like to think we occupy the moral high-ground consider to be despicable. It helps not to be sucked into this and avoid confrontation but that’s a big ask if the officials don’t do their jobs properly.

Whatever one might think of the man his managerial record does not read too badly. Other than in his second stint at Boston he has achieved more wins than losses each time and that includes spells at Crawley, Rotherham, Leeds, Mansfield, and Peterborough before arriving in Kent. That said I don’t think Leeds and Peterborough were chuffed with what he did at their clubs and there was the off field cheating in his first spell at Boston when he took them into the Football League and a 12 month suspended prison sentence.

On the same games, they’re only three points behind us and don’t lose many matches. They’ve only been beaten once in the last seven and that was by Blackpool who have been on one helluva roll since mid-February. Going back a few weeks when I looked at our last ten fixtures I had this one down as the second hardest after Sunderland.

In the reverse fixture Oxford players were made to change in the family stand concourse. Here our visitors will be afforded much better hospitality than that. They’ll be in a South Stand Lounge. If only the good guys always came out on top against the villains. Unfortunately the world isn’t like that.

We’ve just got to get on with it. Play our football. Or at least try to and hope the referee allows that to happen.

Start time

The traditional Saturday 3 o’clock kick-off time has long gone although at our level that’s when we tend to start our weekend matches. Changing times for a funeral is a first but this one was not for your everyday person. Once moved I was happier with a 17:30 commencement as opposed to five hours earlier.

This meant we knew that Blackpool had beaten Sunderland. (We’ll never catch either). Lincoln had won at Bristol Rovers. (Blast, Mapp seems to have kick-started the Imps). Charlton drew at home to Ipswich. (Not the worst result for us). Hull (Champions elect?) beat Fleetwood. Portsmouth lost at MK Dons. (And there was me thinking they had an easy run in). Accrington went down 3-1 at lowly Rochdale and can harbour no hopes of the top six. Doncaster winning at Shrewsbury was a bit of a surprise and we certainly can do without them getting the winning habit back.

But all that means nothing really if we don’t win.

OXFORD UNITED 3 GILLINGHAM 2

Well **** my old boots as the saying goes. This game has to be right up there with those that are never to be forgotten. Yet with a quarter of an hour to go it was anything but. When Rob Cundy put the visitors 2-0 up in the 72nd minute, for me it was season over (how many times have I said that to be nearly the case this campaign?). We’d just not got to grips with Gillingham and their very different way of playing from just about every other club in L1.

Some of the things they do I admire in a begrudging way and thought they deserved both their half time lead and the doubling of it when it came.

They’re a long ball team. From keepers hands and goal and free-kicks. None of this namby pamby playing about at the back. The Evans book of football says that’s for wimps. With no-one to press we didn’t seem to know what to do.

It wasn’t until the 14th minute that we got meaningfully anywhere near their goal and that was a long range effort from Anthony Forde.

Gillingham were the team putting the pressure on and we didn’t look comfortable with the ball coming into the box this way and that, including long throws. I’ve got no gripe about this. This is a type of football and is played within the letter and spirit of the game. It’s the game management that massively irks and the fact that referee after referee allow it to continue.

With 36 minutes gone, down goes a blue shirt. Obviously a scheduled part of the Gills game plan with drinks and a team talk. It all took getting on for two minutes. Rob Lewis is a very experienced FL referee. He added on just the two minutes in total at the end of the first 45 despite pointing to his watch on a few occasions when time wasting was suspected. Not good enough my man – but then it never is when it comes to controlling Evans.

I’ve not worked out why he thought a stoppage would be advantageous. They were on top. Olly Lee had headed wide from a long throw just before the hiatus and just after it they took the lead from another throw. It fell nicely for Vadaine Oliver who, at the age of 29, is having his best season for scoring so far. Percentage football will eventually pay off. If a team keeps getting the ball into the box and has even a half decent finisher they will get a goal or two here and there.

All we’d come up with was another effort from outside the penalty area. This time from Henry. Our passing was very poor and even routine ones when we were under no pressure ended up at the feet of blue shirted men.

I couldn’t see how we could possibly turn it round and was lamenting missing the out and out threat of Brandon Barker and the energy of Mark Sykes. Henry and Elliott Lee have more than enough quality for L1 but probably not that spark of genius to turn a game like this around and it was evident that Shodipo is no replacement for BB. Well that was my thinking as pessimism and resignation to our fate set in once more.

In the final few minutes of part one we did begin to look just a tad more threatening and that was down to getting men and the ball into the penalty area. A short corner routine reminded that we were not totally devoid of ideas.

Apparently the advertising hoardings were moved back and forth in bids to make long throws more or less productive depending on who was doing the moving. It’s our manor (I mean our Kass, well okay our home rented from Firoz) so hands off. You operate the way you do we’ll not sit back and let it happen.

There were again a few hints in the first ten minutes after the restart that we weren’t quite dead but it was still more that the Gillingham pressure looked likelier to pay dividends and we were still error prone and disjointed.

In the first minute Matty Taylor combined with Henry who whipped a ball across the six-yard box but there was no-one to get on the end of it.

Soon after there was an utter cock up between Stevens and Ruffels which resulted in the easiest of balls to deal with being headed out for a corner. Then there was another almost calamitous incident and that it was Long who played in Oliver said it all. His praises have been sung from the roof tops in recent months but if he’s not on it then we’re in trouble. A very brave Stevens save kept the score as it was.

At this stage neither of our full-backs were getting forward and we know that without this our attacking play is much less effective. Seemingly Gillingham had done their homework.

I was now asking myself how are we going to turn this round and who is going to do it? I had no answer. Things were looking bad. We had a corner, they broke away and nearly scored. Rob Atkinson had one of his runs but just didn’t shoot at the end of it. Nothing was really coming off.

For all that’s said about the visitors they can play a bit too and I’d be interested to know what their fans think of the output under Mr Evans.

Our first two changes didn’t come until the 65th minute. Sam Winnall and Dan Agyei were introduced. The departing Shodipo and Forde had not left much of a mark on the game but to be fair most United players hadn’t thus far.

Those changes didn’t provide any immediate reward and I thought we still looked quite static attacking wise and just had not got to grips with the challenge the Gills were providing.

A corner was not repelled and when recycled an unmarked Rob Cundy got his first EFL goal from a position where it would have been harder to miss.

We knew not what was about to come.

Two minutes later we’d halved the deficit. When he received the ball on the edge of the box Winnall took a couple of touches then showed that Taylor isn’t the only finisher at the club. Stay fit, produce more of that and we’ll no longer think the two year contract was an error.

At last we started to play but you had to think too little too late knowing how much studying of the game management chapter in “How to Play Football” Evans would have forced his charges to undertake.

Perhaps they’d forgotten and having had a quick look at a Gills Fans’ chat site they thought their game management was terrible but losing a two goal lead would naturally bring on that sentiment.

The equaliser was more a Gillingham type goal than one we will probably practice for on the training ground but once again it showed the value of getting the ball in the box and also how much more lethal we can be when our full-backs are doing the business offensively. A Ruffels cross from right out on the touch line was met by a powerful Long header. It was one of those when the player wanting it most got it. Now it was yellow shirts not blue shirts doing that sort of thing.

I was a little bit pleased now but if the score as it stood had been arrived at by us losing the lead I’d have been pissed off and whatever comments may have been made about probably being able to drop two points and still not be out of it I saw that as making our uphill task almost vertical.

The momentum was with us now and the fear of a Gillingham counter attack wasn’t that high as there was a bit of evidence of dispiritedness. A draw absolutely was no good to them. No reason to time waste now.

After the goal there was still six and a half minutes to go and this time Lewis stuck on a further five. The speed with which we returned for the re-start shouted that we meant business but as the clocked ticked by it began to look like it wouldn’t happen, but it did and again from a long ball in. I think it was Cameron Brannagan who received a throw and played a first time ball which Long once again got on the end of from virtually the same position as his first, this time with his foot.

Amazing. I could only think three words – KEEP ‘EM OUT. We did.

Sam’s a Bicester boy. Carry on like this and we should have a statue of him in the town. I never did much care for those concrete sheep. Time for a replacement?

Post-match thinking

Still standing. Heady heights of sixth but still very much should not get carried away. Three teams below us have enough games in hand which, if won, will push us down the table but there are some absolutely intriguing fixtures still to be played before the (play-off) final curtain comes down.

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