Fan’s View 2021/22 – no.22 – Fleetwood at home

Article by Paul Beasley Wednesday, November 24th, 2021  

FAN’S VIEW 21/22 – NO.22

After Saturday I never for one moment thought that I would be banging out a Fan’s View for this fixture until later in the season.

If we win, not a problem but my pre-match opinion is that it’s crazy to play it. An emergency loan goal-keeper brought in at the last minute. Clearly not ideal. Neither of the first choice centre halves available so my guess would be Sam Long moved to that position along-side Luke McNally. With Ryan Williams filling in at right-back. Again not ideal. Partnerships? Understanding? But no Matty Taylor. Which means what? Dan Agyei getting another chance? Or playing without a recognised centre forward given that we have so much midfield and wide man talent? That’s where our strength lies. The only Covid loss there is Mark Sykes.

In total the official site tells there are “13 players unavailable tonight through either covid or injuries” and the Oxford Mail reports that “no more than 14 first-team players available” and that is only if they come through the latest covid tests without further positive readings. Meaning we “will name just three substitutes”.  We actually managed five.

To repeat, it really does seem madness to me and if we don’t beat a team that have taken just one point from the last five games the person at OUFC who made the decision for the game to go ahead will have a lot to answer for. But perhaps that’s it, Fleetwood being viewed as poor enough for a weakened United to still beat. Dangerous thinking perhaps and we do have talent available that can win a game of football so despite what I’ve already written I’m not without optimism. There’s no getting away from the fact however that with a greatly reduced number of bodies to select from, the chances of a home victory is likewise reduced. The bookies had a Fleetwood win at odds as long as 7/2 at one time. With a couple of hours to kick off that’s shortened to 9/4 at best.

All we fans can do is get behind the XI selected and those on the bench.

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In the car travelling to the match my son asked a very sensible question and one I should have thought of before looking to apportion blame within the club. The question being, were we actually in a situation where we could have asked for a postponement which the EFL would have granted? Obviously lots of last minute positive tests can mean a match being called off as happened on Saturday but this was three days on. What are the rules? Do a club have to play on no matter what? Or is it that there is a set minimum number of casualties after which a club can ask not to play? I’ve done a bit of internet searching and can’t find an answer. The official OUFC site just tells us the game is on but doesn’t say why. Neither does the Oxford Mail shed any light. No time or resources for cutting edge investigative journalism let alone this.

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So we did go without a recognised centre-forward as such but seeing the team news there was even more of an oh bugger feeling heaped on us with the news that Ryan Williams had failed a late fitness test.

OXFORD UNITED 3 FLEETWOOD TOWN 1

Well, great result but Fleetwood really were pretty crap, save for WBA loanee Callum Morton, and whilst there was much to be pleased about here there were also areas of obvious concern and with those in mind I’ve already moved on to thinking about Saturday and the visit of table toppers Rotherham. They’re not pretty thoughts but the precedent has been set by playing this so there’s no getting out of it.

Anyway back to this game.

What a start. We produced some of our very best football of the season from the off. On the front foot, keeping the ball, smart incisive passes, finding space all over, and Herbie Kane having the freedom of the park to dictate as he was fit. With this happening we had no need to worry that a thrown together defence might be our Achilles heel.

Much of the time we had a row of five just inside the opposition half all being kind of man marked but not effectively enough to prevent a blitzkrieg.

It didn’t take long for us to gain the lead. The goal was pleasing on many fronts. It came from a set piece with Luke McNally stretching to get on the end of a well delivered Kane corner despite the attention of a couple of defenders. McNally’s first goal for the club and a small portion of the left over beer kitty from Wigan on Saturday had gone on him to be an anytime scorer at 16/1. He does not look out of place in the first team. The scouts/data analyst certainly do have an eye for a centre-half.

The second goal only took another eight minutes but such was our dominance it could have been even sooner. James Henry with strength and determination and a one-two with Billy Bodin got down the wing and played a ball along the edge of the penalty area to Cameron Brannagan. Three one touch passes (that’s the way to do it) and we were in. Cam controlled, stepped to his right and fired home along the ground.

The total control continue for a while but further goals did not come for us. Bodin put one wide when he should have hit the target and then had a shot blocked.

As the half hour mark approached there was a shift in the pattern of the game. I don’t know if that was because we went off the boil or the Cod Army changed the way they were playing. Probably a combination of both. They were closing us down better. The vast areas in which we were able to create were gone and for the first time we started to send passes astray. The ball wasn’t being moved as quickly and it began to look like players were on different wavelengths when earlier everything was functioning like clockwork.

With not so much on we went backwards and not forwards in our attempts to keep the ball but were not doing so with total confidence.

With five minutes of the 45 left our lead was halved but it should never have happened. Jamie Hanson, in his own half, played a short ball to Kane, who was quite tightly marked and the return lacked a little pace. Hanson slid to get it where staying on his feet may have been the better option. He lost out enabling a pass to be made to Matete sending him on his way towards goal. On the night I thought loanee Connal Trueman’s effort to keep the ball out of the net he was guarding was incredibly weak. Having seen a replay, as is often the case, I have to change my initial view. It was a really good finish with the outside of the right foot but lacking back lift.

If Hanson had played a straightforward longer pass to one of the two centre-halves this would not have happened.

But it had and having witnessed the collapse on the previous Tuesday worry came to the fore as it did when players went down and looked like they might be joining the unavailable brigade. Where the hell would it have left us if we’d lost McNally? Thankfully he survived the entire game and looked none the worse for wear according to an untrained eye from the stands.

There were lots of minutes that needed tacking on to the first half but we got through to the break still in front and Henry managed to fire wildly over after he was set up by Bodin.

In the second period we never reached the heights we had achieved during the first third of the game but neither did we crumble and once we had again made the margin two on 69 minutes there was to be no hanging on tension or worse.

Steve Seddon brought the ball forward purposefully but when he pushed the ball out wide to Nathan Holland our West Ham man still had lots to do. At speed he ran across the defence once he’d entered the penalty area and unleashed a shot that left keeper Alex Cairns with little chance of stopping. Also had a tiny wager on Holland to score at any time but obviously at much reduced odds, 3/1.

We could and should have made the remainder of the game more comfortable before then.

McNally played a high ball over the top and with fleetness of foot that the defence of Fleetwood couldn’t match Whyte got into a shooting position. As he was just about to let fly the trailing defender gave him a push in the shoulder which affected his balance and thus delivery of the shot at a vital time. For me that is 100% a penalty. Yet Whyte didn’t appeal and I can’t remember the crowd yelling for a spot kick.

Perhaps that, along with 90% of shirt pulling, is an acceptable part of the game and is something I should just let go. But why should I? Law breaking knowingly undertaken is cheating. Not that Ollie Yates was much of a referee. He let so much go off the ball it was ridiculous and should have shown the first yellow long before he actually did. It ended up three cards for them and one for us, a ratio that I would say was about right.

We again came close with Whyte once more involved, taking a pass from Brannagan across Cairns but having gone a touch wide, the ball to Seddon was put over. In fairness to our full-back though he had covered a lot of ground to get there.

Worth a mention of the full-back on the other side here as well. Hanson, who let’s be honest is not a fans’ favourite and was getting a few first half quiet comments, had a pretty decent game in the second half.

That we didn’t bring Marcus McGuane on until the 67th minute showed that we weren’t devoid of quality talent on the bench. Undoubtedly a class act but he frustrated me in the game time given him. He held on to the ball too long in crowded areas when a basic simple pass out of harm’s way was on.

It might well be that overall I am being too critical. Expecting too much. We’re well placed in the League albeit with games in hand. Games that need to be won. On a PPG basis we’re 6th. And on both goals scored and conceded per game 5th best.

Saturday though will be a test beyond all others we have come up against so far this season. Once more all we can do is get right behind the team no matter what.

One thing is for sure – there will be a better atmosphere with more fans of both sides in the ground than there were for this one.

 

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