Fan’s View 2021/22 – no.28 – Cheltenham at home

Article by Paul Beasley Sunday, January 2nd, 2022  

FAN’S VIEW 21/22 – NO.28

Covid

I’m bloody glad I don’t have to decide on the rules and protocols, be they practically enforceable or not, to be applied in the constant battle against Covid in an ever changing environment.

The EFL has now binned match day Covid testing for players. That’s because when a number came out positive that resulted in very late postponements which brought practical and financial challenges. Symptomatic individuals are still to be tested apparently. That should be a no bloody brainer, obviously.

I understand what the priorities are but absolutely disagree with this approach given that the more asymptomatic carriers there are, the more they will pass the virus on to others, some of whom will be asymptomatic and some symptomatic. Should asymptomatic carriers just go about their business as normal with there being a general acceptance that it’s tough shit if you’re unlucky enough to catch the virus and be symptomatic and even tougher in the shitty stakes if you then happen to become very ill?

We’re now approaching 200k new cases a day in the UK. Newspaper headlines on Saturday informed that 1 in 25 have the virus. On Sunday it was “NHS struggles as sickness takes out 1 in 10 staff.” And don’t forget it isn’t just the Omicron variant. Delta is still out there and nastier.

Obviously I want games to go ahead. In this restricted and quite scary world we currently inhabit football for many is probably now more important than ever as a means of escape. It has always been a huge part of my life and was something I have clung on to over the past couple of years. That included the iFollow experience, which I accepted for what it was but would only want to return to it in extremis. But I’m not of the opinion that all football should continue come what may.

Daily testing is still to continue on non-match days. So everything is fine then as long as people and viruses behave differently on certain days of the year.

Those we have lost

Our first match of every New Year sees Rosie on the pitch asking for applause in memory of those who are no longer with us as their names are displayed one after another on the scoreboard. Every year I have a few tears in my eyes when this takes place. Mickey Lewis was there obviously and other players including Brian Sherratt who I’m pretty sure I saw play a couple of games for us when I first attended the Manor as a young school kid. But most of the names are those of supporters. Some made a grand old age, others taken way too young. There are those I knew or at least recognised by sight. Cuddy and Lloyd plus other names too that seemed familiar. Remember Covid played a part.

Another name listed was that of Clive Watts. I’ve known Clive, who was a year or two younger than me, for a very long time. I think he was originally from Buckingham but in more recent times had been living in Bicester. Very occasionally I bumped into him around town but more often at away games all over the country. Many years ago, I can’t even recall if it was the late 70s or early 80s, Clive asked me if I wanted a lift to Reading away. I said yes and was picked up quite early for a three o’clock kick off at Elm Park which doesn’t take too long to get to. He of course took me to a number of pubs and my recollection of the day isn’t that great for a couple of reasons but I do know I had a drink in the Horn, a pub which was still going until it closed in September 2021 when the landlords’ lease ended. The score on the day I have not a clue but one thing I’ll never forget are Clive’s words to me when I got into his car. “I only said I was popping out to buy a packet of fags”.

RIP Clive and the rest of those fellow Yellows. It was good knowing you. You left memories.

2021 

In summary I’d say a very good year for the football club but I have to take issue with this from the preview for the Cheltenham game on the official club site. “The U’s were superb at home throughout 2021 and …..”

Yes I know that it would be bang out of order to focus on the negative but FFS anyone who thinks we were superb on Tuesday 18 May 2021 when Blackpool destroyed us 3-0 at Minchery Farm wants their head examining. I always ask for realism.

OXFORD UNITED 1 CHELTENHAM TOWN 1

I didn’t for one moment expect us to hit the giddy heights we achieved against Wimbledon but no way did I expect the gap between what we produced on Wednesday and in this encounter to be so marked.

Having heard Karl’s post-match comments I felt I’d attended a different event to the one I’d witnessed but again I get the reasoning behind talking matters up and keeping the positivity train on track.

I didn’t think any of the outfield players was anywhere near the standard they’d shown they are capable of hitting in that 3-0 victory.

Herbie Kane gave the ball away. Ryan Williams wasn’t able to beat his man or show his pace. Mark Sykes was nothing like the bundle of energy we’ve come to expect. Elliott Moore wasn’t bringing the ball out from the back.

It just didn’t happen. We couldn’t find space. We didn’t put together any decent incisive passing moves.

And it did appear that Cheltenham wanted it more. I heard comments around me to that effect so I wasn’t the only one. This doesn’t make sense though because we’re not that sort of team, surely, with the spirit we have in the squad. Yet one legal crunching winning of the ball by a white shirt sowed a few doubts because we were not producing anything similar. Not that this is all defending is about.  There’s a need to stay on one’s feet and read the game but flying in without committing a foul does lay down a marker. One which says we’re not going to be easily beaten.

One theory I heard was that it didn’t help that we had played three days earlier and our opponents had not. They’d had Covid in the camp so their game at MK Dons did not go ahead. Didn’t do us any favours.

Early on it was clear that these visitors were more of a threat to our goal than the Wombles had been at any time during the previous match with Simon Eastwood needing to produce a good block at his near post after a group of Cheltenham men had played and forced their way through our defences.

It was goal less at the break but that didn’t remain the case for very long when proceedings recommenced. Three minutes in we conceded from a corner. It was a very preventable goal. The kick wasn’t a particularly good one but for some unfathomable reason instead of just whacking the ball away Sykes tried to execute a flick of sorts and it remained in the danger zone to be forced home from close range by Callum Wright. The scorer had won his grappling match with Cameron Brannagan a split second prior to converting during that period when referees have decided anything goes because its lots of six of ones and half a dozen of many others.

Easty had to go down sharply to his left to prevent us falling further behind but that would have been a very unfair reflection of the play.

Looking back this wasn’t a dreadful performance. It’s just that it’s so disappointing dropping two points when it is so tight at the top of the table and knowing that we are capable of much better as has been seen so very recently.

There’s still no getting away from the fact that, although a bit below par, we could and should still have taken all three points and we’ve just about only got ourselves to blame. (I’ll come on to referee Carl Brook later)

Matty Taylor missed that first half penalty. Penalties are missed, we know that, but they can prove to be vital. It looked to be a dreadful spot kick but keepers usually move one way or another. It’s all about mind games between two, holding one’s nerves and the technical execution of what’s planned   but placing the ball firmly just inside either post must have a better chance of success than this.

Also in the first period Sykes had a really good chance that he got under and blazed over and into the carpark.

To our credit we just kept going, determined to get something from the game and the final stats tell the usual tale. 64% possession. 533 passes to their 301. Passing accuracy 77% to their 61%. Passing accuracy in the opposition half 63% to their 51%. Sixteen shots but only a quarter on target. The Cheltenham radar must have been rather better tuned than ours. They had the same number on target but from half the number of attempts.

Photo, Simon Jaggs

It was clear that as the second forty five minutes progressed we were starting to find our mojo again and that I believe was largely down to the change KR made in the 61st minute swapping Marcus McGuane for Gavin Whyte.

I left the ground feeling very disappointed with MM’s contribution but that is probably down to the fact that he’s hardly played and I have such high expectations based on what I saw when he was on loan. There were a few great moments of quality here. He looked our most creative player and was the one who slotted the pinpoint pass through that led to the penalty. He had a couple of strong runs with the ball where he cut across an opponent making it impossible to be stopped fairly and made a lot of ground. However I thought he went missing for spells and didn’t seem to be putting in the hard graft, the tracking back and putting the body on the line kind of stuff that many others do. The data analysts will know the truth. I may of course be wrong.

Anyone who read the previous Fan’s View will know that on reflection I revised my opinion on what Gav W did against the Wombles. In this even though he only had half an hour if I’d been forced to pick a MOTM it would have been him. The reason he didn’t start was a tight hamstring but there was no evidence of that when he came on. He injected an energy and spirit that kick started an upward gear change.

Nevertheless it had begun to look like it still wasn’t to be our day even though our balance now looked a lot better.

Players that were not at their best were still showing for the ball and we kept at it. Doing so often pays off as it eventually did here.

With eight minutes of the 90 left we got our reward. Sam Long won a duel following a Cheltenham throw and Whyte took possession of the skewed attempt at a clearance, Brook rightly waving play on when we could have been given a free-kick. He gave the ball to Steve Seddon then got it back again in the box. A sliding Sam Winnall couldn’t make contact to put the ball played into the six yard box over the line, but a sliding Sykes could.

The way the game was now going and the time left based on the expected added minutes gave cause for optimism with regard to a win.

There were five second half subs and a goal. That’s 30 secs per incident so three minutes there unless I’ve misunderstood all these years. Then add on what was necessary for all the time wasting and I was looking for six, seven or even eight minutes to be shown on the board when it was held up.

Fans regularly talk about time wasting and whilst all clubs do it to some extent there are some that have it at the forefront of their game plan. Cheltenham took this to a new level and that’s saying something having had to put up with Evans and Ainsworth over the years. Every time they had a goal kick a defender hung around and spent time pulling his socks up or having a drink or doing his laces up before slowly trotting away, taking out several seconds. And that was on top of keeper Owen Evans kicking the ball away, after it had been given to him to take these goal kicks or free-kicks, and promptly setting off at a very slow pace to retrieve it once more. This all adds up. Evans was eventually booked in the 72nd minute but it was way too late for Brook to demonstrate that he had proper control of the game.

Then there was the time when a Cheltenham player was receiving treatment and they turned it into a full-fledged drinks break.

So how many minutes were tacked on the end? Four, just bloody four. Standard second half four. What a tosser of an official. If Alex Ferguson had been our manager he would have spontaneously combusted.

I’m telling myself, probably in very deluded fashion, that if we’d been granted the minutes to which we were entitled we would have had another successful crack at breaching the Cheltenham goal.

I have to finish by saying I thought Sykes comments on Radio Oxford afterwards were refreshingly honest. He acknowledged that he didn’t have the best of games and said he knew he was to blame for their goal. He also pointed out that goals scored can mask poor performance. That’s your eight now mate so keep it up and remember when you score you’ve usually played well in the rest of your game to go with it. It did however sound a bit ominous with regard to the contract situation but of course he has to do the best for himself and his family. Our owners (new or old) will be doing the best for the football club when it comes to what is on offer. It was ever thus.

For all that I really wish it had been Winnall who had got the ball over the line. I suspect it would have done him a world of good and would have shut my inner voice up. When I say inner voice sometimes however hard I try it just comes out. To anyone sat near me sorry for the language. I thought his contribution here was negligible and on a couple of occasions couldn’t seem to control the ball. I can’t get away from thinking he’s one of the worst signings we have ever made and he used to be such a good player. Afterwards the comment “he’s even worse than Agyei” didn’t come from me but shows where most supporters think we need strengthening. Never easy though is it?

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