The defeat at Charlton pretty much summed up where we are as a team at this moment. It wasn’t as dismal a performance as the scoreline suggested, there were periods where we pinned Charlton back and played some attractive passing football. The problem was that our defence is shockingly lacking in physicality and basic knowhow, and we aren’t anywhere close to being clinical in front of goal.
Were we not bottom of the table after nearly a quarter of the season, you might be able to put that result down as a bad afternoon that comes when a team is still learning a new style of play. However, we are bottom of the league and a quarter of the season has gone by, that sloppiness in defence and attack cannot be written-off so easily. Marked improvements have to be made.
The main issue for Mark Venus to solve is the defence, who don’t even look close to being an effective unit. Jordan Turnbull is looking to be a disastrous signing, not just due to the careless errors he’s been making but just how easily beaten he is aerially and on the ground too. Cian Harries’ lack of inclusion in the under-23 game on Monday suggests that Turnbull may be given the evening off. Having to call upon a 19 year-old to solve our defensive issues is a huge indictment of Tony Mowbray’s summer signings.
Despite our struggles in attack, it’s an area of the squad where we’re abundant with options and it feels like we’re close to finding a solution to. Despite no-one looking likely to be prolific, all of our options look capable of scoring goals if we can find a way of playing to their strengths. Against an Oxford side likely to look to dominate possession, we should be looking to exploit the pace of the likes of Jodi Jones, Kyel Reid, Andre Wright or Marvin Sordell.
Last Time We Met
We’ve played Oxford United just eight times in competitive fixtures, the last of those meetings coming in 1988 with a line-up featuring the likes of Steve Ogrizovic, David Speedie and Cyrille Regis. The latter of the three scoring the winner at Highfield Road in the old First Division with the Sky Blues going on to finish 10th and Oxford finishing bottom of the league.
We did play Oxford United in a pre-season friendly before last season, and the then League Two side were much the better side at Nuneaton Town’s Liberty Way and were unfortunate not to win the game after Kemar Roofe won a penalty, which he then blazed over the goal. It was a game that was perhaps most notable for Adam Armstrong making his debut for the club.
How Are They Doing?
Oxford won promotion from League Two last season with a swagger under Michael Appleton. It was a season to earn Appleton redemption after his career had stalled having managed crisis clubs Portsmouth, Blackpool and Blackburn in one season before getting sacked after just 15 games at the final of those three clubs.
Last season was also about young talent flourishing with forwards Kemar Roofe and Callum O’Dowda impressing to the extent that they earned multi-million pound moves to the Championship. That meant Appleton had to re-shape a promotion-winning squad, leading to a slightly slow start to the season, but has seen midfielder Liam Sercombe and forward Chris Maguire step up to the plate having been in Roofe and O’Dowda’s shadows somewhat last season.
Maguire is someone Coventry City fans know well, albeit briefly, after a memorable three-game loan spell back in that Sixfields season where his most notable contribution was two stunning identikit free-kicks to secure a comeback win against MK ‘Dons’. Maguire’s threat from dead balls should come as no surprise, but his technical ability has become the focal point of Oxford’s attacking play this season. Maguire is also something of a wind-up merchant, so be prepared for him to become the pantomime villain.
Sercombe scored a prodigious 14 goals from midfield last season but has enjoyed more of a role as a creative player this season for Oxford. There is pace out wide in the form of either or both of Alex MacDonald and Marvin Johnson who are both capable of creating and scoring goals. Kane Hemmings up front is another player of great pace and there’s also the physical presence of target-man Ryan Taylor to offer an alternative way of creating chances.
We’ll be spared the reminder of Aaron Martin’s reliable central defensive play because he’s spent most of this season out injured. In his stead, the brutish Chey Dunkley and the more mobile Charlie Raglan have built up a solid central defensive partnership. Former academy player Josh Ruffels could possibly start at left-back though, so there will be some former player fun, in addition to Chris Maguire murdering us and Arsenal loanee Dan Crowley possibly featuring against his hometown club.
Stopping short at naming Oxford’s entire team, Simon Eastwood in goal is an excellent shot-stopper and was someone who was unlucky at Blackburn in the league above not to be given more regular game-time. John Lundstram at the base of midfield is a classy operator who offers bite and quality on the ball. Oxford have a really strong squad for a side just promoted from League Two.
Although I mentioned at the top of this preview that I thought we were decent against Charlton, I’m not brimming with confidence that we can iron out the creases in time to take on a strong Oxford side. If we’re as charitable in defence as we were on Saturday, Oxford could easily put five or six past us and I’m not confident that we have the ability to nick something on the counter and then defend it for the rest of the game.
Basically, I can’t see any way in which we can win this game. A game to watched in between closed fingers and preferably after a heavy dose of diazepam too. Oxford to win 4-1.