In a continued trend of late, we managed to win another game that we started slowly in on Tuesday night. While it’s encouraging that we’ve managed to win a game after falling behind, there is a worrying tendency towards sloppiness in our play at times which leads to the concern that this revival may not be sustainable.
The next three games are going to set the benchmark for the rest of the season. Starting with an Oxford side in desperate need of a win in this upcoming fixture, we then face a daunting away trip to promotion-chasing Bolton before playing MK ‘Dons’ at home in what will either be a relegation six-pointer or a chance to put ourselves in the play-off picture. This week will either completely transform our prospects this season or could put us back in a relegation battle we thought we’d left behind.
Mark Venus settling on an attacking line-up that works is looking like it will be the crucial element. We’ve struggled for cohesiveness in attack over the past few games, which is hardly surprising given that Venus has fiddled with the front three for each game. Good attacking play is not only about great individuals but it’s about having an understanding of what your teammates are going to do, that understanding is tough to develop without consistency of selection.
Marvin Sordell displayed on Tuesday night that he’s our best option through the middle and there should be no reason to tinker there. Kyel Reid provided a wonderful assist for Sordell’s first goal and should probably stay in the side too. Although Jodi Jones didn’t deliver a final product against Morecambe, he did provide a goal threat and should be given at least this game to prove he’s worth a regular starting spot. Without any great other options, sticking with Tuesday night’s attacking line-up makes the most sense.
Last Time We Met
Thanks to some rather odd fixture scheduling, Oxford are the first team we’ll have played twice in the league this season, having played them barely a month ago. It was a game where we needed a win to stay in touch at the bottom of the league and we ended up producing our best, most composed, performances of the season. Ben Stevenson scored a jaw-dropping 25-yard effort to set us on our way, before Marvin Sordell capitalised on a defensive howler to make it 2-0 before half-time. Although Oxford managed a goal back late in the second-half, the poise and control we exerted on the proceedings made sure it was merely a blot on our copybook for an excellent night’s work.
How Are They Doing?
Back in October, Oxford were in good form and looking to get into the play-off picture. Manager Michael Appleton looked to have navigated both a step up in quality from League Two and the loss of last season’s stars Kemar Roofe and Callum O’Dowda with some shrewd additions in the transfer market that had given the U’s quality, as well as strength in depth. That defeat at the Ricoh Arena has augured an awful run of form which now sees Oxford just two points above the relegation zone.
That early season form possibly papered over some of the difficulties in replacing Roofe and O’Dowda, as well as the more experienced, less flashy, Danny Hylton and Jake Wright. Michael Appleton has struggled to find a way to get the best out of what is still clearly a talented squad, with big tactical and personnel changes from game to game clearly not helping.
The one player who has managed to maintain a high level of performance has been Chris Maguire, but it still feels like Appleton doesn’t quite know the best place to utilise his talents. It’s a problem that has plagued Maguire throughout his career, despite his very obvious talents, he’s not quite a striker, not quite a winger and not quite a number 10. Because Oxford have so many other good options in attack, out wide and attacking midfield, Michael Appleton has moved Maguire and his other players around in the hope that something will eventually click.
It really is a cavalcade of attacking options for Oxford, Dan Crowley and Liam Sercombe offer quality on the ball and runs into the box from midfield, Marvin Johnson is a tall, pacey and direct winger, while Kane Hemmings and Wes Thomas are quick, strong strikers who have shown they can score goals at this level with other clubs. Maybe it’s because Maguire is such an attack-minded player as well, that the problem has been a lack of player to link it all together rather than a lack of quality.
Defensive injuries haven’t helped Oxford this season either with their two big summer central defensive signings, Curtis Nelson and Aaron Martin, spending much of this season on the sidelines. While Chey Dunkley and Charlie Raglan have done a decent job while Nelson and Martin have been out, the constant changes at the back have led to the kind of errors of communication that allowed Marvin Sordell an open goal at the Ricoh Arena last month.
We should be wary of Oxford, despite their poor recent form, this is still a team that plays good football and has dangerous attacking players, they will turn things round and this game could be that turning point for them. As for us, not getting a good result from this game cranks up the pressure on the next two games and could see this upturn in form start to unravel.
I’m not feeling positive about this game at all and I can see us losing this one 2-1.