Archive for the ‘Oxford United 2012/13 Season’ Category

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What is it with home games against Port Vale, eh? From half-way line strikes to conceding an equalizer in the 92nd minute to scoring the winner in the 93rd minute, when Oxford United and Port Vale meet at the Kassam Stadium, the neutral is rarely left unsatisfied.

Oxford went into the game today with seven points from a possible nine, with the two wins being away from home to Plymouth and top-of-the-table Gillingham. The recent upturn in form has somewhat altered the complexion of Oxford’s season. The club have been struggling in mid-table for the majority of the season, but today’s hard-earned three points has put Oxford in a position to surge towards a play-off place by the end of the season.

Alfie Potter got the scoring underway as he latched on to former U’s centre back Darren Purse’s poor backpass before opening up his body and slotting the ball cooly past Chris Neal into the far corner to make it two in two against the top two for Alfie. An excellent finish that set the tone for the remainder of the game. Despite being a superb game of football, there were countless mistakes made by both sides.

It took Port Vale just a minute to react with a Doug Loft effort from 20 yards going just wide of Oxford goalkeeper Luke McCormick’s right-hand post. But, five minutes later Loft had re-calibrated his right foot sufficiently to guide Tom Pope’s knock-down just inside that right-hand post from 25 yards for 1-1.

Vale almost took the lead in spectacular fashion as Calvin Andrew attempted an overhead kick from the penalty spot. Unfortunately for Vale fans, he is Calvin Andrew and it rolled out harmlessly for a goal kick.

Oxford themselves could have taken the lead just before half time but Sean Rigg could not direct Liam Davis’ cross on target.

As the half time whistle went, United walked off to a ripple of applause and then a chorus of boos as the matchday officials came into view. The U’s supporters clearly upset with the referee’s decision not to award a penalty for what looked a blatant push on Alfie Potter.

The Yellows came out pumped for the second half and appeared to have be suitably motivated by the coaching staff during the break. Deane Smalley continued his tireless work rate up front, Damien Batt carried on providing an option of an overlap on the right and Josh Parker even won a header. Oxford were pushing for a goal with a barrage of corners, free-kicks and throw-ins from the feet (and hands) of stand-in central midfielder Tony Capaldi. In fact, Vale left back was doing his level best to push Josh Parker with a barrage of shirt pulls, head-locks and even a UFC move that ended in the pair of the going into the referees book.

Port Vale probed and Ryan Burge saw his effort tipped onto the crossbar after Jake Wright over-played, but it was Oxford that got the winner. James Constable accelerated down the right and provided a cross that Vale’s top goal-scorer Tom Pope almost turned into his own net. From the resulting corner, the ball wasn’t cleared properly by the Vale defence and the ball fell fortunately to Deane Smalley who slammed the ball between the keeper’s legs for his fourth goal of the season and what turned out to be the winner.

Oxford pressed to make the game safe and Liam Davis burst into the box after clever play from Sean Rigg only to be tripped by Ryan Burge. This time the referee pointed to the spot and Oxford had the chance to make the game safe. Sean Rigg took responsibility in the absence of first-choice penalty taker Peter Leven. He smashed the ball hard and low to Chris Neal’s right, but the Vale stopper anticipated and saved well. It wasn’t necessarily a bad penalty, it was just a saved one.

Fortunately, the penalty miss was not to prove costly as United hung on to record their first win at home since Cheltenham Town on New Years Day.

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Our first loss at home this season, and it’s come in rather comprehensive fashion. What can I really say about it? We were beaten by a team that, despite it still being only September, look real contenders to bounce straight back to League 1. Exeter looked far closer to Barcelona than that circus up the road. And I’m not talking about St. Giles’.

I know it’s a horrible process, but let’s go through the goals and work out why we lost the game. The first goal was rifled in by Jamie Cureton from a good 20-yards. Jake Wright backed off and backed off allowing Cureton the time to line-up his shot. Wright could’ve closed the man down, but the excellent run from Liam Sercombe made it was essentially a two-on-one giving Cureton the option to play the right back in. The run worked as a decoy (similar to Constable’s vs Bristol Rovers for the Potter goal). In my opinion, the blame for the goal has to go to Tony Capaldi. His poor positioning allowed the two-on-one to manifest itself and lead to the goal.

The second goal was never a corner. There is no questioning that. I, like many others, was convinced that despite my poor viewpoint in the East Stand that it didn’t cross the byline and after seeing the footage on the Football League Show, it is clear the linesman made a mistake. Our defending from the corner was poor and we allowed Scott Bennett to glance in a pretty simple second. Perhaps Ryan Clarke could have done better, but with the power on the ball it would have taken a worldie to stop it.

The third goal was a testament to the diet of Cureton. I don’t think you could name me a faster 37-year old footballer in the Football League. To be able to keep yourself in that kind of shape, especially after your gut begins to grow after you reach the big 30, is remarkable. A lovely nutmeg on Raynes and the whippersnapper was away for an experienced little dink over the onrushing Clarke. Exeter looked home and dry. The goal came about due to the high defensive line which was suicidal for a defence with Michael Raynes in it and Damian Batt was in the Exeter half so there was no cover.

We managed to get back into it after Batt was tripped in the penalty area. Forster-Caskey tucked away the penalty for 3-1 and eight minutes later JP Pittman managed to head the ball (he’s got some leap on him, by the way) against an Exeter defender for an own goal (despite it being accredited to Alfie). So 3-2 and we’re back in the game with a good 30 minutes left.

Then, on 67 minutes came the chance that could have potentially changed the match. Smalley has a free header from all of 6 yards. If it goes in, it’s 3-3 and we could go on to win the game. But he heads it over and four minutes after he missed the chance Exeter make it four. John O’Flynn with a calm finish from the right across Clarke into the bottom left-hand corner. Where was Capaldi for that goal? In the Exeter half. I’m sure you can see a slight trend with full-backs here.

Beano came on for Deano on 74′ and the number 9 received his marching orders six minutes later with two of the softest yellow cards I have ever seen. And they were only 1 minute and 5 seconds apart. The first was for, well, I’m not quite sure. And the second was for, well, I’m still not quite sure.

All three of their goals conceded from open play were because of full-backs being out of position. A startling trend. Understandable for the last two goals when we were chasing the game and pushed our full-backs forward leaving space to be exploited, but we conceded the first goal for two reasons. Firstly, Capaldi went AWOL allowing the Sercombe run to be so devastating. Secondly, no midfielder filled in the space left by Capaldi.

This highlights a real problem in Wilder’s 4-3-3 formation. If we are to play a 4-3-3 none of the front three will be tracking back, which means there is little cover for our full-backs. Now, Wilder seems to have told his full-backs to overlap, and while this can be a useful tactic (Damian Batt winning the penalty), it has its flaws. If you are to play those attacking full-backs, a midfielder must fill in at full-back when Batt/Capaldi are overlapping. Simon Heslop didn’t once attempt to fill in today. Is that because Wilder didn’t mention it or because he was lazy? That I cannot tell you. But what I can tell you is to be so tactically inept in a position such as centre midfield makes me question his future in an Oxford shirt.

When Wilder went 4-2-4, as he so often does when chasing a game, there was one less midfielder in our midfield meaning not only was there less creativity, but also less defensive cover. The 4-2-4 sounds far more dangerous than it really is. Like a barking dog with no teeth. When you play four strikers, it means you will play one of two ways. You will either try and play it through the middle of the park with two midfielders and potentially get swamped by their four midfielders, or you will lump it to one of our four strikers. The latter is the most likely option, but when played it means we bypass the creativity in midfield. Our strikers are relatively average in stature. We’ve got no Kevin Francis type player that will win everything in the air. So, the 4-2-4 is actually an awful tactic when chasing a game if your team happens to be Oxford United.

We’ve got to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves down for the next two games against Burton away and Cheltenham away. If we turn up as the same side that did against Bristol Rovers, Southend and Swindon, they look eminently winnable. Let’s not let this little blip ruin what was an excellent start. Come on you Yellows!