Thursday, 15 September 2011

Debut Goal Sinks Ragged Daggers

This has also been put up on the Rage Online website:

The first thing I would say about Dagenham is that it is deceptively far away. The Dagenham East tube stop lies almost at the very end of the District Line. As a result of this, a large number of Oxford United supporters arrived at the run-down, yet charismatic, Victoria Road bang on quarter to eight. Given the nature of their stadium and the fact that they are located less than five minutes away from one of England's most famous football clubs in West Ham, Dagenham's promotion to League One two years ago was a highly improbable, yet quite remarkable achievement. Let us hope that Oxford can replicate their success this season.

After this performance, the signs are encouraging. United were the superior side for almost the entirety of this encounter, running out worthy winners by a single goal. The result saw Oxford rise to 11th in the league, level on points with bitter rivals Swindon Town and the bookies' favourite for promotion Bristol Rovers. A meagre two points seperates Oxford and third place Port Vale.

Still, it took a while for the game to come to life. The opening fifteen minutes involved players from either side carelessly lumping the ball high into the air - the hoof-ball was not easy on the eye. Peter Leven tried to liven proceedings up by attempting a daring 40-yard strike, but it fell harmlessly into the arms of Dagenham goalkeeper Chris Lewington. Five minutes later the Daggers had their first real opening, as Barbadian Jon Nurse nipped in front of Michael Duberry, only for his header to flash past the post. With thirty-five minutes on the clock, United finally created a meaningful opportunity to break the deadlock. Once again Leven was at the heart of the move, sliding in a perfectly weighted ball for 17-year-old Ryan Hall, making his debut on loan from West Ham, who fizzed a threatening ball across the Dagenham box into the path of the onrushing James Constable, only for United's top scorer to hook the ball over. Hall was very encouraging on his debut - he has electric pace and an assured first touch. He is certainly a step up from the hugely disappointing Lewis Guy. Wilder had also finally elected to start Damien Batt in place of the hapless Andrew Whing, which offered United another attacking outlet down the right flank. Aside from this, Oxford were unchanged from the Burton game. It was a strong team and one that Wilder should stick to.

With five minutes until to break, Hall (Ryan, not Asa) put United in front. A pre-rehearsed free kick saw Paul MacLaren (who was superb) slide the ball across the box for Hall to nip in front of his man and hammer the ball home. A well-taken goal - the sort of calm finish that Oxford have been craving in previous weeks.

The second half saw the Oxford faithful come to life, belting out the Sloop John B tune and putting real emphasis on the "Dagenham's a shithole...I wanna go home" part of the song. It is true, I would not choose to live in Dagenham. The roar of the 420 Oxford fans behind the goal (making up a sizeable number of the 1920 attendance) seemed to spur United on. McLaren won the ball on the edge of the Dagenham box and fed a delicate path into the path of substitute Josh Payne, who appeared intent on forcing his way into the starting line-up with a fantastic performance - hurtling into tackles while also providing flair and panache. Payne then played Alfie Potter through on goal, who twisted and turned in the box, alluding Lewington before somehow spooning his shot onto the bar and over. Two minutes later the mercurial Potter was through again, but this time Lewington pulled off a brilliant save to deny the wing wizard.

The Oxford faithful feared a repeat of Bradford, Aldershot and Burton, namely an inability to see the game out. This was especially the case after the ineffectual Deane Smalley was brought on in place of Constable, thus leaving the Yellows with little attacking threat. The Daggers offered very little, but Ryan Clarke was still required to pull off an impressive late save to ensure that Oxford went home with all three points. On this showing, Dagenham could be in for a long and difficult season on their return to League Two, but keep an eye out for that trio of Swindon, Oxford and Rovers.

Man of the Match: Ryan Hall

Monday, 12 September 2011

Oxford Reject Rubs It In

For the third time already this season, Oxford United were frustratingly held to a draw at the Kassam Stadium in a match they certainly ought to have won. The home side had cruised into a two-goal lead, only to throw it away during a crazy five minute period. Despite many promising signs and some fantastic football produced by the Yellows, particularly in the first half, the bumper crowd that had come out for the ‘Bridle Bonanza’ were once again left feeling disappointed and deflated at Oxford’s failure to kill the game off.

In the first half, backed by their vociferous home supporters, Oxford battered and bruised their opponents, Burton Albion, but were unable to break the deadlock. Speedy winger Alfie Potter was at the heart of everything for the U’s and it was his cross in the fifteenth minute that presented disappointing loanee Lewis Guy with a golden opportunity to open the scoring. However, the former Newcastle youth forward, playing the last game of his month-long loan spell from Franchise FC, found his shot saved at point blank range from the impressive Brewers keeper, Ross Atkins. One can only hope that Wilder does not chose to extend Guy’s loan spell. The decision to release Jack Midson and Sam Deering in favour of the ineffectual Guy still remains a mystery to me.

Another mystery has been Wilder’s perplexing decision to replace our superb attacking right-back, Damien Batt, with the desperately slow Andrew Whing. Thankfully, Wilder realised his mistake early on in this encounter, ripping off Whing for Batt inside thirty minutes. Batt was straight into the thick of things, clearly intent on making his point and playing his way back into the starting line-up when he was savagely cut down by Aaron Webster after a fantastic run. Specialist set piece taker, Peter Leven, put the resulting free-kick just over the bar. Minutes later, James Constable who has been subject to a bid from League 1 Bournemouth went close with a header. Unfortunately, on a day when chances were aplenty, United’s talisman was having an off-day. One can only hope that Constable’s head has not been turned by the recent transfer speculation.

With the game still all square, Burton midfielder Jacques Maghoma whistled a stinging shot inches past Ryan Clarke’s post, almost giving the visitors an unlikely lead. This warning side meant that the Yellows now appeared more intent than ever on breaking the deadlock and making their pressure tell. Once again, Batt and Potter combined down the right before Potter fizzed a dangerous cross into the Burton box only for defender Andy Corbett to smash against his own post. Lewis Guy then wriggled free of the Burton defence only to slice his shot into the side netting. With half time fast approaching, the U’s were miraculously still level. Thankfully, with almost the last kick of the half, Potter found space on the edge of the box and this time decided to go for goal himself, firing the ball into the far corner of the net. Relief all round.

After a slow start to the second half, a clever Oxford move saw Guy slip the ball through to Leven, who coolly chipped the ball over Atkins in the Burton goal. Now two-nil up and in a position of complete dominance against average opponents, what could possibly go wrong? Surely this was a comfortable three points in the bag? Not so. Immediately after doubling their lead, United were pegged back courtesy of a highly dubious penalty decision. A clumsy coming together between Liam Davis and Maghoma saw the Oxford defender win the ball, only for referee Woolmer to point at the spot. In classic Oxford fashion, an ex player Justin Richards calmly stepped up to arrogantly place the ball to Clarke’s right before grinning and dancing in front of the Oxford Mail stand. This unexpected goal suddenly breathed life into Albion and five minutes later, disaster struck for Oxford. A harmless Burton corner was completely missed by Jake Wright and found its way to who else but Richards to scramble the ball home for his second and Burton’s equaliser. The grinning and the dancing had started again. The ex-Oxford player then had a glorious chance for his hat-trick but somehow blazed his shot over the bar. Oxford had fallen apart, their confidence and composure sapped thanks to Richards’ right foot. The Burton Albion centre forward had another opportunity for his hat-trick, yet this time Oxford had Ryan Clarke to thank for preventing yet more grinning and dancing.

With the game drawing to a conclusion and the hosts clearly delighted with their point, Oxford rallied themselves for one last effort. A whipping Davis cross presented Constable with the chance to dramatically win the game for United, but instead Oxford’s centre-forward headed the ball into the car park behind the goal. As such, the U’s were forced to settle for a point. Two more points dropped. The story of the season so far…

Man of the Match: Alfie Potter