It is that time in the season when owners, fans and indeed managers start to take stock of how they have started the new campaign. I take a look at the start the U’s have made in League One…
As the first ball was being kicked in August Oxford United had already had their major news story of the year played out in dramatic pre-season fashion. When transfer targets started refusing to sign it was clear that something was not right behind the scenes at Grenoble Road and the fan’s fears were confirmed when it was announced that Michael Appleton was heading off for the rather less glamorous position of assistant manger at Leicester City Now, no one can deny that he deserved his big move but I will always be one of those that thinks he should have stayed as the number one head honcho at a club rather than being someone else’s number two.
So it was good bye Michael and hola Pep as the man who had always been someone else’s number two became Oxford United’s number one, birthing an influx of new blood, many with names at tricky to pronounce as the new man in charge (it is not a silent ‘T’). The signings that did caused a wave were Jack Payne, a little play maker, on loan from Huddersfield and Alex Mowatt on loan from Barnsley and they were much needed.
It was a changing of the guard for the yellows as the spine of a team that had been excellent over the last few seasons was slowly dismantled. Chey Dunkley headed north to join Wigan and the ever popular Chris Maguire moved to Bury. Captain John Lundstrum also exited, this time for a step up at Championship Sheffield United and the biggest transfer saga of the summer (and first part of the new season) ended when Marvin Johnson finally signed for Middlesborough.
It was clear by these moves that Oxford were going to have a period of transition, perhaps even a season, but a decent pre-season and start led to some heady optimism amongst the fans. An opening day win at a toothless Oldham side was welcome and then an excellent 3-0 demolition job in the first home game against Portsmouth, including a great solo effort from new man Gino Van Kessel, led to talk of automatic promotion on the terraces (ok on the plastic seats but you know what I mean).
An away defeat to Scunthorpe, followed by a fortunate draw at home to Shrewsbury brought a wave of realism back to the supporters as it was clear the U’s were still a work in progress but with plenty of positives to draw on.
Drawing at MK Dons was a decent point. a thrashing of a hapless Gillingham and a frustrating 2-2 draw with Bradford got September off to a start that promised much yet a reality check like a slipped disc to man in his 40’s highlight our limitations. Defeat at Blackpool, home to Walsall and away at Bury gave Pep Clotet much to ponder, especially considering how naïve and abject we appeared in those games. Yet, in typical Oxford style, we went to high flying Peterborough and gave them a good hiding, winning 4-1, leaving me and many Oxford fans scratching their heads.
It is clear that there at no easy games in League One this season (no not even against Plymouth Argyle) but it will be interesting to see how Oxford cope with a difficult October as games against Charlton, Rotherham and Fleetwood stand out as particularly difficult.
Much like a window cleaner, we are up almost as much as we are down and remain, to myself and many others , an unknown quantity. Let’s just hope we can put a consistent run together and remain within touching distance of the top 6.
Rob Hall gets this vote for me. He has been our best outlet and threat going forward, much improved on last season. Other than him it has to be Simon Eastwood, just superb.
Most surprising player?
Gino van Kessel has surprised many. Completely unknown to me before is arrival from Slavia Prague yet in the opening 11 games he has shown, skill, pace and an annoying penchant for the niggly foul, a frustrating player but one that can produce moments of game changing excitement. Would love to see what Tiendalli is capable of if he can stay fit!
Performance against expectations?
Considering the summer of upheaval and the players that have left I would say we are pretty much where I expected us to be. I would love to make the play-offs but fear that maybe a step to far for Clotet and this side based on what I have seen so far.