Managerless Oxford unite in adversity

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 17 March 2018, 20:17

This weekend Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) ventured over to the Kassam Stadium where he watched managerless Oxford shock promotion-pushing Peterborough 2-1 - there first win in six games. Check out his thoughts below.

Oxford unite in adversity

Considering the uncertainty at Oxford United, which ranges from financial issues, the continued delay to the appointment of a new manager and the unexpected threat of relegation, Saturday’s 2-1 win over Peterborough was an impressive result.

They started at a high intensity, with forwards Wes Thomas and Jonathan Obika pressing relentlessly to allow Ryan Ledson and Alex Mowatt pick up second balls in midfield. That control paid off as early as the fifth minute, when James Henry’s corner was prodded goalwards by Wes Thomas with Rob Dickie sweeping up the rebound.

That goal started a fine performance from Dickie, who was commanding from the back, but he and John Mousinho could have been given a more comfortable lead to protect on seven minutes, when Henry’s long-range shot hit the post.

From the first half’s midway point onwards, Oxford dropped 20-yards deeper as their performance assumed a more defensive nature. Players like Mowatt and Cameron Brannagan, who gained recognition as youngsters at Leeds and Liverpool respectively for their creative work, undertook more circumspect roles with minimal fuss.

Their discipline, along with the experience of Henry, was vital to providing the necessary protection for full-backs Todd Kane and Ashley Smith-Brown, on loan from Chelsea and Man City respectively. The duo had tendencies, natural for players who have spent long periods with Premier League development squads, to overplay unnecessarily in certain areas, which didn’t always help the Yellows' cause.

What did though was the second half goal from Henry, who capitalized on some good work from the impressive Ledson to stride forward and finish off a counter-attacking move. Poor defending from a corner saw Oxford allow their opponents back in the contest one moment later, but they managed the game well thereon.

Their stubborn collective efforts, as well as clinical finishing, gave them a victory that leaves them six points clear of the bottom four, reducing the pressure on the new manager – whoever that might be. Should Karl Robinson take to the hot-seat, as he is currently heavy odds-on favourite to do, he may want to see more from his players in terms of creativity, but Derek Fazackerley deserves credit for assembling the basics: 11 players fighting for the same cause.

Evans suffers first defeat as Posh boss

While Peterborough United fans were delighted to win their first two games under Steve Evans’ tutelage, their 1-0 victory at Bury – and even to an extent the preceding 4-1 triumph over Charlton – were not of a dominant nature.

Evans likes his sides to play with quality, but the extent to which that quality shines depends solely on the focal point that leads the attack. His Rotherham United outfit that won promotion to the Championship in 2014 had Alex Revell – an experienced target man – while his Mansfield side this season was spearheaded by Danny Rose – a selfless runner who is surprisingly good in the air.

As impressive as Jack Marriott has been for Peterborough – as testified by his goal return of 23, seven more than League One’s second top scorer – he doesn't represent the archetypal Evans front-man.

After some poor defending from a corner saw Posh deservedly fall behind early on, the injured Jermaine Anderson was replaced by Omar Bogle, who partnered Marriott up top. Bogle possesses all the physical attributes to, in theory, be a suitable partner for the marksmen, but the determination with which he attacks loose balls could be questioned.

Most strikers who have played in non-league, where Bogle once impressed for Solihull Moors, play with an extra fire in their belly but that quality appears lacking in the ex-Grimsby star. It is reasonable to conclude therefore that while Peterborough have the right man in Evans, who has won plenty of promotions throughout his career, he may need some time to tweak the squad.

The Glaswegian might hope to address the full-back areas – the positioning of Liam Shephard and Andrew Hughes at times invited scrutiny – as Posh looked vulnerable on the break, for which they were punished by going two-goals down just after the hour mark.

Marriott hit back moments later following a corner – and the striker mishit one or two half-chances in the latter stages – but those openings came either from Oxford’s naivety or an individual flash of magic from Marcus Maddison. It will take Evans and Paul Raynor time, therefore, to turn Peterborough into a well-oiled attacking unit that plays in sync with one another for sustained periods.

Promotion this season has been the self-proclaimed aim, but in reality, a challenge for the Championship might have to wait another year.

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Graham Westley
Graham Westley
(Stevenage)
16th February
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