Guest post by Irons1959
Oxford United v West Ham United Carabao Cup September 25th 2019
With the previous round being held in Newport just a few miles from where my West Ham ST holding sister now lives it almost seemed destiny that the next round was held somewhere equally convenient for me as an away fixture. I was brought up in Oxford living close enough to the old Manor ground to walk there in half hour and my mother still lives there. The laughably incomplete Kassam stadium has a whole side missing as well as a corner. From my seat I could see across the end where there is no stand to a local Vue Cinema. By half way through the second half the doubtful attractions of “Rambo, Last Blood” might have called me away from what was happening on the pitch.My first matches were at the Manor ground when Oxford were a lower league side and I remember a league cup match against the Wolves of the Derek Dougan era. (Derek; now there’s a name you don’t see in schools alongside the endless Harrys!)
I also saw the testimonial of George Eastham (Stoke), which was, bizarrely, held at Oxford under the pretext that Stoke’s opponents were an Oxford “All Stars” team. Believe me, Oxford had no stars in those days. In my teenage years I completely lost interest in football, otherwise I might have become an Oxford supporter. Instead my money went on albums and many Reading festivals starting in 1974. In the early 80s I occasionally went to a match there plus a couple of aways including Millwall away in 1983 and Spuds away in 1985. By then I was living in Ilford, as I do now, but Oxford friends were coming up and I joined them to watch a 0-5 rout when Hoddle was in his pomp. For those of you who are younger it was very easy to go to the poorly attended matches of that era. I drove to Liverpool Street, picked up my friends and drove up Bishopsgate which eventually becomes Tottenham high road, before parking close to the ground and buying away tickets at the turnstiles with no problem. As the 80s went on I got more and more into West Ham, seeing my first match in 1983 and getting my ST in the second division years of Macari and Bonds as the 80s became the 90s.
Anyway, I digress so back to Wednesday night. No chance of a ticket in our end but I have kept up with many Oxford school friends so a mate from my late 1960s primary school days who is a ST holder there got one for me and another for my sister. A nice touch was not being searched even as an away fan. The bleak Kassam stadium area is sandwiched on a route between the old British Leyland car works and my old secondary school which is so rough that a former colleague who did teacher training in Oxford around 2000 and her friends prayed that it would not be their school for teaching practice. That area and where my mum lives both featured heavily on the national news during the plague of joy riding and burning stolen cars in the early 1990s. Time to get back to the football …
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I have made a point of not going on WHTID since before the match. The 11 selected to start were, similarly to the 11 who started v AFC Wimbledon earlier this year, certainly capable of beating their opponents 9/10 times IF THEY PLAYED TOGETHER REGULARLY. Personally I would have liked to see a stronger line up but with Anderson and Haller available as back ups I saw no great reason to be concerned. As the match got under way home fans around me were concerned how easily Wiltshire waltzed through the middle and HOW easily Fornals cut through on the left. When his crosses arrived we needed more than Ajeti to go for them and it would have been a night made for Antonio. When BSB called me for an update early on I thought we were having slightly the better of it but soon Oxford were getting more shots off, even though they were pretty wayward. Then a free kick from Oxford hit the bar and, as I said to BSB at half time the game was even. Despite all the wailing I assume went on our various forums it was very much up to what happened next, and there was no reason that we had to lose. Watching our attacks on the right hand side below was not pretty in the first half with no Fredericks or Yarmolenko. I thought this game would be made for Snodgrass but he chugged up the right with their defender ambling next to him for company. As everyone in football, including Oxford united, know he was never going to burst for the byline and cross it with his right so it was just a matter of shielding him towards the centre; Arjen Robben he ain’t …
Early on in the second half Roberto received a poorly hit back pass and sliced it horribly, though not quite as badly as Brian Deane for West Brom’s 4th goal in the 2003-4 season. Soon after Oxford scored, and as 35 minutes were left and Haller immediately came on I thought we would grind out a functional win as we did at Newport. Although Roberto flapped at times he also made two superb fingertip saves and I am not sure any of the goals were directly his fault. With four very decent defenders in front of him as well I would, despite the final score, look far more at the collective failings of our midfield and attack. We only had one meaningful shot in the first half and a decent headed chance late on when the game was long over. Snodgrass I have mentioned, Holland was so anonymous, and Wiltshire was subbed far too late when he had long run out of steam. Fornals played pretty well and Ajeti received little service, while lacking the hold up physicality of Haller. Some are writing him off already but he needs to be seen playing among a first eleven more often to make that call. (Haller’s arrival signified better hold up play but not much more threat on goal.) When Oxford were two up Anderson and then Noble came on but neither had enough time to make a significant impact. With men committed forward for obvious reasons an Oxford clearance left a one on one situation where our man (either Sanchez or Arthur, I think) fell over and the Oxford man only had the keeper to beat from just past the half way line.
First goals matter a lot psychologically, (would the Wimbledon FA cup match have ended up as it did if Hernandez had scored rather than hitting the post?!), and we just didn’t threaten the Oxford goal in a meaningful way. After being indifferent in the first half their early second half goal boosted their morale, improved their play and led to their deserved victory. Given that Sunderland are in the next round Oxford might be worth a small a bet for the quarter finals.