In a match that lived up to the “derby” part of its “Donald Derby” labelling in terms of tetchiness and clattering tackles, we had to show character to come from behind once again to claim a solitary point. Discipline was sadly lacking as Oxford got in our faces and we rose to their bait, giving the referee decisions to make which he struggled to get right, and when a calmer response would have frustrated the visitors. 1-1, but most of the 32,000+ crowd (Charlie’s challenge met again) were relieved rather than frustrated with the draw.
Much had been made during the week of Charlie’s Challenge to get 32,000 into the ground for today’s Donald Derby, and it’s the sort of challenge that we fans are relishing at the moment, what with news of 6,000+ tickets being available for our trip to Coventry and the general mood of optimism. Since last we met, the opposition have been out of the league, and climbed back up with backing from a certain Mr S. Donald of that parish. With them being the childhood (and adult hood, until now) team of he and Charlie, it makes for an interesting test of loyalties.
We’ve been reminded that last time Oxford played in front of a crowd this big they lost 7-0 (Bridges 2, Dichio 2, Rae 2, Gray) but we’ve tried not to make too much of that. Not very hard, though – which appears still be a lot harder than Ndong and Djilibodji have been trying to get away from Wearside. You’d think they’d want to start earning/getting paid again, but the longer they remain away from training and playing, the less likely another team is going to see them as worth taking a chance on. Their intransigence meant that Jack couldn’t bring in the extra forward we needed to make it two for every position, but much talk on the way through was about the other end of the pitch – would Ross choose Flanagan alongside Baldwin, a similar player, or bring in Ozturk, who, as he showed at Wimbledon, is more likely to stand his ground and indulge in an aerial battle against sizable opposition? Would he start Oviedo, by far the best left back in this division?
Yes, yes, he would.
After some wise words from Kieron Brady in the Fanzone and Charlie, we lined up in the sunshine:
Love Ozturk Baldwin Oviedo
Maguire Honeyman Power Gooch
With us facing south, Oxford, backed by a colourful and noisy Upper North Stand, started the proceedings and quickly imposed themselves on the game, allowing us little time on the ball. Far from the passing game that has brought us success this season, out only "out ball" seemed to be 40 yard scoops by Ozturk to Maja's head. As at Wimbledon, he wasn't allowed to turn and we couldn't progress. Oxford dragged a shot wide of McLaughlin's left hand post and we tried to gather our thoughts, but Honeyman tested the ref with a tackle so early that he cleaned his opponent out with his hip. Perhaps a yellow then would have prevented some of the nonsense that followed. Perhaps not.
Maguire was booked for something off the ball that most of us missed up by the tunnel, escaped with a yellow, and players on both sides were getting agitated. Especially some of those in red and white, as Oxford implemented their game plan of trying to rattle us. Not to dissimilar to Wimbledon, but without the huge forwards to knock the ball in to, but unlike Wimbledon, where we’d taken to wind-up stuff without retaliation, we basically lost our rag in midfield. Chief protagonist here was Maguire, who, as a former Oxford player and someone who I’d singled out as being important to us this season as he knows how to rattle opponents, should have been intent on showing them what they’d lost. Instead, he started to giving away fouls, and, even after his yellow, testing the referee’s patience. The poor (and I mean that in both senses of the word) official wasn’t helped by Oxfords “feel a touch, go down, and stay down” approach, and began waving his yellow card about. McLaughlin had produced a decent save to palm a shot around his left-hand post when Catts was adjudged to have fouled an opponent not far outside the box with fifteen gone. Yellow for that, I think. Holmes, who’d been pulling the strings for the visitors, hit a curler a yard above the turf and McLaughlin could only palm it against the inside of the post on its way into the net.
A blow, but no more than t=Oxford deserved, as we’d failed to get the ball into their box in the opening spell and had failed to build anything that resembled a passing move. It got worse not long after, when Power flew into a challenge – I use the term loosely – near the halfway line to send an opponent flying, in full view of the ref, and the red card was straight out. It was far from the most dangerous foul of the afternoon, but for sheer stupidity was fully deserving of the outcome. We’ll have to see if it ends there, as the Oxford bench had a go at him as he passed, he responded, and Shaun Derry, their coach, was sent to the stands. The crowd, who’d responded to the opening goal in what is becoming typical fashion this season, urged the remaining ten men to get up and get on with it, and they tried.
Ozturk, up for a corner, headed over the top, and Maja was beaten by the keeper in a chase for a through ball as we created a little bit, while at the other end there were a couple of Sunday morning scrambles as we threw bodies and boots in the way of the ball. A miscommunication between McLaughlin and Oviedo saw the fullback allow the ball to nicked off his toe and havoc to ensue in the middle, but we got away with it.
More tackles flew in, with Maguire in particular pushing his luck, and we counted down the three added minutes in the hope that we’d end the half with ten men. We did, just, and after 48 minutes of a game spicier than a vindaloo with extra chilli, were relieved to go in only one behind.
It’s an understatement to say that a change, or changes, were necessary. Ross made the most obvious one, removing Maguire from the line of fire before he was sent from it, and putting on Charlie Wyke. He and Maja took up positions out on the left as we prepared to kick off, and that’s where the ball went – but to Maja. At well over six feet tall, with shoulders as wide as a family car and no-nonsense black boots, Wyke quickly showed that he is exactly the sort of forward we’ve been missing since the days of Kevin Kyle. His first challenge for a high ball left the centre-half in a heap and wondering what had just happened, and the second wasn’t much different. At last, someone who could make opposing central defenders think twice before committing to a challenge, and it made a big difference. With two up front for a while, we worked the Oxford defence much more, and even when Maja, as expected, dropped deeper, we had a target up front.
McGeouch had been warming up for a while, and had his shirt on ready to replace, we thought, Gooch. Out American had been doubled up on all afternoon, as Oxford had obviously done their homework and denied him the space to twist and turn to provide ammunition – a job made easier with their man advantage. Anyhow, he managed to wriggle between his markers and get into the corner of the box to fire in a low, hard shot across the goal, and it went just inside the far post. Wyke wheeled away, having applied the faintest, but most vital, touch, and suddenly we were back in it with forty minutes to go.
The crowd roared the Lads on, and we nearly went ahead when Gooch took a free out on the right, clipping it back to Love, who shot towards the near post only for Catts to deflect it just the wrong side of the woodwork. Close, and it got even closer when Ovideo’s cross found Maja ten yards out, but the pass was probably too good, if that makes sense, as it arrived right at the striker’s feet rather than a yard in front, and the first-time effort went wide. He probably had time to tack a touch, but he chose not to, and we were still level. Honeyman was on the receiving end of the worst foul of the game as their man went over the top in the same spot that saw Power’s last contribution, but only a yellow was produced – it’s that inconsistency that gets people upset, and the ref showed again that he was a bit overawed by the occasion when he allowed to George to remain on the field after he’d had the vinegar and brown paper applied.
Love pulled up injured after chasing upfield, but looked to have recovered, and McGeouch replaced Maja with about fifteen to go, and we adopted a simple 4-4-1 formation with Gooch and Honeyman wide and Catts and McGeouch in the middle. James came on for Love a few minutes later, and we kept the visitors on the back foot for most of the remainder, although we still had to defend well. Ozturk was winning the high balls, and Baldwin produced a couple of very good tackles – the sort you don’t see in the Prem, as they involve going to ground and taking a chance on getting hurt. Oviedo incurred the wrath of the Oxford bench when he tried to hook the ball away from his opponent but only succeeded in kneeing him in the stomach. Just to keep it lively, I suppose. The final ten saw us sitting a little deeper - settling for a point? Probably, and you can hardly blame Ross for that. Four added minutes were announced, we saw them out, and came away sort of satisfied under the circumstances. At half time we’d have taken a point, what with Oxford upsetting our rhythm and playing some decent stuff. Look, it’s September and we haven’t lost yet.
Man of the Match? I’d say Baldwin, who, alongside the equally effective Ozturk, denied the visiting forwards with a series of impressive tackles, and carried the ball out of defence well.
After our first team get to have a go in the Checkatrade Trophy, it’s Joey Barton next. Watch out for more fireworks.