I was at the last three league meetings with Oxford, all of which we drew 1-1, and although an away draw would be a decent result today, I'm hoping for more. We've kept a clean sheet in six out of the last seven matches and have shown that we're quite capable of scoring tasty goals too so I reckon we might well win again today. Last season it took me an eternity to get back to the centre of Oxford from the stadium, which is way off the map, and the prospect of trudging for ages with Storm Dennis lashing down on me after a miserable defeat is unthinkable. Oxford have only won one of their last five games but they've scored more goals than us this season so we'll have our work cut out to stop them. It seems that Maguire will be back in the squad and he's of course crucial but I imagine we'll have the same starting line-up as Tuesday. I'll be setting off in half an hour to catch the train from Paddington for a couple of pre-match drinks with an old mate who lives in the Oxford area. Match prediction: 2-1 to us.
The storm was really starting to kick in when I got to Oxford so we took shelter in a posh bar by the canal. It was the kind of place where they give you the change on a little tray and expect a tip. After a Guinness or two we hopped on a bus to the ground availing ourselves of our Freedom Passes – there are a few benefits to getting old. When we arrived, we had to do a complete circumnavigation of the stadium in heavy rain because the jobsworths wouldn't let us through a gate that they'd just opened anyway. We took our seats amid the familiar faces of the London Branch and awaited developments. We had great seats in Row BB and right in the middle of the stand. As there's only three sides to the stadium it allowed a very cold wind to blast from our right hand side.
Maguire was starting and the side was unchanged, as expected. We didn't have to wait long for some action as after two minutes we won a corner on the left and from Maguire's kick it was headed into the net to put us ahead. As often there was confusion among the fans as to who'd actually scored it and at first the word was Willis but later it was said to be an OG by Mousinho. We were battling for every ball and showing considerable fighting spirit. I'd just been extolling the qualities of Wright to my mate when he promptly played a dodgy back-pass and put us in trouble. The danger was cleared but Oxford started to press more without creating a real scoring chance. Agyei was looking a handful, though, with his speedy runs and we'd have to watch him. Around the twenty-fifth minute word went round that Rotherham were losing 1-0 to the Wombles and that was all to the good. The ref, Kevin Johnson, was letting Oxford get away with too many wrestling holds on Wyke but surely he couldn't keep ignoring them... It went from end to end for the rest of the half with neither side coming up with any serious goal-attempts. Oxford won a corner on stoppage-time but we got it away and that was that. It'd been raining and blowing hard so far but the weather seemed to have been waiting for the half-time whistle to blow as it proceeded to switch into overdrive and I wondered how that would affect the second-half.
Oxford started the second period like they meant business and we were on the back-foot for the first ten minutes or so with McLaughlin being forced into a great save, tipping over a long-distance shot five minutes in. The lad in front of me who'd been sporting a short-sleeved shirt so far was forced to don his jacket so Dennis was clearly getting to him. The Oxford fans finally came to life after they'd had a penalty shout ignored by the ref – mind you he seemed oblivious to a lot of offences. Just before the hour-mark Scowen a.k.a. The Rat made his appearance, coming on for Gooch, and he proceeded to impress me with his tenacity and deft passes. McLaughlin had to punch away another corner and I was checking my watch at increasingly regular intervals. For some reason, possibly an injury I'd missed, Oxford took off Agyei who'd been their most dangerous player so I wasn't going to question why. We'd fought back and started to create some serious scoring chances but low crosses from Maguire and then O'Nien went begging. I thought Oxford had equalized midway through the half but the header had hit the side-netting. Cue obligatory wanking gestures towards the Oxford fans to our left. A Flanagan header did the same thing at the other end not long afterwards. Wyke was getting some stick from some fans around me and he was being slow to ball but he kept hassling till the end. Wright had to go off injured with about ten minutes left and I was pleased to see Oz come on. I'd been hoping to see Lafferty come on for Wyke but when he did finally make an appearance, it was to replace Maguire and he does seem prone to giving away unnecessary free-kicks. Five minutes of stoppage-time were announced, not surprisingly given Wright's injury, and it was a definite cliff-hanger as Oxford kept plugging away but the whistle finally went and it was another great win.
Once again, we've ground out a 1-0 win in a tough match. Last season we would've drawn this game.