By Gerry PrewettOn Sunday in the first match of a Football League double-header Bristol Rovers take on Oxford United in a 12:15pm kick-off, live on Sky Sports.
In what is always an entertaining encounter both teams have started the season on the front foot.
As Rovers were losing their long standing undefeated away record at Leyton Orient, the U’s were setting up a 2-0 home win over the hapless Yeovil Town. After just 14 minutes Callum O'Dowda's back post cross reached Danny Hylton, who headed in from just outside the six yard box. Hylton saw another shot on the turn deflect wide and Kemar Roofe had a powerful drive saved by Arthur Krysiak.
On 75 minutes a powerful run and pass from Hylton returned the early favour to O'Dowda who duly made the game safe for the home team.
Hylton’s goal was his 20th for the club and he is enjoying his time at Oxford, “Whilst I’m playing I love it and obviously I’m enjoying it more now that we’re winning. As long as that continues I will always play with a smile on my face and as long as I’m bringing something to the team I’m happy.”
“There’s no better job in the world, you’re playing football with your friends and there’s a really good buzz around. We’ve got fans singing the team songs the whole game.
We’ve got a belief here and as long as we’re playing with a smile on our face it’s a good thing. It means we’re enjoying it and doing well and believe we can do something.”
Looking at the history of games between the teams, there have been 48 meetings since Oxford first entered the League back in the mid 1960’s, replacing Accrington Stanley. In terms of results the games between the teams have been remarkably even over the years with Rovers winning 18, United 17 and 13 draws. In all respects it’s the home teams who dominate in these fixtures with 5 United away wins and 7 Rovers away wins.
The first game between the two teams was played on 18th September 1965 at Eastville. There were four goals scored, all by Jones, one by Oxford’s Tony, but the star of the day was Rovers’ Bobby who bagged a hat-trick.
However my vivid memory of that day was the Oxford custodian, Harry Fearnley who was smoking during the game! He used to rush into the back of his net whilst play was at the other end and have a quick puff. Also in the Oxford team was "Big Fat" Ron Atkinson, who the Evening Post noted failed to keep a tight grip on Bobby Jones.
The most goals scored in a Rovers’ home game was a stunning 6-2 win at the end of the 2000-01 relegation season, which ended up being meaningless as Rovers’ season fell apart at the death. That 2 goal haul was only the second time the U’s have managed two goals on Rovers territory. However the next time they registered that number at the Mem was in 2002-03 season when they secured a 2-0 win.
Rovers have not beaten the U’s at home since 2 October 2004, when they won 2-0, with a Junior Agogo double. Since then there have been three draws and an opening day defeat.
United opened the scoring on 21 minutes, Adam Chapman fed the ball into Jake Forster-Caskey, who turned and shot on the edge of the area. Alfie Potter doubled Oxford’s lead just after the half hour mark, after a slip from Michael Smith near the half way line. The Oxford winger made a great solo run, and slotted the ball home past Walker in the Rovers goal, which saw Rovers season open with a 2-0 loss. The most recent contest came in the 2013/14 campaign, and finished 1-1. James Constable scored Oxford’s goal, before John-Joe O’Toole netted a late equaliser.
So far this season United have picked up wins against Yeovil and Notts County, as well as drawing against Luton, Crawley Town and Mansfield Town and are currently 5th in the table, two places above Rovers.
United Manager Michael Appleton is happy none of his players were nominated for a monthly award as he seeks to keep Oxford United under the radar. The Yeovil victory on Saturday ensured the U’s finished August unbeaten, stretching their run without a league defeat to 13 games.
Danny Hylton and Kemar Roofe shared eight goals between them, but neither they nor anyone else in the squad made the four-man shortlist for August’s player of the month award in Sky Bet League Two. Appleton, who was not included in the contenders for the manager’s prize, was pleased with the news. He said: “The less people are talking about us the better from my point of view. Within the community of fans, players and staff, I think we’re all quietly confident about how we’re doing it.”
“As long as that remains throughout the period of the season that’s the most important thing. Outside of Oxfordshire there’s not that many people talking about us and I quite like that.
“We’re just doing our business and trying to win games to stay in the fight.”