Gerry Prewett takes a detailed look at Oxford United.
After securing their club record breaking 6th draw in a row on Tuesday evening at Bolton, Bristol Rovers face another tough game as they face in-form Oxford United. On Wednesday United secured an EFL Final spot at Wembley after defeating Luton 3-2 at Kenilworth Road.
With 5 victories and just one defeat in the last 6 league games the U’s have shot up the table in recent weeks. Last weekend they visited Chesterfield and after missing out on two early chances they went ahead on 17 minutes. Toni Martinez got a ball into Rob Hall, who scored from close range. Then with 36 minutes gone Hall turned up provider to put in Conor McAleny, whose shot from the edge of the area beat Thorsten Stuckmann all ends up.
On the hour the U’s put the game to bed as McAleny’s 25-yard shot beat Stuckmann's once again. Just nine minutes later McAlney completed his hat-tick from just inside the area.
The U’s Boss Michael Appleton was pleased that his team didn’t let up on an obviously beaten opponent, “My message at half-time was ‘let’s not be happy with 2-0’. You can’t afford to feel sorry for teams and you can’t take your foot off the gas. They never did that. If anything I can be over-critical and say we weren’t ruthless enough, but it’s difficult to say that after a 4-0 win.”
Talking about his team’s push for promotion Appleton commented, “The only pressure is on the people above us and we’ve just got to keep applying it. We’ve got 14 games left and we need at least eight wins. It’s still a big ask because of the amount of games we’ve got in March, but if we keep the players fit they are capable of it.”
Looking at the history of games between the teams, there have been 51 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 20, United 18 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. Of course last season both games ended in single goal 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.
It was Rovers who, until recently, had never scored more than 2 goals, but they had scored 2 on 7 occasions. Rovers’ worst defeat at Oxford, until the 6-1 thrashing in 2010/11 in the Coca-Cola Cup, was a 4-1 loss on only their second visit to the ground on 2 February 1967. Alfie Biggs was Rovers’ scorer, with doubles by Grahame Atkinson and Mick Morris for the U’s.
Rovers’ next visit, only 7 months later, was much more productive, a mid-week 2-0 victory with goals by Harold Jarman and an own goal by John Shuker sent the Eastville faithful home happy.
It wasn’t until September 1995 that the victory was to be repeated when the two Marcus’s, Browning and Stewart scoring past Timmy Carter in the U’s goal and Chris Allen scoring for the home team in a 2-1 win for the Gas. Back in 1982 and 1983 Rovers played two Boxing Day games at the Manor, scored 2 goals in both and lost both, 4-2 and 3-2 respectively.
Rovers had a remarkable spell at Oxford between 1995 and 2002. They played there five times, won four and drew the other game. Amongst those victories was a 5-0 thumping, with a hat-trick from Jamie Cureton a Robbie Pethick goal and another by Nathan Ellington, on 22nd January 2000, which looked as though it had set Rovers on the path to promotion.
In the 2012/13 game at the Kassam Rovers took the lead on 54 minutes. The ball was played up to Ryan Brunt, who cut into the area where he was brought down by Oxford skipper Jake Wright.
Brown stepped up to send Luke McCormick the wrong way with his spot-kick, but the referee had seen a player encroaching into the area and ordered the penalty to be retaken. Brown kept his nerve, and put his spot kick in the same place as the first, with McCormick again going the wrong way.
Rovers wrapped things up in stoppage time. Once again Brunt was fouled and, as the Oxford defenders switched off David Clarkson found Richards with a quick free kick. The young striker did the rest, running through on goal and beating McCormick in a one on one situation.
Despite scoring four at Chesterfield, U’s skipper for the night Joe Skarz was happier with his team’s sixth clean sheet in their last nine league games, “I told the lads in the huddle before the game if we kept it tight at the back and got our creative players on the ball, we’d win the game.”
“I’ve played in games where I’ve felt as Chesterfield did, like the opposition has an extra man. You have to enjoy it and when you have the attacking players we’ve got, then our job as defenders is to give them the ball and let them do what they do best. The clean sheet to us is like Conor’s hat-trick.”
“We’ve got No 12 now and we want to try and get the most clean sheets in the league this season. It feels as though we’re playing away from home like we did last year. Sometimes you’ll be under pressure, but that’s when a lot of us are calmest. We know we can hit teams on the counter-attack. It’s all going well, but football can turn in an instant. We’ve just got to keep preparing well and see where it takes us.”