By Gary Prewett.
Bristol Rovers will take the short journey to face a Managerless Oxford United this weekend looking to get their form back on track after suffering defeat at home to Shrewsbury Town last weekend. Having sacked Manager Pep Clotet at the end of last month United have taken their time in appointing a successor and judging by the names being touted as the possible replacement it is a much sought after position.
Liverpool academy coach Michael Beale is the latest name to be linked having met U’s chairman Darryl Eales earlier this week. Craig Bellamy has also been linked with the job and when asked about it said, “It’s no secret that I have always wanted to become a manager. It doesn’t bother me what league. I want it to be a good club with good owners, someone that is going to back you and give you time.”
Another potential candidate Jim Magilton, a former Oxford player. Others mentioned include,
Sol Campbell, Frank Lampard and Paul Ince.
On Saturday, with Derek Fazackerley in charge, United went behind at Charlton in the 63rd-minute when Tariqe Fosu pressured the visiting defence into a failed clearance. The loose ball fell to Josh Magennis and as he was about to shoot shot he was brought down, but Ahmed Kashi gained control of the ball, and slotted it into the bottom left corner, beating the diving Simon Eastwood.
13 minutes later the scores were level as James Henry, received a ball from Malachi Napa and hammered it into the bottom left corner. Almost immediately Magennis restored the Addicks lead receiving Jay Dasilva’s left-wing cross and converting from close in.
With the game drawing to a close and all three points heading to South London, debutant Todd Kane made it 2-2 with a powerful shot but there was more to come from the U’s. In the fourth minute of stoppage time, Isaac Buckley-Ricketts pulled the ball back to Ryan Ledson, who calmly sidefooted the ball home to secure a remarkable victory.
Stand in Boss Fazackerley was under pressure before the game kicked-off as players were injured and he was forced to improvise, “You almost have a ‘what if’ situation and it was something we had considered before the game. What we had planned fortunately worked out. It doesn’t often, of course. They’ve all got pace, great feet and dribbling ability. They showed that when they’ve got the ball in the final third they are capable of creating things.”
“We wanted a performance in terms of honesty, integrity, humility, hunger, desire; I thought they showed that. Had we not won the game there was still a lot to be pleased with, but it’s nice for the players to get rewarded, because it gives them a little bit of belief.”
“We keep giving ourselves mountains to climb, but today we were able to climb the mountain. We know that’s not going to happen every week and it’s something we have to seriously look at ourselves for, it’s not the first time we’ve spoken about it. It’s not the second, third or fourth and it’s been going on for some considerable time.”
Looking at the history of games between the teams, there have been 53 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 21, United 19 and 13 draws.
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 ex-Gas player 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 Eliot 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.
Rovers have a great record at the Kassam Stadium having not lost there since 2011, taking maximum points from their last four visits.
Speaking ahead of this weekend’s clash Fazackerley has commented, “We definitely want the same hunger, desire and application that we took away from the Valley. If we can do that it gives us a far better chance of achieving a result, and we want to get a home result so we can build momentum between now and the end of the season. A win in football puts a smile on everybody’s face and maybe makes people concentrate and work on things that little bit harder with a focus that hopefully gets you a result.”
“Jon (Obika) probably won’t be ready for the weekend but will be back in training next week, but Wes (Thomas) has been training again since yesterday and will train on Thursday and Friday so we are hopeful he will be OK. Agon Mehmeti has trained all week and should be available again.”
Those injuries last week meant that youngster Malachi Napa led the line for much of the game and the United boss admits that Napa’s energy gives him plenty to think about ahead of Saturday.
“Malachi (Napa) is a great lad who comes in with a smile every day and just seeing him lifts people’s mood because he plays with a really good spirit. He had a spell away at Hampton and Richmond which helped his development, absolutely no doubt about that; it prepared him more for senior football and he has taken his opportunity with both hands, which gives me a selection headache in particular.”
Speaking specifically about the challenge posted by Rovers he noted “We have mirrored each other over the last few years. It will be a different sort of game to the one at Charlton. They tend to be more direct and it will be physically testing but these are the sort of tests you have to come through and it’s one we will be more than ready for.”