Opposition view: Oxford (A)

Before we look at the game, could you give us a memory from previous games against the Gas?

A good memory was the game at the Mem in 2015 which I think was on Sky – Kemar Roofe scoring a wonder goal for us in a 1-0 victory.Rovers had gone down to 10 in the first half and the ref unsurprisingly evened it up in the second just before we scored.

One of my more vivid memories following Oxford is from January 2000 at The Manor Ground, when visiting Rovers won 5-0 with a hat-trick from Jamie Cureton. After the 5th goal, rather than berating our team, Oxford fans ended up “ole-ing” the Rovers players for the last few minutes.

How has your season been going so far?

Two words – Stop Start.

We’ve had 8 postponements so far this season for a multitude of reasons, games against Crewe (twice), Doncaster (twice), Bristol Rovers, Shrewsbury and Swindon were all postponed due to issues with the opposition – Covid outbreaks, international call-ups and FA Cup involvement with the latest being Saturday just gone where Northampton had a waterlogged pitch.

The postponements seem to have followed a pattern whereby we would the previous league game and then not play the next one. The issue is summed up by the latest situation where we beat Burton on 2nd January and the Rovers match will be our first league game since. That’s three weeks without a league game. (Had Cambridge in the pizza trophy on 12th). It’s also our first home league game since Boxing Day. We got off to a shaky start taking just 6 points from the first 18.

A lot of external media put this down to a “play-off hangover”, perhaps this was some of the reason but a poor start has been the consistent feature under Karl Robinson since he took over. We somehow contrived to lose against a certain team from down the A420 in late November to throw away an almost 20 year unbeaten spell against them.

Since then we picked up our first clean sheet of the season on 1st December and have been on a 7 game unbeaten run in the league (9 in all competitions). In summary, things appear to be heading in the right direction and we can hopefully be looking up the table rather than over our shoulders.

And what would you say your ambitions are for the rest of the campaign?

After the recent run of good form and midweek results, we sit 8 points from the play-offs with 3 games in hand, and 7 points above the relegation zone with 2 games in hand.

So got to be hopeful and say a play-off charge, we’re perfectly capable of it.

How is your form coming into the game?

Won our last 4 in the league, scoring 14 and conceding 3.

Northampton (H) W4-0: Comfortable against a woeful Cobblers side.

Wimbledon (H) W2-0: Two goals in the first 25 then a resolute defensive display.

Plymouth (A) W2-3: Great away win with some fantastic wide play from the full-backs.

Burton (A) W1-5: Dominant display, scoring some very good goals and not looking troubled at the back bar a tap-in off the post.

Our last game out was a 1-0 home win over L2 Cambridge in the Pizza Trophy. Our full-backs Sam Long and Josh Ruffels, have transformed themselves into Cafu/Robert Carlos with Ruffels scoring 3 goals in the last two games, Long on the scoresheet at Plymouth and both of them providing assists.

Matty Taylor has 4 in 4 and is up to 9 for the season.

How do you think you’ll setup for our game?

It’s normally a 4-1-2-3 type formation.

Alex Gorrin sits in the holding role with 2 midfielders ahead of him. Matty Taylor is the lone striker supported by two wider players.

Robinson plays a passing game but in recent weeks, we have perhaps seen a slight tweak to getting the ball forward quicker at times, Taylor’s goal at Burton a good example of this.

Any weak links in your side?

Oxford sides seemed to have struggled against big, physical teams for as long as I remember. Teams who sit in and let us have the ball normally cause an issue too – Lincoln performed an absolute masterclass in putting 11 behind the ball and taking their only 2 chances on the opening day.

More recently, we’ve been able to adjust against the different threats faced. All the weak links from our poor start to the season have reduced, goalkeeper Simon Eastwood was dropped and his replacement Jack Stevens has kept 4 clean sheets in 7 since. I’ve mentioned the full-backs already and we’ve started scoring goals.

Who are your standout players?

Obviously you need no introduction to Matty Taylor. 13 goals in 20 starts during his loan spell last season. Move made permanent in the summer and he has 9 goals so far this season.

Mide Shodipo is a winger on loan from QPR, he has 6 goals in the league, including 4 in the last 4. At the back, Rob Atkinson and Elliott Moore have developed a really good partnership and will undoubtedly play higher in their careers.

The return to fitness of Cam Brannagan – eye injury where he faced losing his sight -and Sam Winnall mean we have good options off the bench.

Game prediction

We haven’t beaten you at home in the league since October 2011, a run of 6 games. It’s hard to look at the pizza trophy game from this season for any guidance as we made so many changes.

We won’t have played for 11 days which I’m not sure is a good or bad thing at the moment! Given our run of recent form and your past couple of results, I’d like to think we’ll have enough to win.

Where do you think you’ll be come the end of the season?

If we keep players fit (and fingers crossed we’ve had our injury crisis already), I think we’ll have a flirt with the play-offs. Whether we’re good enough to get into them, remains to be seen.

With everyone having played such different numbers of games, the table feels a little false until it all comes back even again.