Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Not enough - the Mighty vs Oxford United

Here we go again. Somehow the end of winter seems to have appeared from nowhere in the distance. The gold coast is endless blue sky. There's even a hint of warmth in the air. 

Neil 'thrills 'n' spills' Critchley has picked a team I like. It's got balance and pace. 

I've had a bit of a week. I could really do with a belting game of football and 3 points at the end of it. It's not that such a thing will make any material difference to anything, it's just that it's nice to get lost in something and life is better with a bit of joy in it than not. 


It's quite clear that we're quite well matched with Oxford. It's all hard pressing and snarling at each other. Albie Morgan looks really good early on. He's combining passing the ball about with doing tackling like a proper midfielder might. Cameron Brannagan is anonymous so far. I hate him. He's like the pivot on the seesaw - until his stupid pond based u-turn everything seemed on an upward trajectory and then as if somehow his rejection ate away at the very confidence of the club like acid, it's mostly been a bit shit since. 

Morgan hits a swerving shot that wobbles and spins wide. C'mon Pool. Lavery runs very hard and very fast at their defence. They don't like it. He has an effort turned over for a corner. The atmosphere is good. We're playing hard and we're taking it to them.

Kaddy cuts inside, fakes a shot, glides past a defender, shoots for real and somehow the ball doesn't go in. It seems to pass through the netting, to dematerialise and reappear the wrong side of the post.

Joseph shows lovely skill to back in and control the ball. Madine would have been proud of that. Joseph shows a pace and drive that Madine could only dream of as he squares it to Lavery. Another corner. It's swung right across the box. Norburn puts it back in with a tatty volley on the bounce. Suddenly space open up right at the heart of their defence and there's Pennington bundling the ball into the goal and we're in front! It's on... This is us now. A deserved goal against a decent team that we've pretty much dominated. So much for doom and gloom and the season being over. The ground is bouncing. YES! 

Oh, for fucks sake! Pool! Just fuck off. That lasted about a minute or something. Oxford just fucking score. It's one of those really fucking shit goals that concede all the time where they just do a thing that isn't particularly clever or even that dangerous seeming. The ball bounces about, they score and we all stand around shouting for offside looking hurt and upset. Brannagan is giving it big to the North after he was regaled with charming chants as he took the catalytic corner. I hate football. 

The game goes into a bit of a trough. Their pond lover smacks a good effort a tiny bit wide. We almost force a ridiculous own goal when Lavery, who has spooked their centre back without managing to break him, chases a lost cause, forces a header back to the keeper which is misjudged completely, loops up and over the goalie, everyone chases it back as if running after a pram that is rolling free down an embankment towards a busy road... Lavery looks favourite for a split second but in the collision that ensues, the keeper manages to extend his arms and dive forward to claim it. 

Marvin pulls off a ridiculous save to keep us level. By save, I do mean save as well, after Oxford piss about with it to a ludicrous extent, managing to fall over the ball and exchange three unhindered passes in our box, they look odds on to tap it home at the far post but Ekpiteta flings himself and appears from nowhere to block the ball at the near post with Grimmy stranded nowhere near the situation. 


It's deflating. We started pretty well but an equaliser knocked the strut out of our step and we lost the initial verve we played with. 


There's quite a lot of minutes in the second half that tick by with not a lot happening. Oxford don't seem that arsed about scoring but we don't seem too bothered either. Someone shoots down the throat of the keeper (possibly Coulson) and the fella behind me helpfully suggests he tries missing the goalie next time. 

We're in charge of the game but we don't make a whole lot of it. Norburn has a great chance to slide us in but chooses to chip the ball to nobody instead in a fit of needless elaboration. We're not getting much joy on the flanks and Lavery is tiring. Just as I'm starting to mutter a bit internally, Morgan swings in a free kick, Pennington rises and somehow the keeper dives and kind of pats the ball up in the air and manages to get to the falling ball before it drops over the line. It's a great stop. 

The North stand is belting out the songbook. Behind me, a tiny kid is at their first game and she's bouncing in time to the Dembele chant as it rings out over and over. Hooked for life it seems. Poor thing. 

We change things both in terms of shape and personnel. Wonder kid Rob Apter comes on and his dynamic feet and fearlessness make a real difference. As the energy and intent of the early part of the game fades, what a player to come on and really make an impact... It's such a joy to see us putting our faith in one of our kids to have an impact. Actually, as you know, that's literally never happened and today was of course, no exception.  

What does happen though is, the best Kylian bar none in world football, the best CJ I'm aware of in world football and the best George Byers on loan from Sheffield Wednesday in world football all come on. Byers looks quite tidy. He has a kind of Dougall-esque desire to get really close to the players he's tackling. CJ makes a bit of a difference, his pace posing a threat that Gabriel didn't, though his crosses don't really find anyone. 

The ref makes some seemingly random decisions. Nothing he does has any consistency at all other than he seems to like yellow more than tangerine. 

The best bit of the game comes when Kylian doesn't so much roll his man as steamroller him in slow motion, the defender reduced to a cartoon figure, flattened by a massive wheel, spun round and spat out in 2 dimensions as the big man heads for goal after recieving the ball with his back to it. It comes to nothing, but it's a joy to behold. 

Then Oxford almost score, a ball fizzed in from their right. Marvin clearly isn't keen on another own goal, Pennington has assumed Marv is going to deal with it and Grimmy is assuming either of them will. It's a horrifying moment as the ball inexplicably gets past 3 perfectly good candidates to stop it and an Oxford lad stoops at the far post but thankfully smacks it off the inside of the woodwork and away. 

We end the game with three corners. They're all decent balls in, hanging, in swinging but headed, punched and fought away and that final flurry is that. 


It was a decent game. It wasn't three points. I don't know what it is this season but we're definitely lacking something. One moment I noticed seemed to typify us. We had a break on the right. We didn't capitalise on it fully. We came back inside and once that moment had gone, we never really seemed likely to make another moment as everyone fell into a predictable pattern in terms of shape and the sequence of passing. The players executed the original intent well, but when the situation didn't run entirely to plan we didn't seem to have another bit of collective creativity within us.  

All too often we seem to dwell for a touch too long or to reject the simple pass. We play well for periods but we run out of steam. Not having Lavery to replace Lavery who can't play with the required intensity for long enough is problematic as is the fact that Dembele is the one player with real guile and craft (Morgan aside) and his magic feet alone aren't enough to do it every week. 

It isn't a performance such as today that is why we're not where we would want to be. We did ok. There were, however, enough elements in our failure to take three points to remind us of the overall issues. We had some shaky moments at the back, we had spells where we seemed hesitant and unable to move the ball at pace and we didn't make enough of our attacking situations. 

It's not over, but it's starting to feel a bit like whatever we do, it's not going to be enough. I liked this variation on the endlessly repeating theme of 532 and I think the fundamental strengths of the players involved aren't the main problem but our inability to change shape and adapt to games as we go is. Oxford 'game managed' us to a point relatively easily and it's not the first time I've left feeling as if we didn't necessarily leave it all out there. The basic effort wasn't in doubt, but perhaps the nous is questionable. 

We need an away week like we've not managed all year now... It would be typical of us to manage it and rekindle the agony of hope. 


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