Fan’s View 23/24 – No.31: Barnsley at home

Article by Paul Beasley Friday, January 26th, 2024  


With the ice putting paid to Northampton’s visit last Saturday our five games in 15 days has become four in 12. Testing times indeed. Make or break? Could end up with 12 points or none. If it was the latter there would be a strong argument that it was break. Attaining the maximum return isn’t a given that we’d made it and by making it I’m realistically thinking top six not automatic promotion. That would though very much keep us in the hunt in a very competitive league.

Barnsley come here fifth in the division having played the same games and on the same points as us. Their goal difference of plus 20 is five better than ours. They’re a form side. Unbeaten in ten league fixtures, winning six and drawing four. That’s 22 points gained. Over the same number of games we’ve collected eight points fewer. In that run the Tykes have drawn at second placed Peterborough and beaten seventh placed Stevenage at Oakwell. They’ve only lost one away game all season. That was 3-0 on 11 November at Derby.

In the gap between this and the previous FV we’ve signed Will Goodwin from Cheltenham for a reported fee of £400k. He comes injured. He last played on New Year’s Day and went off at half time. Our official site said on 19 Jan that he “has been recovering from a minor quad injury and will complete his rehabilitation with the club’s medical team before joining the squad for full training at the end of the month.” In the Oxford Mail on Monday Des Buckingham was quoted as saying ““What we’ve done is shut him down to rehab that and make sure it is right. Unfortunately, it’s going to take two weeks. That wasn’t part of the plan until that point, and the medical showed that. It’s frustrating for both the player and for us, but the pleasing thing is that the medical team have found that.”

So when will he be match ready? Will he provide the extra physicality we need up front to create more chances, score more goals and enable us to battle for the ball and hold it up to relieve pressure when we’re under the cosh and a long clearance is the sensible option? Time will tell. He’s still only 21 years old.

This season could be gone before we know it.

We’ve also had that headline in the OM – “Oxford United stadium owner open for club staying at Kassam”. I’ll leave it at that.


The conditions were dreadful. There’s no denying that. I’d add that our performance was dreadful too. Some might point to Storm Jocelyn as a mitigating factor. I’ll honestly admit I wouldn’t have wanted to be out in the open, and in our three sided apology of a ground, the very open. It is as ever the same for both teams but shouldn’t we be more used to this than any visitors because it is not as if it has never happened before?

We need to find a way to win whatever the challenge and obstacles before us. I don’t believe we seriously set about doing that. Hey, let’s just play the Oxford United way whatever – and at present I’m not sure what that way is to be honest.

The stats alone could be used to argue that we deserved something. Possession 59%. Duel success 53%. 512 passes to their 340. Passing accuracy 73% to their 57% and in the opposition half 59% to 50%. We had 17 shots with four on target. Barnsley had one on target from eight.

But I’m not having it. Once the game settled into a pattern I know what I saw. Or perhaps it was what I think I saw because we just do not beat the real top challengers when they come to Oxfordshire. We never have since we’ve been back In L1 and never will do and certainly not on a consistent basis with our mindset and approach. Or is it that my mind is set to perceive such games thus?

As a spectacle this was certainly not going to be pretty. Pretty football did not belong here.

Barnsley had the industrial strength wind at their backs in the first half and we rarely seemed to get out of our half. That is understandable to a great extent but from the off we tried to play our passing game in quite tight situations at the back and in this we included Jamie Cumming. On a clear calm day this gets to many fans as it is – rightly or wrongly. I don’t think I can now write a FV without getting into the possession football debate. It is the preferred style of so many clubs at all levels but to try it here on a slippery rain sodden surface with the wind playing tricks was madness. Had we thought it through?

Even with the wind against you it is possible to hit longish balls into your opponents’ half and get some joy. Don’t aim for the sky, keep them lower than normal and give them a bit more clout. In a game like this isn’t it more about getting the other team to make mistakes than usual? Defending can be difficult whether the wind is coming from behind you or battering your face. The ball can hold up or propel forward very unpredictably.

In those first 45 minutes when we did get into Barnsley territory I didn’t think they looked comfortable at all. More of doing that and perhaps we would have scored. As it was our finishing was back to being very poor. Yes, this is L1 but when a team fails to find the target let alone work the keeper time and again ultimately they will not be successful.

In the 10th minute from a corner we won the first header, then the second header and then the third from the returning Sam Long went wide. We should have done better. That corner was won by getting the ball forward and Mark Harris chasing it. Simple as.

Three minutes later Barnsley were caught out playing backward passing football.  Corey O’Keeffe was the guilty party. Harris intercepted and was helped in his burst through the middle as a defender slipped – not surprising with the watery surface. Our centre forward set up Fin Stevens whose shot from the edge of the box was poor and well wide. Another chance gone.

A third opportunity arose not long after. Visiting captain Jordan Williams couldn’t deal with a high ball whacked forward and this left Marcus McGuane with only keeper Liam Roberts between him and the goal. MM’s attempted lob was very poor.  Another missed chance.

Just before that we’d got away with one ourselves when a cross come shot come wind assisted speculative effort from the Barnsley left wing hit the frame of our goal. The space we gave white shirted men in that area of the field was a constant worry. More evidence that we have not set up to defend effectively and that “we don’t know what we’re doing”. Who should have been doing the marking out there? Long as the right sided member of the back three or Stevens as the right sided wing-back if that’s what he was? Neither did that job.

We had no pace. Tyler Goodrham was mastered by his marker for most of the game. For wing backs to be effective attacking wise they need to have pace. Greg Leigh has some of that but I don’t think the two we started with do. That said Joe Bennett was having a reasonable game doing what he does. He though joined our list of injured players just before half time. That list – Marcus Browne (are we starting to forget about him?), Billy Bodin (on-going Achilles problem), Goodwin (mentioned above), Kyle Edwards (might get a couple of games out of him at the end of the season), Stephan Negru (not seen since early Dec, hamstring), Josh Murphy (no sightings in 2024). We nearly always seem to have so many players not fit and able to work. Why? Are we doing something wrong in training, medical care, signing the wrong types? Not saying we are but the question needs asking. These young men need looking after. This is their career. There will always be injuries in football, that’s the nature of the game, but are we cursed? And if so did we help bring it on ourselves?

Do we bring players back too soon only for them to break down almost immediately and be out for even longer? Browne, Edwards?

And as for bringing players back too soon – Long in this one? Was it really the right sort of game for a return? He’s also out for a game or two now due to concussion protocols, having been caught by Devante Cole’s arm. Could have happened to any player at any time but was Sam really match fit? We had Jordan Thorniley on the bench but he doesn’t seem to be fancied by Des Buckingham. Probably all about getting a balance of right and left sided players on the pitch. Oisin Smyth came on for Long. Smyth is not a centre-half. A member of a back three?

A day to forget for Long having headed past Cumming six minutes before his injury. Football, as we know, can be a cruel game. I feel for the Bicester boy.

I don’t observe the players trooping off at the break as I’ll already be heading for the concourse or supping a cup of hot chocolate. I was told though that some of them were looking at each other and shrugging their shoulders. If that’s what happened how should it be interpreted? We don’t know what we’re doing or supposed to be doing? Not down to me, mate?

Kicking towards the East stand we had a short spell or two when we genuinely looked like we were giving it a real go. Cameron Brannagan’s shot from way out that cannoned off the bar with Roberts well beaten was our best attempt by far. Shots from Goodrham and Rodrigues with a defender stood a couple of feet away had no chance of getting anywhere near the intended target. Not the play of a thinking footballer.

If that shot from Cam had gone in who knows but I didn’t think we had enough battling and willingness to really get stuck in throughout the entire team to have a cast iron case that we deserved to turn it around. Very easy for me to say of course wrapped up in the back row of the SSU.

Ruben Rodrigues is a player who frustrates me more and more. I keep thinking he is just tarting about and not putting his all into challenges and too easily loses the ball. Then I’ll watch a couple of clips back of the game and note what he can do and also spot that he does get fouled a lot. But we do need a lot more from him. In cricket a bowler will have to regularly bat and even if this isn’t their specialism the better they can become with willow in hand the better it will be for their team. Just saying.

When Josh McEachran came on for McGuane in the 78th minute as always his efficient passing skills were evident. I wouldn’t say he pulls out of a challenge but when he and an opponent went for a 50:50 ball what I would say is that of the two of them the Barnsley man “pulled in” rather more.

McGuane is nowhere near the form he reached earlier in the campaign and with him being out of contract in the summer the inevitable questions are being asked.

At times I wonder, given the way we play and the make-up of our squad, if we’d be better off playing on a 4g pitch where the ball always runs true in a dome where the climate will always be consistent and outside elements have no part to play. Throw in minimal or no contact … am I talking walking football?

Okay, of course I’ve gone too far here but I’m just getting frustrated with the whole thing. It could be because this season, which had at one time appeared to have so much promise, now seems to be fizzling out even though we’re still quite healthily placed in the table. At least we’ve already got enough points to stay up. It could be because weaknesses which have seemed apparent for a long time never seem to be properly addressed. It could be many other things. Whatever it really is there seems to be something not quite right at the moment.

Obviously we do have some battlers in our team. Brannagan as much as anyone on that pitch wanted to win that football match. Elliott Moore and Ciaron Brown are always up for the fight. The latter’s wholehearted approach was again on show although he didn’t have the best of games. And Mark Harris’s work-rate stood out too. He was even getting over to the flanks at times when needed as we had no-one else there.

Going to the Gas the thinking is usually that if a team is not up for the scrap there they’ll get turned over. I still have nightmares about our extra time crumbling there in the FA Cup in 2021. This time though we visit with them having lost their last four league games the most recent two of which have been at the Memorial ground. Come away from there with a win and my frustration will have eased a bit.

Water water everywhere. Not just the rain but a leaky sink. The sooner we move the better.


COLIN’S FINANCIAL ANALYSIS OF OUR OPPONENTS – Will be tacked on to the Brizzle away FV. He’s a busy man thwarted by lack of wi-fi.

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