Fan’s View 23/24 – No.44: Shrewsbury Away

Article by Paul Beasley Sunday, March 31st, 2024  

FAN’S VIEW 23/24 – NO.44: SHREWSBURY AWAY

SHREWSBURY TOWN 1 OXFORD UNITED 1

Last season was one to forget. (Understatement or what given the investment in the playing budget?) A massive under achievement. Survival only ensured on the second last day of the season when we hit the pathetic total of 47 points.

There was little if any joy in watching our team. Boredom was a fair single word assessment.

Here we are in the 23/24 campaign sitting 7th in the league (one place lower than when we started the day) with 64 points already banked and six games remaining. Yet much feels the same. Little joy in watching the Yellows with a dullness about much of our play. It really is so tedious to watch much of the time.

Perhaps that’s the lot of most football fans, not happy with their team, their manager, their owners, the referee and anyone else you care to name. Except for rare periods of elation when the football is good to watch, points are being rapidly gathered and the feeling is we might just have cracked it for now. Or even in a spell of bad form where a performance that doesn’t fit the norm is produced and the fans are thinking perhaps we’re about to turn the corner here.

After the drab start under Liam Manning when we lost at Cambridge and then got taught a lesson at Bristol City (spit) he and the players got it together. There’s no doubting in my mind that we were a proper football team and genuine contenders. I truly believed we were in with more than a shout to do something memorable.

He presided over 15 league games. We averaged exactly two points a game which if extrapolated would have put us on 80 points at present in third place but with a game in hand on Derby, second on 81. Simple maths gives our final haul as 92.

Obviously there is no guarantee that he could have kept this up. The pattern is for form to dip and rise to varying degrees as a season progresses. It is the extent of each which determines a team’s resting place in the final table. I very much believe that if Manning was still here we would have a lot  more points and already be thinking that the play-offs at least were all but assured.

I’m not having this view that the wheels were already coming off when he left. Yes we only got five points from his last four games but that only included one defeat and as I’ve just mentioned, dips and rises. I think part of this thinking is driven by the anti-Manning sentiment. How dare he ditch us so soon for a bigger club and salary? I sang “who the **** is Liam Manning” with as much gusto as the next man and woman at Orient but that doesn’t mean I was going to ignore the very healthy league position he left us in.

Five points from four games gives a return of 1.25 points per game which isn’t much to write home about but even that beats Des Buckingham’s overall return of 1.21 points per game.

Buckingham has been in charge for 24 league games. We’ve won seven, drawn eight and lost nine of those, scoring 31 and conceding 37, failing to score on six occasions and keeping just four clean sheets.

In the 15 Manning matches we scored 28 and let in just 14. We kept four clean sheets and twice didn’t score.

The contrast between Manning and Buckingham is stark.

In between the two we had Craig Short temporarily holding the reins at Brisbane Road and this was something special with fans and players coming together as one. We left the capital with three points.

This left something for Buckingham to tap into and engage (sorry for the buzz word) with our core support. As he’s “one of our own” he didn’t need to do any research to understand the area, the people, the local culture and particularly not the football club as he’d worked here previously. But we got nothing that I recall. Big opportunity lost.

The only time we’ve recreated Orient away on and off the field of play was at Pompey. We looked like a proper (second time I’ve used that description) team. There was a phenomenal backing from the fans and a real buzz in the away section. That buzz remained live even though we lost. Yes we conceded two, of course we did. Next game was at home. This equals no buzz. Buzz very much gone even though we beat Cheltenham.   

Some people think the blame game is always wrong but responsibility has to rest somewhere. Buckingham inherited a squad of players doing well. He’s been unlucky to have lost James Beadle but under him we’ve recruited in January and in theory should have strengthened. Owen Dale, Tyler Burey (who?) and Will Goodwin (more on him later). Obviously some of it is down to the players themselves and I think the recruitment team and possibly medical staff, have questions to answer too. But much rests with the manager.  

Now for the first time to mention the game but it was this which triggered what I’ve already written.

The stats point to us being the better team and if any neutral observer was asked for their view I don’t see how they could argue otherwise. We could and should have won this football match.

Were we unlucky? No. Did we deserve to win? No. That we didn’t was all down to us. The same old tiresome failings were there yet again. Lessons learned? Never seems to be the case does it. We keep churning out the same old shite.

 My final sentence at the end of the Port Vale Fan’s View was “On to Shrewsbury on Good Friday where hopefully we’ll continue the good work produced in this victory but one thing is guaranteed, the opposition won’t be as inept”.  Proof there that when we do play well I acknowledge the fact. And I was right about the Shrews compared to Vale but ffs they were not a very good team at all. If we can’t be turning them over we deserve to go nowhere. Performances like this are not one offs that we can easily forgive are they?

Highlights clips can give a misleading picture of a match. I’ve often thought this having watched a whole game on Sky then a few brief minutes on Match of the Day.

The same can be said about the “extended highlights” on iFollow. Watch those and you could be forgiven for thinking we played well in the first half and indeed over the whole 90 minutes.

Nothing of the sort as far as I am concerned. We were mostly knocking it about at the back going nowhere. That was largely it. When those in the rear had the ball they, like the fans, were probably thinking er, what next? It looks like they hadn’t been coached on the next bit. There was no discernible plan. We never seemed to pass through the midfield. Occasionally we did knock it long, probably just because there was nothing else on but usually just lost possession in doing so. Our wide men, Josh Murphy and Dale, who I thought I had a lot of faith in were never constantly in the game causing panic in the Shrewsbury ranks. Why was that? Recently they’ve been our biggest threat.  

Those deceptive first half highlights also showcase our weaknesses. Poor defending and poor finishing. Poor is a word that is begging to be used many times in the FV.

A poor header from Sam Long set up Aiden O’Brien but he shot wide. Just as well they were inept too.

Ruben Rodrigues did well to lay on a chance for Mark Harris but his first touch was sub-standard. He really should have scored.

It has always been known that Harris is not an out and out number nine. By his own admission he’s someone who is better playing off a centre-forward, more of a “number 10” but he’s played at centre-forward (old school terminology). Do we have such a beast?

Will Goodwin wasn’t even on the bench. We bought him in January for about £400k. That’s big money for us. One of our most expensive signings ever. The lad was injured at the time. He’s never looked fit and I’ll use that as the reason why he’s not looked good enough in the few minutes we’ve seen of him. He started for the first time against Vale but didn’t come out for the second half. “There was a small knock on the side of his leg” according to Buckingham but nothing to be concerned about. Um!

Perhaps he is one for the future but how about the here and now? If we’re just looking to the future in this way will we ever sort out the present? I’m getting sick of “there’s always next season”.

This is one where it has to be asked, have the recruitment guys cocked up? Was the medical he had before we signed him thorough enough? It’s not just the fee, it’s wages too that we’re getting no return on. We do have history though don’t we when it comes to paying players not to play because they’re not fit. Sam Baldock. Yes I know I need to let it go.

Dale spurned a very good opportunity to fire at goal. The shot he did get away after turning back on himself was very weak. Not good enough.

The hosts went close when Carl Winchester let fly from distance. Jamie Cumming pulling off a good save to his right.

Cameron Brannagan put an effort just wide after decent build-up play and then we had another chance we should have put away. It was Rodrigues who again slotted a pass through. The recipient this time being Dale who cut it straight back. RR made a hash of his attempt with his right foot. Using the left would likely have been the better option.

So another chance had been spurned. All players miss chances. All teams at times are profligate in front of goal. The better teams keep this to a minimum. Our striking of the ball and sharpness when having the opportunity to find the back of the net just wasn’t up to scratch. And it wasn’t a game when the feeling was we’ll get it right next time out and bag loads.

Before the first 45 minutes were up we nearly paid for it when Joe Bennett was caught out playing our backwards football, an Elliott Moore block saving the day at the expense of a corner, one of many Shrewsbury won. And still time for a stretching Harris unable to get on the end of another inviting ball in from Murphy who had begun to look like he might be the man to swing the game our way.

We came out after the break with a bit more intent and within eight minutes had taken the lead. A long ball from Moore was expertly brought down by Murphy who ran across keeper Marko Marosi and took him wide before turning it back to Harris. His neat flick left Billy Bodin 10 yards out facing just one defender between him and the goal. It was hammered home off the crossbar.

For a team not as fragile as ours that should have been it. Carry on attacking as we had been and getting more goals or at the very least have seen the game out professionally even though there was a long way to go. In the 39 games prior to this Shrewsbury had only scored 29 times. The worst return in the division and less than half the tally we had managed.

But no, this is Oxford United. We found a way to piss away two points.

We didn’t dominate as we should have done with the players we have. Our defending was poor. A pass from Ciaron Brown to Murphy was intercepted by Morgan Feeney. We were all over the place but got away with it on this occasion.

They were winning the balls they were putting in from corners but placing them wide. If this had been against one of the best teams in L1 we would have been punished.

Defensively we didn’t look sharp of mind or body.

As the clock ticked past 80 minutes I thought perhaps we will see it out because it wasn’t as if the home side had us against the ropes.

As it turned out they didn’t need to set about us in such a fashion to get something out of the game. We were complicit in our own downfall. Clearances were poor. Unchallenged Moore got his head on a long ball launched by Marosi but he just sent it to a blue shirt in space instead of out for a throw. The yellow shirts then just backed off allowing the ball to be played in to the box. It wasn’t a good delivery but Moore’s clearance was pathetic sending it to another blue shirt who was able to again cross into the box. Brown’s header out made it to round about the D where the unmarked sub Jack Price struck it on the volley. There wasn’t a lot of power in it but in it went nevertheless. There were a lot of bodies between Cumming and the ball so he may have been somewhat unsighted but the consensus is that he should have saved it.

This left 8 minutes to go plus stoppage time and, as often happens, conceding brought us to a state of liveliness that should have been evident from beginning to end. But given the quality of our finishing and Shrewsbury’s determination to hold on for a point that’s what they and we ended up with.

Oxford fans had travelled in good numbers for this. We deserved better.

In this crazy season we’ve still unbelievably got our top six fate in our own hands as Lincoln, who are only above us in sixth place on goal difference, still have to visit Minchery Farm.

The Imps are on fire. They’ve won and drawn two of their last 11 games and in doing so have kept eight clean sheets. They did though leave it late to score the only goal of the game at home to Orient on Good Friday. It’s about time they had that dip in form. Probably just as well we’re playing them on 16 April instead of the date on which the fixture had been originally scheduled.

Our other two main rivals for the last play-off slot are Stevenage and Blackpool. For much of this season I’ve been saying that Steve Evans’ side isn’t going to go away but they’ve only picked up four points from their last six games. They’re currently just a point behind us and also have to travel to us, for a fixture that has now been brought forward a day for Sky TV. We have to shake off that curse of the cameras sometime.

The Tangerines are four points behind us. They’re a team we always consider to be strong and resilient. The sort of team that you know are going to turn us over in a winner takes all encounter. We’ve already played them twice, both games ending 1-1. They have lost their last two games 1-0 and have only scored one in four.

Of the remaining fixtures I’d say ours were probably harder than Lincoln’s, Stevenage’s and Blackpool’s. But one never really knows especially when facing sides who are right in the relegation mire.

Fleetwood, who we play on Easter Monday, are second bottom six points adrift of safety. They’ve won only one of their last 10 games. Now if we can’t beat them ……  How many times have I said that?

This entry was posted on Sunday, March 31st, 2024 at 9:52 pm and appears under News Items. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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