Comedy writer Andrew Dawson gives us the lowdown on today’s visitors, Oxford United.
You seem to have struggled for consistency, managing good wins over clubs in and around the play offs, but seem to be struggling against some of the teams down near the bottom. Coming up from League Two in the summer, what were fans expectations and are you happy with the season so far?
Some bookies had us amongst the favourites to get automatic promotion before the season started, but I think most fans’ expectations were more like mid-table, maybe creeping into top half. Kemar Roofe, Calum O’Dowda and Danny Hylton scored half of our 100+ goals last year and they’ve moved elsewhere, so having lost the core of our attack, it’s taken a bit of time for the new players to gel.
But with Kane Hemmings (2nd top scorer in Scottish Premier last year) and Chris Maguire now linking up well, Marvin Johnson getting his first goal on Tuesday, and Rob Hall back to fitness, our midfield and forwards are looking a lot more dangerous. Hopefully I’m right when I say that it feels like this team is underachieving at the moment.
How is Michael Appleton doing in charge?
He’s turned this club around in the space of a couple of years. The football we’re playing is a joy to watch and the spirit both at the club and in the stands is the best it’s been for years. Probably decades. Having slipped from top flight to non-league over a long 20 year decline, we spent 4 years in the conference, then 6 in League 2, so we’re now all enjoying a rare spell of success.
Oxford fans have got so used to being pessimistic, we don’t really know what to do with our recent success! Appleton’s philosophy is really good for the club. He’s picking up young, talented footballers who haven’t gotten a break higher up the game and instilling them with belief – and giving them an opportunity to prove themselves.
He’s got a great temperament too – he rarely, if ever, blames the ref for Oxford’s losses. That’s meant we’ve had great discipline on the pitch and very few sendings off under him. (I bet I’ve jinxed it now and we’ll get a couple of red cards against Scunthorpe…).
Two key players in Liam Sercombe and Wes Thomas are out for the season. How big a miss will they be and do you think the club will strengthen in January to attempt to fill the void these experience players have left?
Sercombe in particular is a real loss. He’s scored a lot of goals and last-minute winners for us. Wes Thomas has been unfortunate with injury since joining in the summer, so I don’t think we’ve really got to see the best of him yet.
However, Michael Appleton has built a good squad and we do have a bit of depth. Ryan Ledson has come in for Sercombe and linked up Lundstram well, and Kane Hemmings has scored a few goals in the last few games too. Come January, I think we will probably need extra attacking options most.
The biggest injury worry for me ahead of Saturday at Glanford Park is Chey Dunkley. He’s one of the best defenders I’ve ever seen in the air. Wins everything. Destined for a higher level. He’s so tough, he clashed heads our left back Joe Skarz last Saturday and knocked him out. Not a scratch on Chey though. Head like a cannonball.
How is ex Iron loanee John Lundstram doing this term following an impressive debut season?
Lundstram’s had a slower start to this season, but since he’s been paired with Ryan Ledson in the last couple of games, we’ve won back-to-back matches. They know each other from Everton youth days and seem to have a great understanding. At his best, Lundstram’s long passing game is top class – pinging 40/50/60 yard balls across the pitch. I’m sure he picked up those Beckham-esque skills from his time at Scunthorpe…
Which other players should we look out for in the Oxford side?
I’ll tell you as long as you don’t pass this on to Graham Alexander.
Kane Hemmings is starting to hit some goal-scoring form and goalkeeper Simon Eastwood has been a quiet hero this season too. I’d also keep an eye on Marvin Johnson.
He’s been threatening to rip teams apart for a few games now and despite his baby daughter only being a couple of days old, he scored his first Oxford goal on Tuesday night.
But one to look out for in another sense is Chris Maguire. Not only is he a very skilful He’s been quite ‘creative’, shall I say, with his goal celebrations this season. He’s a stirrer – great to have on your team, but not so great when he’s playing for the opposition.
How are you likely to line up and do you have a prediction?
Given Scunthorpe are comfortably top of the league, it’s possible Appleton might go more defensive – maybe have five in midfield. But you’ll know he’s feeling bold if we start with a 4-4-2. You’ll know he’s feeling even bolder if he starts with winger Marvin Johnson at left back and Rob Hall as left midfielder – two very quick, attack-minded players on the one flank. That’s what he did on Tuesday night against Gillingham and it worked a treat. As for a score prediction, I think it will be a close game but a win for Scunthorpe. You’re on fire at the moment. But a season prediction – how about if Scunthorpe take the title and we finish second? Good luck to you lot for the rest of the season!