David Cameron Walker

Archive for the ‘Oxford United’ Category

Away sweeter than Home for Oxford

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

OUFC

Watching Oxford this season has got me thinking about how much I enjoyed school. Well… not ‘school’ at all actually, but ‘school trips’. The time when you left the classroom drudgery that you were so familiar with and got on the bus to go somewhere else for the day. Away days for Oxford have been infinitely better than home ones, not just results but performances too. We are 7th in the table with only 5 league defeats this season, except every single one of them has come at the Kassam Stadium.

A glance at the table tells you our defence has been exceptional, just 21 goals conceded in 25 matches, the best in League 2 (4th best in the whole football league if you include QPR, Burnley and Wolves, although they’ve played 26 so never mind!). Chris Wilder bolstered the defence with Mullins, Newey and Hunt and it certainly appears to be paying off. In my last article I pointed out that the long-serving Wilder had only been given a one year contract extension. He was tasked with mounting a promotion push after consecutive years of mid-table finishes, where his good sides have always fallen away in the New Year. Then something rather unexpected happened….Portsmouth showed an interest in Wilder.

Naturally most fans wanted him to stay to keep the good ship Oxford going strong. After all we were top of the league and wanted to preserve that for as long as possible. Others were frustrated by the continuation of defensive tactics from the former full back, wanting a change in favour of a more attacking style that might resurrect home attendances. The chairman gave Wilder permission to hold talks, as he only had a short time left on his current deal, and told the press he was ‘not concerned’ by Portsmouth’s approach. The whole issue was over quite quickly. Wilder was not appointed, explaining that he held talks because of his family and the team remained focussed, qualifying for the 3rd round of the FA cup. Strong displays from the youth players helped to cope with injury problems and appeared to add weight to the decision of trusting in a development squad rather than the transfer market. The chairman has also promised to hold talks with Wilder in the coming months.

Oxford fans indulged in a little optimism at this point; assuming that all would be well going into the Christmas period now the manager position was secure again. The team was winning and many were excited by a big marketing push from the club which sold a lot of tickets. An expectant crowd of around 10,000 turned out on Boxing Day to watch Oxford United return to the top of Sky Bet League 2, as they faced mid-table Plymouth Argyle….

Oxford managed 2 shots on target and 1 goal. A generous Plymouth side even put the ball into their own net (just to make a game of it) but Oxford seemed to be having none of it and refused to attack. Plymouth scored 3 second half goals.

Optimism prevailed though. We remained in 2nd place for the visit of 3rd placed Scunthorpe. Here was an immediate opportunity to return to winning ways. The team could galvanise and make amends for the poor display and maybe now they could show the people of Oxfordshire what this team was really made of….

Oxford managed 3 shots on target and no goals.

It is more than fair to say Scunthorpe should have had 3 or 4, but eventually won 2 nil. Our home crowd had seen enough after the Plymouth game and around 6,000 turned up. In the last home game Portsmouth failed to create any chances and Oxford created the obligatory 2 opportunities, a 0-0 draw and another blow to optimism at Oxford. How can a side be so good away and so poor at home? Is this the New Year slump that we’ve come to expect, or will we find ways to keep our form and have something to play for at the closing days of this season?

We’re unlikely to be signing any players to help answer those questions because our Chairman wants to put faith in youth, which is understandable. Jonathan Henly has joined on loan from Reading to provide goalkeeping cover and Nicky Wroe looks a decent acquisition from Preston, but he is providing loan cover for Asa Hall who was recalled by Shrewsbury. Clearly these are short term signings out of necessity rather than luxury. The latest league leaders, Scunthorpe, have brought in several players including McSheffrey and Madden and are likely to maintain their success with that kind of firepower. Meanwhile Oxford’s top scorer James Constable has scored 7 this season and, whilst goals from all over the pitch have contributed to a decent tally of 35, the main worry is that we will not score or win enough at home to finish in the top 3. Talk to the cynics who wanted Wilder out before Christmas, and they’ll say “we’ll get found out away from home eventually and finish 10th”, but I’ve still got more optimism!

This is a tight league and Oxford United are tough to beat. I can see why, after just 4 home wins this campaign, a lot of our supporters will be wondering how on earth the team are doing it! Keep up the away form and we will push the chasing pack all the way. Improve at home, convert some of those draws at least, and the promised land of a top 3 finish is a real possibility. We are frustratingly close to being a very good side in this division…

Written by Ben Lawson, We Are Going Up’s Oxford United blogger

Ben tweets at @lawson_ben

One last chance for Wilder

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

OUFC

The end of last season saw an Oxford far from united, despite yet another victory against the A420’s in the cup, a ‘Wilder Out’ campaign was growing. Fans were angry, yet another season had fallen short of a promotion push and the club appeared to be doing nothing as the problems piled up.

Measures to prevent another injury crisis had failed miserably. The idea of allowing the players to train with Wigan Warriors fitness experts sounded good, but it would have helped if the players themselves had been made of something other than biscuits. Injuries and inconsistency wore everyone down; arguments between players, fans and manager seemed frequent and attendances fell sharply. On top of that, rumours circulated that co-tenants London Welsh were bidding to buy the stadium out from under our feet. Premiership rugby had chewed up a once prized playing surface and there was growing unease at the lack of reassurances from the football club.

Long before the end of the season, we knew that the Chairman’s expectations in the league and the budget had not been met. Many fans predicted that the Yellows would be owner-less, manager-less and possibly home-less by September. Then Wilder was given a new contract…for one year. That just about did it for some; many refused to go to any more matches, believing that all hope was lost. Wilder would eventually get us relegated, the club would go bust after signing one too many loan players and Kassam would turn the stadium into a runway for his massive jet or something.

Nothing like the power of positive thinking?

They had a point though, there’s no getting away from the fact that Wilder has one more chance to give the fans something to shout about. He certainly looks as though he knows it, getting rid of his biscuit-based players through a 12 man clear-out. Transfer business has certainly been interesting and has gives the U’s fans much needed hope in the right areas. Improvements to the defence: David Hunt, Tom Newey, Jonny Mullins and Jon Meades all arrive with good pedigrees. Mullins’s signature in particular will please, as he enjoyed a great loan spell from Rotherham before returning to captain them to promotion in the same season.

Attacking options have improved too. The headline signing of 6 ft 3” striker Dave Kitson should hold up the ball more easily, defending from the front to maintain sustained periods of attack, that were desperately missing last season. Although 33, many are expecting him to convert a few more chances in League Two than the 11 he managed in League One last year. Fan’s favourite James Constable, who needs 14 goals to become the all-time top scorer for the club, is likely to enjoy playing off Kitson’s supply and Dean Smalley, who has had an excellent pre-season, has already benefitted from the number 8’s creativity. It should make a welcome change from last season as even relegated Barnet scored more at home than Oxford. The main concern is with the centre of midfield, the only survivor from last season being the tenacious Scott Davies. Wilder let Danny Rose and Asa Hall leave the club in previous years and whilst re-signing them (Hall on loan) is by no means a tragedy, the question as to how much faith Mr Wilder really has in these two players is still a worthy one.

He will need total belief in senior and junior players to remain beyond this season. Chairman Ian Lenegan, like most of us, recognises that developing youth is the most sustainable way of running a team and has invested accordingly. He sees Wilder as a “young manager who is about to reach his potential” and his belief in the promise of youth certainly extends to the playing squad. Wilder will nurture a development squad, some of whom are already making the step into the first team. Wingers Alfie Potter and Sean Rigg will have Callum O’Dowda, Josh Sharma and recent Fulham loan signing Ryan Williams pushing them for places. Pre-season gave opportunities to the young players and we began to see greater levels of tactical experimentation as a result of the chairman’s influence. A more flexible 4-4-2 and 4-5-1 setup seems to be preferred to the old 4-3-3 with attacking full backs. Anyone who watched our 3-0 defeat at Port Vale on the Sky cameras knows exactly how exposed that tactic sometimes left us!

Lessons have been learned and there is a real sense that the club is coming back stronger. Supporter groups have joined forces to improve relations with the club through the ‘United We Stand’ scheme. Improving ticket deals for fans, setting fundraising targets for January transfers, improving the match day experiences and raising money for Oxford United legend Dave Langan, have shown signs of success already. The supporters group OxVox won the right to force our landlord to publicise the developments of any stadium sale, a huge plus point for the future of the club. Oxford have many projects but we have rarely seen this many key initiatives working together to nurture the fan base.

We are hardly the sleeping giants that Bradford were or that Portsmouth are this season; but after selling out our allocation at Fratton Park on Saturday and coming from behind to win 1-4, I suspect that everyone might have just woken up to the new Oxford United.

Written by Ben Lawson, We Are Going Up’s Oxford United blogger

Ben tweets at @lawson_ben

Oxford United – 2011/12 Season Summary

Friday, June 8th, 2012

The phrase ‘emotional roller-coaster’ is one of the most over-used clichés in our sport, but it is one that best describes Oxford United’s 2011/12 season. We’ve seen some wonderful highs this year and some pretty awful lows.

The biggest high was arguably doing the double against bitter-rivals Swindon Town. James Constable was heavily involved in both games. He scored both goals in the 2-1 win at The County Ground making Oxford the only team to win at the Wiltshire club this season. The goals were made even sweeter due to Swindon Manager Paolo Di Canio’s comments pre-game where he labelled Constable a “Swindon fan,” so when the reverse fixture came around, tensions were high. And clearly too high for Constable as he got sent off after ten minutes for an alleged elbow.

A man down with 80 minutes left against the league leaders, you wouldn’t have blamed Oxford for losing. Despite the ten men, Oxford managed to steal the lead in the 16th minute when Asa Hall bundled the ball in from a Lee Holmes free-kick. Then two minutes later it was Lee Holmes with an assist again, this time for Oli Johnson to slide in. 2-0 up with ten men! There was utter delirium in the stands. I ended up five rows down from where I started. The remaining 72 minutes were the best defensive performance I have ever witnessed. Andy Whing, Anthony Tonkin and Michael Duberry. All lions. Every shot was charged down. Every pass was intercepted. Every tackle was made. When the final whistle finally went, you could have mistaken it for a third goal. Despite only four shots to Swindon’s twenty and ten men to Swindon’s eleven, Oxford managed to come out of the game with the three points.

Another moment this season will be remembered for again took place at the Kassam Stadium – arguably the greatest goal Peter Leven has ever scored, arguably the greatest goal ever seen at the stadium. It was Oxford vs Port Vale and the score was 1-1 with 25 minutes to go. Port Vale had just equalised through Mark Richards and Port Vale were cranking up the pressure on the Oxford goal. But up stepped Leven. It was all the Scot’s work, as he intercepted a pass from a Vale midfielder, before lobbing it over the keeper from just inside the opposition half. When the ball hit the net there was utter pandemonium around me, but as the realisation of what Leven had just done crept in, people began to look around quietly with mouths open and with incredulity in their expressions. The best goal I have ever witnessed live at a football match in my 18 years on this planet.

Another real positive has been the turnaround in fortunes of Andy Whing. He was subjected to the boo boys as early as 13th August due to being scapegoated after the 1-1 draw at home to Bradford City. The boo-boys grew louder after another 1-1 home draw, this time against 10-man Aldershot Town. Whing had always been selected as a right back at his former clubs, but managr Chris Wilder saw he was getting caught for pace and deployed him to sit in front of the back four as a defensive anchor man.

It was a masterstroke from Wilder as Whing’s performance and confidence improved. Soon he was putting in man-of-the-match performances, most notably against Macclesfield at home where he was imperious in the midfield making a number of excellent tackles. Amazingly, the same supporters who were booing him at the start of the season were now singing ‘all we want is a team of Andy Whings!’ The comeback was complete as he was given the Andrew Knapton Supporter’s Player of the Year award as voted by the Oxford United supporters.

But along with the highs, we’ve had some lows. Dropping out of the play-offs despite being sat in the top seven since August was a bitter pill to take for many Oxford supporters. The way the season seemed to finish at the end of March for many of our players was odd. We did not win a single game from our last seven and picked up only two points in the process. Some supporters blamed a lack of fitness, while others blamed the influx of loan players. I believe it’s a combination of both. A damning statistic was that 16 different attackers were used this season. Wilder must learn from his mistakes next season and not on loanees, but players under contract.

Another low was the number 10 signed from Oldham in the summer, Deane Smalley. Oxford had to pay compensation to Oldham as he was under the age of 24 and it was thought to be in the region for £50,000. The forward had an excellent season on loan to League Two Champions Chesterfield in the 2010/11 season scoring 12 goals in 28 games, but this season was nowhere near to what was expected.

Two goals in 26 appearances in all competitions was what Smalley managed. Perhaps too much was expected of 23-year old Deane, he was expected to challenge James Constable in the club scoring charts, despite  having a one in ten goals to appearances record at Oldham. After all, his natural position is not centre forward, it is on the right wing. In January, he was loaned out to Bradford City with similar success – 13 appearances, 0 goals. Many Oxford supporters want the club to sell him this summer, but Wilder has kept faith in his future at the club going into next season saying “The boy wants to come back, we’ve kept in contact with him and he knows he’s not done himself justice.” Let’s hope that Smalley can show the same quality he did for Chesterfield in 2010/11.

Oxford under-achieved this season – 9th place is not good enough. But he has progressed in terms of league position every season he has been in charge of this football club without fail. Although if progression into the play-off positions is not achieved next season, it may well turn out to be Wilder’s final one in charge of Oxford United.

Written by Youcef El Barhdadi, We Are Going Up’s Oxford United blogger

Youcef tweets at @yelbarhdadi

U’s ready to take on the Robins

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

At 12 noon on Saturday, Oxford United will face Swindon Town at the Kassam Stadium in the imaginatively named “A420 derby.” The derby between the two sides has been fierce since the early 1980′s and intensified due to the regularity of meeting between the sides, plus their geographical proximity throughout the decade.

Swindon fans’ vandalism of Oxford’s stadium means there is absolutely no love lost between the two sides. They covered the bronze Ox which stands outside the Kassam pink – Oxford then used it to help raise money for a Breast Cancer charity – as well as burning the club’s initials ‘STFC’ into the pitch before last August’s meeting.

The league history is overwhelmingly in favour in terms of Swindon Town with 23 wins and 81 goals scored to Oxford’s 11 wins and 57 goals scored. There have also been 20 draws between the sides over the years.

Oxford have never faced Swindon in the league at the Kassam Stadium. The only time they have played each other at the Kassam was in the second Round of the FA Cup in December 2002. The game ended 1-0 as controversial striker Jefferson Louis scored the winning goal that day to send The U’s faithful into utter delirium. The goal, in truth, was a fluke. Louis’ flick on went straight in after Steve Basham’s run bamboozled Bart Griemink in front of the Oxford Mail Stand. Louis’ celebrations post-match have to be seen to be believed as he ran round the home changing room naked after Oxford were drawn against Arsenal at Highbury in the next round.

That was then, this is now. I, as an Oxford fan, am not confident going into Saturday’s game. Oxford’s current form has been sketchy of late with nine points from a possible fifteen in their last five games and the disappointing 1-1 draw with Macclesfield at home last weekend leaving them seventh in the table. Macclesfield had lost eight consecutive matches on the road before that.

Swindon on the other hand, have won nine games on the trot and the Wiltshire club have jumped from seventh to first since Christmas. Paolo Di Canio, who has divided opinion, appears to be working his magic with the side after spending big in January, signing Paul Benson, Luke Rooney and Lee Cox as well as Ronan Murray and Derek Boating on loan from Ipswich and Arsenal respectively.

They also failed in signing Oxford’s top goalscorer, James Constable. Known to Oxford fans as “Beano” – a nickname given to him in his younger years due to his alleged likeness to the famous Heinz product. Oxford accepted a bid, but Constable decided against even travelling up, re-affirming his legend status at the club. The Yellows’ number nine decided the last meeting with Swindon in August, netting a brace as Oxford won 2-1 at the County Ground.

This followed comments from Di Canio claiming Constable was a Swindon fan. Constable does in fact support Tottenham and after the embarrassing error, Di Canio backtracked in the post-match press conference claiming he had “wrong information.”

Oxford’s key man for the game this Saturday would have been Peter Leven. He’s scored a halfway line winner against Port Vale, a brilliant free-kick against Cheltenham from 30-odd yards as well as a curling effort against Plymouth from the corner of the 18 yard box to name a few. If the Oxford faithful are to be believed, Peter Leven does what he wants. But Peter Leven cannot guard against injury. He’ll miss the game with a shoulder injury which is a massive blow. Simon Heslop is fighting to be fit, but if he doesn’t recover in time, manager Chris Wilder will have to choose between Mark Wilson, Asa Hall and Adam Chapman to partner the tireless Andy Whing and Lee Holmes in a midfield three.

The possible inclusion of Chapman is an interesting one. He was man of the match in the Conference play-off final in 2010, but the midfielder’s promising career was thrown into turmoil after he was jailed for causing the death of 77-year old Tom Bryan by dangerous driving. Since his release in September, he has had an injury plagued six months. Earlier this week, Chapman was recalled from an impressive monthly loan spell at Newport and now he has match sharpness back, he could be Oxford’s secret weapon against Swindon. Oxford lack a free-kick taker in Leven’s absence and Chapman looks the perfect replacement.

For a side that went 22 games without a clean sheet last season, Oxford have had 11 shutouts this term which puts them fifth in the clean sheet table, while opponents Swindon are first with 15. This is a marked improvement, based upon up by astute signings from Wilder during pre-season.

Former Chelsea and Leeds centre-back Michael Duberry divided fans’ opinion when he arrived in the summer from St. Johnstone. His apparent lack of pace worried some fans, but his commanding presence has given the Oxford back line confidence this season. When he was injured in November, Oxford lost every game which further proved his importance to the side. He has hit a purple patch with four goals in his last four games, the only problem is that three of them have been in his own goal! That includes what he dubbed on Twitter as the “imperfect Hat-trick.” A left-foot own goal, a headed own goal followed by a right-foot finish in the correct net. Despite this, Duberry remains a cult hero at the Kassam. I doubt many other players could get away with scoring so many own goals in a debut season and still be loved by the fans of a club.

Oxford usually play a 4-3-3 but switched to a 4-4-2 for periods against Macclesfield. The weakness of 4-3-3 is that the system is susceptible to attacks down the wings, which could prove crucial as  Swindon’s key man will be left winger Matt Ritchie. The former Portsmouth player moved to Swindon in the summer and has scored 10 goals as well as adding 10 assists, staking his claim to be League Two′s player of the season. Oxford will need to change to a 4-5-1 when not in possession with the wingers tracking the Swindon full backs. It is extremely important for the home side to have a midfielder move across and help cover the full back to help nullify Ritchie’s threat.

As an Oxford fan, a loss would be devastating for the fans. The fact of the matter is, Swindon are the better side and there is a reason they are sat at the top of the league. On paper Swindon should win, but derby games never stick to the script. 1973 was the last time Oxford won at the County Ground and the only season they’ve beaten the Robins twice in the same campaign. Oxford ended their 38-year wait for victory in Wiltshire earlier this season, can they achieve a famous double?

Written by Youcef El Barhdadi, We Are Going Up’s Oxford United blogger

Youcef tweets at @yelbarhdadi

Beano A No Go In January Sales

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Half way through the January transfer window and there has been much drama at the Kassam Stadium. Oxford United have been busy sending players out on loan everywhere, but bringing in just one player so far. However the biggest news of the transfer window has been Swindon putting in three bids for star forward James Constable, with the last one being accepted by the U’s thus meaning the striker affectionately known around Oxfordshire as ‘Beano’ could open talks with the club closest to his home in Wiltshire.

Now, when your main rival comes in with a bid for your top striker and the price is too good for the club to say no, a fan goes through many emotions. My initial thought was to the 3rd March and what he could do against us. Every possible scenario seems inevitable. All fears were put to bed later on in the day though when Constable flat out refused to talk to the Robin’s, posting an emotional comment on Twitter declaring his happiness at being with Oxford. Its nice to see that there is still some loyalty left in the game.

This decision is massive for Oxford, not just because our top goalscorer could have gone to our fiercest rivals, but also the fact that had he gone it would have been very difficult to find a replacement of the same calibre. How many clubs are willing to sell their top striker in the January transfer window? Not many; meaning we would have probably had to bring in a player of less quality or stick with what we have.

Whatever people say about Constable (and he does have a surprising amount of critics) he is the top scorer at the club and his work rate is second to none. This has been shown in him being top of the scoring charts in the last three seasons and is in the top 10 all time goalscorers for Oxford. This season I think will be no different and once he hits the back of the net again, don’t be surprised if Beano goes on a run of scoring in continuous games.

A couple of players have really impressed the Oxford faithful recently, one of them being Andy Whing. A revelation since switching from right back to centre back/defensive midfielder, he has proved all his critics wrong from the start of this season and should now be considered one of the first names on the team sheet. This is a far cry from his first few games at the club where everyone thought Whing would be better suited to a different profession, let alone a different position in the team. However his hard tackling style and general control over the midfield has seen him replace veteran Paul Mclaren and make that defensive midfield role his own.

Another major breakthrough has been the returning Jon-Paul Pittman who has now hit three goals in four games since coming back from his loan spell at Crawley and has fast become a new fans favourite. His pace on the wing and skilful runs have given Oxford a fresh option up front, especially after Alfie Potter’s current dip in form.

In the week we made our first signing in Oli Johnson from Norwich. Another winger/striker that looks like a direct replacement for the disappointing Deane Smalley, who has now gone out on loan to Bradford for the rest of the season. Johnson came on in the draw with Hereford and showed some promise, almost grabbing a winner towards the end.

That was another disappointing result as Oxford created so much, but once again finishing was poor. It was as if the crowd could anticipate what was coming as for the third home game in a row the U’s were hit with the sucker-punch; a smash and grab style goal. With such decent football on display at the moment it’s a shame we can’t kill games off, but I have confidence that if we keep playing the way we are the results will pick up, and come May the Yellows should still be sitting in the play-offs.

Written by Mickey Cosier, We Are Going Up’s Oxford United blogger

Mickey tweets @MickeyCosier

Mid-Season Optimism & 10 Men Mayhem

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

With the first quarter of the season gone Oxford can look back at a positive start to the campaign. There have been many high points already, most notably of course being the trip down the A420. The result from the derby match will stick in the minds of U’s fans for a long time, well, at least until March when the return fixture comes around. Despite the opening match, where I’m sure a lot of fans instantly feared a long hard season ahead after the lacklustre performance at Rotherham, we have made a solid start and the eight game unbeaten streak has helped the U’s establish themselves in the promotion hunt and get to the quarter finals of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

That’s right, for the first time in a very long time we are not only having a decent run in the league but have also progressed to the Quarter Finals of a cup competition. Yes, we may have had a bye into the second round, and yes the quarter finals are actually just the third round but the fact still remains Oxford are just three games from Wembley. Did you know Oxford have a 100% win record at the national stadium (2 out of 2).

The new players Chris Wilder has drafted in have been decent signings, most notably Michael Duberry and Peter Leven. Dubes has brought a touch of class and a wealth of experience to the back line and is surely an early candidate for player of the season. Leven had a troubled start with injury, but is now starting to show why he was wanted by Championship clubs in the summer. The best bit being that we finally have a set piece taker for the first time since Dean Whitehead left the club. I was slightly disappointed to see Jack Midson go in the summer, even more so now he’s top goalscorer in the league, but in his departure we have realised the potential of pint-sized Alfie Potter. Little Potter has become more than just an impact sub. He is a key player and one that could attract a lot of interest come January.

However the star of the show at the moment is Robbie Hall. On loan from West Ham, he is fast becoming a fans favourite with his surging runs and impressive goal tally. Six goals in nine games including two against basement boys Plymouth on Tuesday night has put him just one behind James Constable.

Despite a very positive start the one criticism from the fans so far has been the inability to kill teams off, mainly when the opposition have a man sent off. That has been the case in a few matches this season where the opposition goes down to 10 but then fights back and snatches a point. So there was no chance at Gillingham on Saturday. At 1-0 down we then faced an uphill battle as they went down, not just to 10 men, but later on to nine.

United now appear to be sorting it out at home and, with the wins against Plymouth, and Bristol Rovers a couple of weeks back we could see the Kassam Stadium turning back into a fortress. Coupled with our away form and we have got a team that could very well be challenging for promotion come the end of the season.

The question now on every Oxford fan’s lips is: Do we keep this up for the whole season or come Christmas time start falling away from the promotion pack?

I am cautiously optimistic that it could be the former.

Written by Mickey Cosier, We Are Going Up’s Oxford United blogger

Mickey tweets @MickeyCosier

Oxford Expects

Friday, July 29th, 2011

There is a very strange feeling around Oxford United this pre-season, a kind of cautious optimism. A feeling that, this time, we genuinely do have a pretty strong squad, a squad that should challenge for promotion out of League 2 or even a first League Title since 1985. It’s a natural feeling for football fans to feel that it is their time of year, but at Oxford things are a little different. We are a very pessimistic bunch, and are not going to let a little thing like confidence make us believe our season isn’t going to go down one of the following painfully familiar routes:

Route 1: The team start well, very well, but fall away after Christmas and struggle to make the play-offs or miss out completely

Route 2: Start badly, get the odd win here and there, float around mid-table to relegation zone until about February/March before going on a fantastic run just to make missing out on the play-offs more frustrating.

Route 3: Start slowly, get slower, end very badly.

It hasn’t always been this way, when we were relegated to Division 3 at the end of a catastrophic 2000-2001 season (the last at the Manor Ground, Oxford won a grand total of 7 games and were bottom of Division 2 all season) it was almost sure thing that we would come straight back up after 1 maybe 2 seasons, the thought that the team would struggle and end up being relegated to the conference was unthinkable. Being one of the biggest supported teams in the division certainly puts pressure on the players and Oxford quickly became the Newcastle United of League 2. After struggling in 01-02, we got off to a flying start to the 2002-03 Season and were top of the League in December, but grumbles still came from sections of the fans that the team weren’t ‘winning convincingly enough’ before the team fell away and eventually finished 8th.

These are fans that remember clearly playing in the top two divisions and winning a major trophy (The League Cup in 1986) but that was over 20 years ago, a lot has changed in English football since then. The advent of the Premier League,  huge corporate-sponsored stadia, unimaginable amounts of money being offered as wages to attract the biggest names in world football and Oxford have failed to keep up. Massive debt delayed the building of the new stadium at the end of the 1990’s as United dropped down the leagues. Firoz Kassam came in and took on the debt and finished the building of the stadium that he still owns to this day despite not being part of the club.

Relegation to the Conference in 2006 was devastating but was by no means a disaster. It was humbling for the fans and made us realise where the club stood.

Off the field relegation meant the club was forced into making important changes, sometimes taking a step back is the best way to see where it is you need to go. We are now owned by a consortium Woodstock Partners and run by Chairman Kelvin Thomas, a man with proper business sense who sees the importance of investment in the first team. He was responsible for bringing Manager Chris Wilder. Wilder led Oxford back into the football league and is entering his 3rd pre-season, providing a much needed consistency after 8 managerial changes is four years.

On the field the team has evolved slowly under Wilder. With the support from Thomas he has been able to bring in a lot of players, quickly moving them on if they don’t work out, constantly looking to bring in the best personnel for what he hopes to achieve. A lot of the team that helped with promotion were let go this summer, including Jack Midson and Sam Deering, to make way for new players that will hopefully fire us back into League 1. Top Scorer and Fan favourite James Constable (nicknamed Beano for his uncanny resemblance to Plug from the Backstreet kids) seems to be staying put for his fourth season at the club, despite rumours circulating on twitter recently that he was being shopped around.

These rumours may have just come out of the news that the captains armband was being taken away from Constable in favour of a defender Jake Wright. Wilder preferring to have a leader at the back, facing the play, which certainly makes sense. Constable will still be one of many leaders on the field. He spent the off season in Kenya along with 30 volunteers, coaching and teaching orphaned and underprivileged children.

Wilder was quick out of the gate in the off season, managing to attract highly sought-after players to the club with good experience at higher levels of the football league. Striker Deane Smalley signed from Oldham spent last season on loan at Chesterfield and provided 12 goals as they ran away with the League 2 title. Smalley will be added to what will likely be a 3 man strike force with Constable and Tom Craddock who scored 32 goals between them last year. John-Paul Pittman will also be added to that mix. The American impressed, scoring against us in a 2-2 draw with Wycombe Wanderers last season. He is quick but I am not very impressed with his scoring record, I think he will provide a spark from the bench while the other 3 will start most matches.

My favourite signing so far is Scottish midfielder Peter Levin, a former Glasgow Rangers trainee. He has played over 100 games for Milton Keynes Dons and helped them rise from League 2 into the League 1 playoff race.

Former Plymouth Argyle and Cardiff City left back Toni Capaldi has signed after a difficult season at Morecombe. As recently as 2008 Capaldi was part of the Cardiff City team that reached the FA Cup Final. On the other flank Andy Whing has come in from Leyton Orient to provide some competition for Damian Batt. Whing is another experienced player who started his career at Coventry making over 100 appearances. He was very popular in his time at Brighton before going on loan and eventually signing for Orient. It will be very interesting to see where he fits in this season.

The most high profile signing of the off season is former Chelsea and Leeds United defender Micheal Duberry. Although he has played Champions League football and was once worth £4.5 million he is reaching the twilight of a very long career and may be missing a yard or two. He will however provide more experience and is a prolific tweeter, which should be fun and insightful as the season goes on.

Wilder hinted at more signings ahead of Oxfords pre season trip to Boston, a trip that shows the kinds of strides Oxford are making off the pitch and will hopefully soon be making on it.  But naturally us Oxford fans don’t like to let ourselves get too excited. The rest of the country can put us at 4th favourites to win promotion, but we will be firmly keeping our feet on the ground, instead focusing all our excitement on one game. The first League meeting with arch rivals Swindon Town since 2001, [when they completed an embarrassing double over us, earning points that would eventually keep them from joining us in the relegation to Division 3] and we only have until August 21st to wait for the first of what I’m sure will be two evenly matched and competitive derby’s.

The Bookies out and out favourites for the title are super rich Blue Square Premier Champions Crawley Town, who were labelled ‘The Manchester City of non-League’ last season. A team so hated that fans of other League 2 clubs have been quoted as saying ‘I’d rather Oxford United win the league’. Oxford and Swindon are amongst the favourites with Bristol Rovers who were relegated from League 1 with Swindon. I’m sure Shrewsbury, Rotherham, Gillingham, Port Vale and new boys AFC Wimbledon will be involved as well.

At this stage League 2 is impossible to predict, but Oxford have put themselves in a fantastic position to do well.

Written by Dave Harrison, We Are Going Up’s Oxford United blogger.

Dave tweets at @djh86