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Oxford United- A match Analysis

The official attendance at the Kassam Stadium on Saturday 26thOctober was 6,666. Close to Halloween, in-form side Oxford United were looking to scare Rochdale into a sixth defeat of the season. Manager Karl Robinson was looking for his 35thvictory as the U’s boss and set his team out with the same starting XI that played in the last home game against Doncaster. From the outset, the Rochdale tactics looked to be to try to nullify the Oxford goal threat. Early on there were signs of Oxford wanting to keep possession & knock the ball around. A cross from Ruffels was cleared & danger averted. The wind & rain battered the players which led to a few tasty challenges. Ex Liverpool academy graduate Cameron Brannagan took the brunt of this & required treatment. The first of 12 corners for Oxford came on the 11thminute, and the pressure seemed to be mounting on Rochdale. The early signs of being forced to go long from defensive play due to the aggressive nature in which Oxford were pressing, not allowing time on the ball suggested the tie would only go one way.

Although starting in the middle, Jamie Mackie whom had scored 2 goals so far this season tended to make runs into wide areas whilst Mark Sykes & Tarique Fosu interchanged across the front line, acting as fast, physical presences to disrupt Rochdale’s Republic of Ireland CB pairing Paul McShane & Eoghan O’Connell.

One of the most noticeable changes Robinson’s tactics suggested was for ever-present James Henry to show just why having a 6 foot 1 player between the centre of the park & the wing pays dividends. The ex-Wolverhampton Wanderers player whom was joint top goal scorer last season was superb and because the teams were lined up like-for-like, it became more of a 1-on-1 battle in the middle of the park where whomever would come out on top, would push their side on for the remainder of the game.

20 minutes had past when Brannigan’s corner was headed down by Alex Gorrin and Ruffels was there to tap in the opener. Oxford took the initiative thereafter and continued to pose a threat by driving forward, aiming to secure the three points early with a quick-fire second goal. Within the following 7 minutes there were free-kicks for either side – Oxford pumped the ball into the back from 35 yards, beating the wall & causing Dales keeper Lynch to lose it temporarily. The Rochdale freekick 2 minutes later resulted in their first corner of the game. Before they knew it however, the possession turned over & Oxford were attacking again with the ball coming back off the bar from Brannigan’s shot, which Fosu calmly placed into the corner net.

2-0 and the pressure still mounting on Rochdale was not helped when Aaron Wilbraham received a Red card 5 minutes before half time for diving in with a sliding tackle. Rochdale’s plan from here on out would have to be damage limitation as their goal difference was already in the minus going in to the game. The earlier challenge may have had a knock on impact to Brannagan who wouldn’t want to risk a second half when already 2-0 up against 10 men. On came 21 year old Shandon Baptiste who features more in the cup games. The Oxford pressure continued and the tactics were spot on from Karl Robinson as he wanted his side to show relentless pressure as the home side. They dominated possession with over 66% and continued to take shots (30 vs Rochdale’s 5) where 8 were on target (vs Rochdale’s zero for the entire game). As the game entered the final 5 minutes, Oxford’s hard work on the training ground paid off, whereby a clever freekick was angled just outside the penalty area – a deflection ensured the Rochdale keeper had to make a fast reaction save only for substitution Sam Long to gobble up the chance to fire in from close range. 3-0 but it could have been more. Two goals from fullbacks shows the tactical prowess and adaptability required even in League 1.

Oxford are a team in form & after the forth consecutive league home game winning 3-0, will feel the push for a promotion challenge is on, being only 5 points off the top spot. The next game will be much more of a challenge where the U’s will visit Portsmouth down on the south coast at Fratton Park. The fans for both sets of teams will get right behind their teams & a sell-out ground will set the scene for a feisty encounter. Portsmouth are struggling to find form & find themselves 16thin the table, where the football hasn’t been great to watch in recent weeks & the fans only joy was knowing their fierce Rivals Southampton lost 9-0 to Leicester. Oxford also have the visit of current holders Manchester City to look forward to in December for the quarter finals of the Carabao Cup where they will look to avenge the 0-3 loss last season.

Winning Team Player Ratings:

Simon Eastwood 6 Chris Cadden 7 (Inj) Rob Dickie 8 John Mousinho 8 Josh Ruffels 9 Alex Gorrin 8 James Henry 7 Cameron Brannagan 7 (Inj) Mark Sykes 8 Jamie Mackie 7 Tariqe Fosu 9 (MOTM)

Subs Shandon Baptiste 7 Sam Long 8 Rob Hall 6


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