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Monday, 11 August 2014

The Inside Line: Oxford United (12/08/2014)

Fresh from a stunning first day victory at title favourites Sheffield United, City appear at three-sided Ashton Gate for the first time this season when they face League Two Oxford United in the League Cup.

What used to be a regular fixture has ceased to be so in recent times as Oxford slipped through the leagues, but recent years have been kinder to the once top-flight club and they're sure to be motivated for a game against a side they'll see as a bit of a benchmark to aim for, in the interim.

Stu Radnedge spoke to Jack Willows, writer of the the 90 minutes up blog which mixes news of the Oxfordshire side with analysis of the greater game: http://90minutesup.blogspot.be/

Over to Stu...

The last time these two clubs faced each other was again at Ashton Gate in the first round of the League Cup of 2002/03, with the visitors progressing to the second round draw after winning 1-0. Oxford have historically done well on visits to the Gate, will it be the same again on Tuesday?
It will be an interesting one. Yes, our record against City is good but in recent years we’ve often disappointed when facing teams higher than us. Big defeats to Leeds, Sheffield United and Charlton spring to mind.

As everyone is aware, cup games provide the opportunity for an upset. What has Oxford's preparation been like for the new season, given the managerial changes? Have you made any key signings or kept any players that looked certain to leave? 
How long have you got? The last few weeks at Oxford have been chaotic to say the least. After a dangerously quiet looking summer, seeing only the one signing, we were taken over with the new owners immediately shipping out our manager, Gary Waddock, and replacing him with Michael Appleton. Since then we’ve appointed ex-England number-two, Derek Fazackerley, and brought in a handful of players.

That list of additions included England under-21 keeper, George Long, who looked ‘Neuer-esque’ when acting as a sweeper against Bournemouth last Saturday. Elsewhere we’ve bolstered our defensive options and the centre of midfield, however, after the departure of both James Constable - our top scorer - and the ever charismatic Dave Kitson, we’ve very light upfront, thus, we’re still looking for a new frontman. So, whoever he is, he’ll be key to our chances this season. No pressure!

Appleton has quite a story as well, with his career ending early after being operated on poorly by a surgeon and winning compensation in court later in 2005. He's been quoted previously as wanting to be the best coach he can be to "make-up" for his playing career ending early, but managerial positions at Blackpool and Blackburn ended in controversy. He joined the U's this summer.  What's your opinion on him?
Oxford fans are a judgemental bunch so whoever took over was going to be given a tough time, but, so far, he’s yet to put a foot wrong and, personally, I like him. He’s insistent on playing football ‘the right way’, keeping possession and playing a high line. He’s also spoken out about improving Oxford behind the scenes.

In terms of on the pitch, we won five of our seven preseason outings and, as I mentioned earlier, he’s brought in some promising players. 

Oxford finished 8th last year - missing out on the playoffs by some nine points. Will you be challenging for the playoffs again, or more, this year?
Last year was very, very disappointing. We were top of the league at the turn of the year and looking odds-on for automatic promotion, but, in a bizarre turn of events, our manager, Chris Wilder, resigned, opting to take over at 24th placed Northampton Town – eventually guiding them to safety. From then on we collapsed. There’s no way around that word. If the league had started in January, we’d of finished well clear at the foot of the table.

Therefore, we say it every year but playoffs is a minimum. Without shining the glory lamp on us too much, we are not a small team. We’ve got a good history and have the club structure to be playing higher than we are currently. 

I understand Bristol-born (I went to junior school with him as a neighbour of mine) Danny Rose is a key player to the squad?  What does he bring to a match and how can he be stopped? Is there anyone else in the squad City fans should be fearful of?
Now in his second spell at United, Danny had a solid season back in yellow last year. He’s comfortable in possession as well as solid defensively, especially when regaining possession in the centre of the park. Having said this, with the addition of Michael Collins, ex-Scunthorpe, Rose’s place in the starting eleven is by no means a certainty. On Saturday, against Bournemouth, he was played further forward which – except from his very well take goal – didn’t look to suit him quite so well.

In terms of players to look out for? Collins and (Jon) Meades played very well together in the midfield and, even against Championship level players, held their own and dominated parts of the game. Alfie Potter, though, is definitely one-to-watch, lightening pace and can play on either flank. Hope for your sakes you’ve got quick full-backs! 

Whom do you fear in the City line up? Will there be a gulf in class or will Oxford be able to contest? 
We’re definitely going to have to watch Jay Emmanuel Thomas very closely because he’s a real talent – I also see he’s been scoring well in preseason.

Can I get a score prediction? 
It’s going to be very difficult for us. After all the happenings this summer, we’ve got a very thin squad and I think that could cost us. We’ve got two important league games either side of the game and I think, for fitness sake, we’re going to have to rest one or two players and that could leave us vulnerable.

I don’t think we’ll be a pushover, but I think the clinical ability of your frontmen may cost us. My heart thinks we could knick it 1-0 with a last gasp winner, but, realistically, I think we’re not going to be springing any surprises.  Bristol City 2-0 Oxford

The Exiled Robin

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