Oxford (a) As I Seen It

Match report by BILL THE BIRO at the Kassam Stadium

Oxford United 1, Pools 0 League 2 Friday March 21st 2014

The Oxford match - another local one for me - had been pencilled into my diary since June when the fixtures came out.
Ok so I don't actually keep a diary, just a little card with the matches I'm likely to go to written on it. So way back in June the common-law son-in-law (it would technically require two weddings for him to become a real son-in-law) humoured me by saying he'd go with me when Pools played at the Kassam stadium. He lives and works in Oxford, and not only is he an avid watcher of The Premiership and that level of football on TV, but he is also French and supports Marseille. He has also watched a match at the Kassam before, but that was rugby (The Kassam is the home ground of London Welsh). Luckily, he was not put off, despite his knowledge of the Poolie French connection.

A reminder about the impending match had resulted in an invitation for my good lady and myself to stay the night in Oxford with her daughter and him, just a mile from the ground, complete with the offer of a lift to and from it so we could both drink. These arrangements worked perfectly and we arrived at the ground 45 minutes early, and went in with plenty of time to have a pint of Brain's beer, as advertised at the bar. This it transpired was only applicable to rugby matches (hence the Welsh beer); footy fans had to make do with plastic bottles of Carlsberg or cider.

So having each consumed a Carlsberg (and having been prevented from taking them to our seats) we went out into the cold and windy stadium. There was one man sat right at the end of the stand, against the end wall, presumably to gain shelter from the wind. So we did a scientific experiment by walking down there and trying it out for ourselves. The conclusion was that it didn't work, so we went and sat more centrally.

The Frenchman decided to wind up an Oxford-supporting friend who has often promised to take him to a U's match, by texting him to say that he had given up waiting and so has gone to his first footy match at the Kassam with the away fans. Straight back came the reply "I think you have a wrong number!"

Pools were doing their warmup. This gave me the chance to point out some of the Pools players and to issue a warning about not expecting Premiership quality. I pointed out that the Ronaldo look-alike was the seventeen-year-old who had won an award as Apprentice-of-the-Year this week, just a day after he had played magnificently and scored in the rout of Bristol Rovers. The Oxford match would thus be an anti-climax for him so I warned about expecting too much from him. Last year's Apprentice-of-the-Year was a bit more difficult to point out since he's quite small and insists on running about all the time, so that identification took a minute or two. Luckily Marlon Harewood doesn't move much so was a bit easier to point out, even without mentioning facial colouring!

For those who don't know, the Kassam is a modern stadium, but it has only three stands, and there's just a wall behind one goal, with a car park immediately behind it. We speculated * on how safe it is to park there on match days.
"It was almost as if the officials had discussed the disallowed penalty, felt that they had got it wrong and ought to redress the balance. Not that such a thing would ever happen, obviously."

For a night match, there was a decent Poolie turnout. The team was unchanged from the one which had carried on after the injury to Monkhouse in the match against the Gas. Pools started quite cautiously but the half settled down with the two sides being quite evenly matched. An early denied penalty appeal didn't go down well with the home fans. Prominent for Pools was Holden, who was doing sterling work up the left wing, and Collins and Burgess were coping with Oxford's lively strikers. Just before half time Pools had five successive corners in a few minutes of pressure that had Oxford struggling. The entertaining half ended goalless, with Pools slightly edging it, and playing most of the football.

A half-time walk-about gave the chance for a chat to some Poolies who live near me and whom I often see at Midlands matches. One of them told me that Harewood is notorious as a home-match player. Which would explain why I've never seen him put in much effort in the three away matches I've seen him play, yet there hasn't been the negative reaction from the home fans that I might have expected if he'd been that useless at home.

The second half continued much as before, with Pools containing Oxford and looking to sneak a goal. However, the referee seemed to be favouring Oxford with his decisions. It was almost as if the officials had discussed the disallowed penalty, felt that they had got it wrong and ought to redress the balance. Not that such a thing would ever happen, obviously.

Walton was his usual schizophrenic self, combining brilliant tackles with awful passes, and eventually he got himself a fairly soft booking, followed not long after by another, non-soft one, which resulted in a long trudge across the pitch for him.

Almost straight away Oxford got a goal which came indirectly from a free kick. The remainder of the match consisted of Pools trying to pull one back, in the end having three strikers and Sweeney all up front and desperately trying to rescue a point. James had a few shots and Sweeney missed a good chance but Pools ended up losing what had been a close match that could easily have been a draw.

Flinders played well, pulling off some decent saves. Richards was quietly effective. Holden was very good early on but was clapped out long before being substituted near the end. Sam and Christian were both solid and reliable, and Pools will miss Burgess when he goes back to Boro as he is a centre-half who gives you an extra midfielder for free. Walton was Walton as usual - you just can't rely on him, and he probably lost us the match. As predicted, the week's excitement proved too much for young Walker and he often looked like a little-boy-lost. Compton was ok in parts but Pools' away policy of not playing wide didn't seem to suit him especially. Barmby again appeared in fits and starts and had a couple of good efforts. James was everywhere for the entire match, harrying the goalkeeper, tracking back, and generally doing the work of two men. Which was just as well, because Harewood was doing the work of no men. He was immobile and disinterested, and apart from one moment near the end when he brought down the ball and successfully passed it to another Pools player, he contributed almost nothing to the proceedings. Several people around me also couldn't understand how Cooper justified giving him the whole ninety minutes, and were wondering what Poole had done to be so out of favour.

The substitutions of Sweeney Franks and Poole for Holden Compton and Barmby were as usual too late.

Following the match, we were taken to a pub where sorrows were drowned until about midnight and then until 3 a.m. back at the billet, so it was a good evening for the Frenchie and the Poolie, if not for Pools.

* You'll be pleased to hear that only one ball went into the car park, but it did hit a car, so if you go there I would advise not parking close to the open end. Or going in an old banger.