Oxford (a) - As I Seen It

BILL THE BIRO sees an unexpected win

Oxford United 0 Pools 2
League 2
Kassam Stadium
17th March 2015

As with last season, I went with an Oxford-residing Frenchman, for his third-ever Pools match. He had yet to see them either gain a point or score a goal. I was able to point out that many Pools fans had had that problem this season, and that even last Saturday at Morecambe, Pools hadn't achieved both. 

Outside the ground we had to part with almost a fiver each for a bacon cheeseburger, but it was by football ground standards pretty good. A bit of banter at the ticket window (when I was accused by the Frenchman of cheating for getting a £13 senior ticket while he'd had to pay £22) didn't go down well with the stony-faced man behind the glass, but at least the stewards were cheerful and helpful.

We went into the ground and straight to the bar, where we ordered a can of Guinness (it being St. Patrick's Day), and a bottle of bitter, which I could see on the shelf. The young man seemed to be dithering in front of the shelf until his colleague spotted the same and told him which one of the four choices was bitter. Where do they find these people? 

For a southern ex-pat Poolie like me, one of the joys of going to see Pools' away matches (not that there has been much joy these last few seasons), has been meeting up with other Poolies. We only see each other now and again for a 5-minute chat, but even though those shared moments may not amount over the years to too many hours, nevertheless these people somehow acquire the status of old friends, who usually end up reminiscing about the old days just as much as old boys who see each other every night in the pub. So it was that I met up in the bar area with my old mates Whisky and Mick from Evesham. Mick was hoping for something from the match, especially as it was his birthday. I asked him why his name wasn't Paddy then, but he pointed out that Mick was the next best thing. As ever, they were buoyant, and looking forward to going north at the weekend for the Mansfield match. They introduced me to another southern Poolie who they had likewise befriended over the years. 

In the bar area we also got talking to another fan from Gosport, who reminisced about being at a Pools victory here at the Kassam a few years back when Gordon Watson scored. So the match started with a larger Poolie turnout than I was expecting. Some faces I recognised as they are at every away match, but I suspect the majority were southern-based like all the ones I mentioned earlier. 

It was a quite lively game with Pools gaining the upper hand for most of the first half. Scott Harrison was immense at the back, with Mirfin ably supporting him, and Oxford looking like a team that had been told they only needed to turn up to collect the points. After half an hour Harrison put in a fine sequence of tackles to rescue a difficult situation but his legs eventually couldn't keep up with the rest of him and he stumbled, but was given a free kick anyway. Not long afterwards Pools went a goal up through Ryan Bird, and the Oxford fans seemed to be stunned. However, their players responded by putting Pools under pressure for the last ten minutes of the half, but the storm was weathered. 

"Scott Flinders was doing a great job of running down the clock (or time-wasting, as it's known when it's an opposition player doing it)"

Scott Flinders was doing a great job of running down the clock (or time-wasting, as it's known when it's an opposition player doing it), and Pools were deserving their half-time lead. Besides the outstanding Harrison, the rest of the defence was doing well. Featherstone was having the best game I'd seen from him, Tshibola was making things happen, and the other forward players were causing problems for Oxford. 

In the second half Pools got a penalty, and the officials debated whether a sending-off would also be appropriate, but decided against that. So Bird took the penalty to bag his second of the night. Well, no doubt that's what he was thinking, but of course it didn't happen, as the goalkeeper cleared it, so Austin needed to follow up, making it 2-0 to Pools. 

The match continued with neither side really on top, but Pools weren't looking in any great danger. There was a long hold-up when the referee went down and didn't move for five minutes, which resulted in him having to be carried off, and replaced by one of the linesmen. 

During the match, birthday-boy Mick had tried to start some chants, but got no takers, and it was a fairly subdued Poolie crowd until late on, when victory was in sight. Near the end, with Ryan Bird having run out of steam, he was replaced by Marlon. We both agreed that that would not be a bad move in the circumstances, as he was only being brought on as a diversion. 

So, after nine minutes of added time, and some funny comments about that from Poolies, the game ended with three points, another clean sheet, and two goals off the goal difference. Sadly, most of the other results went against us (presumably Cambridge and Northampton also thought they only had to turn up), but the task, though still immense, is not looking quite so hopeless as it did a week ago.