Red Kites, but no Points

Match report by ALREET at the Kassam Stadium

Oxford 2 Pools 0 (League 2) Saturday April 23rd 2016

I hadn’t been to Oxford for a match since United played at their old Manor Ground in Headington, way back in the day. 

This always struck me as a bit different from most grounds, being located in a tree-lined residential area. I had actually driven to that area once since but that was to see a rare American bird which had taken up residence in a chap’s back garden and he had cut up oranges and placed them in his trees for it to feed on.

Leaving Oxford station, it was handy to find that the local bus route 5 ran a very regular service to the ground so I jumped on, followed by a young girl carrying a lot of gear and a seat. She told a passenger that she was covering the match for a company in the Midlands. The bus passes the University College buildings before heading out through Cowley. Waiting at a set of traffic lights at The Original Swan on the quaintly named Between Towns Road, I spotted three Red Kites wheeling around the houses ahead of us before being mobbed by a Carrion Crow and drifting off.

The bus crossed the Southern Ring Road before the reporter jumped off so I followed her lead and did likewise. I knew that the ground was situated on the Blackbird Leys estate but there my knowledge ended, apart from it appearing regularly on the news several years ago due to it being an area where youngsters ‘misused’ cars and witnessed regular rioting.

Having alighted from the bus, I was looking around for the bus stop that would take me back to the station when a home fan asked if I was looking for the ground. This was fortunate as it is difficult to locate even though the stands are quite high but these only come into view at close range above the houses and there are no pylons these days to reveal its presence. He told me that he came from Bridlington while his father and a brother were Wendies fans, his other brother followed L***s but he had decided to follow Oxford. That said, he is very taken with Pools, saying how he thought the people were top notch. that he visited the Bowls Club and they couldn’t do enough for him and that we are the first fixture he looks for each season.

Thanking him for his time, I eventually found the ground which, having squeezed through a quite narrow barrier, lay down a path and over a stream across an open space. The ground itself is rather odd as it only has three sides, the fourth being an open end with a car park behind it.

Pools kicked off, playing towards the home end of the ground and a large crowd who had been wound up by their announcer. Not a good start by us as Featherstome gave the ball away but Woods and James put a good move together which only ended with a mis-hit effort that was easily cleared. Thomas, on twenty five yards, tried his luck but only found their keeper.

Bates was beaten for pace but the attacker who was through was pulled up by a late offside decision. A quick ball inside our left flank was played across goal but didn’t find an attacker to put a foot on it. The next ball from the Oxford right was played in from the edge of our area. It was collected on the left side of our box, passed inside where a quick shot rattled our bar. The rebound could have gone anywhere but landed right at the feet of Roofe who immediately drilled it home. An impressive reaction as the ball came back at a rate of knots, giving him little time to adjust his feet.

A long, crossfield ball found an attacker free on our right flank and he cut inside but curled his shot just past the far post. Thomas retaliated and a weaving run on our right ended with him hitting a low shot which the keeper held. Gray managed a shot but it didn’t threaten the home goal. Carson at the other end cleared the ball but it was low and picked up by the home side although Hawkins put in a strong tackle and cleared the danger.

Their number ten, Danny Hylton, was proving a handful and showing why Ronnie Moore was reported as trying to bring him to Pools. Oxford were attacking in numbers but were helped by the linesman in front of the Poolies who ignored three or four offside shouts in quick succession. When he eventually flagged, it was met by a very loud cheer.

A long ball out to their left was again allowed to stand and the resulting shot just passed our right post. Magnay lost the ball but redeemed himself and forced a rebound for a throw-in. Woods had a shot direct at the keeper before Featherstone and James combined to put a move together but the final ball ended up for a throw-in.

We again lost possession and their central attacker moved in from their left but fortunately hit a shot wide of the post. In keeping with his earlier decisions, their player clearly took the ball over our line but the linesman declined to give the goal kick. We won a free kick on the half-way line after good play between Hawkins and Woods was interrupted by a foul for which the offender received a yellow card. Woods collected a good ball wide on our left but his cross was knocked down to the keeper. Woods regained a lost ball and found Thomas who moved it on to Gray but, again, the ball was lost.
"You guys should be alright next year"

Oxford dribbled the ball into our six yard box but we managed to put it out for a throw-in. Bates picked up a booking and then there was panic in our defence but the ball was eventually cleared. Hawkins lost the ball but won it back and Woods put in a shot while he was falling but the keeper collected it easily.
Pools finished the half pretty much as they had played the rest of it by losing possession on the edge of their box.

Woods started the second half by creating a good chance from a cross. He then hit a shot wide before controlling the ball and running into trouble. Thomas lost possession and the ball ended up in our area where an attacker went down but pleas for a penalty were turned down and a corner awarded. For once, it was the home fans booing the ref’s decision.

Bates got in a good block on their scorer while two of our defenders went for the same ball and we were chasing shadows at this point. We lost the ball which was quickly picked up by the home attackers who galloped towards our goal with men over. Jackson, however, was up to the task and made a great tackle inside our area to save the situation.

Oxford fired off a shot on the turn and appealed for a penalty which was denied. Thomas, by now, had switched to the right but Oxford were turning the screw although we weathered the storm. Featherstone was left limping after a hard tackle and then Hawkins received a yellow card. Almost before the ref had time to return his pencil to his pocket, it had to come out again as Carroll entered the book for bringing down his man.

Pools went on a rare foray and Thomas went on a run and hit a great shot from distance which the keeper saved but spilled with none of our forwards anywhere close enough to capitalize. At the other end, Oxford got round the back of our defence and fired in a drive which Carson magnificently saved with his feet.

Oates came on for Gray and Thomas switched back to his original position on the right. From a Thomas free kick, Bates went close with a header that went over the far post. Oates hurt his left ankle after a challenge just inside their half which left him limping for a short while. Woods was replaced by Bingham and we won a corner which, I believe, was our first of the afternoon. The corner was taken by Oates whose cross was met by Bates only for his header to be cleared off the line by Sercombe, their attacker who had earlier hit our bar in the lead up to their first goal.

James went off to be replaced by Duckworth for the last few minutes. Following sustained Pools pressure, the ball was switched to the opposite end and a square pass played to the edge of our box where a side foot volley was kept out by another fine save from Carson. With three minutes of added time played, we lost the ball on the edge of our box and Sercombe burst past Jackson to plant the ball firmly beyond Carson for the clinching goal.

Two nil, on chances created, was probably a fair result. Pools, overall, defended quite well and the midfield did a decent job but we were lacking where it mattered, up front. Paynter’s absence is shown in our play with no one able to fill his role of keeping the ball and laying it off to others. Woods and, later, Bingham both bring energy and pace up front but do not hold up play. Carson made some excellent saves but we continually lost possession and Oxford hit us on the break, passing inside our defenders and attacking with three or four players running at speed.

We seemed to lose the snap of recent performances, sat too deep and turned into trouble with Oxford picking up most of the loose balls. That said, we only played for the last twenty minutes and in that spell, we kept the home team on the defence and created decent chances. It was a disappointing performance and result against a good side when, on another day, we may well have matched them and got something from the game.

At the final whistle, I made my way back to the bus stop to find a queue of around eighty or ninety people snaking their way around a corner to board three waiting buses. On reaching the station and exchanging views with a couple of Poolie mates, I boarded my train and waited for the off to Paddington.

Glancing out of the window, I thought I spotted Carroll in a light blue Pools zip-up jacket trundling his gear along the platform. I didn’t notice him at Paddington and, of course, he could have departed at an earlier station but then it dawned on me that he probably didn’t get on the train in the first place and had travelled in the opposite direction.

Walking towards the Circle line, I passed a similarly attired lad (but dark blue top) in the ticket hall. Getting up to leave the train at Baker Street, I spotted him sitting on my train and it was none other than Rakish. Probably the only time I’ll ever see a Pools player on the London Underground! He seems a very pleasant lad and asked if I had been at the match and we had a quick chat. He said that he lives in East London and I obviously would have liked to have had a bit longer with him. He did say, “You guys should be alright next year” as I left. Now, if I had made that comment, I would have used the word, “We” or am I reading something into it that wasn’t intended?