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Tuesday 1st January 2013 ko 15.00

League 2

OXFORD UNITED 1 (Leven 16p)


Att 6,951 (637 away)

Entry S/T

Programme £3

One of those fixtures that is a local derby only in the thoughts of the fixture computer. Cheltenham still regard Gloucester City as public enemy number 1, whilst for Oxford its swindon, followed by swindon’s reserves, and thirdly swindon’s youth team. Nevertheless New Year’s Day is a good time for the clubs to meet, its not too far for supporters to travel with bleary heads, and guarantees a reasonable attendance.

The main topic of conversation amongst the home fans before kick off was the pitch, and especially the patch in front of the tunnel. It looks dreadful, and plays a good deal worse, one look at it made it obvious why the Fleetwood game was postponed. The weather hasn’t helped but I do wonder whether the financial gains made by having London Welsh share the stadium will be outweighed by the damage done to the pitch.

Its not often I go to watch Oxford United with no preconceptions, perhaps it was the aftermath of a quite wonderful New Year Party (Thanks Sally), but when someone asked me what I thought the score would be I said one each, because I honestly couldn’t think of anything else!

With Michael Raynes ill, his place at centre half was taken by an obviously not fit Michael Duberry. The former Leeds defender has been out since the last game of last season after having surgery on a neck problem. Fit he may not have been, but he got through 90 minutes on skill, and at times, sheer know-how. I couldn’t help but contrast him with former Oxford winger Sam Deering, unused and unwanted sitting on the Cheltenham bench.

Duberry is set to retire at the end of the season, so a decision not to risk an operation on a prolapsed disc would have been understandable. Deering however has lead a peripatetic existance, since starting as a youth team player at Charlton Athletic. He’s got the talent to be playing at a higher level than League 2, but he stays nowhere for long, with questions always asked about his application and commitment. If he had Duberry’s desire, he’d be  a wonderful player, instead the cameo-merchant he is now.

Cheltenham were third in the table by being a well drilled, strong outfit, with their main outlet being pacy right winger Jermaine McGlashan. It will be a real feather in the cap for Luke O’Brien at left back that he was largely kept quiet. O’Brien is, in theory United’s third choice at that position, and is on a temporary contract. This was the best performance I’ve seen from him, and he’ll consider himself extremely unlucky if he finds himself a free agent at the end of January.

His performance was surpassed by that of captain Jake Wright. Every so often he pulls a performance out of the hat that makes you wonder why he’s playing in League 2. This was one of those, and his challenge on Darryl Duffy was one for the text books.

The game was settled from the penalty spot, when Sean Rigg’s ball found Tom Craddock who promptly beat Sido Jombati for position, before going down under his late challenge. Referee Fred Graham checked with his linesman who, like the away fans behind him, couldn’t have possibly seen the foul but gave the spot kick anyway despite no signal from his assistant. Peter Leven blasted the penalty into the bottom left hand corner, giving keeper Scott Brown no chance.

Pretty it wasn’t, but three wins out of three during the Christmas break is not to be sneezed at, and puts the club in good morale for the FA Cup game against Sheffield United next Saturday. There are two issues to be addressed before then. Of the three loanees who are set to return to their parent clubs (Daniel Boateng, Lee Cox and Jake Forster-Caskey) Cox’s situation is the most pressing. He wants to stay, but if a deal can’t be reached with swindon, or a replacement found United will have only Peter Leven and Simon Heslop to play in centre midfield.

Just as pressing is the need to clarity over James Constable. He was sent off controversially for violent conduct away at AFC Wimbledon, and his appeal will be heard tomorrow lunchtime. If that is unsuccessful, he’ll serve a 4-game ban, and that would leave the only fit forwards as Craddock, Tyrone Marsh and Josh Parker, with only Craddock as a proven goal-getter. Love him or loath him manager Chris Wilder, is having to do just that, manage, just to get a viable 11 on the pitch on match day. It looks to be an interesting few days.