, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday 5th January 2013 ko 15.00

FA Cup 3rd Round


SHEFFIELD UNITED 3 (McMahon 17 Kitson 68 Blackman 87)

Att 7,079 (1,244 away)

Entry £20.50

Programme (inc Oxford Mail) £3

It’s always interesting watching a high-profile game at a lower level ground as the whole atmosphere of the place changes. The regulars are still there, discussing the tactics in detail, but they’re joined by the fans who only ever come when there’s a sprinkling of glamour. They’re easy to spot, the scarf is  two or three seasons old, and the name on the back of the replica shirt has long since moved to pastures new. I was sat in front of a group of former house-sharers, and overheard, “is that the REAL Michael Duberry?” Yes, it was and is, and as far as I’m aware there are no fake Michael Duberrys in existence! To their right, the Press Area was far more populated than normal, there was a whole sheaf of team sheets to be distributed for this game, and there was help for where to plug in mini-PC’s, ISDN lines and all the paraphernalia.

All of them were there for exactly the same reason, FA Cup Third Round day when the “Big Boys” of the top 2 divisions start their campaigns in a knock-out competition that started 8 rounds ago, back in August. They want to witness a giant-killing, and in the case of the pressmen they’ll need to do almost nothing unless the “David” club takes the lead. For the vast majority, their contribution to the sporting lexicon will be little more than, “Club X swept aside plucky Club Y….” Sadly for Oxford United they were destined to do precisely that.

Leave aside the fact that Sheffield United play a division above Oxford, in League 1, the home side had enough problems without worrying about the opposition. With the stadium still owned by Firoz Kassam, there had been reports, confirmed then denied by fellow tenants London Welsh that they were negotiating to buy the stadium. Now it looks like both clubs are looking towards a joint-venture purchase, but one thing all parties seem to agree on is that Kassam is notoriously difficult to deal with. Kassam himself has stated that the stadium is not for sale, I would imagine he values the rental revenue, so I suspect the matter is closed for now.

On the pitch Oxford had more pressing difficulties. James Constable’s 4 game ban for being sent off away at AFC Wimbledon was upheld, and with midfielders Lee Cox and Jake Forster-Caskey returning their parent clubs the squad was threadbare to put it mildly. Striker Justin Richards was recruited from Burton Albion for a second loan spell, whilst midfielder Lewis Montrose was loaned from Gillingham for 4 months. With Montrose cup-tied, the 2 available central midfielders Simon Heslop and Peter Leven picked themselves, Tony Capaldi replaced Sean Rigg on the left, to give solidity, while Alfie Potter provided attacking options on the right.

And for all of that Oxford, playing at this stage for the first time in 10 years, made a decent fist of things. Potter caused the Sheffield defence real difficulties, and at the back the real Michael Duberry looked assured with partner Jake Wright. The chances were being created too, the trouble was they weren’t being converted.

I have to say having ball-boys in the car park does show a certain lack of confidence in the forwards. It proved to be the correct move as both Leven and Heslop blasted over into the car park. You worried that the profligacy would be costly and so it proved.

New signing Jamie Murphy ran at the Oxford defence, and was stopped abruptly by Jake Wright. From where I was it looked an obvious free kick, from behind the goal the home fans screamed their displeasure. Whatever the truth of the matter, Tony McMahon’s free kick curled deliciously over the wall and into the top left corner, keeper Ryan Clarke beaten to the point that he didn’t move. The two sides met in the second round at Bramall Lane last season, and Oxford rather capitulated. This was in complete contrast, as Tom Craddock saw his shot well saved by George Long, as Oxford finished the half on top.

There was no change in the run of play in the second half, Sheffield showing the greater quality, but Oxford showing great spirit, and having the greater possession. You felt that an equaliser would change the entire script, and in the 55th minute Oxford’s one gilt edged chance came, and went. Craddock found Richards clean through, but the forward took far too long picking his spot and the ball dribbled agonisingly wide of the right post.

That prompted a change Rigg replacing the excellent Luke O’Brien, Capaldi moved back to O’Brien’s left back spot, but a minute later Oxford were 2-0 down as a Ryan Flynn free kick from the left curved away from the defence finding Nick Blackman at the back of the six-yard box. His header back found Dave Kitson, and the former Portsmouth man had the simplest task to nod home. In truth, the defending wasn’t wonderful, but Oxford were committing more and more players forward to try and salvage something.

That was a factor in the Blades winner with just 3 minutes left . Kevin McDonald’d through ball found Blackman, and for once the defence wasn’t ready for what happened, a wonderful thumping half-volley from 20 yards that gave Ryan Clarke no chance.

Co-incidentally the same score as was the case last season, but the performances could not be much more different. It’s not often you can take heart from a 3-0 home defeat, but this is the exception. For Tuesday in the Football League Trophy against Southend, its Justin Richards turn to be cup-tied, but Lewis Montrose will be available.

Oxford United, being Oxford United that will be a whole new ball game, pun intended.