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Wednesday 1st  May 2013 ko 19.45

Oxon Senior Cup Final

OXFORD UNITED 4 (Ashby 48 Marsh 65 Pittman 96 Roberts 120)

OXFORD CITY 2 (Cook 25p Barcelos 69)

Att 901

At Oxford United FC

Entry & Programme £8

I usually treat anything organised by the Oxfordshire FA with caution, they have a reputation for poor organisation, for example the Oxon Senior league doesn’t even have a website! That feeling wasn’t helped when I went through the turnstile end someone in front of me asked whether he could have another programme. “Of course,” was the reply, ” It saves me putting the useless things back in my car!” The programme was an improvement on the usual poor effort, but the committee saw no need to publish a history of the competition, instead they plumped for 3 adverts of the Oxfordshire FA, 2 identical.

The reason for the somewhat inflated entry price was that for once the final was between the two clubs with the highest playing statuses in the county, namely League 2 and the Conference North. Perhaps it was the cost, or OUFC’s frustrating season, or Oxford City’s generally low following but only half of the South Stand Lower was opened, ample for the 901 present, but I did wonder if more imaginative pricing would have attracted more.

There are many depressing things in football, but one that doesn’t get much coverage is the one-sided rivalry. Oxford City don’t like Oxford United, even though this the only competition in which the teams ever meet. For United the rivalry has a strict hierarchy, its Swindon Town, followed by Swindon Reserves, then Swindon Youth and so on… City just don’t feature at all. There are several examples of this in football. Leyton Orient don’t like West Ham, but the Hammers hate Millwall, and I’m sure you can dream up a few more!

The added piquancy for home fans was the news that the retained list was due out at midday the next day. There are some advantages to writing this a few days after the event, and I think most present would have predicted that we were seeing the last appearances of Jon-Paul Pittman, Tony Capaldi, and Simon Heslop in an OUFC shirt. The real surprise was that non-playing substitute Deane Smalley got offered a new deal. Yes, he’s been unlucky with injuries, but his goals to appearances ratio is dreadful, and it looks unlikely to improve.

The lesson here wasn’t the established players on either side. I suspect that for Oxford City former United players Steve Basham, Chris Wilmott and Jamie Cook will also have made their last appearances at Grenoble Road, but City manager Mike Ford hit the nail on the head when he commented that United won the tie with clinical finishing. That’s not a comment often associated with United this season, and 3 goals came from either youth or former youth players. Josh Ashby fired home from just outside the box for United’s first, Tyrone Marsh’s shot from the right flank oozed the confidence gained from a successful loan spell at Staines, and those in the know have had teenage striker James Roberts in their sights for a while. He scores goals for fun at youth team level, the question now is how best to progress him?

Extra time was the last thing either time wanted, not least afterwards as Oxon FA organisation meant that the usual rambling over-long speech was attempted without the usual radio-mic. The official was quickly shouted down, the cup presented, and everyone could go home! I noted that neither Capaldi nor Heslop could be bothered to ever come out and attend the presentation. That spoke volumes for them, and what they expected to happen the next day.

But let’s have a closer look at that retained and released list. Andy Whing’s retention must be the most popular bit of news coming from OUFC for a while, and Alfie Potter’s year-long extension was entirely logical. Equally logical was the departures of Tony Capaldi, Tom Craddock, Simon Heslop, Peter Leven, Luke McCormick, Josh Parker, Jon-Paul Pittman, Justin Richards, and Harry Worley. Not one has set the world alight and in some cases the attitudes have been lacking even the bodies have been fit. I understand that McCormick is negotiating to return to Plymouth, who will have to weigh up his talent against a toxic past. In a similar vein, I understand Craddock is eyeing up a return to his native North-East in the form of Hartlepool. There the club will no doubt be weighing up talent against mind-set.

The attitude has been always there for Michael Duberry who defied a potentially career-ending neck injury to keep playing. I for one will miss his “Positive Vibes” but time waits for no man, and sadly that includes him.

The two controversial departures where undoubtedly Peter Leven and Damien Batt. When fit, Leven is easily the best midfielder in the squad, if not the division, but that caveat is a huge one. I’ve heard too many interviews referring to Leven’s injuries as having to be managed, and with a smaller wage bill the club cannot afford a passenger, however talented.

Batt can count himself to be extremely unlucky. For most he’s OUFC’s first choice at right back, and whilst he’s far better going forward than in defence, he had a good season. I can only assume Chris Wilder has a better replacement lined up. I for one will be sorry to see another of the Wembley Conference Play-off final heroes depart along with Adam Chapman, who I assume will join Mansfield.

If Damien Batt is unlucky and Deane Smalley extremely fortunate, then left back Luke O’Brien is the proof that being a good professional pays dividends. A solid full back, and no more, he may not end up even being first choice come the start of the season but will let no-one down when called upon.

Scott Davies is probably seen as Leven’s replacement. He came in as a free agent, with no security and impressed greatly. He’s local too (Aylesbury), which saves on the costs of relocation. Another good professional too, this game saw him fill in, completely out of position at left back. I think he’ll form a good partnership with the more combative Whing.

Of course the retained list isn’t even half the story.  There’s the small matter of who’s coming in, and how many of the youth team will step up to the first XI. Watch this space.