Friday 21st March 2014 ko 19.45
OXFORD UNITED 1 (Connolly 77)
HARTLEPOOL UNITED 0
Att 4,954 (185 away)
Programme £3 (inc Oxford Mail)
Sometimes its wonderful how things conspire to help you. With Oxford’s game away at Southend on Monday televised, this fixture was moved forward a day to allow the team a little time to recover and me to plan another destination for tomorrow. The move didn’t help the Hartlepool fans, and all credit to those who make the trip, and it didn’t help Ian Lenagan the Oxford United chairman either.
It had been 8 weeks since Chris Wilder’s departure to Northampton and after a bright start caretaker manager Mickey Lewis’ tenure had taken a turn for the worse culminating in a morale-sapping 3-0 defeat away at Chesterfield where both Michael Raynes and Tom Newey saw red cards, and Johnny Mullins had seriously injured his foot.
The pressure was growing to make an appointment, the rumours abounded and at 6.30pm Lenagan announced he had his man, but wasn’t able to make an announcement until tomorrow. Whilst it didn’t dampen down the rumours, it did galvanise the support behind the ever popular Lewis.
He had some real decisions to make too, and for the most part answered them with youth. Sam Long replaced Raynes at centre half, and Matt Bevans with Tom Newey at right back. Josh Ruffels was recalled to midfield, was I the only one who thought that the run of poor form coincided with his run in the side ending? The one nod to experience was one massive nod, and that was the return after 5 months out for the Warrior, Andy Whing.
The likeable Brummie never shirks anything, let alone a tackle and was clearly tasked with looking after Long and Bevans from his favoured position of holding midfielder. He had 3 operations to sort out a torn groin and it was typical of the man that being in obvious pain from the hour mark he soldiered through to the final whistle.
It was a typical League 2 game, high on intensity, and sometimes low on good decision-making. The game was settled by two pieces of stupidity from Hartlepool’s Simon Walton. The former Plymouth man has been in the game long enough to know how to stay on the pitch, so two unnecessary tackles in roughly the same place on Sean Rigg will have massively disappointed Colin Cooper his manager.
And look what happened 3 minutes afterwards. Another foul on Rigg, right on the edge of the box, and David Hunt’s teasing free kick found the shortest player in there, David Connolly to nod home for a win to bookend Mickey Lewis’ stint in charge.
So now we know that the new Head Coach, that title will take a little getting used to, is Gary Waddock. He’s a former QPR player and Eire international; and did manage the “R’s” for 3 months after the departure of Ian Holloway to Blackpool. He manager Aldershot to the Conference title with a record 101 points before taking charge at Wycombe. There he gained automatic promotion from League 2 before being in charge as the Chairboys were relegated back the following season.
Perhaps that’s why the Wycombe fans I know don’t seem to rate him, he was sacked during the season after the relegation with the Chairboys struggling. The question I tend to ask of ex-Wycombe staff is what conditions were they working under? Wycombe come with the reputation of being a boom and bust club, spending big getting promoted, then when the financial realities bite cutting the wage bill and getting relegated. Their parlous position in League 2 this season shows them as being at the “Bust” stage of the cycle. Until this weekend he was head of coaching at the MK Dons, who waived their right to compensation to let him further his career.
It seems to me that whilst Waddock will not be many Oxford United fans’ choice, I for example would have gone for either Sean O’Driscoll or Micky Adams, he is a competent manager. His first task is to build on this win, and ensure at least a playoff place. After that, there are major contract decisions on several players such as Rigg, Jake Wright and James Constable. It is clear that the club are on the cusp of a new era, the question is what form that future will take.