Sunday, 27 November 2011

Serving up a hammering

One of the many enjoyable things about doing radio commentary at away games is listening to how the opposition commentators and - more importantly - the opposition fans react after a game.
BBC Oxford have an after-match phone-in and the presenter was a busy man fielding moans about Chris Wilder, his team selection, their performance and the referee (was he from Swindon, asked one caller).
That should sum up in a nutshell just how dominant our performance was on Saturday.
We have, over the past few weeks, turned up at various places, seen the team go out and win, left happily but always had this nagging thought in the back of our minds.
Remember last season.... remember last season.... remember last season.
Tell you what, it might just be time to forget about last season after a display and victory like that.
'An automatic promotion performance' was how one friend of mine described it.
A tweet I read from an Oxford fan said they hadn't been outplayed like that at home for two years.
From the moment Russ Penn charged up the wing in the first 30 seconds and won a corner, you could tell which team fancied it, and which one didn't.
Their midfield didn't want to know in the face of the intensity of our Three Musketeers, while their two centre halves were dominated by Darryl Duffy's movement.
Kaid Mohamed had the beating of his full back but let himself down with poor decision making - the only minus of the afternoon - while James Constable can come out of Steve Elliott's pocket now.
Our first half performance was as good a 45 minutes as we have played away from home in the past four or five seasons, let alone just the last six games.
We should have been at least three goals ahead, but led thanks to Sido Jombati's goal in the eighth minute.
Did he mean it? I am not sure.
Mark Yates said afterwards that Steve Book had noticed Ryan Clarke tended to come off his line a bit, and suggested that Sido had spotted that and lobbed him, but both Russ Penn and Sido suggested there was maybe a bit of fortune about it.
Who cares though. The celebration was special, and the large smile he always plays with was even bigger than usual for a player who has quickly become both a cult hero and an integral part of the side.
Remember that he has ousted last season's player of the year, the Bilston Cafu himself, Keith Lowe, and Mark Yates compared him to a Brazilian full-back after the game.
He said it was Jairzinho, but maybe the boss's knowledge of 1970 was a bit hazy - sure he meant Carlos Alberto - but Sido's reaction at being called Brazilian was a bit muted... 'Pah, I am Portuguese' he said, rather like an Englishman being told he plays cricket like an Australian, one would suggest.
Kaid Mohamed had a shot saved when he should have passed to Darryl Duffy, Russ Penn had two decent chances and Duffy nearly got a second right on half-time.
After such a dominant display there was a slight worry that we would not maintain that intensity, and a rollicking from Chris Wilder would see Oxford storm back after the break.
But we are the best 1-0 team in the division - the only games we have not won this season after we have scored the first goal is the 2-2 draw at Torquay. Not a bad record...
Oxford sent on a striker, Deane Smalley, for Paul McLaren, who had been smashed throughout the first half by Russ Penn and Luke Summerfield.
Then Liam Davis got two yellow cards in six minutes - and should have gone earlier for fouling Penn, who was somehow booked for diving after the linesman had signalled for our free-kick.
Another substitution saw a defender, Harry Worley, come on for Lewis Guy, and then Jimmy Spencer got the second with a clever finish after Luke Summerfield volleyed a corner across the face of goal.
Mark Yates then took Russ Penn off and replaced him with Junior Smikle - good management as Penn was booked, had treatment for an injury and the game was becoming increasingly fractious.
We lost Penn's work rate and it allowed Oxford to have their best spell of the game and Jack Butland made good saves from Robert Hall, a Peter Leven free-kick and even the invisible James Constable had a shot.
But we were still comfortable, and maybe the only worry came when Leven curled in a fantastic free-kick for the first league goal we have conceded away from home since Lee Brown's goal on October 1 at Bristol Rovers - 387 minutes ago.
After a sublime free-kick, our goal came from a ridiculous one, Kaid Mohamed's 'shot' hitting Leven and dribbling past Clarke.
That was that, and there followed a mass emptying of the home stands as more than half of the Oxford contingent of the 8,037 crowd vanished almost immediately, or quickly donned fancy dress costumes as blue seats.
But the 766 members of the Ruby Army kept singing as they had from an hour before kick off, and the team celebrated with them after what I thought was our best away display in the recent run we have had.
So that is the Magnificient Seven away from home, matching what we did under Steve Cotterill in 2002, and our 12th win of the league season - remember, we only won 13 games in the whole of last season...
So on to Luton, then Southend at home, followed by Shrewsbury over Christmas.
Tough games yes, but after a performance like this, we should be fearing no one. If anything, they should be worrying about us.

Player by player
Jack Butland - Made some fabulous saves in the second half as Oxford had a decent spell, and was commanding throughout. Probably only one more game left of his loan spell but would love him back in January.
Sido Jombati - Great goal, whether he meant it or not, which has cemented his cult status. Another good performance overall.
Luke Garbutt - Kept Lewis Guy and Robert Hall quiet on the flanks and some decent set-piece delivery. Has been a big asset and glad he is here until January at least.
Alan Bennett - Usual commanding performance at the back. Never seems to panic, just goes about his job calmly and effectively. A great leader.
Steve Elliott - Brilliant display to keep Constable very quiet. He and Bennett have been imperious in the last two months.
Russ Penn - Work-rate and intensity set the tone for the whole display. He is the heartbeat of the team, and I lost count of how many 50-50 tackles he won, especially in the first half. Would love him to get a goal!
Marlon Pack - Superb passing and tackling as usual. One brilliant turn to outfox two Oxford midfielders and set us on an attack in the first half. Now on eight bookings for the season.
Luke Summerfield - Becoming a vital player now he has his real match sharpness. Under-rated by many and the 'quiet partner' of the midfield three.
Kaid Mohamed - Had the beating of Damian Batt from the off but too often made a poor decision when the play opened up for him. Could see the Oxford defenders didn't want to know when he ran at them.
Jimmy Spencer - Took his goal superbly and work rate was excellent down the right hand side, while he also linked up well with Darryl.
Darryl Duffy - Movement was superb and was a constant pain to Andy Whing and Jake Wright. Performance deserved a goal.

Substitutes
Junior Smikle (for Russ Penn 65 mins) - Good decision to take Russ off, but Junior failed to acclimatise to the pace and intensity of the game and looked a bit lost.
Josh Low (for Darryl Duffy 71 mins) - Useful outlet for us on the right in the closing stages, even won a 50-50 tackle.
Marlon Jackson (for Kaid Mohamed, 90 mins) - Cameo for the new loan signing. Touched the ball once.