Jack in the Box: Payne on Gillingham Victory

Having opened the scoring in today’s fixture against Gillingham, the pint-sized Jack Payne was buoyant after the convincing victory.

“Yeah, it was a really good afternoon for myself. Obviously, it’s really good to win, but to win in that manner, playing good football with a few good goals. I enjoyed that one a lot. The goal was nice, it’s something I look to do, getting on the scoresheet, and obviously in front of the fans who have been great so far, it was a really nice moment for me.”

When asked if Robbie Hall’s shot was already heading in, there was only one answer the diminutive midfielder would give.

“No, it definitely wasn’t going in.” he says with a grin. “It’s come at me quite quickly so I think that was the only thing I could have done with it so I was just pleased to see it go in really.

“First half we played well, obviously we didn’t get the goal but I think it was good that we stayed patient because we always felt it was coming. It was a relief when the first one went in and the rest followed pretty sharpish.”

 

 

A summer signing from Huddersfield Town, the loanee has hit the ground running immediately, and already has an impressive eight assists and two goals to his name.

“It’s nice to hear that but you can’t get assists without a player scoring so it’s been a good team performance all round so far. Hopefully I can keep helping the team out.

“I don’t think they rely on me, I think we’ve got loads of good players, especially from an attacking point of view. We have goals coming from all areas, assists coming from all areas. But I think, in terms of the games, it’s always going to be different. The way the game is, is how I’ve got to react to it but I’m enjoying my football so it’s so far so good.”

Since his summer switch, the number 10 has fitted into Pep Clotet’s side seamlessly. And the 22-year old is loving life under the Spaniard.

“Especially with the type of player I am, you always want to play good football which is lively. Like you say we’ve got loads of good players so it’s really enjoyable to play in at the moment.

“We do have good players and as you’ve seen over the last few weeks, the more we’re playing together the better we’re getting. We practice movement a lot in training and it’s coming through onto the pitch which is great. When you train during the week, we work on as many scenarios as possible which are going to relate to matchdays. You can’t always recreate matchday scenarios but good players perform on the day.

“We’ve got loads of pace on the pitch, and even the players coming on, so it’s hard for the other teams and it creates space for players like myself and other attacking players. The more they stretch the game, the more space we get in the middle so it’s working really well.”

The lack of a cutting edge in the first half was the only downside to a performance in which the U’s dominated. But Jack admitted keeping a cool head was the key to a successful afternoon at Grenoble Road.

“For me personally, I wasn’t frustrated because I knew how well we had the ball and they were only going to get more tired as the game went on. The more we created, for a clinical team in my opinion, the goals were going to come. It seemed like the fans were very patient as well which was also helpful because if they get frustrated then sometimes it gets relayed on the pitch. The fans were really good. They were patient and so were we.

 

 

 

With the deadline day signing of Alex Mowatt, who most believe his best position is in the role currently occupied by Payne, the midfielder took a positive stance to the added competition.

“For me it’s all about my own performance. If I keep playing well, then I shouldn’t have anything to worry about. I know he [Mowatt] can play out wide and he used to play centre-mid so I am looking forward to playing with him. He’s not necessarily competition in my position, but playing together is something I’m looking forward to.

“I think the longer we play together the better we’re going to get as a side. We work hard in training and if something goes wrong we look to correct it. I think the future is definitely bright this season. We have great players and the manager works hard so yeah, it’s exciting.

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Oxford United 3-0 Gillingham – Match Report and Pep Clotet Reaction

Oxford United 3-0 Gillingham (Jack Payne 48′, Joe Rothwell 54′, Robbie Hall 55′)

Oxford United ran rampant this afternoon at the Kassam Stadium, with three goals from Jack Payne, Joe Rothwell and Robbie Hall in quick succession at the start of the second half, which saw off visitors Gillingham. The result means Gillingham are still without a win all season, and still without a single goal to their name on their travels.

A late change for the U’s before kick-off saw the young Canice Carrol come into the side to replace Christian Ribeiro, who hobbled off down the tunnel early in the warm up.

The opening exchanges were cagey to say the least, and as the storms rolled in across Oxfordshire, The Gills nearly took the lead. A delightful cross from Connor Ogilvie split the defence, but the imposing Conor Wilkinson headed wide from six yards unmarked.

Forming a debut partnership, deadline day John Mousinho and U’s captain Curtis Nelson looked unconvincing in the air in the early stages, with another Wilkinson header being wasted from a corner.

But the U’s found their rhythm, and after some words from Pep Clotet at half time, they put the visitors to the sword in the second half.

The U’s capitalised on the static Gills defence, and Huddersfield Town loanee Jack Payne opened the scoring on 48 minutes. Robbie Hall’s initial effort was saved, only to be picked up by Jon Obika. After a quick drop of the shoulder, he found Hall once more who steered an effort goalward. Payne was on the line to make sure the goalward effort was turned in with a neat flick.

 

 

Joe Rothwell then got in on the action. A quite brilliant through ball from Payne – who now has eight assists and two goals to his name already this campaign – saw the midfielder bear down on goal uncontested, and the former Manchester United man made no mistake with a clinical finish from 8 yards.

And before Gillingham had even had time to draw breath, Oxford made it 3-0 through Hall just a minute later. Obika was sent scampering after a long ball, and a clever backheel found the lively forward. The in-form winger, who has four goals in his last three games, finished low at the near post to secure the three points for United.

Speaking to Pep Clotet after the game, he agreed that the second half was the perfect response, after struggling to find a way through the Gills defence in the first half.

“The only thing we discussed at half time with the players – and what we all agreed upon – was to have more space up front for our forwards, we need to build our football a lot quicker. We were too slow in the first half. We did keep the ball and we did dominate the game, but if we don’t play quick enough in our own half then it’s very difficult for us to have space in the front of the pitch.”

 

 

Another positive in the game was the nature of the goal scorers. Three separate midfield players combined and scored, which the U’s manager believes will bode well for the season.

“Yes absolutely, I always think in the game that everyone attacks and everyone defends. When everyone attacks it means everyone gets to positions and they have to have the resources to unlock defences, and today the team showed that and I am very happy with that.

“[Home form] is massive for us because we always play in a way that if we win, then at least away we can get the draw and get the point. When we can do this in front of our home fans, they respect the fact that you need to be patient during the game to wear them out. When they are waiting for goals to come and you get a result like that it turns into strong form at home, and it is very satisfying. But at the same time, we know there are going to be difficult games in the league, and now Bradford at home is going to test again our strength and test our steel here again.”

Phil Edwards: A Missed Opportunity for Oxford United?

This morning, news emerged that defender Phil Edwards has signed for Bury FC following the termination of his contract.

Burton Albion released the 31-year old, who had been on loan at the U’s for the 2016/17 season and has subsequently been snapped up by Lee Clarke’s side.

Edwards soon became a popular figure amongst the Oxford United fans, establishing himself as a first-choice right-back ahead of youngsters Sam Long and Canice Carrol. His no-nonsense approach was a hit, and although being labelled a bit of a liability by some fans, the former Brewer’s habit of scoring in big games soon turned the critics.

His stint in the yellow shirt was nothing short of successful, so has this been a missed opportunity to acquire some much-needed experience on a permanent deal? Contrary to opinion, I think not.

Although Phil plays with a stability, I do not believe he fits the style of play that Appleton implements, and in this instance, is looking for. Typically, we have seen the likes of George Baldock who plays direct and defends very high, looking to get the ball into attack as soon as possible. This is something we have significantly lacked this season, and I believe our side would thrive with another attacking wing-back. Our chance creation is already high, one of the highest in the league in fact, but I believe with an extra man in the box, which we wouldn’t perhaps get with Edwards, would see the U’s conversion rate increase.

Phil Edwards was undoubtedly a key figure in our successes this season, and will be remembered fondly, but I’m not too disappointed because, simply, our recruitment is good enough to find a better, and probably younger, replacement. Have faith.

Is the Away Goal Rule Counter-intuitive?

The purpose of the away goal rule is to induce excitement make games more entertaining, right? Or that’s what we’re led to believe.

The rule came into place in 1965, when ties were decided by a coin toss to avoid the need for costly replays and gruelling trips. Back then it made perfect sense and served a purpose, but now there is a common misconception on the rule that it generates good football. In fact, it achieves the complete opposite.

The away goal rule is one that we accept. We just do. But when you look at the implementation of this in the modern game, it is abundantly clear that the rule is unfair. For example, a side may defend exceptionally in the away tie, only for a lapse in concentration in the second-leg requiring them to score twice to go through. Why should it make a difference if a goal is scored in the 90th minute of an away leg or the first minute of a home leg? The short answer: It shouldn’t.

In addition, what we see are too many ties that are being caught in a catch-22. Should they put men forward to score a goal, or do they risk the away side stealing the ‘all-important away goal’ cliché that we hear on our television screens week after week?

Teams are now completely happy with settling for a 0-0 draw at home. With the improvement of transport and facilities, whilst factoring the diminish of hostility, away wins have risen to 35% from the 16% that were won when the rule was introduced. Too much tactical weight is hinged on this rule and too many ties are being inhibited by its continuation.

So that leaves the question to why we still put up with legislation that is completely counter-intuitive and now incredibly outdated. Should it come to an end?

China’s Football Revolution

Chinese football is becoming ever-increasingly known for the huge sums of money that are being spent to bring in foreign footballers to increase the popularity.

President Xi Jinping has highlighted football as a growth region, to merge into China’s expanding consumer culture. The state wants to use sport as a global platform to promote Xi’s desire for a balanced economy. Sport as a whole is seen an area for investment and the state want to utilise this.

A stumbling block however, is the public interest in the European leagues far outweighs that of the Chinese Super League. In a bid to change this, money is being poured in by Chinese investors to boost the profiling of the league and the standard of football played.

To prevent the dilution of the number of Chinese and Asian footballers, a number of measures have been put in place. Rulings state that all goalkeepers must be Chinese and no more than three foreign players, plus one from countries part of the Asian Football Confederation must be on the pitch at any one time.

Irrational investment is an obvious issue, but the government have vowed to regulate high-priced signings and monitor large incomes. Despite this money is continuing to be spent, for example, Yaya Toure recently understood to have turned down £430,000 a week.

China is a very complex country to live in. It is almost impossible to drive unless you know the complicated roads (an issue that is more profound when you consider the popularity of footballers) and the smog produced in cities such as Guangzhou is detrimental to health, particularly those of elite athletes.

Therefore, high prices will continue to be paid to prize Europe and South America’s prodigies over towards Xi Jinping’s revolution, and the ever-expanding football culture that is rising in China.

Cardiff City 0-2 Newcastle United: The Verdict

Having secured promotion to the Premier League on Monday with a 4-1 win over Preston North End, Newcastle fans swarmed south in their thousands to celebrate securing top-flight football for next season.

The concourse filled quickly and the travelling fans soon amassed in a sea of black and white underneath the terraces of the Cardiff City Stadium. Copious amounts of beer were consumed as the fans began to eulogise manager Rafa Benitiez to the tune of ‘La Bamba’. Spirits were high and rightly so.

The atmosphere soon transpired to the terraces as kick-off emerged. Newcastle, without key players Matt Ritchie and Jonjo Shelvey found it difficult to find their stride in the first half, with home side Cardiff seeming a bigger threat. Two goals were in fact scored by Cardiff but both were ruled out in their attempt to spoil the party – a warning for Newcastle.

The away side made sure the Bluebirds were left rueing their missed opportunities as Christian Atsu announced himself to the stage with a sensational freekick. Newcastle fans were euphoric in the away end as Atsu reeled away in celebration after placing his strike into the top corner leaving keeper Allan McGregor stranded.

Just minutes later it was 2-0 as Isaac Hayden found space in midfield and rifled a shot into the bottom corner from 25 yards. More jubilant scenes followed in the away end as the victory meant that the Championship title is still possible for another day.

The fans stayed in the ground for a further 30 minutes after the game singing “Sunderland are down and the Mags are going up” until the Rafa Benitez songs re-emerged for his post-match media duties. The appreciation was noted by the Newcastle manager, who stopped mid-interview as he spoke to the club’s website to applaud the remaining travelling contingent that remained in the stadium.

The remaining fans trickled out of the stadium but the party continued on the streets of Cardiff as the travelling Geordies revelled in their side’s success.

Joe Skarz: ‘We’ve let ourselves down’

Joe Skarz admits that Oxford United have let themselves down this season after falling short of the playoffs ahead of their trip to Bradford City.

The U’s can still mathematically make the playoffs, but sit seven points adrift of Millwall with only four games to play. Although it is still mathematically possible, Skarz believes it is too tall an order.

The experienced defender said: “It’s been a season where we’ve let ourselves down. With the opportunities that have been presented we could have been higher up in the league, but looking back at it, it’s probably been a successful season for the club in terms of progression in the long run.”

Oxford failed to win in their first four games, and struggled to pick up points on the road with their first away victory coming in October against Bolton Wanderers. This form meant that they were always chasing the playoff pack for the remainder of the campaign.

Oxford won promotion to League One last season, and their successes saw star players Kemar Roofe and Callum O’Dowda depart the club for Championship sides Leeds United and Bristol City respectively. The summer overhaul in a bid to replace them may have been a factor into the U’s slow start to the season.

Despite this, the season has seen plenty of highlights for the U’s, particularly in the cup competitions. The U’s have defeated three Championship sides this season, including Rotherham United and Newcastle United in the FA Cup, before heading to Premier League Middlesbrough where they were narrowly beaten 3-2 by Aitor Karanka’s side.

Skarz believes it has been a steep learning curve for Michael Appleton’s side in their first season back in League One for 15 years: “yeah it has we have a young group, we’ve had a few indifferent spells but I think if you had said to us when we drew at Newport last season that we would get promoted, fifth round of the FA Cup, another Wembley final and tenth in League One then we probably would have said yeah we’ll have that.”

Successes on the pitch have also been mirrored off the pitch. 5,500 season tickets have been snapped up, a club record since moving away from The Manor ground, and 3,400 fans travelled north to Middlesbrough to see their side nearly overturn the Premier League club.

The U’s averaged the fourth best away following this season as the club continues on its upwards trajectory, only bettered by Sheffield United, Bolton Wanderers and Friday’s opponents.

Although the former Rotherham man believes that the playoff dream may well be over, he says that the remaining games have just as much importance: “Yes it is [always important]. We’ve got our set target for the end of the season and we’ve got four games to reach that target so there’s always something to play for. We are seven points off the playoffs now so we know it’s a difficult task but as a professional you are always playing for personal pride and want to win every single game of football you go into.”

Skarz was quick to focus his attention on the next game against promotion hopefuls Bradford. The opposition have not lost at home for 14 months and look all but set for the playoffs in May, but the Oxford man believes that is no cause for concern ahead of his team’s trip to Valley Parade.

“We’ve played [Bradford] twice at home this season and we beat them twice. I was watching both games and from where I was watching they look like a really good side. They like to pass the ball around and they’ve got a good manager in Stuart McCall there and they’re a really good team at this level. They’ve been in and around the playoffs all season and it’s going to be a difficult game. We know it is going to be a really good atmosphere. Good Friday at Bradford’s stadium will have a great buzz, so it will be a fantastic game for all of us.”

Bradford’s cheap season ticket scheme has been a hit, with over 15,000 already having been sold for next season. It is an initiative that has seen the club’s match experience blossom and McCall’s side become very dominant at home throughout the course of the last two seasons in League One.

Reflecting on his own season, Skarz states that it has been a frustrating campaign personally for himself, after a couple of injury setbacks saw him lose his place in the side to Marvin Johnson. The form of Oxford’s summer signing from Motherwell has limited his game time significantly, playing only 20 league games this season.

This contrasts his first full season at the club, which saw the experienced defender an omnipresent figure in the U’s lineup. He even battled a season-threatening injury to play in the final three games to steer the U’s to promotion.

He said: “It’s been indifferent. I’ve had a few injuries so I don’t think that’s helped me, I’ve had my shoulder, concussion and my back which was frustrating as it took a lot longer to settle down than I initially thought it would.

“I probably played the Macclesfield game when I shouldn’t have played – you look back at games like that and sometimes the gamble pays off and sometimes it doesn’t. Last year when I came back it paid off and this year it didn’t.

“That’s part and parcel and it’s probably down to me just wanting to play every game. So it’s been indifferent, it’s another season where you take the highs and the lows and look back at it over the summer to help you as a person and for your career in the long run.”

The left-back has typically high standards and they shine through. He is always taking part in extra gym sessions with physiotherapists Andrew Procter and Scott Daly, and prides himself on his performances. Skarz’s main priority now after returning to match fitness is to finish the season on a high as the season draws to a close.

“Yeah definitely, we’ve got four games left and we want to finish the season as high as we can in the league to give the club the best position they’ve come in a long time. We’ve got a few more weeks where we can train and enjoy ourselves but work hard as well going into games looking for a positive result.”

The Oxford United camp remains positive ahead of Friday’s clash with Bradford, and the permutations suggest that the season is still not over. With the play-offs mathematically possible it will be all to play for at a capacity Valley Parade.