Karl Robinson's Oxford United arrive at The Valley having slipped out of the play-off places for the first time in four months.
They pipped us to sixth place on goal difference last season but were quickly 0-3 down at home to Blackpool in the first leg of the play-off semi-final. They regained some pride at Bloomfield Road by forcing a 3-3 draw but the outcome of the tie was never in any doubt. They seemed to begin this season with a bit of a hangover and were 13th after nine games but a 5-1 thrashing of Accrington at the end of September got them going and they were in the top six until last weekend.
Their form since the turn of the year has been mixed. Away from home they have lost three games (0-2 at Lincoln, Wycombe and Accrington); they got a good 1-1 draw at Wigan; they memorably beat Gillingham 7-2 at Priestfield. That was the game when midfielder Cameron Brannigan scored four penalties - the first time this had been achieved in the 138 year history of the English League. Meanwhile at home they have seen off Portsmouth and Sheff Wed 3-2 but lost last weekend 2-3 to Bolton.
They are the second highest scoring team in League One with 56 goals (Rotherham have 57). Matty Taylor has 14, Brannigan 9, Mark Sykes 8 and James Henry 7. Taylor is a striker who has found his level in League One. He scored 61 in 118 games for Bristol Rovers as they went from Conference to League One in two seasons but his subsequent transfer to Championship Bristol City showed his limitations. He managed only 7 in 67 games at the higher level but back down a level with Oxford he has 28 in the same number of games since signing in August 2020.
Defensively, Oxford are vulnerable. Their 41 conceded is the worst in the top half of the table except for Sunderland (44) and it is ten games since their last clean sheet. The problem for us is that our opportunities to exploit this will be severely limited by the expected absence of Stockley, Aneke and Washington. With Davison on loan (and scoring goals) at Swindon we would appear to be left with Burstow and Leko as our only striking options. In addition it seems unlikely that Scott Fraser will be available after Covid. All in all it doesn't bode well. Johnnie Jackson has stressed the importnace of goals from midfield:
“I’m really pleased for Elliot. Obviously, he came out of the side for a few games there, came back in and impacted the game. I’ve been encouraging him and all my midfield players, especially the attacking ones to start contributing with goals. I think it’s really important, someone as good as Elliot, he needs to be scoring more than three on the season."
In the away fixture back in August it was individual errors by MacGillivray and Innis which cost us the points. We might just have to hope that our defence can pull itself together and cut out the errors this time - in which case we might give ourselves a chance.
Karl Robinson makes some fascinating points about continuity and his time at Charlton in an interview with The South London Press today:
"There is no other person out there, other than Johnnie Jackson, who I feel can do that. I am biased, obviously, because I think the world of him. He is a good coach, he is going through a big learning curve – his first time as manager – and he is going to make mistakes. They have to be accepted. The mistakes he makes today will make him a better manager tomorrow."
“When I was there we had Foxy, Kevin Foley, Johnnie, Jordan Botaka, Nicky Ajose, Lee Novak and Ricky Holmes, who was injured when I first got there, Ademola Lookman, Teixeira – Nabby Sarr was out on loan somewhere with Ahmed Kashi – it was all over the place. I never saw Igor Vetokele kick a ball in two years!"
The full interview: