Sixer’s Oxford United Soapbox: déjà vu as a Sunderland speciality

The Observer, Britain’s finest newspaper (remember those handy objects?) is awash with Sunderland today.

There’s an excellent sports section piece on the Netflix series Sunderland ‘Til I Die, focusing perceptively on Jonny Williams and Jack Rodwell. And there’s an interesting but incomplete feature by the author Anthony Clavane on the threat Brexit poses to Wearside, including chats with one or two of those seen in the documentary (Monsieur Salut admits to mildly sour grapes, having unsuccessfully offered two newspapers what he cheekily feels would have been a superior article).

The Observer found no room, however, for a report from our game at Oxford. But Pete Sixsmith, whose words occasionally graced its pages when Sunderland were in the Premier League, was there and he happens to be more than a match for any of that newspaper’s football writers …

The French phrase déjà vu means already seen. We use it when we are experiencing the same thing twice going through an overwhelming sense of familiarity with something that shouldn’t be familiar at all.

It’s a pretty accurate description of too many games this season where we have taken the lead against Luton, Coventry, Scunthorpe and now Oxford, only to be pegged back late in the game and surrender much needed points.

Here, on the very farthest edge of the city of dreaming spires, as at Scunthorpe a fortnight ago, we took the lead, failed to build on it and ended up second best to a home side who were scuffling around at the wrong end of the table.

The feeling was exacerbated when the results confirmed that Barnsley and Luton Town had both won again, ensuring that any catch up for second or top place had to be executed in the next 10 days; the three home games coming up simply must yield nine points or else we are in grave danger of being left behind.

In fact, had it not been for the excellent Jon McLaughlin we would have been further behind the front two. He made a number of outstanding saves, principally one from the rumbustious Jamie Mackie in the first half, and was calm and assured throughout. Would that some of his outfield colleagues could emulate his coolness when under pressure.

For this was not a good performance and Oxford have a right to feel aggrieved that their fight against relegation to the basement division is not two points healthier this morning.

They looked brighter than we did with excellent performances from wingers Gavin Whyte and Jordan Graham combined with an energy throughout their team that we did not appear to have.

Changes were made. Out went Flanagan with Baldwin partnering Dunne and out went Wyke for the division’s record signing, Will Grigg. Max Power and George Honeyman kept their places ahead of Luke O’Nien, a move that was not particularly popular amongst a wide section of the support, while Lewis Morgan was allowed to build on his promising debut last week. Chris Maguire and Kazaiah Sterling didn’t even make the bench.

Jamie Mackie

Grigg started well and played on the shoulder of the Oxford centre half. He did have the ball in the net early on when he was clearly offside but he showed enough in the 80 minutes that he was on the pitch to suggest that if he gets the right service, he will score. He needs a couple of goals to be up and running.

will Grigg score for fun?

Despite having the better of the first half hour, we could have been three down. McLaughlin made two excellent saves while Graham put a good chance wide of the far post.

Jamie Mackie is a player I have always liked; there are no airs and graces about him. He is as rough and ready as they come and now, in the twilight of his career, he proceeded to rough up both Dunne and Baldwin – particularly the latter. Elbows are flailing when he goes up for the ball, tackles are made a fraction late and he is very adept at pushing and shoving; everything a lower league centre forward was in the good old days. If any Hartlepool supporters wander onto this site, they will be reminded of Bob Newton.

But our quality showed on the half hour when McGeady won a corner, took it and planted it on the head of Jimmy Dunne, whose thundering header was reminiscent of the King at his finest. Now we could build on this, win relatively comfortably and hope that our rivals would drop points.

Enter déjà vu.

In the second half, Oxford did what Scunthorpe and Charlton had done and came at us. And we were found lacking.

They seized control of the midfield, ran the ball down the flanks and had they had a really deadly forward, they would have won. We never got to grips with them and looked as likely as closing the game out as Chris Grayling is to getting something right.

Changes were made. Off went McGeady, who looked puzzled by the decision and on came Wyke. He looked reasonable and used his bulk to push the home defenders about a bit and for a few minutes we were back in control. But Oxford steadied the ship and continued to feed their wingers, with Graham giving Adam Matthews a very difficult time down our right-hand side.

By this time, the midfield had just about disappeared and needed shoring up. McGeouch warmed up but it was Gooch who came on for Morgan with 20 anxious minutes to go. Morgan had shown some promise and reminded me of Allan Johnston when he set off on a couple of runs in the first half, but he looked tired.

Gooch managed to get himself booked within ten minutes of arriving and his contribution was not great. He didn’t do much to help out James and by the time O’Nien appeared for Grigg, Oxford were in full control.

The equaliser came with three minutes to go and unlike the worldie at Scunthorpe, this one was scruffy and contentious.

Jerome Sinclair, who had come on for wounded hero Mackie, chased a through ball and tangled with Dunne. Dunne went to ground, Sinclair had the ball and showing commendable coolness, squared it to Browne who put it into an empty net.

Could Dunne have done better? Almost certainly. He turns slowly as do all three of our central defenders and he is susceptible to falling over.

Could a foul have been given? I have seen them awarded but the referee thought that Sinclair simply outmuscled Dunne.

Could Sinclair have blazed it over the bar? Almost certainly had he been wearing a Sunderland shirt, but here he reprised his cameo in the opening game against Charlton and created a positive impression among the Oxford faithful.

After that, both sides had chances to win it. Baldwin missed a good header while the home team pushed forward for a famous win in their three-sided stadium.

When Scott Oldham blew his whistle after seven minutes of added time, there was modified rapture amongst those sporting yellow and disappointment, frustration and some anger among those in red and white. The ever so slightly overused word “sh***” was uttered by many as they filed down the stairs, passing a punch up between two large and extremely drunk Sunderland supporters.

The culinary delights of Britain

A similar result to Scunthorpe but a different day out. Instead of having to spend a couple of hours in Goole, a fate akin to having to listen to hours of Ed Sheeran, we stopped off in the quaint Oxfordshire town of Bicester, with its sandstone houses, wide main street and nearby “Shopping Village” where one can buy all the things that one does not really need.

It still has a Wimpy Bar, alas minus squeezy tomatoes that dispense ketchup, and it had an excellent coffee shop where I sipped a flat white and had a pleasant hour with Pete Horan and Clare Jeynes, his elder daughter, who has the gross misfortune to be married to a Mag (a jolly decent one, mind).

Pete Horan, looking young and fit, and one his charming daughters, Clare

To return to déjà vu; it’s also an album by that seminal 70s rock band Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, containing such songs as Carry On (which we don’t want to do as we are dropping points), Helpless, (which is how we supporters feel as we see our players surrender possession so easily) and Déjà Vu itself, a feeling that is certainly beginning to haunt us.

On their previous album Crosby Stills and Nash (minus Neil Young), the opening track, Suite; Judy Blue Eyes has an opening line that goes:

It’s getting to the point where you’re no fun anymore

I have a concern that a fair few Sunderland supporters are beginning to feel that way.

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6 thoughts on “Sixer’s Oxford United Soapbox: <em>déjà vu</em> as a Sunderland speciality”

  1. Pete and I spoke about the squad whilst travelling to the Wimbledon game and wondered whether the window had actually made it too big. Players and managers always seem to talk about healthy competition improving players’ performances, but I wonder if sometimes it can have an adverse effect.

    I don’t know the players personally so can only go on body language and the way they conduct themselves on the pitch but there must be some who wonder what they’ve done wrong not to find themselves in the squad and even if it’s only subconsciously feel less motivated.

    But over the next few weeks we have so many games in such a short period that they may all be needed. I’d like to see how a side with a back three, two wing backs, two holding midfielders and a front three (or a two with someone playing off them) would work.

    The only starting XI I couldn’t see working before kick off was at Burton where the balance was all wrong but now I find when trying to predict a line up getting the balance right and deciding on a system is quite difficult, with players like Watmore, Gooch, Morgan, Maguire and McGeady, all competing for similar spots, though all slightly different in what they bring to the side.

    I understand the clamour for O’Nien to start and agree he brings energy to the side and McGeouch has really done nothing wrong either, but sometimes when picking a team it is necessary to think of combinations of players rather than individuals.

    I wonder if a three centre back system which could allow a front three of Wyke and Grigg, with Maguire, Gooch or O’Nien playing off them might work.

  2. At the start of the season we were playing attractive football, passing from back through midfield and scoring more than one goal. At this time, we had a very small limited squad.

    The squad is now overblown, hard to believe Maguire can’t get into the squad and no room for Bali and we have lsot our way a little.

    I’m now concerned Ross has moved away from the style of football that was so successful at St Mirren.

    Perhaps we should be less concerned about the opposition’s style of football in this league and more about the quality of our players who should win the day every time.

    • I can remember Liverpool winning the old first division using only 14 players.

      IMO squads are too large. It must be very frustrating training all week knowing you are unlikely to get on the bench let alone start?

  3. great article as ever. Sadly we are a third division team, competing with other third division teams. I had convinced myself that we would at some point find imperious form and swat teams out the way, processing to the title. After watching yesterday, and at Scunthorpe, I can confidently admit my error of judgement. If we do go up – and it is now an if – it will be a case of grinding out results, scraping and scrapping wins. But to do that will need a lot more guile – a bit more of what Pete noted in Jamie Mackie, an ability to chisel out more from the game than we might be entitled to. Wyke, in particular, looks not a patch on the forwards we’ve seen playing for the opposition over the past few weeks. Whether he will come good, who knows. I hope so. But there isn’t a lot of time to find out. And I hope also that Grigg is a success. But whether he will get anywhere near Maja’s goals per game is very much open to question. What is clear is that his cost per game willl be significantly more than the 19 year old we just said goodbye to for the sake of a few grand a week. I hope we don’t regret that.

  4. Right between the eyes

    There seems to be an avoidance of the issue by ross.
    He is ugnoring how critical out gk has been in not losing .
    He is ignoring how much we are missing onein’s energy and combativeness.
    Why does he persist with changing the back 4 just abput every game. To me this is a major reasin wht we are shipping goals and providing so many opportunities.
    Had dunne not scored he was very very ordinary. Sinclair sucker punched him regardless od ross bleatung it was the referees fault.
    Things are not looking good.
    We have paid 3-4 m for grigg plus wages I bet those wages are a lot more than we offered maja.
    We could have used that 3m to entice maja to hang around. Yes speculation. But we appear ro have offered 5k pw to maja .. aproven 20 yo striker.
    Ross has lost his way

    • Some salient points Brian. I agree about O’Nien and I am not totally convinced by Dunne. And yes, he should stop switching his back four but I don’t think that it blends very well at the moment. Adam Matthews had a poor game yesterday. Maja wanted to leave – end of story. France was an attractive option for him (and his agents). Never keep an unhappy player.
      But I don’t think he ignores the qualities of McLaughlin – indeed, it was Ross who signed him. Nor do we ship goals. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to let one a game in – and we don’t score many more than that.
      Nor do I think that he has “lost his way.” But the next three games are very important and we need to take at least one of the three opponents to the proverbial cleaners. Luxdon Laundry anyone?

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