FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) pinpoints the value ahead of Sunday’s televised encounter from League One at the Kassam Stadium.
Oxford v AFC Wimbledon | Sunday 12.15 | Sky Sports 1
Oxford sold a best-ever number of season tickets at the Kassam Stadium following their promotion from League Two and with an increased budget, manager Michael Appleton and his troops were well-fancied to make a seamless transition into third-tier football.
The U’s beat sides from higher divisions in all three cup competitions last term and the consistency maintained through a heavy winter schedule suggested Oxford would be the best equipped of the four newcomers to adapt at this level despite the sale of Kemar Roofe.
A slow start to the season (W1-D1-L3) left Appleton’s men playing catch-up but an impressive run of results across all competitions (W4-D3-L1) since has seen confidence grow with Sunday’s hosts also proving a devilishly difficult nut to crack for opposition outfits.
The U’s have shipped just four goals in that eight-match run, two of which were penalties, with five clean sheets kept against luminaries like MK Dons and Bolton. In fact, Oxford restricted the Trotters to zero shots on-target last weekend as they collected their first away win of the season at the Macron (0-2).
Appleton has praised his team for coping with their elevation from League Two, saying: “We have not been outplayed or outfought in any match this season” and with only Peterborough landing more shots on-target than the U’s, it’s hard not to like the look of Oxford at 19/17 (Marathon).
For those who give head-to-head records a degree of significance, it’s very noteworthy that the visitors have managed just W0-D2-L10 in 12 meetings with Oxford since promotion into the Football League.
Charlie Raglan and Chey Dunkley will continue their impressive partnership at centre-half despite Curtis Nelson’s return to fitness and with a W3-D2-L0 return in League One encounters at the Kassam, scoring in each clash and conceding just three goals, there’s plenty of form on our side here.
Meanwhile, the home side have notched the opener in four of their five home fixtures and with Wimbledon keeping just two shutouts in 11 this term and shipping 10 of their 16 goals in the first-half of games, backing Oxford to score at 13/17 (Marathon) carries plenty of appeal – that’s 1.76 in decimals.
However, I’m going to be a bit bolder and back the Draw-Oxford at 22/5 (BetVictor) instead. The U’s have been level at the interval in eight of their 11 games this season – including three of five at the Kassam. Those 11 encounters have featured just seven first-half goals – a league-low.
Appleton’s already suggested to local press that he expects a ‘game of chess’ on Sunday and also remarked, “I think it could be quite cagey to start with, but I always say to the players stay in the game after 70 minutes because if that’s the case I’m quite confident” – words that should only add kudos to such a selection.
For the record, visiting Wimbledon saw off Gillingham 2-0 last weekend and were gift-wrapped their two goals but Neal Ardley’s men have recovered very well from losing their first four matches of the new campaign.
Wimbledon have since W5-D4-L1 and actually scored at least twice in five of their last six league outings. That despite the Dons having moved away from their newfound attacking approach and returned to a more pragmatic style that served them so well in League Two.
A reasonably kind schedule has certainly aided Ardley’s men in recent weeks and whilst they’ll look to put balls in the box at every opportunity and prove a real menace from set-piece situations, I’m counting on Oxford to stand firm and enhance their wonderful head-to-head record with another three points here.