OXFORD picked up a valuable three points at the weekend and EFL lover Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) fancies them to climb the table.
One To Watch – Why Oxford can still make the top-half
In last week’s League One quarterly review, we suggested that Oxford – despite being bottom of the table at the time – could put a run together.
The following Saturday, they deservedly beat Plymouth 2-0, meaning that they have now completed back-to-back clean sheets, having beforehand steadied the ship with a 0-0 draw at Southend.
Of course, one game does not a season make and Argyle’s woes should be taken into account.
However, there is reason to think that result could be remembered as a turning point in the club’s season – here’s why.
Million dollar Eastwood returns
Simon Eastwood has been arguably the best goalkeeper in League One over the last two years.
The former Blackburn stopper has missed a large chunk of the opening quarter of 2018/19 due to a dislocated finger.
In his absence, Jonathan Mitchell didn’t necessarily establish himself as somebody capable of saving the U’s points.
Furthermore, the athletic Curtis Nelson is starting to form a good centre-back partnership with the more cultured Rob Dickie.
Tony McMahon, who received criticism early in the campaign, has upped his game at right-back, Josh Ruffels has adapted to a left-back role seamlessly as the defensive unit tightens up.
Moos in midfield
Before Gary Rowett converted John Mousinho one of the best centre-backs in League Two in 2014, the former Burton man has spent much of his career as a central midfielder.
It makes sense, therefore, that now he has had a slight dip in form in terms of his performances in defence, Robinson has moved him back into his old position.
Naturally, now 32, Mousinho doesn’t quite have the energy to fulfil the dynamic, box-to-box role he did at Stevenage, where he was joint-top scorer in 2010-11 prior to grabbing the winner in the play-off final.
He does, however, bring a calmness to proceedings and a positional awareness which makes the U’s much more solid out of possession.
As a result, Cameron Brannagan can play with the shackles off and dictate proceedings further up the pitch.
Considering that Oxford had looked so open defensively in the first two months of the campaign, Mousinho’s new role is a major positive.
Browne wins points
In the six league games in which Marcus Browne has scored this season, Oxford have scored 10 goals.
That suggests that had Browne been fit for all 13 games, the Yellows would have scored 22 – the fifth-most in the division, more than Fleetwood and Doncaster and only one fewer than leaders Portsmouth.
Browne, on loan from West Ham, is a prodigious talent; he has the bravery to run at defenders, who are often able to stop him only by fouling.
The 20-year-old stretches play brilliantly to create space for the likes of James Henry and Ricky Holmes to show their class.
The duo, who show very clever movement, are better technicians than most in their positions at this level and can certainly be assets.
Jamie Mackie, meanwhile, had a difficult start at the Kassam Stadium, but his emotional comments regarding celebrating against his old club on BBC Radio Oxford have endeared him a little more to the natives.
Mackie was well-regarded at QPR for his tireless work ethic and, having got that first goal, could now start to find a purple patch.
Nine of the team’s first 13 opponents are currently in the top half.
Since the first three games, which saw Oxford outplayed by teams in Barnsley, Fleetwood and Portsmouth who could all potentially be playing in the Championship in 2019, performances have improved hugely.
They created enough chances to beat Accrington and Wimbledon but lost 3-2 and 2-1 respectively; they were also largely dominant against Sunderland and Wycombe but drew 1-1 and 0-0 respectively.
In three consecutive 2-1 home defeats, the Yellows hit the post early on against Coventry, they outshot Walsall 20 to 10, they and were level with Luton before Shandon Baptiste was sent off.
All in all, this is not a team that has been getting too much wrong and a reversal of fortunes is possible: six of their next seven opponents are in the bottom half and the other is an imbalanced Charlton side who sit 11th.
The betting angle
BetVictor offer 8/1 on Oxford finishing the season in the top-half.
At this stage last season, two of the bottom three teams were Plymouth and Gillingham and both clubs at least at one point touched the top half, with the former mathematically missing out on the play-offs on the final day.
Equally, Oxford themselves were 6th exactly 12 months ago and didn’t rubber-stamp safety until the penultimate weekend of the campaign.
There is a long way to go and more performances like the one against Plymouth will see Robinson’s side climb the table.
Article first published on 15th October 2018.
League One – Oxford to finish in the top-half (8/1 BetVictor)