AFC Wimbledon 1 Oxford United 2
If in November you’d told Oxford fans we would head into games without Jake Wright, John Lundstram, Kemar Roofe and George Baldock, The Samaritans would have been launching one of those helplines they set up for teenage girls when boybands split up.
All good teams are built on a strong spine which, if damaged, can create real problems for a club’s aspirations. In 2009/10 we had a strong spine which shot us to the top of the Conference. In January Luke Foster was shipped out, Adam Murray succumbed to injury and James Constable’s goals dried up. Chris Wilder frantically tried to replace that spine with a series of speculative loan signings. The longer it went on, the more frantic the flailing became. Eventually Jake Wright overcame his early shakiness, Adam Chapman overcame his impending prison sentence and James Constable found his shooting boots. By that point the title was lost, but thankfully, we still had the play-offs.
The loss of Wright, Lundstram and Roofe over a couple of games and Michael Appleton could have been forgiven for struggling to replace them. But, in Dunkley, Ruffels and Bowery, we seem to have more than adequate cover. What is quite interesting about this trio is that they're not like-for-like replacements, they are much more typical of a decent League 2 player; strong and direct.
To some extent this plays to our advantage because, as with the win over Wimbledon, sometimes you just have to dig in and grind out results. Ruffels sticks to what he does well, Dunkley is an immense physical presence and in Bowery we actually have a striker who is prepared to be a direct threat. Of all three, Bowery’s willingness to go for the jugular is a real bonus at this stage in the season.
Who knew that if you rip the spine out of the side, you’d find another spine?
Oxford United 4 York City 0
The game against York felt like we'd reached 'Le point'. After two home defeats in a row and no win at the Kassam since the Swansea game, some started muttering about home curses and post-Christmas collapses. It could have been enough to derail our promotion push. Another defeat, against a team sitting in 23rd place with one away win all season and on a run of 3 consecutive defeats, and we could have gone into an irreversible slide.
But,York were as poor as their position suggests and despite a turgid first half, you always felt that as the game progressed we would stretch them to the point where the elastic would snap and the goals would start to flow.
More significant is what happened around us; Accrington and Plymouth lost, meaning Stanley’s games in hand are no longer the concern they were. The teams in the promotion and play-off places dropped a total of 12 of the 18 points collectively available to them. It was all gain from our perspective. There is absolutely no need to fear Plymouth on Saturday, but with three wins under our belt, in terms of the blocks of games we play and the points we need to accumulate, this is a free weekend.