What was that all about?
On Friday night against Macclesfield, we looked like the brittle, fragile Oxford United from a few years ago. The team that came with expectation and returned with nothing. For the first time in a long time, the assured professionalism deserted us and in its place was something worryingly familiar.
Chey Dunkley, often the archetype of modern Oxford, typified the display. Jamie Cook tweeted that he didn’t think Dunkley was ‘good enough’ from what he’d seen. On this showing it was true, he looked over-eager to stamp his authority on the Macclesfield defence making him look clumsy and ponderous in the process. It reminded me of one of his previous TV appearances against Bristol Rovers last season in which he probably should have been sent off in the opening minutes.
What was the problem? An over-willingness to dominate? Nervousness of being on TV and wanting to show his class? Or was he simply bamboozled by the pacey Macclesfield attack? Whatever it was, it put us on the back foot from the opening minutes.
They were never going to maintain their blistering start, and did bring them to heal as the half and game went on. But, then there was a second problem; if we could create a chance, who would score the goals?
In a team that was packed with midfielders, there just didn’t seem a viable outlet – Maguire and Roberts have lots of worthy attributes, but they don’t always offer an efficient route to goal you might get from a proper striker. As a result, we just didn’t seem to have anything to lance Macclesfield’s enthusiasm.
The problem, I suppose, is that with Wes Thomas out, do you risk Hemmings when you should win comfortably without him? Does anyone believe Taylor offers a goal threat? Rob Hall is a potential striker, but he’s still coming back from injury. If we can’t rely on any of them, then it’s a question of taking your pick from a wealth of attack-minded midfielders. But, do we really need to out-think them or should we just try battering them instead? Will Michael Appleton ever find the target man he seems to crave?
We seemed to get caught in two minds about how to approach the game; on one hand we wanted to put out a strong team to win comfortably, on the other we wanted to protect the squad and see if we could squeeze through with minimal effort. In the end, we achieved neither.