Sometimes it’s good to be reassured of some of life’s certainties. Death. Taxes. The weather forecast always getting it wrong. The Tories still being a vile group of self-serving wankers. And football being able to be the cruelest, most heartbreaking game of all. No matter how much this world changes, some things will always stay the same.
For 93 minutes, United managed to fairly comfortably contain an Oxford side with strong play off ambitions. Against a side that last season were the league’s joint top scorers alongside eventual champions Wigan, it was only really a flurry of set pieces leading to a few fairly routine saves from Mitov that disturbed our defence to any genuine degree. For all their clear quality in Brannagan and Taylor, for large parts of the game we were the team doing all the playing – no matter how many times they tried to get Murphy one-on-one with Dunk. Harrison, as ever, took to the task of stopping the ex-Premier League winger with the complete ease he seems to have found this whole division, and even threw in one outrageous piece of skill to beat his man later on in the second half.
As the game drew to a close, it looked like the conclusion had been written and you could start summarising it promptly in the magnificent Hollywood Bowl car park; what a well-earned point from the U’s of East Anglia.
But football is never that simple. The moment that decided the match in its very dying embers was provided by young substitute Tyler Goodrham, seven minutes into his debut. Take our obvious bias out of the equation for a second, that’s the sort of narrative we can very much get behind.
I could sit here and try to pick apart how Oxfordshire’s answer to Federico Macheda managed to squeeze himself past George Williams and be allowed enough room by Okedina to be able to curl it right into the top corner, but it feels like that would be missing the point.
These early stages of the season are undoubtedly about performances over points – getting a few on the board is obviously brilliant, but if you want a real indication of how a team is going to perform over the course of the whole season, seeing how they play, rather than the exact number of points they pick up, will give you the strongest signs.
And the fact of the matter is that, both against Oxford and Milton Keynes FC, this United side have been the better team in both those games. The first half especially on Saturday at Oxford was right up there with as impressive as we’ve been – and that’s saying something. Really well structured moves from back to front, really well-drilled on and off the ball, and really positive from wide areas trying to open up space when we could.
You might say you might have wanted a bit more from Smith or Knibbs in turning a few presentable opportunities into goals, or Tracey or Brophy for not providing a tiny bit more in terms of creativity to carve out a clear-cut chance. After all, don’t put chances away, don’t win games, and despite all our positivity in this piece, we did leave with 0 shots on target registered.
That is all very true and I wouldn’t disagree with anyone saying it, but what is important to look at is the bigger picture and the context of this game. Last February, we travelled here and we were comprehensively beaten 4-2. Don’t let the 2 goals fool you, we were taken apart that day, and the levels between the sides was stark.
Now? I’d go as far as to say if you watched that game without any prior knowledge, you’d struggle to guess which one was play off chasing and which one was aiming for survival.
Play like this against teams that are expected to be more around our level, with a similar budget to ours, and it’ll make that last minute winner roar of the Kassam feel that little bit more distant already. And that’s without considering the fact that Bonner thinks we’re still a few weeks off clicking at our best. Now that is exciting.
Listen to the latest episode of the podcast below
Man of The Match: For the simple fact that wherever possible I’d like to give it to him, this one goes to Harrison Dunk. Stuck by his task all afternoon, kept Murphy quiet, and essentially put us 1-0 up when he nonchalantly flicked the ball over their winger’s head in the second half. Ageing like a fine wine.
Soundtrack of the Match: Nas – Life’s a Bitch ft. AZ, Olu Dara