1. Well what a refreshing change! Firstly, not to get beat which is a truly fan-fucking-tastic feeling. Actually, I’ve not seen us lose since March, ignoring the fact this is only the second game I’ve been able to get to, after the Bradford leasing.com trophy draw.
Flat caps must be doffed to Keith & Dave AKA Hillcroft, for not allowing the heads to drop of the new senior players after Rotherham and also those left behind in Remi, Jason & now Will Buckley, after carrying the mental scars of non-payment and losing every week for the best part of a year. Secondly, for the swashbuckling, swift counter attacking display we all were so thrilled to witness in the first half before Karl Robinson had got stuck into his side at half-time and wrestled some control of the game back through the enterprise of Tarique Fosu and Cameron Brannagan.
Encouraging displays from our new full-backs epitomised the effort, determination and energy shown by all, spearheaded by the superb Thibaud Verlinden’s willingness to take on and repeatedly beat his man-marker Josh Ruffels. If only he or Buckley had taken their gilt-edged chances in that period of dominance and multiple chance creation then we could be basking in the glow of a victory.
Alas, it wasn’t to be but a large measure of pride and respectability has been restored and this is something that should not be underestimated.
2. The Lowe/Bridcutt axis. Now I’m as happy as the next man that we’ve managed to snare a player who’s willing to drop down to league one, a league one relegation fight at that, in order to restore his reputation and get some games after a season in the wilderness at Nottingham Forest. The added bonus is that he is obviously a footballer who should be playing higher in the pyramid and not just someone on their natural regression down the leagues, fading with age.
Bridcutt’s performance on Tuesday night was gritty and technically impressive in equal measure and despite a few misplaced passes in the second half as Oxford grew into the game, he was rightly in the thoughts of many as our MOTM. In the first half after he’d won a free-kick, his chasing down and shoulder barge on the Oxford player who was needlessly and frustratingly wandering off with the ball and who then proceeded to hilariously slip over when turning round to remonstrate with Bridcutt for his aggressive action, was indicative of his fighting character. This is something that we’ve been missing from our team for such a long time. We don’t want nice guys, we want winners!
My only gripe is that he should be playing further forward in that pairing. Whilst this set up did get more out of the usual sideways and backwards merchant Jason Lowe, I feel Bridcutt has more about his game to play in that role, while still being able to contribute a vital defensive output it would also give him the licence to create more and make runs into the opposition’s box. His poise and strength on the ball would be better harnessed further up the field in my opinion but I’m not a football manager and I can also see the argument that he is more suited than Lowe to getting the ball from the back four and actually progressing play by carrying the ball forward or playing a clever pass that may break the lines.
I wonder what other fans thoughts on this might be as I may be in the minority with this opinion.
3. Dennis Politic has given us plenty to be positive about at the start of this season. From his dazzling skills on the ball to his rather fortunate goals in the EFL Cup and Leasing.com trophy, he has certainly been a bright spark in what was at one point a dark chasm of despair.
Far be it from me to reign in his youthful exuberance but he could certainly learn to pick and choose his moments to try and beat his man. A number of times in the second half he was robbed of the ball, leaving us vulnerable to the counter. This will or should come with more game time and match experience, knowing when to pass and when the time is right to try a trick. Decision making is such an underrated and important attribute and one which you’d hope will only improve in the young Romanian.
It is a pleasure to watch him play with such little fear though and I think his skillset is more suited to playing as the no.10 rather than out wide personally. He still had a good match overall and contributed to our electric start to the game.
One thing that does impress me hugely is his strength on the ball for his age and he has all the raw talent to be a Premier League player. I just hope ‘Hillcroft’ are able to nurture, improve and get the best out of him in the no doubt limited time we will have him with us.
4. The fans have got such a big part to play in our recovery and did so magnificently. This despite the attendance being slightly down on the Bradford match, which is understandable in some senses given the £5 ticket and earlier kick-off time in that game allowing for more younger children to attend.
The goodwill afforded to the new enthusiastic local set up was certainly extended, despite the hammering we took at Rotherham. Rightly so too, as that was to all intents and purposes a first pre-season fixture for a team of strangers cobbler together and playing as a unit for the first time.
The ovation the players received at the end of the game was superb and well deserved.
It is going to be a slow process, as Keith Hill alludes to in his interviews thus far, with many more bumps along the way but as long as the fans are on board, encouraging the team and making allowances for their fallibility, then the process of having a winning team for us to support will be quickened.
5. Strikers. Obviously we missed having one greatly as you’d of thought someone with the pedigree of Daryl Murphy would’ve put one of the many chances created away.
Or would having someone like Murphy up top have slowed down those electrifying counter attacks and given the rest of the team an excuse to hit him long as an easy out-ball? I’m sure Hill doesn’t intend to use Murphy or O’Grady (as his back up) in that primitive way and having more options when they are both back in the fray can only be a good thing.
The chances missed by Verlinden and Buckley were glaring unfortunately and we will have to start taking opportunities like these if we are to start putting more substantial points on the board. The return of a recognised striker is of paramount importance to this. Will Buckley battled manfully, putting Mousinho and Dickie off when going into aerial challenges with a display of subtle dark arts, such as deft pulls on the arm. He must have known that some fans, even in their current happy and forgiving bubble, would be watching his every move to give them an opportunity to pick holes in his performance. Yet for his lack of experience and knowledge of playing that role, he did an underrated and manful job of pulling it off. Despite this and Murphy’s advancing years, he will give defences another reason to be fearful of us and will certainly be an upgrade on Buckley, who no doubt has a pivotal role to play moving forward, perhaps in behind Murphy himself.
All in all it was a positive and uplifting night at the UniBol and one which we can hopefully look back upon as a watershed moment for the club, where the heavy defeats stopped and hope sprung eternal from the stands. Bring on Sunderland!! COYWM!!!