I loved that game. A lot. There are many ways to win a football match. Battling back from a goal down (especially an unjust goal…) to secure a hard-earned 3 points is one of the most rewarding.
But who stood out from the pack?
After around half an hour, I was struggling to identify the contenders. Bolton’s approach play had been encouraging, but ideas often ran dry just short of creating a real opening, and the defence was struggling to cope with Oxford’s pace and mobility on the counter.
As the game settled down a little, two clear contenders did however emerge, and stayed at the forefront for most of the rest of the game.
My honourable runner-up must be MJ Williams. He was in the right place countless times, making important tackles, towering above the opposition midfield to win headers, and screening the back four in such a way as to force the opposition into passing sideways, or back. And of course, his passing ability, both short and long, was there for all to see. Our midfield, especially in a defensive respect, lives and dies with him.
One man however did even better.
Step forward, Dapo Afolayan.
Last season his talent was clear, but the end product just didn’t seem to be happening for him (Crawley aside). So far this campaign he is having no such issues. The Jay-Jay celebration last weekend was a fitting comparison for how the lad plays. From the first time he received the ball today, his intentions were clear: run at defenders. He gave Oxford’s poor full-backs no rest, twisting inside and out in the way only few players with gifted feet can. His link-up play with Declan John in the first half particularly was impressive, and the source of a truly delightful goal. The importance of its timing can not be understated either, giving both the team and the crowd a lift going into the break, taking the sting out of the opposition somewhat, and I imagine changing their half-time team-talk considerably.
As the game wore on, he continued to work hard and occupy the space well on the left side, and was the reliable so-called ‘out-ball’. Need something to happen? Give it Dapo, and he’ll make it happen. Time ran down and his trickery continued to show its merits as he won several free kicks around all areas of the pitch, helping to wind down the clock towards our first home league victory of the season. A victory inspired on the back of a confident young man, who can go far with this team. There is much to smile about tonight, and look forward to for Tuesday.
Here’s to you, Dapo!