Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Just like watching England

Oxford United v Bristol Rovers, Carling Cup, Round 1, Tue 10th Aug 2010

After winning the mascot race at Windsor racecourse on Saturday, Olly the Ox collected both a bottle of champagne and a round of applause from PRB on the pitch at half time last night. During his victory jig and lap of honour Olly showed more pace and heart than the entire back four of the visiting Bristol Rovers side.

Although the bookies had Oxford as 11/8 favourites going into last nights Carling Cup 1st Round match, most people associated with the club were expecting a reasonable test, despite Rovers 3-0 loss away at Peterborough at the weekend. What the Kassam wasn't expecting was a landslide*. League 1 Bristol Rovers brought along a defensive unit - including a debutant goalkeeper - who seemed completely terrified of, and unable to cope with, pace. Whether Oxford players were running directly at them or chasing the long ball over the top, every one of the Bristol defenders looked like frightened rabbits caught in headlights.

Very slow and immobile rabbits.

The 6-1 final score did not flatter: it could have been much worse for the Pirates had Simon Clist been wearing long studs and Matt Green a little more ruthless. It was one of those nights where every first half chance was taken and the opposition totally and utterly destroyed by a team riding a crest of a football tsunami - growing in confidence and adventure by the minute.

A die hard Bristol colleague told me this morning that "in 50 years of watching Rovers, last night ranks as one of, if not the worst, displays I have ever seen from a Rovers team". Make no mistake, this was no reserve Rovers team - this was their 1st XI. Without a doubt the Oxford players and fans were clearly more up for the game than their Bristol counterparts, but it still takes a great team performance to grasp the nettle and force victory. That Oxford were able to do this so emphatically, which such dynamism in midfield, strength at the back and murderous prowess upfront, speaks volumes for the squads potential this season.

It was a night to enjoy, savour and remember. It was a night to justify the Carling Cup competition - OUR Cup competition. It was a night to warm the cockles. It was, in all probably, just a freak result.

Who played well? You could make a case for any of the 10 outfield starters as being man of the match - Midson probably had his best game for the club, Batt was progressive down the flank and Wright and Worley were both strong at the back - but it was Heslop who stood out, putting in the best home debut seen at the club in a long time. Heslop's first goal was a turf-cutter screamer, his work-rate and commitment in the tackle was second to none, and his delivery immaculate. His last-gasp second goal was thoroughly deserved - he was frankly unlikely not to score a hattrick having seen an audicious and beautifully judged long-range chip brilliantly clawed away by the Rovers keeper.

And Worley at the back? His partnership with Wright can only get better, but based on his performance over 90 minutes last night, Wilder has signed another potential golden ticket. A massive physical presence, young, athletic, fleet-of-foot (he showed real pace at times), and importantly, good with the ball at his feet, he looks like the sort of player who could quickly develop into a new Matt Elliot.

What a fine way to spend a Tuesday evening!

* There was one punter, South Stand Lower Martin, who WAS expecting a landslide victory: he had Oxford to win 5-1 at 100/1. I don't believe that he was cheering Heslop's 92nd minute goal that loudly...

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