- That performance Chris Maguire produced on Tuesday night was the reason I was so excited for his arrival and Oxford United fans a mixture of disappointment and envy. As he said in his post-match interview, he needed that goal whatever the source. He has had the understandable air of feeling his way into the campaign without much of a pre-season programme to fall back on and as a consequence, we’ve only been privy to glimpses of his talent as he has flitted in and out of the reckoning before the long-overdue win. He was at the heart of most of the good work in the final third, crafting several openings and drifting behind the front two made him that much more difficult for the opponents’ midfield to track. If anything, taking a penalty against Simon Eastwood (someone you’ve done so in training hundreds of times), not to mention the added pressure of putting your side into the lead, made the outcome much less certain. Fortunately, he sent Eastwood the wrong way and changed the course of what had hitherto been an open, very even contest.
- I still maintain my belief Greg Leigh is better operating in a wing-back role than as a full-back unless the emphasis is more on defence in general or there is a left-sided centre back who can cover ably for his forays forward. He seemed omnipresent as a third option in the box whenever a cross from Maguire or Chris Humphrey came in and the standard of the balls was high almost without exception. You can still see the ‘striker’ from his academy days there at times. Continuing to work on his final ball could see him attract clubs in the tier above if he continues to develop his game.
- Jermaine Beckford had the beating of an off-colour Mike Williamson for the vast bulk of the match. His change of pace had him in behind on a frequent basis and he even managed to aerially dominate his marker, which is no mean feat. The captain led by example and with Michael Smith ‘claiming’ his first goal in a white shirt, it could mean their partnership will blossom that little bit quicker. His sixth time on the scoresheet already in 2017/2018 augurs well and equally, his understanding with Humphrey out on the right from their days together at Preston North End should be something that Lee Clark looks to exploit.
- Neil Danns’ introduction cannot be discounted in helping the tie swing in the hosts’ favour. His commitment has been publicly questioned previously but his two cameos from the bench in the last week have been warmly received by both management and supporters and are proof that he still has a part to play, especially with Stephen Dawson’s return not coming until 2018. He took the midfield by the scruff of the neck and his dynamism upset Ryan Ledson and Josh Ruffles’ rhythm. Doubtlessly, he will be called on again for Saturday for the visit of MK Dons and it will be interesting to see whether his recent displays merit a starting berth.
- I’m sure I wasn’t the only Shakers fan fearing the worst when seeing Joe Murphy’s name not in the matchday squad. The veteran shot-stopper has arguably been the best performer up until now and his command of the area ranks highly in League One. Leo Fasan looked assured however, dealing with crosses decisively, punching well when he elected to do so and made two or three good saves. The extension of his deal until January was a necessary measure given the rules around emergency loans and it’s now up to him to continue in a similar vein for at least another month.
- On this blog, I have been justifiably critical of Alex Whitmore on several occasions. However, you have to admire the truly superb tackle he made on Agon Mehmeti when the Albanian debutant was certain to claim a consolation goal. It preserved Bury’s fourth clean sheet from 10 league matches, which is actually a respectable return, all things considered. Goal-saving challenges don’t always get the recognition and plaudits they deserve, especially considering the timing has to be so precise given the varied dire consequences of it not being.
- That being said, the scoreline goes a long way to masking how much Oxford were in the game right up until the home side got their soft penalty. The U’s caused problems for their opponents, principally from through balls in the middle, looking to utilise Robert Hall and Gino van Kessel’s pace. The Curaçaoan international had the pick of the opportunities but couldn’t convert, leaving the travelling support pining for Jonathan Obika or Wes Thomas to be in his position in the same context, whose absences were keenly felt. I have seen many calls online for Pep Clotet to be sacked, which is a stark contrast to the mood only three weeks ago. I think the calls are extremely premature even if they come on the back of a trio of straight defeats. He needs time to fully implement his philosophy and whilst 15th place is disappointing, it is still recoverable, given the talent in the group and the players missing at present.