Oxford United 2 - 4 Albion, 23.08.2016
Another Tuesday evening, another fixture in the early season game-frenzy set up by the Football League (sorry…”EFL”), in order to make sure those lazy players have worked off the summer excesses of Vegas & Marbs. This time, the Albion found themselves en route to Oxford United of League One in the freshly monikered EFL Cup (formerly the Capital One Cup, the Coca Cola Cup, the Worthington Cup, the Rumbelows Cup, the Littlewoods Cup and even the Milk Cup, once won notably by last night’s opponents of course). Also not to be confused with the prestigious Checkatrade EFL Trophy, formerly the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, Auto Windscreens Shield, Leyland DAF Cup, LDV Vans Trophy, Sherpa Vans Trophy and the Freight Rover Trophy. That’s next week. Featuring the development squad, a side likely to feature several of last night’s team.
Oxford, back in happier League Cup times. Wang. Heh heh.
Six hundred or so Albion fans made the relatively short trip to the city of dreaming spires, Timmy Mallett (he of 1980s TV ubiquity, appearing soon at a Butlin’s near you), and sprawling enterprise parks, many motivated no doubt by the chance to tick off a new ground. If you don’t count pre-season friendlies, that is. Almost all arriving by car or coach of course, as the Kassam Stadium is up there with previous opponents Col U in terms of being in a particularly awful location, at least for the non-drivers. And the drinkers. The stadium appears to be situated on a patch of land in between the Blackbird Leys housing estate (more mature readers will remember this area for its regular appearances on the local news back in the days when the sport of joyriding was first invented) and yet another enterprise park. Want a drink pre-match? Don’t bother. This place make the Amex’s location look like Times Square. Options for Albion fans hoping to sip a pleasant pre-match beer near the ground were restricted to-
(1) the bar in the adjacent Hollywood Bowl (yikes)
(2) the supporters’ bar in the stadium itself. More on this shortly.
A Holiday Inn Express situated beside the stadium appeared to offer some hope, albeit in a slightly soul-destroying, Alan Partridge manner, of a swift half. However, a burly bouncer and a small A4 piece of paper on the door made it quite clear that only “Home Fans With Ticket’s” (sic) were allowed in. The chap smoking gigantic amounts of weed directly in front of him? Not an issue, apparently. Two away fans seeking a quiet pint? No sir. We’re not having that sort of thing here.
So off we wandered to the main entrance to the stadium. A curious place indeed. The Oxford United Superstore, bizarrely, appeared to consist of a small gazebo outside the front, containing a trestle table scattered with Oxford United hats, scarves (always a bonus for an August game when it’s 28 degrees Celsius outside: “Bridget? Bridget! Make sure you bring the woolly hats tonight!, it might turn chilly!”), shirts and programmes, manned by an enthusiastic lady in yellow.
The Kassam Stadium Megastore
Just inside the building here- where one might perhaps expect the club shop to be- is a large expanse of grey tiled floor, with four tables, some school assembly hall chairs, and a collection of perhaps twenty Oxford United fans, thinly spaced out and looking glum. A bleak, sparsely-stocked bar served pints of Carlsberg to the early and the desperate. It had the industrial air of the waiting area for an X Factor audition, or, an inner-city doctor’s waiting room, but without the carpets or crumpled 2009 copies of What Caravan?. Again: for those who feel that Dick’s at the Amex lacks a little soul, think again.
"The old Farmer Giles again?" "Nah, think it's bloody gout this time. Waited a bloody fortnight for this appointment, the NHS is going right downhill if you ask me".
Fortunately for Albion fans, the game got off to an unexpectedly (well, at least for those of us familiar with the club’s long and largely inglorious history in this competition) bright start. Within a minute of [insert generic bald referee’s name] blowing the whistle to kick off, the Seagulls took the lead thanks to a sweet side-footed finish by Sam Adekugbe. Or, Elvis Manu, as BBC Radio Oxford preferred to call him. Awkward, part 1.
Albion went on to dominate the half, creating chances-a-plenty, all of which were casually missed or saved. The home side must have felt heartened by somehow not ending up five goals down at this point, and started to attack. Albion’s rookie defence (plus the returning Uwe Hünemeier) demonstrated that they certainly weren’t members of the Wide Awake Club- one for the kids there- missing several opportunities to clear a bouncing ball and permitting Wes Thomas to equalise against the run of play. The inevitable consequence of such profligacy on our part.
A frustrated Manu, having missed a couple of chances, and feeling he wasn't getting much change out of Generic Bald Referee, made something of a meal of another robust Oxford challenge, infuriating the home fans. They reacted by angrily booing next time LuaLua got the ball. Awkward, part 2.
Second half, and Oxford started to display greater confidence, taking the game to the Albion, and occasionally giving Niki Mäenpäa something to think about. As the big Finn saved a piledriver from…somebody or other…hey, this isn’t the Associated Press here, what do you want- facts?…the rebound was smashed on to the crossbar, bouncing down just in front of the goal line, and a third follow up was easily gathered by Mäenpäa. All of which made you believe it probably wasn’t going to be their night, and so it proved, as LuaLua finally found his range, drilling a low shot past Eastwood after Elvis Manu had had three earlier chances saved.
The King of Rock n’ Goal then continued his 100% scoring record in EFL Cup games this season by poking the ball underneath Eastwood again for the third. Meanwhile, Tomer Hemed tidily placed fellow sub Sam Baldock’s perfect cross home to put the game to bed, leading many home fans to head to their cars (parked behind one goal in the three-sided Kassam), and offering a not-to-be-missed opportunity for Albion fans to loudly sing "We can see you driving out".
An injury time curler from on-loan Arsenal midfielder Crowley gave the remaining home fans something to cheer, and perhaps made U’s boss and serial quitter Michael Appleton feel his team were unfortunate. In truth, the Seagulls should have killed the game earlier than they did, but it’s job done, and on to the inevitable away tie at Reading or somebody equally dull in the next round.
Man of the Match? Tricky one, but on balance, let’s give it to Adekugbe for steel in defence, enthusiasm in attack, and of course a very decent goal
Mom of the Match: Mrs Adekugbe, watching and praying from home in Calgary
Mix up of the Match: Was it us or did Albion have two players (White and Hunt) wearing the same shirt number for a large part of that game? Somebody please confirm…