Preview: Oxford United

Keeping a clean sheet in an away game is not to be sniffed at, especially with goals looking to be at a premium for us at the other end of the pitch. That being said, it was a 0-0 against AFC Wimbledon that came due to a profligacy in front of goal from our opponents, a lack of attacking threat from ourselves and a very fortunate refereeing decision for us not to concede a late penalty.

There is significant room for improvement.

This League Cup tie against Oxford is either a chance for Mark Robins to hand another 90 minutes to a team still in need of gelling, or for fringe players to stake a claim for inclusion in our embryonic strongest XI. Given Mark Robins’ track record in these kind of cup competitions, I would anticipate at least five or six changes from Saturday’s team.

Places in the side are probably most up for grabs in the attacking positions, where there’s little impression of not only who are strongest players are but how to line them up. Handing Tony Andreu a rest provides the opportunity to test whether we’re a more threatening side with a strike pairing instead of the 4-2-3-1 shape that’s been tested in the opening couple of games. That being said, there is a lack of natural width in our attacking options at the moment, particularly in terms of right-sided players.

Possible Line-Up

Elsewhere, it seems likely that Michael Doyle will be given the night off, which should allow Liam Kelly minutes to play himself back to full fitness. There is probably a decision to be made from then on as to how regularly Doyle starts.

In defence, this game is an opportunity for Jack Grimmer to make his case for inclusion over Dujon Sterling at right-back, similarly, for Junior Brown at left-back. There could be changes at centre-back as well as in goal, with the likes of Tom Davies and Jordan Willis still seemingly short of fitness, while Lee Burge in goal is likely to be given a chance to return from injury.

Last Time We Met

Our first trip to Wembley since the 1987 Charity Shield. Relegation was all but confirmed. Boy, did we need that afternoon in the sun.

Gael Bigirimana scored an early goal, almost too early to register the importance of it. Oxford United dominated the rest of the first-half, however, a bright start to the second was capped-off by George Thomas’ good first touch, and even better second…

Mama Mia!

How Are They Doing?

With Karl Robinson in charge and having had reasonable backing in the transfer market over the summer, Oxford United are likely to be around the play-off positions this season. However, it has been a catastrophic opening two games, no wins, no goals, six goals conceded and they have registered just six shots on target.

Having been busy in the summer transfer market, Karl Robinson is still trying to figure out his strongest side. When that eventually comes, it’s likely to involve the talents of winger Ricky Holmes – who has proven himself to be a cut above this level in recent seasons – attacking midfielder James Henry, the creative talents of Cameron Brannagan lying deeper, with the excellent Curtis Nelson marshalling the defence.

Oxford have suffered a huge blow over the past week in learning that goalkeeper Simon Eastwood – one of the best at this level – will be out for a couple of months through injury. The 37 year-old ex-Sky Blues man Scott Shearer was called in for Saturday’s defeat to Fleetwood, although they have since signed Derby youngster Jonathan Mitchell to plug the gap in goal.

Possible Line-Up

I would expect Oxford to make several changes to their side for this game as Karl Robinson works out his best team. Wingers Gavin Whyte – who was free-scoring in Northern Ireland last season – and Marcus Browne – once very close to a loan move to us – are likely to benefit from a run-out in this game and potentially have the quality to put us to the sword.

Furthermore, with the striker’s position in Karl Robinson’s 4-2-3-1 system yet to be resolved convincingly, whoever is selected between Jon Obika and Sam Smith is likely to be motivated to put in a performance to earn a run in the side.

Prediction

These early League Cup games tend to be especially tough to predict as different managers have differing levels of interest in a cup run. On the one hand, it’s a good opportunity to build confidence and cohesion, on the other, it’s extra games at a stage of the season where players are still getting up to full fitness. My impression is that Mark Robins would not be particularly bothered about progress in this competition.

Given Oxford’s home advantage and the greater quality in their back-up options versus us, I would make them favourites to win this game. As for a score 2-0 to Oxford United.

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