Eye on the opposition: '˜When this Oxford team click they can run riot'
Doncaster Rovers travel to Oxford United on Saturday looking to secure back-to-back league wins for the first time this season. We spoke to Oxford Mail writer David Pritchard about what sort of challenge awaits them at the Kassam Stadium.
Q: How has manager Pep Clotet been received so far?
DP: He had big shoes to fill given Michael Appleton had overseen fantastic seasons in the previous two campaigns.
But I think most supporters have been prepared to give Pep Clotet time to get his ideas across – many will recall Appleton’s first year in charge, when it took a long time to make progress.
Q: What are the expectations for Oxford this campaign?
DP: After finishing eighth last season, there was a hope they could push on into the play-off picture.
But the loss of Appleton and a host of key players meant a much bigger rebuilding job was required in the summer, which realistically means a top-six finish would be a tall order.
Q: How is Oxford’s season progressing so far and how is the form heading into Saturday?
DP: In a word: inconsistent.
When this team click they can run riot – five of their seven wins this season have been by at least a three-goal margin.
An ability to grind out results when Plan A does not work has been much harder to come by and they have had a habit of leaking soft goals which has seen them chuck valuable points away.
It should be said a lengthy injury list, many of whom have long-term issues, has not helped their cause.
But they did show a gritty side to dig out a 1-1 draw at Southend United, who have been a bogey side for United, in their last league game.
An early FA Cup exit means they had a blank Saturday last weekend, so any momentum gathered from that result has probably evaporated.
Q: What style of play does Clotet favour?
DP: Clotet has predominantly operated with a lone striker supported by an attacking midfielder, usually Jack Payne, at the top of a 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1 system.
They will look to play a passing game wherever possible, especially at home where the playing surface is good.
Q: Who are Oxford’s danger men?
DP: United’s stand-out performer this season has been Jack Payne, on loan from Huddersfield Town.
Given space he will invariably tear teams apart at this level and he’s either scored or assisted 18 goals this season in all competitions.
He has formed a decent partnership with striker Wes Thomas, who has come back strongly after missing most of last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon to become United’s top scorer.
Q: Your prediction for the game?
DP: United will be fresh after a break in fixtures and are due a win at home, so I’ll go for a 3-1 victory.