As Oxford prepare for their biggest game of the week, Not The Top 20 Pod co-host, EFL pundit and U’s fan George Elek (@GeorgeElek) gives us the lowdown on their season so far and what to expect at the Kassam Stadium on Saturday.
What have you made of your season so far and how has it stacked up in terms of pre-season expectations?
We have definitely outperformed my pre-season expectations. I was concerned for most of the summer as we left our business until late and the squad looked thin, but the additions we ended up making such as [midfielder] Alex Gorrin, [winger] Tariqe Fosu and [on-loan Bristol City striker] Matt Taylor have massively improved the first team. We had a fairly poor start to the season which is maybe why are aren’t currently in the top six, but a recently-ended 18-match unbeaten run has most at the club really positive and there is no doubt that automatic promotion is now the aim. Given the talent of this squad, it’s attainable.
I think you have to be considered promotion contenders, but you’ve been bubbling away slightly off the radar. Do you think that it’s worked in your favour to be ‘among the pack’ rather than out in front?
No, I’d rather be where Wycombe are! The squad seem very grounded, though, and there isn’t an over-reaction to league postions and when we drop points. It’s nice to have a target to aim at in Wycombe and Saturday marks the start of trying to chase you down. 13 points separate us at the moment; hopefully we can make that ten this weekend and, with a game in hand, we can look to bridge that gap knowing whoever finishes above Wycombe will have a very good chance of going up this season.
Who have been the standout players for you so far and why?
Fosu has been fantastic out wide and will be key to any successes we have this season. Taylor has been a huge signing and his goals are so important to our good form. [Creative midfielder] Cameron Brannagan is playing in the wrong league, while the steel of Gorrin provides him with the protection that he needs to be effective. [Winger and top scorer] James Henry has carried the team at times, but the real rock that it’s all built upon is centre-back Rob Dickie. Karl Robinson thinks he could play for England one day and we will have our work cut out keeping him in January.
Style/tactics-wise, what do you consider your major strengths and weaknesses, and how might you adapt to the challenge faced by Wycombe? We’ve made ourselves extremely difficult to break down and have proved to be very adaptable ourselves.
Our biggest strength is moving the ball quickly through midfield to create space in behind on the flanks. Having a striker like Taylor helps as we now have someone getting on the end of the delivery from wide. We play a high-line, though, so there is always space in behind for teams to exploit as shown by Man City. We are still without Simon Eastwood, with Jordan Archer likely to be in goal on Saturday. The jury is still out on him, but there is no question that we would be in better nick with our usual number one.
Last of all, how do you see the game going? Feel free to make a score prediction.
We’ll be hard to beat, and you’ll be hard to beat, so I think we could well cancel each other out. Either 0-0 or 1-1 I reckon, although how we bounce back from the City game will be interesting. If we play like that again then no team in League One could live with us, but it may have taken a fair bit out of the lads. We have some height at the back so I’m not too worried about your aerial threat, but we all know that Wycombe are more than just a route one team these days!