In opposition this season: Oxford United

The U’s of Oxford United will provide the opposition for Exeter City and St James Park on Saturday 13th September, the Grecians’ fourth home game in League 2 this season.  Oliver Roderick takes a look at another of the Grecians’ early opponents this term.

Last season
Oxford United got off to a tremendous start in 2013/14, winning their first three Sky Bet League 2 games.  The first saw Chris Wilder’s men pull off a huge upset when they won 4-1 at Fratton Park to consign Portsmouth to defeat in their first match since Pompey were relegated to the fourth tier.

In fact, their efforts in the first half of the season couldn’t really be faulted as far as the U’s were concerned: only losing five times in their opening 31 games meant United looked more than capable of promotion to League 1, but things went pear-shaped as they only avoided defeat in four of their last 15.

Chris Wilder’s departure for Northampton, who were in the League 2 relegation zone at the time, was a strange one to the outside observer, and though Mickey Lewis enjoyed some success during his time as caretaker, United finished nine points outside the top seven in the end.  Gary Waddock will be raring to get out of the blocks in 2014/15. 

The summer so far
According to BBC Radio Oxford, Oxford United have been the subject of numerous takeover bids this summer.  The U’s have been owned by Ian Lenagan for eight years, and names including former West Brom goalkeeper Mark Ashton have been linked with a purchase.

In terms of the playing staff, the big news to come out of the Kassam was the departure of 106-goal star striker James Constable, who rejected an offer of a new contract and moved to newly-promoted Conference side Eastleigh.  AFC Wimbledon signed Oxford winger Sean Rigg in another departure, while an extension clause was activated on right-back Matt Bevans’ deal, Tom Newey signed a year’s extension to his own contract and snapped up striker Danny Hylton following his release from Rotherham.

In the backroom, former Wales international Andy Melville left his post as first-team coach, a role he had occupied since 2009.

The manager

Former Republic of Ireland international Gary Waddock took the reins of Oxford United when Chris Wilder departed for fellow Sky Bet League 2 side Northampton Town halfway through last season. 

Waddock played over 200 games for Queens Park Rangers before heading to Belgium to play for Charleroi.  Millwall, Swindon, Bristol Rovers and Luton were his later destinations during his playing career.

It was at QPR that he tasted the life of a manager for the first time, filling in as caretaker upon the suspension of Ian Holloway in 2006.  After a brief tenure as a full-time manager on Holloway’s departure, but reverted to assistant after John Gregory came in three months later.  He managed Aldershot and Wycombe before coming to the Kassam.

With the U’s flying high on his arrival, results under Waddock have been disappointing: seven of the eight games since he took over on March 22nd ended in defeat, and meant United slipped to eighth and missed out on a play-off spot.  That form will need to change in 2014/15.  

Ones to watch

After the departure of star striker James Constable, new signing Danny Hylton will be tasked with filling his boots, linking up with Dave Kitson to score the goals that make Oxford contenders. 

Kitson made a name for himself in the Premier League with Reading and Stoke City, and made an impression on Grecians fans when he was sent off in the meeting between the two sides at the Kassam Stadium last season.

Head to head
The Grecians have enjoyed much the better of this fixture in the past, winning almost half of the 30 meetings between the two sides.  In fact, the U’s have only beaten Exeter City once since 1981 – there have been 15 matches contested between the two in that time.  Both games last season were goalless draws.

Exeter City wins: 13
Oxford United wins: 5
Draws: 12

Club links

Striker Steve Basham signed for Exeter following the conclusion of his contract with Oxford United in 2007.  The U’s and the Grecians were by far the most successful spells of Basham’s Football League career, scoring 43 goals in 168 appearances over five years for the Kassam club before scoring seven in 54 for Exeter.

Former Leeds United and Reading manager Brian McDermott joined Oxford United from Arsenal in 1984 before moving on to Cardiff City and then the Grecians in 1988.  Peter Foley, Peter Hatch and Andy Woodman have also played for both.

Key clash
Oxford United 2-4 Exeter City, Kassam Stadium, Saturday 8th September 2012

The Grecians claimed Oxford’s 100 per cent record at the Kassam Stadium after four games in 2012/13 thanks to a four-goal salvo. 

Exeter City, who were also in tremendous form, went ahead as Jamie Cureton raced from his own half before finding the top corner with aplomb after just 11 minutes.  Scot Bennett headed in Liam Sercombe’s corner for the second just before the half-hour, and five minutes into the second half they scored again, John O’Flynn releasing Cureton to net his fifth goal of the season.

The home side were given hope when Jake Forster-Caskey converted from the spot after Craig Woodman had felled Damian Batt.  The Grecians’ advantage was cut to one goal when Alfie Potter bundled Jon-Paul Pittman knockdown over the line, but O’Flynn capped a man-of-the-match performance by grabbing a deserved fourth goal.

Oxford United are rated at 20/1 to win Sky Bet League 2 this season with Sky Bet.  They are 5/1 for promotion, and 11/1 for relegation. 

Hosting Burton Albion at the Kassam on the opening day, you can get odds of 11/8 on the U’s to win that one, 23/10 for the draw and 13/8 on an away win.