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[FM15] Raising Cain

The story of a failed young manager's attempt to resurrect his career ... and his life.
Started on 1 September 2015 by tenthreeleader
Latest Reply on 12 August 2016 by zappo137
This is like the only girly show I am into .. hahhaa
Give Cambridge a royal spanking!
Every point matters at this point in the season ... big match coming up!

“Fan Day” called for the players to make an appearance on the night before the match in a get-together at the stadium.

Kyle would rather have had his players at home, concentrating on the next day’s match and getting ready for a good night’s sleep, but this time the commercial department and Moore had won the argument.

Kyle stood at a table in the Christchurch Suite between Fazackerley and Eales. The suite area had been opened up to season-ticket holders for the event, while other staff members and players were situated at various points around the concourses and on the pitch so the kids could run around with a United player and maybe even have a kickabout.

It was Kyle’s job to greet the high-end folks, the season-ticket holders who sat behind the dugouts and paid more coin than most burghers in Oxfordshire to see the local eleven play. So he stood, in his touchline suit, hair combed, tie knotted just so, and nervous as a dog with his tail next to a floor fan.

He didn’t know why – his team was wildly popular now and he personally was the League Two managerial flavor of the month – but the whole idea of the gathering set his teeth on edge.

One by one, the season-ticket holders filed by to shake his hand, thank him, and offer unsolicited advice on the team.

That was part and parcel of being a boss of a smaller club – listening to what the hoi polloi knew was the best way to solve the striker issue, close down opposing strikers, or hold a late lead – and Kyle did a lot of head-nodding and smiling.

The fact of the matter was that these people didn’t spend hours poring over video, thinking and rethinking tactics, and they didn’t understand individual strengths and weaknesses and why they kept certain players in, and others out, of the eleven.

That didn’t matter. This was about getting people to renew their season tickets for next season, and everyone seemed to have the same general question:

“If I renew my ticket, will it be for League One or for League Two?”

Kyle, of course, couldn’t answer that, but did his best to disarm the more strident questioners by telling them that if they supported the team vocally enough the next day, it might very well be the former.

It was the right thing to say, but the fans wanted guarantees Kyle couldn’t give. He had told the Mail that afternoon that he liked his team’s chances, but that was as far as he would go. The morning edition would, in the finest tradition of English journalism, blow up his comments into something they weren’t, but that was beyond his control.

He greeted people one by one, and then he saw Moore walk into the room.

She ignored Kyle completely and instead focused her attention on Eales.

“Mr. Eales, it looks like we have about three thousand here tonight,” she said. “We’ve been taking informal attendance and it looks very good.”

“Excellent, Diana,” Eales said, noting that the club souvenir store had been opened for the occasion and was doing brisk business. These sorts of events were the reason people like Diana Moore had jobs, and she had done very well for herself.

“Thank you,” she said, turning to glare at Kyle before she left the room.

“I don’t think that problem is getting fixed,” Eales sighed as the line to meet the group dwindled.

“You can’t fix something when both parties don’t want it fixed,” Kyle said, trying not to complain. “I bought her a sympathy card for her father and she returned it to me torn in pieces.”

“That’s sad,” Eales agreed. “But if she didn’t want it, then what can you do?”

“There are more than a few things she doesn’t want,” Kyle said. “Peace with me being one of them. I can’t change what happened, I can’t change the mistake I made, but I can try to make amends until they are either accepted or I get my face slapped, I suppose. Maybe that’s next.”

“I have to judge her on performance, and she knows her job,” Eales said. “I have to judge her like I judge you, and I know you understand that.”

“Well, can she be a master promoter without constantly trying to insult people?”

“That will come up at her review,” Eales said. “That much I can do.”

With the club losing money and needing an infusion of cash, commercial income was vital, and as such Moore’s position meant a lot to the club from a business standpoint. Kyle wondered if she got the same pressure for results off the pitch as he did for results on it.

At times, Kyle was frustrated with his chairman, but he was smart enough to realize that Eales wasn’t going to do anything that would damage either his business or his own reputation. Kyle would have to find his own way, and that was something he had grown accustomed to doing.

# # #
This is all going to come to a head verrry soooon!
25 April 2015 – Oxford United (20-10-14, 7th place) v Cambridge United (13-16-15, 15th place)
Sky Bet League Two Match Day #45 – The Kassam Stadium, Oxford
Referee: Scott Mathieson

There was an air of expectancy at the Kassam Stadium as Kyle reached the staff car park. Turning in from Grenoble Road, he saw that a good crowd had gathered to enjoy some pre-match food and fun on what promised to be a glorious spring afternoon.

From the looks of things, some of them had partied all through the previous night, judging by their loud and boisterous reactions to the manager’s arrival.

“Get stuck into them, boss!”

“Beat them bloody, Kyle!”

“See you at Wembley!”

That last might have been a bit optimistic, but surely nobody was talking about the national stadium during Appleton’s reign. It made Kyle feel good.

A chant from the assembled of “Kyle Cain’s Yellow Army!” made him feel better still, and as he entered through the staff door, he knew there would be a big and boisterous crowd and that meant much.

Lord’s report was just as pleasing – Will Hoskins was ready to return from injury and would be available for selection for the season’s final match at Newport County.

For now, Hoskins was the present. The future was pulling his socks on when Kyle entered the changing room.

He mussed Roberts’ hair and wished the teenager well. He was getting another start, the in-form striker playing off Hylton, another player coming back from time in the training room.

“Thanks, gaffer,” the lad said, his short brown hair not seeming to move much as a result of Kyle’s greeting. Roberts was the man on a mission, his hot streak in high gear. He had scored five goals in ten matches while on loan at Barnet earlier in the season and now had three goals from four matches with the Oxford senior squad.

Kyle saw no reason to sit the hot hand on the bench, even if using it would have been cheating. Skarz was going to get another shot at the left fullback position, with Potts on the bench in case of trouble, and as the match proper began, the extra fans in the stands made the chants a little bit louder and the atmosphere just a little bit better.

Cambridge started the match in a 5-4-1 Diamond formation, jamming the middle of the park with defenders and midfielders to try to counter Oxford’s direct game. It nearly backfired in the first minute, as Bevans stroked a beautiful cross from deep right onto the forehead of Roberts. The free header sailed just over the top of Will Norris’ goal 48 seconds into the match.

Harry Lennon welcomed Roberts to League Two with a too-hard challenge only five minutes into the contest that drew both the ire and the yellow card of referee Scott Mathieson, to the delight of the Oxford crowd. The teenager was playing his new-found fame for all it was worth, and he achieved near-cult status only three minutes later when Bevans took a Maddison feed and crossed for the youngster.

This time he didn’t miss, sailing off to the corner flag at the Mail stand end with his arms apart like wings of an airplane, his fourth senior goal safely into the back of the net.

They earned two more corners in the next five minutes but neither one came to much, while Cambridge played rope-a-dope of the type Muhammad Ali made famous. They were trying to survive as Kyle’s men poured forward in waves.

Then it was Hylton with a free header which Norris saved at full stretch, so it was hard to be anything but pleased at how the squad was playing.

Luke Chadwick earned Cambridge’s first corner just shy of twenty minutes into the match but it came to nothing as Oxford defended tenaciously.

Shortly after that, the Us were celebrating again as a cross from Skarz was headed clear but only as far as Ssewankambo, who found Bevans on the right. The switch in play was very effective as the fullback slid a pass to MacDonald in the area, with the Scot beating Norris along the floor to his right post for Oxford’s second.

The set piece parade continued for the remainder of the first half, with three more corners and a couple of decently located free kicks coming as Cambridge finally had to start to foul to slow Kyle’s men down.

The most spectacular was Richard Tait coming through Hylton’s legs from behind just outside the Cambridge area in 39 minutes, which earned a yellow from Mathieson and could have been more.

Bevans had had a great first half and as such was in very good spirits as he sat for halftime refreshment. Kyle noticed, and made sure the defender got some extra praise in addition to the team talk, which was positive with just a bit of warning.

Nobody could tell if the team Cambridge had fielded had a pulse, so it was a bit dicey as to how to handle them in the second half. If they showed up, they could make trouble. Midfielder Tom Champion, who certainly hadn’t played like one, got the thumb at halftime in favor of Jordan Slew and by the time the second half was twenty minutes old, the visitors had gone through all their substitutions.

What they didn’t have was a shot on target, and for Kyle that was very pleasing. The defenders held Cambridge off with ease, allowing only a half-chance by Liam Hughes on the hour mark while having two decent chances themselves, from Hylton and Roberts.

Just after Cambridge’s third substitution, striker Rory Gaffney, stepped onto the park, O’Dowda made them pay, by slotting another great left-to-right ball to MacDonald, who was perching like a vulture at Norris’ left post for three-nil in 65 minutes.

However, then what Kyle dreaded the most happened.

Roberts was working a ball to the middle of the park for the trailing Maddison when Slew stepped on his plant foot just as the teenager was turning. He twisted very awkwardly and fell hard, yelping in pain and grabbing his right foot.

The referee immediately signaled for the physios and Lord came at a run, taking a few moments to assess before sending word to Kyle through Wright.

“Andy says it’s almost certainly broken,” the captain said. “They’ll need to cut Vardy’s shoe off.”

Kyle tossed his head back in frustration. It was a freak accident and now yet another promising Oxford player was on the shelf. A stretcher was brought onto the pitch to carry the ashen-faced boy back to the training room to start his treatment, and this time when Kyle mussed his hair, he had a different message.

“You are important to this club,” he told the boy. “Don’t forget that. We’ll be there for you.”

Mullins came on for Roberts as Kyle shifted to 4-2-3-1 with the points in the bag. And after the shock of the injury, the fans began to sing.

Despite Roberts’ sidelining, it was hard to imagine the team playing much better, and what everyone was waiting for was the tannoy announcer to start reading other scores.

The match continued, Cambridge continued to flail away, and then the announcer became a very popular man with three minutes left to play.

“Final score,” he read. “Plymouth Argyle two, Tranmere Rovers nil.”

At that, the fans rose as one, and began to chant.

“Kyle Cain’s Yellow Army!”

He had to admit that he liked that chant better than the last one he had heard from them, and as Mathieson looked at his watch, Fazackerley turned to Kyle on the bench.

He extended his hand.

“Congratulations, Kyle,” he said. “That’s about done it, I should think.”

Oxford United: Ashdown: Bevans, Dunkley, Wright (captain), Skarz, Ssewankambo (Whing 71), MacDonald, Maddison, O’Dowda, Roberts (inj, Mullins 81), Hylton (Hoban 71). Unused subs: Clarke, Grimshaw, Meades, Potts.

Oxford United 3 (Roberts 8, MacDonald 26, 65)
Cambridge United 0
H/T: 2-0
A – 7,697, The Kassam Stadium, Oxford
Man of the Match: Alex MacDonald, Oxford (MR 9.2)
GUMP: Alex MacDonald

# # #
Great great win, loving this story still mate... keep up the good work!
Storming victory, here comes promotion!
The team is playing brilliantly at just the right time!

The word was dire. Four to five months on the shelf for Roberts, who deserved better. Surgery was already scheduled to insert a plate and screw into the boy’s foot so it could heal.

“Such talent,” Kyle said sadly in his post match news conference. “We don’t seem to have had a whole lot of luck on the injury front of late but every team has to deal with injuries. We aren’t unique. He’s going for the ball and the lad steps on his foot. It happens. We don’t have to like it but it happens.”

“Does this take away from the win at all?”

“From a team standpoint, no,” Kyle answered, trying not to show his frustration at yet another injury. “But from a personal standpoint, yes. James has done very well for us and it’s a shame he’s out at a time when we need him the most. He can’t help it but that’s football.”

“This win probably earned you the playoffs.” Churchill looked like Kyle had invented the Pythagorean Theorem.

“It looks good, doesn’t it?” Kyle marveled. “I think we’d need divine intervention to keep us out now.”

He was right. Oxford now stood fifth, with a twelve-goal difference on Tranmere in eighth place. Oxford could lose at Newport County but it would take pestilence on the pitch to keep Oxford United out of the playoff places.

Playoff race
4. Plymouth		79	+35
5. Oxford		73	+20
6. Accrington		73	+12
7. Luton		72	+11
8. Tranmere		70	+8

Cheltenham had gotten themselves officially relegated that afternoon, and Kyle knew what that feeling was like. So he had seen the high and the low of the League Two wars almost exactly a calendar year apart.

At that time the year before, he had been informed of his sacking as Torquay were officially sent down. At that time a year ago, he had delivered the famous ‘non-team talk’ at Mansfield and seen his team thrashed for it. Now playing under Chris Hargreaves, his old club had locked up a playoff place that afternoon, winning by a goal to nil at Halifax Town. That made him smile.

But at the same time, he thought about how that failure had driven him, and how he wanted to see his new club succeed in the same way.

The last match of the season saw Carlisle on 44 points and Exeter City on 43, with the teams at home to Hartlepool and Dag and Red respectively. He was glad he didn’t have to manage under that kind of pressure again.

It was never going to be easy. Yet Kyle had put Oxford on the brink of promotion from the brink of relegation and for that, some people were talking about him for Manager of the Year.

None of them worked for the Oxford Mail, though, so there was that to consider.

Not that Kyle would have lobbied. He simply wanted to succeed and let the chips fall where they may.

Yet, despite the injury to Roberts, the mood in the changing room was almost obscenely optimistic and Kyle couldn’t wait to get back to his players.

He entered the changing room to a near mosh-pit of music, celebration and noise. It was a great atmosphere, even though nothing had officially been clinched as of yet.

It was the kind of atmosphere that makes people want to go into football as a career. It was almost intoxicating, with happy players in a team atmosphere in an environment of success.

They quieted, though, when the boss entered the room.

“Men, you have done brilliantly,” he said, stopping outside the door to his office. “You’ve done everything I’ve asked of you and put yourselves in a position to advance if you can get one point at Rodney Parade. You’ve earned this celebration but I want you to be smart about it. Be good, be intelligent, get home early and get ready for training on Monday morning. We are going back to work, gentlemen, because there is still work to be done. Now enjoy this win!”

They cheered Kyle, and he headed into his office with a grin as big as all outdoors on his face.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket and checked his text messages.

There was a note from Allison there. It read: “Congratulations. You got us to the promised land. There’s another one waiting for you if you will only come and claim it.”

# # #
You're certainly in a strong position now, great work!
The team is coming into form at the right time. Will hopefully bode well for us ...

There was a lot to be happy about that week.

The table looked downright gaudy. With a goal difference of plus twelve against Tranmere, the playoffs were all but assured even if things went badly at Newport County, a team that was as solidly mid-table as you could get in League Two.

He had taken Allison to dinner on the Sunday, and that was great too. There was no repeat of the ending of their prior dinner date, and part of Kyle was thankful for that, but the two had an honest conversation about Allison’s text message.

“Don’t think for a moment that I wouldn’t love to,” Kyle said, “but you know that puts me in an impossible situation.”

“I understand,” Allison said sadly. “But can you blame a girl for wanting a repeat performance?”

She cared. She genuinely cared. That meant a lot. And it didn’t hurt matters that at midweek, Kyle asked her over for dinner – with Jenna and Miles.

This was a definite attempt to bury the hatchet, as it were. Everyone around the same table, talking about the same things, and hopefully removing the same barriers.

Kyle wondered why he hadn’t thought of it long before. He trusted Allison to make the right impression on Jenna, and she tried very hard to do just that, reminding her that it was okay for more than one person to care about her father.

Jenna, who had seemed to have lost some of the protectiveness she had always previously felt about Kyle, now rethought her position.

Miles, for his part, was quiet. That was outside of his nature as well. Usually a boisterous fellow, the fullback had received word from the coaching staff that his Oxford days were numbered and as such he was trying not to blame Kyle for his predicament.

His problem was that he hadn’t done enough to warrant a new contract, and that caused heartbreak for him. That was understandable, and he knew that the final decision had rested with Kyle Cain.

So, finally, he brought it up. And nearly ruined dinner.

“Did you tell them to release me because of what happened at training that day?” he asked.

Kyle stopped in mid-bite, a fork with a hunk of a pretty good Porterhouse steak on it halfway to his mouth. He put down the fork and looked at the young man.

“Why, no, Miles, I didn’t,” he said. “You know that decisions to tender contracts are made not simply by me, but by all the coaches, including your youth team bosses.”

“But you could have stopped it,” he said, in a tone that somehow managed to be non-accusational.

Now Kyle looked in at Miles, with Jenna looking at him from the other side of the table.

“Look here, Miles,” he said. “You need to understand a few things, first off that this is a business. There’s no time for sentimentality here. If I were to keep you on board and paying you a contract next season because you’re dating my daughter, that wouldn’t be very good, would it?”

Miles wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“I think I did enough,” he said defensively.

“Well, most players do,” Kyle answered. “I thought I had, when I was released from Orient. I thought I had done enough to get one more deal, but the management disagreed. I will be more than happy to help you find a club, though, if you’d like.”

“I’d prefer it be Oxford,” he said simply.

“I’m sure you would,” Kyle answered.

Allison watched the conversation warily. She wasn’t at all sure how it was going to turn out. Clearly, Miles felt that he wouldn’t get to see Jenna as much if he was with another club, and perhaps that was the case, but the fact remained. His contract wasn’t being renewed.

Kyle thought it through.

“What would you say to Oxford City?” he asked. “Conference North, good side, I know their manager, Johnson Hippolyte…” his voice trailed off.

Miles thought about it in return.

“Wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, I guess,” he said. “I could stay in Oxford and maybe play more. And see Jenna, of course.” At that, she smiled.

“Would you like me to put in a word for you?” Kyle asked.

Miles, seeing he was defeated, nodded his assent.

Jenna now entered the conversation. She squeezed her boyfriend’s hand to get his attention.

“Shouldn’t you be saying something to my father right now?” she asked.

“Such as?”

“….thank you?”

Miles Booth looked at Kyle and finally, gave in to the inevitable. He was certain that his actions with Jenna had led to his release, but as long as he could keep playing football, he would deal with the consequences. If, that is, Oxford City could be persuaded to take him on trial.

“Thank you,” Miles said, returning to his meal.

# # #
Great result for the young lad all things considering!
Indeed. He might well have wound up with his parts in a sling. :)

“I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.”

Boyd Stokes had less and less to be happy about these days. The clothes horse of the London Public Library System was having issues with Stacy Cain. Or, at least he thought he was.

Stacy thought so too, only she wasn’t telling him that.

In her new maternity dress, she looked like spring itself – a green and white floral number which had as much new life inside it as the pattern showed on the outside.

The baby was kicking regularly now – and for his part, Boyd didn’t make the obvious joke about a footballer’s wife having a little kicker in the oven. Stacy was into her eighth month now and she had talked with her obstetrician about potential due dates.

It looked now like the late May was the right time for the little Cain to be entering the world, and for her part Stacy was starting to anticipate what was to come.

Labor was no fun at all, obviously, but what happened afterward was great. She had enjoyed Jenna immensely, even if she didn’t always agree with how she had grown up. She was too close to her father.

She was wondering how close this child would be to Dad as well. Sometimes she didn’t mind the thought. Other times, it consumed her.

But Boyd felt like he was being shoved into the background. Emotionally, he was right. That was exactly what Stacy was doing. She had taken her own thoughts to heart about their relationship and seriously wondered if there was a way back with Kyle and her family.

Being alone had been hard. Reuniting, in its way, would be harder still, assuming it was possible.

She didn’t really know what she wanted. At times, the conversations she had with Kyle indicated that there was no way back. He had been cruel to her, but deep down in her heart of hearts, she knew she had been just as cruel in return.

She looked out the window of Boyd’s apartment, offering a view toward Silvertown. Not exactly the best quality view in the city, but you could sort of see the Thames so it wasn’t awful.

That’s not bad, Stacy thought, as she sighed to herself. ‘Not bad’ is the story of my life. When does good happen?

She looked over at Boyd. He wasn’t a bad guy, she thought. He did like to think of himself as the most sophisticated guy on the block, but there was no harm in that and he was half decent in bed. And he wasn’t seeing anybody else, which certainly helped.

Yet she felt unfulfilled. That was also not surprising. Families were supposed to be together, she knew, at least until the papers got filed.

Stacy’s phone buzzed, to see a text message from Jenna. Had dinner with Miles and Allison and Dad, she wrote.

Stacy’s eyebrows rose high enough so as to make her think they were hiding in her hair. Why would they do that?

Then it hit her.

She was being replaced.

She picked up her phone and texted back.

How did it go?

Stacy waited for a few moments and the answer arrived.

It went well, Jenna texted. We had a great time. Miles is getting released, but Dad’s going to find him a new club and we can still see each other. Allison is very nice.

Stacy looked down into her lap and felt the baby kicking again. For the first time in a long time, she imagined she knew how her husband must have felt for all those months.

Even though she wasn’t alone, Stacy Cain certainly felt that way.

# # #
I actually hate this woman with a passion...
Mrs. Cain is a piece of work sometimes, isn't she? But that said, she has never really forgiven Kyle for his indiscretion. Her wounds take a long time to heal.

2 May 2015 – Newport County (17-12-16, 12th place) v Oxford United (21-10-14, 5th place)
Sky Bet League Two Match Day #46 – Rodney Parade, Newport
Referee: Darren Sheldrake

Now, there was something to defend.

The trip had been about one hundred miles. Walking through the gates of the old place in New South Wales, it felt like one hundred years as well.

On the banks of the River Usk, Rodney Parade is the second oldest sports venue in the Football League, with sport first being played on the grounds in 1877. The football club didn’t move there until three years ago, but the old gates in the front of the place made Kyle feel like he was walking into a bit of history, even as his team tried to write some.

They entered play in fifth place – seventeen places above where Kyle had found them in the table when he arrived back in November. His was one of the great success stories in the history of Oxford United Football Club – and even though it wasn’t First Division stuff, it was still something to remember.

There weren’t many changes made from the team which had gone two full matches without surrendering so much as a shot on target. They were the form team in League Two again, playing as well as they had been right after Kyle arrived.

Now was the time to be playing well – at the end, when the matches mattered the most if you weren’t automatically promoted.

Since he had arrived too late for that to be a serious consideration, Kyle settled for the next best thing – putting out a team which he hoped would be good for three points but which could certainly handle earning the one they truly needed.

Hylton played off Hoban, with Hoskins in reserve – Oxford’s “Triple H” attack was now fully ready for play with all three available for selection once again.

The three had combined for 39 goals in the forward positions on the season, which was a huge reason the Us were in the situation they were in that afternoon.

The match kicked off in a drizzle with a temperature of 19 degrees Centigrade.

After an early half-chance for Hoban, the home team came storming back, with Leo Chambers’ cross turned behind for the first corner of the match. The corner led to a lovely chance for striker Rene Howe, but Ashdown blocked the shot with his chest, a good thing since he didn’t have a very good idea of where the ball was.

Chris Zebroski was next, surprising Ashdown with a truly audacious lob from twenty-five yards with the keeper caught off his line. The ball bounced squarely off the top of the crossbar and over for a goal kick that was better than Ashdown deserved.

Kyle turned to his left on the bench, where goalkeeping coach Wayne Brown sat.

“I hope you didn’t teach him that, Brownie,” Kyle said with a half-smile, and the coach shook his head from side to side.

“Not a chance,” he mused.

Now Oxford was coming to life, with a raking cross from Bevans finding the rampaging Hylton as a late arriver in nineteen minutes, but the striker’s bullet header flashed just over Jamie Stephens’ bar.

Yet the home team had come to play, and fired themselves into the lead soon afterward. It came off a throw, with Andrew Hughes finding Tom Walker down the left flank. He crossed early, Ashdown got caught moving from right to left, Dunkley didn’t get Rene Howe covered, and the striker beat the wrongfooted Ashdown to his near post in 24 minutes.

The cross had been inch-perfect, and it was hard to find a single person culpable. Most of the right side of the defense had been at fault, so it was a team effort.

The modest crowd which had gathered to see County into the close season showed its appreciation, though, and Oxford had to find a way back into the match.

Hughes came right back for County, nearly making it two with a rasping effort from just inside the box to Ashdown’s right which thankfully found the side netting.

A Zebroski header in 36 minutes again called Ashdown into action and Kyle was starting to warm up the hair dryer for halftime. It had been an exceedingly disappointing first half, with chances flowing all one way and no spark of creativity at all from the vaunted Oxford midfield.

Finally, seven minutes before half, O’Dowda gave Oxford its first good chance of the match, connecting on the half-volley from MacDonald’s cross, but Stephens made a very good save, anticipating the cross, getting to his right post and getting a strong hand on the ball to tip it around the post.

But that was it for Oxford in the first half, and at the break Kyle had sharp words.

“Playoff team,” he snorted. “What I’m seeing here couldn’t beat Chalgrove Cavaliers.”

Now admittedly, the Premier Division of the Oxfordshire Senior Football League was stiff competition, and Cavaliers did have a reserve team, but that was harsh stuff.

“Gentlemen, if you will kindly pull your heads out and look round you, you’ll see you’re trailing to a team who has no business beating you. When you’re ready to play some football, you will see this. If you aren’t ready to play some football, I’d be prepared to get your heads handed to you in the playoffs.”

He turned and left the room, with Fazackerley left to pick up the pieces. Kyle had told it to his players straight, and left it to them to figure out the rest.

“We were s***e,” Wright said. “Gaffer is right. Let’s put it right, lads.”

With that, they went out for the second half, noting that Kyle had left it to the existing eleven to fix things rather than haul players off, and the second half began.

County immediately pressed and won a corner in the first minute as Skarz’s challenge on Robbie Willmott went behind. Zebroski won a header from the corner, outjumping Dunkley, but Ashdown was well positioned to make the stop.

A quick long throw sprang Hoban, though, and Darren Jones was forced to foul to stop the break, earning him a booking from referee Sheldrake. It was a sign of life and that was better than nothing.

Hoban kept trying, but was robbed by Stephens a few moments later. It was tough watching his players be denied in such fashion, but Oxford was definitely back into the match.

The Barn D’Or winner got yet another chance in 56 minutes, weaving his way through the central defense only to smash a shot off Stephens’ left post. The ball rebounded straight back to Hoban, though, and he didn’t miss the second time, leveling the score on 56 minutes.

It was about time, the way Oxford had been playing, and the traveling support was up and screaming, finally with something to cheer about.

Rene Howe barged right back with a wild miss for County after the kickoff and Ashdown’s goal kick was short to Skarz who was allowed to reach the halfway line without and significant challenge. His ball to the middle found Maddison, the midfielder’s ball to the right found Hylton, and Hylton’s ball from eighteen yards found the back of the net to put Oxford ahead 2-1 just 70 seconds after Hoban’s opener.

They smelled blood in the water now, and Kyle nodded with satisfaction. The fans started to chant “Score in a minute, we’re going to score in a minute…”

And they were nearly right. Hylton barely missed in 59 minutes which would have made three goals in three minutes, but just after the hour Maddison threaded a great ball into the area onto the run of Hoban, who was brought to ground by Wilfried Gnahore.

Sheldrake gave the penalty, and O’Dowda found the top left corner to make it 3-1 in 63 minutes.

The chanting continued. “Score in a minute, we’re going to score in a minute…”

And four minutes later, it was skipper Darren Jones sliding through Maddison’s legs in the area, with Sheldrake awarding a second no-doubter penalty. With the away support in raptures, O’Dowda did it again, wrongfooting Stephens in the opposite direction for 4-1 in 67 minutes.

They kept singing, this time out of playfulness, but four goals in eleven fantastic minutes had left County a blazing wreck. It had been a simply magnificent stretch of football and when it was done, Oxford’s place in the playoffs was locked in concrete.

At the final whistle, Wright shook his manager’s hand and the captain grinned.

“Good enough for Chalgrove Cavaliers, boss?” he asked.

Kyle laughed. “Yes, I should think so,” he answered. “No complaints here.”

Oxford United: Ashdown: Bevans, Dunkley, Wright (captain, Grimshaw 76), Skarz, Ssewankambo, MacDonald, Maddison, O’Dowda, Hylton, Hoban (Hoskins 76). Unused subs: Clarke, Mullins, Whing, Meades, Potts.

Newport County 1 (Rene Howe 24)
Oxford United 4 (Hoban 56, Hylton 57, O’Dowda pen 63, pen 67)
H/T: 1-0
A – 4,063, Rodney Parade, Newport
Man of the Match: James Maddison, Oxford (MR 9.0)
GUMP: Patrick Hoban

# # #
Carrying plenty of form into the playoffs!

You are reading "[FM15] Raising Cain".

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