3 January 2015 – Oxford United (8-5-10, 15th place) v Cheltenham (2-7-14, 24th place)
Sky Bet League Two Match Day #24 – The Kassam Stadium, Oxford
Referee – Darren Drysdale
It wasn’t really a happy New Year for Kyle.
He stewed over what he had heard in Stacy’s apartment for the entire next day, and even Jenna’s prodding couldn’t prise out of him what was wrong.
On the one hand, he couldn’t prove anything. On the other hand, if she was with a man, part of Kyle thought he deserved what he was getting for the trouble he had caused.
And if he could have had a third hand, that hand would be defending himself. But he didn’t have that option, so he simply sat and stewed.
The players could see something was bothering the boss at the New Year’s training and again during the tactical workup on Friday. He was very upset.
There was some nice news for him professionally, though, as he earned a richly deserved Manager of the Month gong for rescuing his club from the depths of the relegation contest. Maddison earned another richly deserved award as Young Player of the Month.
Jake Wright signed his contract on reduced terms, which helped the bottom like. Matt Bevans and all the staff up for renewal also agreed new terms for the next year at modest increases. The board informed Kyle that the Financial Fair Play rules had been met easily and so far, everything was going just great at the Kassam.
On the field.
Off, well, that was another matter.
So it was that the tail-end club in League Two, Cheltenham Town, came calling on the Saturday – a team Kyle had seen once already and watched his team eviscerate.
That was a word which could also have been used to describe his private mood.
As for changes, well, there were a few. Whing was returned to central defense after going a week free of concussion symptoms. Bevans, who had just signed his new deal, returned to right back and the carousel at striker continued with Hylton supporting Hoskins.
Otherwise, the eleven was unchanged from Plymouth. There was a nice feel to the squad now, with players settling into defined roles and performing as they were expected to perform. Every manager loved that feeling and Kyle was no exception.
Town entered the match in desperate straits. They needed points in a hurry and their hope was to catch Oxford on an off day and then hope they would rebound against Dag and Red. It was a tall order.
The crowd was bigger by about 800 fans than for the last home match against Shrewsbury, and Kyle wanted them to see a show which would bring them back. Five minutes into the match, Hylton got them out of their seats with a well-placed headed finish from an O’Dowda cross from the left.
That was how to handle last-place opposition, Kyle thought, and he settled back for the inevitable hiding he knew was in Cheltenham’s future.
Only it didn’t come.
The visitors earned a surprising amount of possession after Hylton’s goal and suddenly Kyle realized an important fact: his players were mirroring their manager’s complacency.
That brought him out of the dugout like a jack-in-the-box after Mathieu Manset burst through the defense and was denied by a sterling save from Ashdown in thirteen minutes.
” he yelled, stabbing a forefinger against the side of his head as he did to make his point. That helped for a bit, but soon it became apparent that the visitors were made of sterner stuff.
They proved it in twenty-seven minutes, when Oxford couldn’t defend a set piece. It was simple stuff. Jordan Jones took it, Will Summerfield towered over both Wright and Hylton, who had come back to help, and gave Ashdown no chance.
Kyle stood, as stunned as anyone else in the crowd, at the ease with which the visitors had equalized. He turned to Fazackerley, and the frustrations of the last few days began to simmer.
“If we don’t see better play soon, nobody’s going to be bloody sitting down when I give the half time talk,” he snapped. Fazackerley chose to take the brighter outlook, which didn’t exactly endear him to his boss.
“We’re taking their best shot and we’re still level,” he offered, but Kyle would have none of it.
“We need to throttle this lot,” he said, his voice barely below a snarl.
For their part, the Us responded better after being pegged back, and as the match moved toward halftime, they were nearly acceptable to their boss.
As referee Darren Drysdale signaled for one minute of added time, Oxford struck. Hoskins’ ball to the right found the run of Bevans, and the youngster whipped a ball into the box for MacDonald. The Scot let the ball play off his chest and down, and he volleyed into the net in 44 minutes to restore Oxford’s lead.
That stayed Kyle’s hand a bit at halftime – but only a bit.
“I’m not liking what I’m seeing from this team, I’ll be honest about that. You have so much better in you and we saw it against better teams than this lot you’re playing now. Take this bloody match by the scruff of the neck and show me you haven’t dropped your performances.”
The second half began and immediately, the visitors were in the ascendancy. John Nutter, Theo Wharton and Asa Hall all came close within the first fifteen minutes with nary a reply from the Us on the field.
Or the Us off the field, for that matter. As the Americans would have said, the Oxford dugout was deader than Kelcy’s Nuts, and the only one who was showing any passion was the manager. That was an ominous sign.
Bevans was having a particularly hard time dealing with the Cheltenham wing play and as a result Kyle hauled him off, his new contract perhaps slowing him down, in 71 minutes for Mullins.
It hardly helped. Cheltenham generated more chances and finally got the equalizer their play deserved through Wharton – just after Kyle had changed to 4-2-3-1 to try to hang on for three points.
Mullins was the culprit, though not intentionally, when he headed the ball trying to clear his lines, but only as far as Wharton about twenty yards from goal. His thunderbastard
beat Ashdown over his right arm, and it was a 2-2 match, marking Wharton’s first goal for the club.
Kyle threw his head back in disgust and yelled for Wright. The captain trotted over to him, and nervously leaned in for his manager’s words.
“You know what I want to see,” Kyle said. And with that, he waved the captain away.
Wright did know what Kyle wanted to see, luckily for him. And two minutes later, the Us provided it when Maddson, moved to a forward left position in the 4-2-3-1, burst into the Cheltenham area and was bundled to the floor by defender Lee Vaughan, who somehow avoided a card for his trouble.
Referee Drysdale gave the penalty, though, and it was confidently dispatched into the top corner by Rose to make it 3-2 to Oxford five minutes from time.
Now dropping deep to defend, the Us looked good value for their lead.
For three minutes.
Amazingly, Cheltenham surged forward and forward Zack Kotwica, a substitution after the penalty, broke Kyle’s heart with another surging finish. Maddison had slid to block tackle the ball off the feet of Wes Burns, but couldn’t regain his feet in time to challenge Kotwica. Since Maddison was the only Oxford player in the vicinity not ball-watching, this gave the on-loan Udinese teenager a clear shot at goal.
He did not miss. Kyle wanted to scream.
Three minutes later, it was all over. Oxford had dropped points against the last-placed team in the Football League.
And Kyle Cain was not
Oxford United: Ashdown: Bevans (Mullins 71), Whing, Wright (captain), Skarz, Rose, MacDonald, Maddison, O’Dowda, Hylton, Hoskins (Meades 81). Unused subs: Clarke, Dunkley, Ashby, Hoban, Godden.
Oxford United 3 (Hylton 5, MacDonald 44, Rose pen 85)
Cheltenham Town 3 (Will Summerfield 27, Theo Wharton 83, Zack Kotwica 88)
A – 5,453, The Kassam Stadium, Oxford:
Man of the Match: James Maddison, Oxford (MR 8.4)
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