A boss who wants more pressure on him, a dynamic duo and a selection poser – A look at Oxford ahead of Town clash
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Oxford United visit Ipswich Town today in what has looks like a ‘must-win’ for both sides. Mark Heath takes a look at the U’s season so far and their key storylines heading into the game.
STORY SO FAR
A recent nine-game winless streak in all competitions was ended in style on Tuesday night with a 5-0 dismantling of AFC Wimbledon.
Key duo Shandon Baptiste and Tarique Fosu-Henry departed for Charlton on January deadline day, but mid-season recruits Nathan Holland (West Ham, loan) and Marcus Browne (Middlesbrough, loan) are making an impact.
The game at Portman Road could have a big bearing in shaping their promotion credentials - they currently sit tenth, five points off the play-offs.
Boss Karl Robinson said: "I got asked on Saturday (after a 1-0 loss at Sunderland) about how we find the spring in our step. I said to them on Monday 'play more than ever'. If we lose playing this way I'm here to take the blame and be the shield for their style. We have to be brave to play the way we want.
"There is so much more football to play this season. I took stock at the weekend and thought to myself that this club needs to kick on now. I need more pressure on me to deliver. There was pressure in those first few months but this is honestly the best I have felt. I feel home. I don't know why that is.
"Maybe it's the fans: the criticism is fair but I also think they understand when I stick up for my players. I love this group and will always stick up for them because I need to get them to perform."
Fosu-Henry and Baptiste took a combined 13 goals and 5 assists with them to Brentford, certainly a blow for the U's.
But midfielder James Henry and striker Matty Taylor are the ones to watch now, having both bagged 12 goals each so far.
Henry's added seven assists to his haul too - five of which were for Taylor - while Taylor's got four. His shots on target percentage is pretty impressive too - he's hitting the target on 65% on his efforts.
Midfielder Cameron Brannagan is also a player Town will need to be wary of, with his six goals and five assists.
Spanish centre-midfielder Alex Gorrin, one of the U's key players this season, has missed the last two games through suspension.
And, with Oxford putting in good attacking displays in his absence, his return has given boss Robinson something of a selection dilemma.
He said: "It's great to have Alex back, but it's really created a bit of a problem for me, because our last two performances have been very good," he said.
"We're trying to create a culture here of being aggressive on the front foot, about developing people in the right way.
"There's no fear in being attacking. I think sometimes we've been over-cautious and too negative."
On loan Feyenoord midfielder Liam Kelly is an injury doubt with a nerve issue.
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Henry and Taylor have struggled with injuries and fitness for much of 2020, but after the 5-0 win on Tuesday in which Henry set up both Taylor's goals, it seems the duo are back on track.
Henry certainly thinks so. He said: "You could see on Saturday against Sunderland I was putting some balls in and I think that just triggered his (Taylor's) brain to keep getting into those positions.
"He is the best in the business in those situations in this league, he doesn't need too many chances to take them. It always takes a bit of time to build up partnerships.
"I often know Matty will be always sniffing around the back post, so sometimes I don't even have to get my head up, I just know he's going to be there.
"For the first goal (against Wimbledon) I didn't even look, I just knew he would be around that area.
"It's just something that clicks. He understands my game and I understand his."
While the two sides only played just over a month ago, Robinson says the nature of the clash - a 0-0 draw in torrential rain which almost saw the game called off - means it makes it useless for drawing any conclusions from ahead of the U's trip to Portman Road.
"It was a complete farce," he said. "I think the two teams were tremendous on the night, but it would be difficult to take anything from it."
Of Ipswich's stuttering season and faltering promotion hopes, he added: "People say that, but they won 4-1 on Saturday against Burton.
"Paul's experienced and I don't think he'll be flustered by any of the murmurs.
"His team's extremely experienced and littered with top players at this level and the one above."
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