Those of you who follow me on social media will know I wasn’t at last night’s game, I didn’t watch it, nor could I listen to it.
I’d got tickets to see The Rumjacks in York, a gig they cancelled in February and rescheduled before the fixtures came out. It was an unfortunate clash that, for once, put me in the unusual position of not being able to truly comment on the game. That’s why this is so late; I’ve managed to watch the game back on Wyscout this afternoon, although it didn’t come with commentary. That might be a good thing, as I think you see the game a little differently when you’re not also hearing others’ opinions. However, I did have plenty of people willing to tell me what happened as the game went on, which was nice.
I’ll confess, I find it difficult to comment on a game I haven’t enjoyed live in some form, and even watching back, it feels a little fraudulent to do my usual write-up because many of you saw it in real-time. However, some things thoroughly impressed me, so rather than the usual match report, I’m going to focus on one or two of those, which I hope gives more of an overview of the game.
I had to start with Sanders because if one thing stood out from last night’s performance for me, it was his display. He was all over the place, fighting for balls, playing passes, trying to dictate the game. I feared for our midfield this season, part of me still thinks we’re light, but after seeing Max last night, I could be persuaded otherwise. Let’s be honest, last season Max took a lot of blows and unkind words, was often left out of games, and scapegoated for certain outings (Accrington away) despite being a bit of a fan favourite. This season he has certainly thrived under the new manager, and the Oxford win was perhaps his finest outing in a City shirt. There’s more to come from Max, much more, and if he plays like he did last night in the next 40-odd matches, then there’s no doubt clubs are going to be looking closely at him.
What really impressed me was where he won his duels. He made 27 duels through the course of the game, winning 52% – whilst it wasn’t the highest number contested (that was Hops), nor the most successful percentage (House and O’Connor on 56%), it was the highest combination which is great news for us. As you can see from the graphic below, he won them at both ends of the field too, underlining his value as a box-to-box midfielder.
Ah, Anthony Scully. I’ve often posed this question; where is his best position? He’s being deployed as a winger, starting last night on the left, and yet sometimes he frustrates as much as delights. The one certainty is this; his best position is on the pitch, somewhere. He recently hit 100 matches (102 now), and he’s hit 36 goals – that’s only four fewer goals in five more appearances than Gareth Ainsworth managed, and he’s a hero in these parts. Last season, during the early weeks, Scully was the light in my shadow, a constant positive in a side that showed signs of faltering. His injury and subsequent time out prevented him from going on to hit maybe 20 goals, but if he’s fit and firing this season, surely that’s achievable.
Last night, he showed exactly what he has, that little bit of something special. The truth is he wasn’t on fire; he played nine passes, a couple of crosses and went on a couple of dribbles, perhaps a solid seven if nothing else. However, one cross was inch-perfect for Hops to head home, and his finish was typical Scully, from nowhere. It was a moment of quality, the sort we know he has and have seen so many times before. There were better players on the park last night, but Scully got a goal and an assist. I do have to ask if we have anybody that can produce that one moment of game-changing quality in the same way the former West Ham man can, and has throughout his stay with the club.
I can’t help but think back to the games against Accrington and Hartlepool last season when on a sombre Saturday, we watched in horror as a stagnant City struggled to break down the opposition. I remember MK Dons at home, 2-0 up and unable to change things to defend the lead. It is admirable having a principle and stick to it, but this season we’re reaping the rewards of more tactical flexibility.
Last night was no exception. We started in a 4-1-4-1, but on 72 minutes took Scully off for Roughan as we came under more pressure. The young Irish defender slotted into the left side of a three-man defence, essentially making us a 5-3-2 with Garrick and Hopper through the middle. It was a switch that brought us more defensive stability, a move intended to repel their attacks and hang on for the win. I don’t like constantly comparing with last season, but it’s my belief last season, we lose that game because we let the opposition attack us without shaking things up. I think we’ve seen it in other matches this season, but it’s never been quite as evident before.