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Opposition Lowdown: Des Buckingham’s Oxford United

Reading take on local rivals Oxford United at the SCL Stadium this Tuesday evening in what is the first matchup between the two sides since 2004. Join us as we take a closer look at the opposition.

Oxford United v Shrewsbury Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

Form

Oxford United finished 19th in League One last season, only two places and two points outside of the relegation zone. Survival ensured that they would compete in the third tier for their eighth straight season, having been promoted from League Two back in 2016, when they finished runners-up to Northampton Town.

They have had a strong start to the season, currently sitting in sixth place following 11 wins, three draws and five losses. They have seen pretty balanced home and away form so far with 18 points picked up at home and on the road. Although they are winless in three matches, they have seen two wins, two draws and only one loss in their last five games.

The two sides last faced each other in 2004, when Reading beat Oxford 0-2 at the Kassam Stadium after goals from Shaun Goater and Andy Hughes. The last league games between the two took place in the 2001/02 Division 2 season, when Reading claimed the double, beating Oxford 4-3 at the Madejski Stadium and then 0-2 at the Manor Ground.

The boss

Des Buckingham: Buckingham took over as Oxford head coach last month, succeeding Liam Manning, who joined Bristol City after only eight months in charge at the U’s. Interestingly Buckingham spent time in the youth setups at both Reading and Oxford, but he never became a professional footballer.

He started his coaching career at Oxford at the age of 18, taking on positions in their youth setup. He was promoted to the first team when Chris Wilder joined as manager in 2013.

He went on to spend time in New Zealand, where he held an assistant-manager role at Wellington Phoenix, before having a short stint as manager in 2017. Coaching roles at Stoke City and the New Zealand international setup followed, before he had a spell in Australia as assistant manager of Melbourne City.

In 2021 Buckingham moved to India to become manager of Mumbai City where he won the Indian Super League earlier on this year. The 38-year-old likes his teams to play a ruthless attacking style of football.

Squad

13 players came through the door at the Kassam this summer, with eight signing permanent deals and five joining on loan. The U’s signed forward Max Woltman from Liverpool and left-back Greg Leigh from Ipswich Town for undisclosed fees.

They also signed a number of players on free transfers including defenders Jordan Thorniley and Joe Bennett, midfielders Josh McEachran and Alex Gorrin and forwards Mark Harris and Ruben Rodrigues. Goalkeeper James Beadle (Brighton & Hove Albion), right-back Fin Stevens (Brentford), wingers Kyle Edwards (Ipswich) and Stanley Mills (Everton) and forward Sonny Perkins (Leeds United) all joined on loan for the season.

Seven players left the club, including defender Stuart Findlay, wingers Jodi Jones and Yanic Wildschut, and forward Matty Taylor. Former Royal Sam Baldock retired from football in September following a series of injuries.

Defender Stephan Negru and wingers Marcus Browne and Kyle Edwards will all miss this Tuesday’s game with hamstring injuries. Defenders Sam Long and Greg Leigh will also miss out, while midfielder Ruben Rodrigues is also a doubt.

Expected lineup

Beadle, Stevens, Moore, Thorniley, Brown, McGuane, Brannagan, Mills, Murphy, Bodin, Harris

Key player

Cameron Brannagan: Midfielder Brannagan signed for Oxford in January 2018, joining from Liverpool for an undisclosed fee. He came through the Liverpool youth ranks and made his debut for the club in 2015 in a Europa League match against Bordeaux.

He went on to make nine appearances for the Reds before making a loan move to Fleetwood Town in 2017 for the second half of the season. He made 14 appearances for Fleetwood before returning to Liverpool, where he rejoined their under-23 team.

A permanent move to Oxford followed where Brannagan has gone on to make 259 appearances, scoring 45 goals. He was named players’ player of the year in 2019 in his first full season with the club.

The 27-year-old has represented England at under-18 and under-20 level. He is a high-energy central midfielder who is comfortable in both defence and attack.

One to watch

Mark Harris: Forward Harris joined Oxford this summer, signing on a free transfer after the end of his contract with Cardiff. He came through the youth system at Cardiff and made his debut for the club in 2017.

He had loan spells with Newport County, Port Vale and Wrexham before seeing greater involvement with the first team at the Bluebirds. He made a further 92 appearances upon his return to Cardiff, scoring 10 goals for the club.

Harris has made 23 appearances for Oxford since his move this summer and currently has six goals to his name.

The 24-year-old Welshman made his debut for his country in 2021 and has gone on to win five caps. Harris typically plays as a striker, has strong finishing skills and can also play on the wing.