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View From The Dolan: Trip To The Kassam

Ben recaps the matchday experience of a trip to Oxford United.

PA Images via Getty Images

So that’s that then. Oxford’s cup final done and dusted. Back to single-figure attendances for them for the rest of the season. Given the amount of restrictions on this game, the sheer number of police and the demand for tickets (certainly from our end), I struggle to see how anyone doesn’t think this fixture is a derby.

Regardless of what our fans say, Oxford is a decent place. Ironic then that the stadium is in one of the worst places going. I mean, people talk about the Stade de Madejski being soulless, but the Kassam estate is where fun goes to die. It’s like America in the 90s, but without the movie stars.

It looks half-finished, disconnected and generally forlorn. But (and it’s a large but)… the parking is free! As a result, I made a last-minute decision to drive (I was gonna get the train but I know from previous that the journey from Oxford station to the ground takes about four hours which is infinitely longer than the original train journey I’d have had from Tilehurst to Oxford).

And this is where, of all the positive traits my own father has passed on to me, the negatives ones came out to play. My dad is obsessed with parking. Obsessed. From memory, the journey from my door to the Kassam would have been about 45 minutes. I read that there were around 2,000 spaces to park in next to the stadium. It was a 12.30 kick-off.

All these numbers, equations and calculations lead me to leave my house at 9am. Yup. 9am. I got to the ground at 10am, a full 2.5 hours until the match activation sequence began. I even refused/didn’t offer to pick up our own esteemed editor from the train station because I couldn’t face not having a space in the car park.

Of course, that journey took in a 15-minute break at a popular American restaurant (not because I was fatigued on the drive, but because I wanted to eat hash browns). I mean, I got there so early that the police hadn’t even turned up. Frankie and Benny’s wasn’t even open FFS. Thanks dad, thanks a lot.

The early arrival did let me get a programme though. Admittedly, it was rubbish and expensive (£4!!!) but it was so nice to hold one in my hands, like I’d been able to hug a long-lost relative or an injured squirrel, for example. There were four pages of reference on us in it, so I basically paid a £1 a page.

I also indulged myself in a black coffee which was honestly undrinkable. I had to wait a fair while though because, despite the early hour, people were scoffing down burgers with onions like it was an under-funded eating contest. I spent the next 90 minutes in the car, waiting for Sim to turn up and wondering if I’d parked my car far enough way so that any wayward shots would be clear of my vehicle.

Listen, the place itself is pretty inoffensive but not exactly welcoming. The lights in the concourse were dimmed, the mood upbeat, the pies selling reasonably well. Not one part of the ground seems to connect well at all - there’s a skip in the corner for apparently no reason. It’s just odd. Parts of it remind me of the Barbican in London where they’ve used concrete on concrete for absolutely no reason at all.

Team-news-wise, I couldn’t understand not playing Charlie to be honest. We’ve looked better these last few games, conceded one goal in that time and generally been more aggressive. Of course it’s not down to one player, but we were far too passive in the first half.

The defence had no outlet, there were little to no overlapping runs down the wings and the control of the ball and possession were minimal. Effectively, we let them do what they wanted and we were lucky they weren’t more astute in their play because we could have been down and out at half time.

During the interval, some chap with a big, loud bike came on and did some driving. Pointless. You could say… IT WAS WHEELY CRAP! (not my joke, by the way. It was Sim’s). No subs were made either which was OK, at that point, I suppose. It made sense to wait and see until 10 minutes after the break.

Of course, those 600 seconds passed slowly and we were crying out for a change in pace. Oxford were quite happy to take what they were given and absorb the little to no pressure we were applying. We had to wait until 74 minutes for a reshuffle which basically yielded instant returns.

Big E ran down the left hand side, drilled the ball into the box and it was bundled home by some bloke wearing a yellow shirt. Cue pandemonium in the away end, some fruity language and some involuntary hugging of stewards. Game on. Charlie’s energy, along with direct running of Kelvin galvanised a tiring team. We were pushing for a winner. Oxford were in retreat. Could we get the +3?

No. But I maintain that if we’d had another five/six minutes, we’d have got a winner. We were definitely in the ascendancy and the subs changed the game (unlike last week where they actually hindered our progress). A draw was OK, it keeps us ticking over and moving in the right direction. But make no mistake, this week is ultra massive, culminating in one of the most important games of the season thus far in the shape of Charlton Athletic on Saturday.

Getting out of the ground was fine, until I got back to the car and couldn’t physically leave as people were fighting in the road. Ah the Thames Valley derby: never change…

Until next time.