• Mon. May 20th, 2024

Oxford United 0-2 Crystal Palace – Oxford Mail verdict

Byoxfordnewspaper

Aug 24, 2022

THE phrase ‘free hit’ is usually wheeled out when Oxford United play higher-division opposition.

It essentially suggests the U’s have nothing to lose, as a defeat is expected and anything more is a bonus.

That was not completely true against Crystal Palace, as a slow start to the season meant United needed a good performance in a game where the pressure was off.

RATINGS: Every Oxford United player marked out of 10 for Crystal Palace performance

Eyebrows were raised at Karl Robinson’s line-up, even though it showed only four non-enforced changes from Saturday’s draw with Morecambe.

The U’s head coach picked his starting XI with Saturday’s trip to Cheltenham Town in mind. That was sensible, considering the number of injuries and importance of Sky Bet League One over the Carabao Cup.

Including James Golding, Josh Johnson and Gatlin O’Donkor was a bold call, but the formation played to the strengths of every man in yellow.

There is a strong argument to say that Sam Long and Ciaron Brown are better in a back three than at full back, as they are defenders first and foremost and there is less emphasis on getting forward.

That system also best protects John Mousinho – not that he needed it.

The U's captain used all his experience to mark multi-million pound striker Jean-Philippe Mateta out of the game, although Palace eventually realised the 36-year-old is not the quickest and opened the scoring with a ball in behind the defence.

READ MORE: Karl Robinson proud of Oxford United – but 'disappointed' with key decision

James Golding again showed no fear with his positivity at wing back, while we saw more evidence that Steve Seddon is better in that role than in a back four.

Josh Johnson looks to have come on leaps and bounds since his handful of appearances this time last season and showed great discipline in front of the defence, giving Cameron Brannagan and Lewis Bate the freedom to express themselves further forward.

Up front, Billy Bodin got to play through the middle – although I still prefer him as a No 10 – and it was important Gatlin O’Donkor was not isolated on his full debut.

With a mix of youngsters eager to impress and first-team regulars operating in roles that accentuate their strengths, United showed a confidence and fluidity that has been lacking this season.

All they missed was a cutting edge, but the same could be said for Premier League Palace in the first half.

Patrick Vieira had to turn to his big-hitters and Jeffrey Schlupp, Eberechi Eze and Tyrick Mitchell all made a difference down the visitors’ left.

READ MORE: Crystal Palace boss praises Oxford United after Carabao Cup clash

Palace kept possession much better after the break and wore United down, making it difficult for the hosts to wrestle back control even when the substitutes replaced some tired legs.

Robinson was right to question some of the refereeing decisions, with the late penalty against Golding soft and Mateta perhaps lucky to escape a sending-off for his alleged elbow on Mousinho.

The U’s head coach would have been raging if those calls had cost his side in a league game, but last night was all about the positives.

Cheltenham away is a totally different prospect and there is every chance none of the youngsters will start on Saturday, but this is surely a formation that suits the players available to United.

Robinson dismissed suggestions that he and his players needed a lift, but it is fair to say the fanbase did. The only way to maintain that good feeling is three points this weekend.