Home Stories FM14 | Out of the Foxhole III: Oxford's Promotion Push

FM14 | Out of the Foxhole III: Oxford’s Promotion Push

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Welcome back to this trip to memory lane and my journey to finish what I started and find glory in the Premier League. As you’ll recall from the previous updates, we’re recapping my tenure with Oxford United right now and we’re doing year-to-year updates to bring you up to speed on what’s happened between July 2013 and December 2020.

If you’re new to the series, click here for an introduction and the overview of the 2013/14 season. If you just need to brush up on what happened in the previous update, click here.

Last season, despite the failure to defend the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy thanks to a penalty shoot-out, was a resounding success, as we defied even my own expectations and finished in fourth place and challenged for promotion to the Championship immediately after our promotion from League 2.

I knew coming into this season that for the most part, we had what we needed as a team, but despite our successes, we had several players that wouldn’t hold up in a concentrated effort to promote from League 1, never mind survive in the Championship.

As you can see here, with some needed signings in key areas, we strengthened our team not only enough to challenge for promotion again but to ultimately win the League 1 season by a seven-point margin. In three seasons in charge of Oxford United, I now had under my belt a League 2 trophy, a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, and the League 1 trophy. After 46 games, we finished the season with 27 wins, 7 draws, and 12 losses to have 88 points with a 7 point lead over runner-up Colchester.

Despite our league successes, we failed to secure any silverware. In the Capital One Cup, we started off with a 3-0 first round victory against Gillingham. After that, we met the Premier League’s Newcastle and progressed to the Third Round with a shock 3-2 victory following a late goal. In the Third Round, we would meet our Championship opponents and my current employer Leicester City and fail to win after a 2-3 defeat on the road in Leicester.

In the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, we failed again in the south quarter-final, losing 1-2 to Coventry after a 3-1 victory against Bristol Rovers.

Our FA Cup run was significantly more successful, despite at that point not being a priority for me during the season. We made it all the way to the fifth round and faced Newcastle yet again. We finished the round with a 2-2 home draw, but on the replay two weeks later in a 0-3 defeat to see us out of the competition.

Cup silverware is always nice, but during this particular season, it was a secondary priority for me, with my focus on the promotion bid. If the schedule allowed, I was putting my strongest people forward for a lot of the bigger matches just to see where I could go, but for the most part, these were rotated sides so that I could focus on putting forward a winning team in each of my league matches.

This year we saw a lot of movement in the transfer market. After failing to impress me during the previous season, we saw players like Deane Smalley and Sean Rigg depart from the club, and we released many younger players from the ranks including Sam Long and Callum O’Dowda, who wasn’t cut out in this version of the game for career as successful as he has been so far.

Even more noteworthy are our outright sales, which included fullback Ewan McNeil leaving for St. Mirren for $300k, winger Max Clayton leaving for Hibernian for $1.6m, goalkeeper Mark Oxley leaving Oxford United for Southampton for $300k, and Nathan Eccleston leaving for Bristol City for $135k.

All in all, we made $2.3m on outgoing sales but made up for our losses with some outstanding free transfers, including the likes of David Brooks, Jackson Irvine, Kenji Gorre, and Marko Futacs, who would each be influential to the team in their own way.

With so many changes to the starting eleven, it’s only natural to see that our best eleven for the season was drastically different from the previous. Of the original 2013/14 squad, only Nicky Wroe, Jake Wright, and Alfie Potter remain in our best eleven, though Johnny Mullins and Jonathan Meades are on the bench for us.

I’ll let the appearances and goals scored as shown in the image speak for itself. Interestingly though, Marko Futacs would not be the team’s leading goalscorer, despite my viewing him as comparable to his predecessor James Constable. Shadow striker David Brooks and winger Alfie Potter were our best goalscorers for the season with 18 goals apiece.

Just like in the previous updates, I would like to take a bit of your time to share a few of the players from this season.

Fullback Paul McGinn once again appears in our best eleven. He started playing with Queen’s Park in Scotland and spent loan spells elsewhere in Scotland before joining us on a free midway through the 2013-14 season to help with an injury crisis we were having at the time.

He had a good showing with Dumbarton in the Scottish Championship, but despite being just good enough for a regular slot at the back, he was never quite as good for me as he was in Scotland. He would assist 9 goals across three and a half seasons and would score three of them on his own, but he was never a particularly influential player on the pitch. That’s not to say he was a bad player, but he certainly wasn’t as good for me as he was in Scotland, and I can only wonder if being in England just messed with the Scotsman’s head a bit.

He joined Oxford on a free, and at the end of the team’s Championship season he would once again transfer teams on a free and return to Scotland’s Championship to play with Falkirk and has performed notably better during his appearances over the years for the club.

On paper, he was an excellent player, and I gave him many seasons to try and gel and find his place, but he ultimately wasn’t a particularly memorable player for me or for Oxford United, and he’s definitely in a much better place back in Scotland’s second division.

Australian midfielder Jackson Irvine joined us on a free transfer from Celtic following a brief and unsuccessful loan spell at Kilmarnock. He was brought in to be a midfield partner to Nicky Wroe. In 31 appearances in the league, he scored 1 goal and had 7 assists in what could so far be considered the best season of his career.

In the Championship season, he still appeared fairly regularly and was in half of our matches, but it was more off the bench than as a starter, and he would only assist 3 goals in 26 appearances and end that season with a 6.48 rating after my departure. His form would taper off and he would ultimately be released on a free transfer and picked up by Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps FC where after 17 appearances if his average rating of 6.34 is anything to go by, he failed to gel and make an impact.

With the 2020 MLS season now wrapped up in December 2020, he’s sitting in the Whitecaps reserve team, and after looking at some match to match performances, he’s looking like he won’t have a place in the Whitecaps squad for much longer.

It’s very fair to say that while he was good for me on his first season, for the club as a whole he can be considered okay at best or a flop at worst because his performances even in League 1 and League 2 after my departure from the team were less than stellar for what he was paid.

David Brooks is the last player we’re going to take a look at. He joined us from his parent club Manchester City on a free transfer at the start of this season and he would make his professional debut in an Oxford jersey after failing to start with Man City. In 41 appearances he would be responsible for 13 goals and 9 assists, and he was the man of the match on 9 occasions.

For that first season, Brooks was what I was looking for to replace veteran Dave Kitson in that shadow striker slot. He really did thrive for us and was more than influential in that season, but the at the time we were in the Championship he was out of his depth and started a bit less often, making only 30 appearances and scoring 5 and assisting 3. That’s not to say he had a horrible season, as he was still a good link-up for other players and did his best to help the team in their failed bid to avoid relegation, but it was too much competition and quality for what his current ability was at the time.

He joined West Brom for $5.25m after Oxford United were confirmed to be relegated. I’m going to disclose this right away, he was signed under my management at West Brom. I overpaid for him by a bit, but he had the potential to be a high Championship or low Premier League quality player, and I figured that with the right training and some quality facilities, he would meet that potential, so I met new Oxford man Lee Clark’s outrageously high transfer fee to secure his services. He appeared off the bench before a loan spell at Oldham during my brief tenure at the club, but following my departure for an attempt at international management, he would go out on loan for two seasons and as of December 2020 has failed to appear this season at the club. It’s looking like his career as a top-flight player isn’t meant to be, unfortunately.

This wraps up my third and final full season in charge of Oxford United. My fourth season and the team’s first in the Championship would see my departure from the club following a termination partway into the season. In the next update, I’m going to go over my brief period with Oxford United during the season and we’re going to also take a look at half of a season spent with Charlton Athletic, another Championship team at the time.

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