Face-to-Face with the U`s
Regular readers of the Gasroom (don`t read it kids, its evil!) will know that your pessimistic scribe is not looking forward to this weekend`s renewal of acquaintances with Oxford United. Yes, WE ARE NOT RIVALS, we don`t care about each other, well no more than if we were playing, say Bury. Yet losing to the U`s is a bit like drinking some milk straight from the bottle and realising it`s gone off. Or suffering from a bad case of haemorrhoids. The U`s have spent the last four years in non-league football. They have spent that time losing to the likes of Droylsden, Lewes and Tonbridge Angels. Now they are back and they are facing us at Adams Park. It`s the kind of shadow made by King Kong before he laid waste to New York City. As George Santayana once said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." You need look no further than Saturday 12th September 1987 for a similar situation. Wycombe Wanderers had to begin their F.A. Cup campaign in the first qualifying round for the first time since 1974. They faced local rivals and upstarts Aylesbury United and fell to a humiliating 2-0 defeat at Buckingham Road. Results like this never leave supporters they are like scars upon our soul. Anyway enough of my doom mongering, Len brought me here to reminisce and so I`m going back to the first ever competitive meeting between the two sides.
For the sake of the pedants out there I should clarify, we did play Headington United twice in the F.A. Cup in early the fifties but the first clash with Oxford United was on Tuesday 27th December 1994. Both sides were in the old Division Two (now League One) and the U`s were top of the table. They were unbeaten at the Manor Ground, winning eight and drawing two of their first ten games of the season. The Chairboys were also flying high in third place and had lost just four games all season. There was a capacity crowd of 9,540 at the Manor Ground; the U`s biggest of the season. Over 2,000 Wycombe fans made the short journey.
Martin O`Neill made one change to his starting line-up from the eleven that had been held to a goal-less draw by Brighton & Hove Albion at Adams Park the previous day. Left-winger Mickey Bell returned to the starting line-up after serving a three-match ban for being sent-off at Blackpool. Midfielder Steve Thompson dropped to the bench. Lumbering Oxford striker Paul Moody was left on the bench despite having already notched 19 goals.
The Wycombe side lined-up as follows:
Jason Cousins - Terry Evans - Matt Crossley - Steve Brown
Dave Carroll - Keith Ryan - Simon Stapleton - Mickey Bell
Cyrille Regis - Simon Garner
Oxford United lined-up as follows: Phil Whitehead - Les Robinson, Mickey Lewis, Matt Elliott, Alex Dyer - Bobby Ford, Tony Dobson, Jimmy Carter, Dave Smith - John Byrne, David Rush
Captain Terry Evans won a psychological advantage in winning the toss and electing to attack "down the slope" in the second half knowing the home side preferred to do so. Nevertheless the Chairboys were expecting an early onslaught and Martin O`Neill set his side out to defend with both Keith Ryan and Simon Stapleton sitting deep in front of the back four. The U`s didn`t disappoint and dominated the opening half hour. The visitors, wearing their green and white change colours put their bodies on the line to keep their goal intact. Jimmy Carter`s corner was flicked on by Alex Dyer and Cyrille Regis could only head to Dave Smith on the edge of the area. He fired in a low shot which Paul Hyde got down well to save but the ball bounced up for David Rush only for a combination of Dave Carroll and a flying Terry Evans to stop him from scoring and Matt Crossley cleared for another corner.
Regis did fire over the bar with a half chance on 17 minutes but the all-important first goal came with 31 minutes gone. Jason Cousins took possession in the centre-circle and played the ball into Simon Garner who controlled the ball with his right-foot, turned and played a slide-rule pass inside Les Robinson for Mickey Bell. He hit a first time cross along the turf to the near post where Keith Ryan came sliding in; beating his marker Bobby Ford to get a delicate touch to take the ball across Phil Whitehead and the ball nestled in the net via the foot of the far post. The goal sparked wild celebrations not least amongst the players themselves. Simon Garner`s motivation was clear to see and he raised his arms aloft before punching the air.
The hosts were struggling to penetrate the Chairboys defence and with 58 minutes played they suffered a decisive sucker punch. Terry Evans met a clearance on the half-way line and headed the ball into Garner who controlled the ball on his chest before turning and running at the heart of the home defence. A combination of Mickey Lewis and Matt Elliott obstructed the striker to concede a free-kick some five yards outside the box. Dave Carroll and Mickey Bell immediately looked for the ball to organise the set-piece with Garner wandering away looking disinterested with his hands on his hips. The ploy worked. Carroll spotted the ball very carefully and Bell moved to stand over the ball as if he was going to touch it for Carroll to strike the indirect free-kick. Carroll didn`t move, Bell rolling the ball into the path of Garner who smashed a daisy-cutter to the right of the wall and into the bottom left-hand corner of the net past the helpless Whitehead. Again Garner couldn`t hide his elation as he ran towards the dug-outs, Brownie chasing him to give him an embrace and then the striker topped off the celebration with a crafty v-sign in the direction of the Oxford bench and home supporters.
The home side`s attempts to get back in the game became more and more desperate and were reduced to efforts from long range. The visitors were slightly fortunate to survive late appeals for a penalty when substitute Anton Rogan`s shot was handled by Evans before Cousins cleared from within the six-yard box. Gary Patterson and Steve Thompson replaced Cyrille Regis and Simon Garner and the side finished the match without a recognised striker on the pitch but by that stage they had done enough. The final whistle was greeted by a huge roar from the Wycombe fans in the Cuckoo Lane end. The first "local" derby between the two sides had ended with a glorious victory for the Chairboys and not only had they inflicted the first home defeat of the season on the U`s but they had also climbed up to second place in the Second Division; still to this day the highest the club has ever been.
The Oxford Mail`s Jon Murray wrote afterwards that the hosts had: "come up against a side whose teamwork and spirit was even better than theirs. Wycombe defended magnificently and worked so hard for each other they never looked like relinquishing their lead."
The Oxford Times` Dick Tugwell said: "Against a Wycombe defence superbly marshalled by the towering Terry Evans, United never really got in a telling blow and the sorry outcome was a foregone conclusion long before the final whistle."
Martin O`Neill wrote in his programme notes for the F.A. Cup third round tie with West Ham United: "The support given to the team at Oxford was simply magnificent and the efforts of the players made it a day to remember."
Don`t worry Martin, we remember it alright.