It’s been well over 5 years since I’ve attended a lower league football game. But today I made the trip to the Kassam Stadium to watch Oxford take on Mansfield in a good old-fashioned relegation six-pointer.
Both sides have been languishing in the bottom of League Two, England’s lowest fully professional league, and were desperate to pull away from the dropzone with only 15 games remaining this season.
I tried to arrive with an open mind, but I couldn’t shake the image of long-ball football from my mind. The last League Two game I went to was at Torquay, and it was possibly the worst game of football I’ve ever seen.
Thankfully, this match was a significant improvement. Despite the appalling state of the pitch, owing to Oxford’s ground share with Rugby Union outfit London Welsh, the home side managed to play some half decent football.
Within the first twenty minutes they had already had 3 shots narrowly miss the target. Mansfield, for their part, were performing the role of robust away team to a tee. Playing one big man up front and with a bank of 9 in defence, they were clearly set up for the counter attack. Unfortunately for them, the moment of counter attack never arose.
The first goal was due to a calamitous error from the Stags goalkeeper Lenny Pidgeley, as he flapped hopelessly at a cross into his six-yard box. From that moment on, any fight that Mansfield had shown quickly vanished. They were lucky to escape to half-time just one goal down.
In the second half, it was clear which of theses sides will pull away from the bottom half and which will be dragged into a fight for league status come May. In a moment of genuine class, the Oxford right-winger Alex MacDonald curled in a beautiful effort from the edge of the box to score his first goal for the club. As the ball dropped to him, he lashed his right boot through the ball, and with the outside of his foot swerved the ball at pace into the far corner of the net. A Premier League quality goal.
The atmosphere at the Kassam was a little sedate at the start. As perhaps you would expect. Oxford is not exactly known as a footballing hotbed nor the bastion of the working class. But as the goals began to rattle in, the 7,000 fans created a good amount of noise – despite the lack of an entire stand on one side of the ground!
Overall, I thought the way that Oxford played their football on a difficult pitch and against a physical side was admirable. As adverts go for lower league football, this wasn’t bad at all.