FA WSL 2016 - Mid-season review: Oxford United

Slow and steady wins the race?

FA WSL 2016 - Mid-season review: Oxford United
Ini Umotong has been in fine form since joining Oxford (Photo credit: Tony Marshall/Getty)

Next in our series of mid-season reviews we look at a side that were slow to get started this year but have finally found their groove; Oxford United.

Less than stellar start

Before the season started the U’s were in cup action, a brief dalliance that saw them fall to a best forgotten 10-0 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion, a worrying scoreline but given where both sides were in the season schedule, one that could almost be forgiven.

Their first WSL2 action of 2016 saw Oxford hosting the Millwall, the match memorable for the postponed kick-off time. When the two sides kicked-off (an hour later than billed) the fans were in for an absorbing 3-5, Oxford’s spirited performance not enough to overcome the Lionesses.

The U’s were back in action three days later, putting in a strong performance but once again defeated by Aston Villa at their Sutton Coldfield home.

When Oxford returned to action the following month, once again playing two games three days apart, and again dealt two more defeats. First they hosted Durham, but struggled to get going against the imperious Wildcats who ran out easy 5-1 winners, before traveling to Yeovil but once more the U’s laboured to a defeat – albeit a more respectable 2-0 loss.

New month, rejuvenated team

Just four days later Oxford were back in action, their first match of May and their first win of the year. Although largely absent for the first half, Oxford had taken a 0-0 into the break and when they came out for the second half it was as if they had awoken from a hibernation period, dominating the ball and carving out chance after chance.

Their fighting spirit was enough for a 1-0 win over Sheffield. Another match at the Northcourt the following week and another win, another narrow 1-0 this time over Millwall in the preliminary round of the Continental Tyres Cup. In their last match of the month, the U’s hosted a Watford side that was still looking for their first win of the season, unfortunately for their visitors it wasn’t to be their day.

Oxford flew out of the blocks opened the scoring in the first five minutes, despite their dominance they’d have to wait until just after the hour to add a second as the game finished a comfortable 2-0.

Lauren Haynes battles for an aerial ball with Emily Heaslip (Photo credit: Ben Hoskins)
Lauren Haynes battles for an aerial ball with Emily Heaslip (Photo credit: Ben Hoskins)

When VAVEL spoke to Les Taylor after the Sheffield win he was delighted for his players, noting that the confidence shift would be most beneficial to the young side. Although Oxford’s three wins came against lower ranked teams, the U’s still put together two (and a half) complete performances, new life breathed into the squad.

The defence that had conceded 14 goals in their first four matches boasted three consecutive clean-sheets in their last three. It was a quite off-season in Oxford, very little business being done by the club but one of the key signings made by Taylor was bringing in Nigeria international Ini Umotong from Portsmouth. Umotong has been instrumental in every win for the U’s, scoring in every league match she’s featured in – bar Yeovil – and her goals will be crucial to their success this season.

It’s taken some time but the side seem to have found their rhythm and although the mid-season break could disturb that they’ll walking into the second-half of the season with their heads held high. That confidence could be key as they have three tough matches within the first week of the restart when they face first Bristol City then Yeovil Town before the end of the month before squaring off against Birmingham City in the league cup.