Oxford United and Plymouth Argyle come into Saturday’s FA Cup Second Round tie at Home Park with contrasting fortunes in League One. The visitors have lost just once in their last nine league games, keeping five clean sheets in the process. Meanwhile Argyle find themselves in a potential relegation dogfight after last Saturday’s impressive 2-1 win over Fleetwood was overshadowed by a poor performance against Shrewsbury in midweek, losing 2-0.
Oxford look set to name an unchanged side from Tuesday’s impressive 4-2 win over Rochdale in League One ahead of their trip to Home Park.
Winger Ricky Holmes will probably miss out once more through injury. The 31-year-old Sheffield United loanee has missed the last two games with Gavin Whyte most likely to continue in his place.
Former Pilgrims Jamie Mackie and Curtis Nelson should both start. The pair both got on the score sheet during Oxford’s 2-0 win over Argyle back in October.
Forward pair Jonathan Obika and midfielder Shandon Baptiste remain sidelined by injury.
Predicted Line-Up (4-2-3-1)
Hanson, Nelson, Dickie, Ruffels
Whyte, Henry, Browne
Style of Play
For the most part of the season, Oxford have played in a 4-2-3-1 formation which has heavily relied on its wingers creating chances and reducing the goal-scoring burden on forward Jamie Mackie. Trio Gavin Whyte, James Henry and Marcus Brown have successfully done this, scoring 12 goals and assisting a further six between them. This direct style of play allows them to hit teams on the counter with their pacey wide-men charging down the wings and often opting to cut the ball inside rather than cross the ball into the middle. Whenever they do need to cross, they have an able target-man in veteran Jamie Mackie.
Manager Karl Robinson opted to stick with their 4-2-3-1 formation despite just one win in their opening 12 league games and has been rewarded with an upturn in form following a 2-0 win over Argyle in October, losing just once in seven matches since. A key reason behind this form is Robinson’s decision to move defender John Mousinho into a defensive midfield role alongside Cameron Brannagan.
Previously Brannagan had been partnered by either James Hanson or Shandon Baptiste, with the latter now injured. The U’s captain has provided a composed, physical presence in the middle of the field that has added extra steel to the side. Oxford have only lost once in 10 league games since this tactcal change. Mousinho’s tendency to sit back and maintaining his position rather than join the attack has allowed Brannagan the opportunity to push forward and utilise his playmaking and passing abilities which have rewarded him with four assists. The tactical tweak has worked wonders, bringing a balance to the side that makes them harder to break down yet just as potent in attack.
Whether playing as an attacking midfielder or in his more natural position as a left winger, Marcus Browne seems to be improving week on week at Oxford. The 20-year-old West Ham loanee has been earning rave reviews in recent weeks with five goals in his last eight games.
The east London academy product has scored seven goals and registered three assists in all competitions this season, including a brace against Rochdale in the league on Tuesday night. His pacey and direct style of play has been key in United’s recent resurgence which has allowed him to beat and take on players in order to create chances for both himself and his teammates. He ranks joint-top in terms of both goals and assists for his side with fellow winger James Henry equalling these statistics but playing an extra seven matches in order to do so.
Joe Riley appears likely to come back in for Tafari Moore this weekend, but he will have a very tough job keeping the strong, athletic winger from causing much trouble. Expect him to be Oxford’s biggest threat.
Away form has often been Oxford’s achilles heel this season with the U’s still winless on the road, conceding 17 times and only scoring seven goals in the process. Robinson’s side enjoy attacking in numbers and closing down their opponents if they lose the ball in the final third. However, this often leaves them looking vulnerable on the counter-attack, short of numbers and with big gaps in their midfield which opposition sides can exploit. This is something which better sides in the division such as Portsmouth and Barnsley did well earlier in the season, both scoring four goals each in heavy defeats. Whilst these mistakes are still prevalent in their displays, in recent weeks weaker opponents such as Bristol Rovers have failed to capitalise on these chances.
Following a poor showing on Tuesday night against Shrewsbury, the pressure will be on Argyle to perform and progress to the third round in front of a Home Park crowd. Both sides have prolific creative players going forward and with defensive frailties playing a huge part in their ailing seasons it would be a fair to assume that plenty of goals are on the cards.
For Argyle in particular, I feel as though the FA Cup could provide a welcome break from the league with Adams himself welcoming another big tie in the third round such as Liverpool from a few seasons ago.
I predict the score will be 2-2.