8th September 2015 – Sky Bet League Two Match Day #1
Oxford United v Accrington Stanley
The Kassam Stadium, Oxford
Referee: Andy Davies
The weather was very breezy and unusually warm for the second week of September as Kyle and Stacy rose from bed on the day of the opening match.
Stacy had not seen her husband’s team play since the last month of the 2013-14 season at Torquay, and if she was truly honest about it, she would have told Kyle that she didn’t much like watching him at that point in his life. Or hers.
Obviously, she had never seen Oxford United play before and naturally not under Kyle’s management so as the two prepared to leave for the ground, there was quite an odd feeling in the Cain household.
Jenna was off watching Oxford City, hoping to get a look at Miles, who had made the substitutes’ bench that day and was on the cusp of making his professional debut. He had done well under the City coaching staff – better than he had done under Kyle, with the obvious reason being less interaction with Miss Cain while he was training across town.
Kyle had arranged for tutoring for Jenna in relation to her condition and the desire to avoid the inevitable comments that would arise regarding a teen mother-to-be in a school setting.
But none of that mattered at that very moment, as Stacy sat in the seat Allison had been the last woman to occupy in the front of Kyle’s Vauxhall. That wasn’t lost on Kyle, who at that moment was thinking of Allison rather than his wife.
He hadn’t answered the text. He had wanted to, partly out of spite for Stacy and partly out of concern for Allison. One of those reasons was more wrong than the other, and he knew it, but had managed to curb his desire to respond and, in a rare moment of emotional self-control, managed to stick by his decision.
That didn’t mean he had to like it. But Kyle was doing what he felt he had to do.
His first XI of the new season was written on the white board at the front of the room before the team arrived. With that, Kyle retreated into his office to await events while Stacy went to the directors’ box to meet the board. He hoped it wouldn’t be a disaster.
Oxford United: Ashdown: Grandison, Dunkley, Wright (captain), Skarz, Willock, MacDonald, Ashby, O’Dowda, Hoskins, Gnanduillet. Subs: Clarke, Whing, Meades, Richards, Rothwell, Hylton, Hoban.
The bigger news of the day came when Fazackerley entered Kyle’s office and sat opposite him at the desk.
“Kyle, I just want you to know I’ve decided to retire at the end of the season,” he said. Nothing like getting right to the point.
While Kyle was absorbing that news, he also knew he couldn’t blame his deputy. About to turn 64 years of age in November and having spent 46 of those years in the game since breaking in with Blackburn Rovers in 1969, Fazackerley had been in the game longer than Kyle had been alive. He deserved his day in the sun.
“Well, I will do everything in my power to make sure you go out a winner,” Kyle said, extending his hand. The two shook hands.
“You’ve taught me a lot,” Kyle said, and Fazackerley simply smiled.
“Very little you didn’t have in you from the beginning,” the silver-haired man said with the easy smile that Kyle had grown to trust in his time in charge. “You just didn’t see it. Now that you’ve had some success you can put those things to good use and help get this club promoted as a goodbye gift to me.”
The conversation was between two men who had seen a lot in the game – but one had seen much more than the other. Yet he accepted his junior status with good grace and a genuine desire to help his boss succeed.
Kyle admired that trait in his assistant. There was a lot to admire about Derek Fazackerley and as the two headed out for the first team talk of the new season, Kyle didn’t fail to remember it.
“Derek, why don’t you take the team talk?” he offered, and the assistant looked at the manager.
“That should be your prerogative, Kyle,” he said, but Kyle simply smiled.
“Tell them,” Kyle said, and stood to one side. Fazackerley then told the team of his intentions, and when he was done, the manager stood at the front of the room.
“Make this man’s last season a winning one,” Kyle said simply. “It starts today.”
It took just over a minute for Jake Wright to have the ball at his feet and the goal at his mercy, but he fired into Owen Wheeler’s body instead and the Accrington keeper made the first big save of the season.
Oxford immediately regained possession only to see MacDonald ring the right goalpost from ten yards, which made Kyle wonder about being snakebit. But the rebound fell to O’Dowda, and the winger wheeled and crossed back across the box, where the ball rolled kindly to Jermaine Grandison, with the debutant smashing home from eighteen yards with 92 seconds on the clock.
The Kassam Stadium crowd roared like it was packed to the gills even though it was slightly over half full for the opening match. Grandison had showed his worth almost immediately, with the former Shrewsbury man showing his pleasure at scoring for his new team.
But then Wright got himself booked by referee Andy Davies three minutes into the game – and just after the quarter hour, Accrington was on the penalty spot as O’Dowda was judged to have impeded defender Rob Atkinson in the box. Up stepped former Ranger Kal Naismith to take the penalty – and Ashdown saved it, diving full length to his left to get a strong hand on the ball.
The predictably huge lift to the home team lasted for about twenty minutes, and before it had ended, O’Dowda had made amends by scoring his first goal of the season, taking a great little lead ball from Ashby on his right, cutting around defender Seamus Conneely and ripping a rising drive past Wheeler just after the half hour.
That was wonderful. Ashby limping off two minutes before the break to be replaced by Rothwell was not. The kid had been a revelation in preseason training, and looked ready to claim Maddison’s old role for his own. But now he needed assistance to leave the field after a collision with Accrington skipper Luke Joyce.
Still, two goals up at halftime was good for Kyle and he told the team so, before sending them back out for the second half.
Once there, it was matter of keeping shape, staying compact and holding Stanley to shots from distance which was not terribly difficult to do. Like a beaten race horse, Stanley faded quickly in the second half but there was another debutant who had work to do, and six minutes from time he did it.
Gnanduillet did the honors, on one of the simplest of plays. Ashdown came out about 35 yards to take a free kick after an offside, and his booming effort up field found Hoskins in space inside the Accrington penalty area. He squared into the six-yard box and Gnanduillet became the second Oxford new boy to score in his first game.
But there was difficult news even in the second half, as Hoskins and MacDonald both took hard knocks from an aggrieved Accrington back line – making both men doubtful for the League Cup trip to Watford at midweek – an impossible mission perhaps, under the best of circumstances.
Oxford United 3 (Grandison 2, O’Dowda 31, Gnanduillet 84)
Accrington Stanley 0 (Kal Naismith m/p 16)
A – 6,418, The Kassam Stadium, Oxford
Man of the Match: Jermaine Grandison, Oxford (MR 9.0)
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