Championship Play-Off Final: Michael Owen’s View
Things looked ominous for Oxford United when they found themselves two-goals down at Fleetwood in January; defeat on the Fylde coast would have left their survival prospects looking bleak.
Instead, Jamie Mackie inspired a second half resurgence that meant a 2-2 draw, which kick-started an unbeaten run which now stands at four games.
The following week, the Yellows beat leaders Portsmouth 2-1 thanks to goals from Cameron Brannagan and James Henry.
They got that result by playing slick, confident football and getting men forward, even when they were two goals ahead in that match.
While the injury to Ricky Holmes and the loss of form for Marcus Browne would, in theory, be a significant hindrance, we have also seen Northern Ireland star Gavin Whyte show more of himself and Jordan Graham has made an impact since joining on loan from Wolves.
Karl Robinson’s side then out-shot Barnsley, who many regard to be one of the top two sides in the division, in a 2-2 draw.
They could not quite make a man advantage count in last week’s 0-0 draw at Burton, but it was not for want of effort, with the opposing goalkeeper turning in a man-of-the-match display.
I know whose report I’ll listen to. #COYY
— George Elek (@GeorgeElek) February 2, 2019
While in the first half of the season, Oxford were over reliant on veteran Mackie up top, they now have depth with the speedy Jerome Sinclair joining on loan from Watford.
Shot data lists Oxford as one of the top six sides in League One over the last five matches and, having almost dominated in the reverse fixture, a 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light back in September, they can be optimistic about their capacity to produce another competitive performance.
On Expected Goals so far this season, Sunderland have averaged an xGF of 1.25 per game and an xGA of 1.33, giving them a performance ratio of 48.57% – based on the last four games alone, that ratio drops to 42.27%.
In simple terms, their opponents have often been creating the more favourable volume and quality of chances.
Jack Ross’ men beat AFC Wimbledon 1-0 last time out, but it was another performance in which they lacked the imagination to fashion clear openings.
While the Wearsiders might have been able to squeeze through against the division’s bottom side low on craft, there has been a drop in performance levels recently, rather than the improvement that we might have expected based on the profile of their squad.
🔥🔛 The heat is on…
— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) February 6, 2019
While the expensive Deadline Day addition of Will Grigg might help Sunderland, it is worth noting that the reason he has scored 64 goals in his last 127 League One games is because he was playing in teams that consistently dominated their games – MK Dons and Wigan.
End product is not necessarily the area Sunderland have struggled with – if anything, they have been rather clinical – the wider issue with regards to the sustainability of their form is their difficulty in creating goalscoring opportunities.
If the disparity between performance levels and results begins to even itself out for both teams on Saturday, Oxford look well-placed to deliver victory.
Oxford to win draw no bet – 17/20