The main question from the last month of League One action: who is the mysterious, well-organized team at the Kassam Stadium – and what have they done with the real Oxford United?

The U’s looked had been creating chances in the first two months of their campaign, but their defence had looked wide open; over the last five games though, they have conceded just once.

There’s various factors behind this: firstly, it helps that they have arguably the best goalkeeper in League One over the last two seasons, Simon Eastwood, back fit.

Secondly, John Mousinho has been deployed in the holding role. Beforehand, Oxford had left yawning chasms in front of the defence which saw them exposed to quick attacks, but Mousinho has plugged those gaps.

Before the utility man had been converted into a centre-back by Gary Rowett while at Burton, he had been a dynamic, box-to-box midfielder at Stevenage.

Of course, at 32 he no longer has the mobility to be quite so advanced but his upper-body strength and composure allows him to protect the back-line.

The ex-Preston man’s leadership qualities, meanwhile, sees him offer excellent guidance for Rob Dickie, who is a talented ball-playing centre-back starting to re-gain some confidence alongside the influential Curtis Nelson.

Mousinho’s discipline means Cameron Brannagan has the freedom to dictate play further up the pitch next to James Henry, who started his career as a winger but at 29, is starting to embrace a deeper role.

Scunthorpe United, meanwhile, have looked very suspect defensively.

Rory McArdle showed at Bradford that he is a capable centre-back when he has a dominant partner alongside him but here, he is asked to lead younger defenders like Cameron Burgess and Charlie Goode which doesn’t necessarily suit his skillset.

Right-back Jordan Clarke hasn’t quite matched his form of previous seasons and while left-back Cameron Borthwick-Jackson is talented, as one would expect from someone who has started nine times for Manchester United, his motivation has been questioned.

Boss McCall wants to keep two forwards on the pitch but this appears to have come at the cost of organization; following a 4-1 defeat to Plymouth last time out, his side have now shipped 16 goals in six.

Oxford, who beat Shrewsbury 3-0 last week, have a plethora of quality in the attacking midfield positions in Gavin Whyte, Ricky Holmes and Marcus Browne – they could be capable of profiting from the disorder at Glanford Park.


Handicap: Oxford -1

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