How Oxford United are shaping up for Sunderland clash and why Karl Robinson is concerned
Sunderland completed their pre-season preparations on Monday with a 5-2 win behind closed doors against Hartlepool United.
Results have been mixed across the summer but Jack Ross insisted after a defeat to Heerenveen that he is pleased with how his squad his shaping up.
He has been pleased with his summer recruitment and pleased with the way the squad have responded to his messages since returning from the summer break.
On Saturday they face a tricky opponent who caused them problems last season, but Oxford United have also had their fair share of difficulties ahead of the new campaign.
Here’s everything you need to know about how they’re shaping up ahead of Saturday….
What we learned last year
Oxford United’s two performances against Sunderland last season belied the fact that they spent much of the campaign looking nervously over their shoulder.
It was an ultimately disppointing campaign for Karl Robinson’s side, even if they ended up surviving relatively comfortably.
Their two showings against the Black Cats showed an athletic side with plenty of potential.
They caught Sunderland cold at the Stadium of Light, taking an early lead and reducing the home side to ten as Max Power was sent off trying to stop a dangerous counter.
Sunderland sealed a point thanks to Charlie Wyke’s debut goal, but it was a tight game that could have gone either way.
Oxford were arguably even better in the return fixture, though Sunderland were adamant that their late equaliser should not have stood as Jerome Sinclair bundled over Jimmy Dunne. Dunne had scored the opener from a Grant Leadbitter corner, but Jon McLaughlin had to make some good saves throughout as Sunderland struggled with Oxford’s pace in wide areas.
Jack Ross defended his side after the game but subsequently admitted that he was left with serious frustrations with how his side had played.
So they’re not a side to be taken lightly, even if there has been much change, and much concern, at the Kassam Stadium over the summer…
Who they’ve signed
One name to watch out for on Saturday and beyond is midfielder Alex Gorrin.
Gorrin was a trainee at Sunderland before playing in New Zealand, Portugal and Romania.
He returned to the UK to feature for Motherwell, where he caught the eye of Robinson.
Robinson has hailed his work rate and tackling in front of the defence, describing him as a ‘stopper, enforcer and tremendous reader of the game’.
In defence, Sam Allardyce (grandson of the former Black Cats boss) and Kevin Berkoe have arrived, though they appear to be arrivals with the future in mind.
A lot will be expected of the two reinforcements in the wide areas.
Tariqe Fosu looks a smart addition, direct, quick and an easy fit into the way they played last season. He has decent experience and a good record during two years in the division with Charlton Athletic, some of that during Robinson’s tenure at The Valley.
Chris Cadden is another additon from Motherwell, though through a slightly unusual route, having signed for Columbus Crew SC and immediately moved on loan.
The right-back has two Scotland caps and Robinson says he has ‘an unbelievable engine’.
Who they’ve lost
As it stands, there have been some notable deaprtures from last season and some glaring gaps still to be filled.
Curtis Nelson was a towering figure at the heart of defence, and his arrival at Cardiff City leaves Oxford with a significant concern at the heart of defence. As it stand, there is a lot of pressure on 33-year-old John Mousinho, who had at one stage been expected to leave this summer.
The Bluebirds are also believed to be close to a deal for winger Gavin Whyte, further depleting Robinson’s ranks.
It leaves the forward ranks looking light. Jerome Sinclair, Jordan Graham and Marcus Browne all key players last season but have not returned after their loan spells came to an end.
As it stands, Jamie Mackie is the club’s only recognised central striker.
What the manager is saying
Results in pre-season have been mixed, with a promising 1-1 draw against Fulham balanced against some poor returns against Eastleigh and Solihull Moors.
Robinson admitted on Monday, speaking to the Oxford Mail, that there are concerns ahead of the new campaign.
“We know we need a striker, I don’t need people telling me that,” he said.
“We know we need a centre back and two wingers.
“But I’m not Paul Daniels, where you can get a magic wand and suddenly there’s a player.
“I said at Woking the next seven days was important and I’m saying it again 14 days on. That’s certainly got to be the case.
“I’m so tired right now because of the amount of work we’re putting in.
“But we have to stick together and find the right solution.
“It looks a little bit dark right now and we’re not shying away from it.”
It’s a big few days for Robinson and his side, who are desperate to add some depth to what is a generally talented squad.
To that end, it will be interesting to see whether a reported move for Ben Woodburn comes to fruition.
Woodburn was one of the most highly-rated young forwards in Europe after bursting onto the international scene with Wales, but a loan move to Sheffield United last year brought little success and little gametime.
Clearly a prodigious talent, he has the potential to fill the void left behind by Graham and Browne, though whether he would be in any position to make an impact as soon as Saturday remains to be seen.
The bookmakers still see Robinson’s side as outsiders for a play-off push, priced in a bracket with a clutch of teams just outside the five main favourites.
That reflects a squad whose core has plenty of individual talent and experience, even if at the moment there is an obvious strength in depth.
Depsite fan concerns over transfer business, Sunderland will be prepared to face a dangerous outfit.