Rochdale are the next side to attempt to inflict a first defeat of the season on Oxford, as they make the trip to the Kassam. But Dale are still looking for their first away point of the season after losing 1-0 at Plymouth last week and at Burton in their second match. But for Oxford, despite the continued optimism that comes from still being top of the table, there have been signs that our problematic home form could trip us up again. The performances against Bury and Wycombe – although yielding four points – were far from convincing and many fans still view our excellent start to the season with caution.
That said, Rochdale are the type of side we usually do well against. They tend to play an open and attacking passing game, which should make this match not only a highly entertaining one, but also highly winnable.
Perhaps the deciding factor will be in how we line up for the match. With Sean Rigg and Deane Smalley out injured last week, Chris Wilder chose a different approach to the one which had been successful in the opening matches. Alfie Potter was moved from the wing to a more central position just behind lone striker James Constable, while Scott Davies and Asa Hall came into the middle of the park. This resulted in a narrow and congested midfield and as a result United lacked a lot of the threat and drive that playing with pacy wingers has given us.
It will be interesting to see whether Wilder persists with this formation this weekend (and it may depend on the availability of Smalley and Dave Kitson) or whether the much-vaunted wingers make a return. In the latter case, the key decision would be whether it is Callum O'Dowda or Ryan Williams who gets the nod. Against Wycombe, it was the right-sided Williams who came on with Potter being moved to the left and although he didn't exactly distinguish himself on his debut Wilder may still feel he is the preferable option over the raw O'Dowda.
Both Tom Newey and Deane Smalley have featured for Rochdale in the past. Newey made just two appearances for the Dale towards the end of the 2008-09 season on loan from Grimsby, featuring in defeats to Bournemouth and Gillingham. Smalley's spell at Spotland was longer – but only just. In the early part of the 2010-11 season, prior to joining league leaders Chesterfield, Smalley made three substitute appearances for Rochdale on loan from Oldham, but he didn't score and returned to Boundary Park shortly after.
Last time Rochdale came to the Kassam it was Andy Whing who stole the show, as United put in a sterling performance to win 3-0. Whing's remarkable effort was later voted 'Goal of the Season' in last season's TBFUTH Awards. That went some way to making up for a miserable defeat at Spotland earlier in the season but the Kassam hasn't always been a happy hunting ground when Rochdale come to town. They were the first competitive opponents to come to the stadium back when it was first opened in 2001 and despite a Jamie Brooks goal Dale were 2-1 victors on the day.
Also This Weekend
It's not just the senior team that are unbeaten so far this season. The youth team are looking to build on a 3-2 victory over Swindon and a 1-1 draw at Torquay as they travel to Plymouth this weekend in their third Youth Alliance match of the season.