Oxford United 2-1 Scunthorpe United Player Ratings: Nelson commands

www.oufc.co.uk (credit: Jack Brown, Steve Daniels, Tom Melville)

Oxford United took a step closer to League One safety on Saturday when Jerome Sinclair’s headed brace gave them a 2-1 victory over Scunthorpe United at the Kassam Stadium. Here’s our Player Ratings from the game.

Oxford United

Simon Eastwood – the former Blackburn stopper proved why he had been the most consistent goalkeeper in League Two over the previous two seasons after three minutes, when he bravely rushed out to thwart Kyle Wootton. Eastwood also denied Funso Ojo in that first half – and it would be harsh to blame him too much for Scunthorpe’s goal. 7

Sam Long – perhaps slightly wasteful in possession in the first half. If we think about how important full-backs are in a possession-based system, Jack Stacey at Luton being the classic example, it looks like Long has a bit of work to do to become part of Karl Robinson’s vision. Then again, Long defended valiantly at times – on one occasion late on he tried to tackle an opponent head first while on the ground – and the improved second half display showed that the desire to develop is there. 5
Rob Dickie – the young centre-back looked slightly safe in possession in the first half, but he is capable of hitting nice diagonal balls and we saw more of that in the second half. Although not all of his adventurous switches to the right channel paid off, the increase in intent aided the home side’s attacking play; Dickie also had plenty of joy in his second half duels with Wootton. 8
Curtis Nelson – perversely, the lack of movement ahead of Nelson almost favoured his individual first half display, because rather than pick a pass, he had the green light to carry the ball into the space and that was key to setting up one or two of Oxford’s better first half moves. Did the no-nonsense side of the game when he needed to, as well, especially against Olomola in the second period. 9
Josh Ruffels – the midfielder by trade, who has deputized at left-back this season, appeared slightly careless in possession in the first half and that was part of why Scunthorpe created the better chances during that time. Fortunate, perhaps, that he was never faced with a direct right winger. 5

John Mousinho – this was another sound performance in the holding midfield role from Mousinho, who kept his discipline well; his experience as a centre-back meant that he was comfortable dropping in when required. Produced a delightful right-wing cross that led to Sinclair’s second, too. 8
Mark Sykes – the young Northern Irishman’s first and second half performances were wildly contrasting. Before the interval, he played it safe in possession, shied away from challenges and was perhaps unable to trigger the press in a way that the absent Cameron Brannagan might have done. After the break, however, he showed far more dynamism, he was far quicker to loose balls and played riskier passes, including the cross for Sinclair’s opener. A combination of hard-hitting half-time words from Robinson and the introduction of compatriot Gavin Whyte seemed to spark something in him. 7

Jordan Graham – when the Wolves loanee was on the right, he showed flashes of promise without being a prominent influence on the game. After moving to the left, however, he appeared to play with much more freedom, getting in the gap between James Perch and Harrison McGahey to take on the latter at will. Although he was not directly involved in either goal, Graham played a massive part in the change in direction of the game. 8
James Henry – on the one hand, Henry’s intelligence allows him to pick up good positions and hold onto the ball in the final third. On the other, he is clearly not as mobile as he used to be and perhaps that limited the pace of Oxford’s play in those advanced areas, especially in the first half. Improved in the second half without necessarily being crucial to the turnaround. 5
Luke Garbutt – without being disrespectful to Garbutt, who is clearly a hardworking player, it seems that at 25 he needs to leave parent club Everton and begin to try to establish himself in the EFL. The succession of loan moves in his career do not appear to have helped him and, given that he is not the most rampaging left-back in the world, it seems unsurprising that he did not have the greatest impact on the left wing. 5

Jerome Sinclair – a perplexing performance from Sinclair. For long periods of it, he did not look at all like a natural number nine, because he drifted into deep and wide areas, seemingly anywhere but the opposition penalty area. And yet, he still popped up with two inch-perfect headers, after peeling onto the full-backs for crosses, which made him look every inch a natural number nine. Whether he is the permanent solution to Oxford’s season-long striker dilemma remains to be seen, but this brace should do his confidence a world of good. 7

Gavin Whyte (on 59) – the Northern Irishman injected pace and intent into Oxford’s play, which something they had been missing until that point. Showed a willingness to take on defenders, making him a serious threat in transition. 9
Marcus Browne (on 85) – these minutes should help the quick, talented attacking midfielder get back to full fitness, which will boost Oxford’s survival prospects. 5
Jamie Mackie (on 90+2) – with Mackie the only alternative to Sinclair up top, Oxford need him to get fit in case of injury. 5

Scunthorpe United

Jak Alwick – the goalkeeper appeared to take a long time over his goal kicks, which did not make a great deal of sense considering that Scunthorpe do not have an obvious physical presence up top. Might have commanded his area slightly better from the two crosses. 4

Harrison McGahey – the utility man looked reasonably composed in possession, but lacked the pace and drive that one would ideally want from a full-back and might be better suited to playing centre-back, where he would have more options in possession. McGahey struggled to handle Graham in the last half hour, he lost the aerial duel to Sinclair for the second goal – and Tony McMahon was a big miss. 4
Rory McArdle – the former Bradford man did not do too much wrong, because the opposing striker did not get a great deal of change out of the centre-backs in general play; the goals conceded were more to do with full-backs losing out in the aerial duels. McArdle looked steady enough. 6
Cameron Burgess – the former Bury defender enjoyed a solid first half and was not at fault for either goal. Suffered in possession though from a shortage of options and was booked shortly before the hour mark for blocking Sinclair. Posed a threat in the opposition box in injury-time, but neither he nor McArdle or McGahey could beforehand due to limited set piece quality. 6
Tom Pearce – the Leeds loanee was full of energy and made one particularly notable bursting run in each half, which made him key to Scunthorpe’s best attacking moves and arguably one of their better players. He might have done more to deny Sinclair a headed opportunity for the opener, however. 7

Levi Sutton – the young midfielder showed discipline in the first half and shielded the defence well, having two decent efforts from range either side of the interval. A fitness issue might have impacted Sutton’s performance in the second half, midway through which he was taken off, but his first half display elevates him to the category of being among the Iron’s better players. 6

James Perch – the utility man has experience of playing in the top two divisions with Nottingham Forest and Newcastle; it remains to be seen however, whether he offers enough presently aside from knowhow and physicality. Difficult to identify any telling impact on the game, which highlights a lack of mobility and quality. 4
Funso Ojo – the midfielder played in a double-pivot with some success last season, but Stuart McCall appears to have let him off the leash more. On the plus side, this has allowed him to make some clever movements into the final third as well as show moments of creativity. Sometimes, however, he took longer on the ball than one would normally like a player in the positions he occupied to take – although this might have been partly due to the dearth of options in possession. 6

Lee Novak – the former Huddersfield man is not perfect by any means, but when we think of him at his best, it’s when he shows physicality, graft and the odd bit of finishing ability like at Birmingham in 2013-14. None of those qualities directly translate into a good number 10, because a more subtle touch is required to play between the lines, so it is not particularly surprising that Novak was almost entirely anonymous in that position. 3

Olufela Olomola – the former Yeovil striker looked bright early on, pick-pocketing Ruffels on one or two occasions, but he struggled to generate the power in his legs to threaten to reach hopeful upfield punts and, in the second half, he toiled with the physical aspects of the game and lost out in a few duels to Nelson. One or two lively moments outside the area, without really providing a focal point. 5
Kyle Wootton – the liveliest moment of the 22-year-old’s afternoon came after just three minutes, when he raced clear only to be denied by some brave goalkeeping. Although Wootton posed a hint of a threat early on, he waned in influence and found himself dominated by Dickie. One suspects Wootton needs to truly master League Two before feeling truly at home in League One. 5

Clayton Lewis (on 67) – sprung to one loose ball quite soon after coming on, as if to hint at an injection of tenacity, but in fact Lewis struggled to truly influence the game after that. 5
George Thomas (on 73) – the Leicester loanee got Scunthorpe’s goal in injury-time, tapping home from close-range – but it would feel like a stretch to say he made a tangible impact in general play. 5
Kevin Van Veen (on 73) – took his time to make an impact, but enjoyed a dramatic injury-time period, hooking the ball across for Thomas’ tap-in before having a volley cleared off the line in the dying moments. 6