Swindon v Oxford: The A420 derby is upon us

This lunchtime the A420 derby returns in all of it’s glory as bitter rivals Swindon Town face Oxford United at the County Ground. A match even more special as this is the first league game between the sides for over ten years. It was back in the 2000/01 season when Swindon were victorious thanks to a double salvo from an unlikely source of Steve ‘Turbo’ Robinson. At the end of that season Swindon amazingly survived relegation by the skin of their teeth, but laughing all through the summer as United finished bottom some 25 points behind a poor Town side, soon on their way to non-league obscurity.

Fast forward 18 months to the last competitive meeting in the FA Cup 2nd Round back in December 2002, a game which was broadcast live on BBC TV. Oxford got the better of Swindon that day thanks to a goal from Jefferson Louis, giving them a day out and a defeat as they travelled to Arsenal, while Swindon exited licking their wounds and ashamed at the miserable display in front of the nation.

Times have changed in the nine years since the last derby. Within that period both clubs have had their fair share of ups and downs with relegation, promotion and play-off heartbreak, but nothing since compares to the anticipation and build-up to today’s match.

Both Swindon and Oxford have been heavily tipped to gain promotion from League Two, yet neither have had a blistering start to the campaign. Town opened with a victory but fell to successive defeats away to Cheltenham and Dagenham & Redbridge. Up the  A420 Oxford started with a defeat away at Rotherham, a home draw against Bradford and then on Tuesday they picked up their first win of the season at home to Shrewsbury. The onus is now on both teams to use this game as a springboard to fulfilling those pre-season expectations, yet only one can win.

Away from the usual derby build-up we’ve been treated to news Paolo Di Canio was interested in signing Oxford striker James Constable. Di Canio was quoted “It would be good to bring him here but i dont think Oxford would let him go, especially because we are such big rivals. He has pace, he is tall and is two footed. He can’t come (at the moment) although it would be good and we never know”. Now this looks like a shrewd and timely move by Di Canio to unsettle Oxford’s preparations and Swindon fan Constable. Even though Constable remains at Oxford, fortunately for us we’ve finally secured the elusive striker with former QPR striker Leon Clarke joining on Friday on a two year deal following his release from the Premier League side.

Both Managers have had their thoughts on the game when speaking to local radio. Paolo Di Canio on BBC Swindon “Thinking about Oxford I woke up with butterflies in my stomach… this is absolutely a very special game for us it should be a World Cup Final”. Oxford Manager Chris Wilder was quoted speaking to BBC Oxford “The players know that they can make heroes for themselves and that’s what we’re all after in everything we do in every game.” They, like us, know how important the match is for the supporters and must fire up their squads for the battle ahead.

It is expected Oxford will name the same starting XI which secured that home win against Shrewsbury mid-week, which means no place for former MK Dons midfielder Peter Leven who was a thorn in our side in recent encounters. With James Constable likely to keep his place in a front three, can the man subject of the speculation score in a yellow shirt at the County Ground?

As for Swindon, Di Canio has already said we can expect four or five changes to the starting XI. Will we see first starts for Alan Connell, Medhi Kerrouche, Leon Clarke or new Spanish winger Lander Gabilondo? Alberto Comazzi’s injury forces Joe Devera return in the centre of defence and the other change is likely to be in the centre of midfield as either Simon Ferry or Jonathan Smith could replace Alan McCormack, or will Di Canio make the brave move and drop our captain Oliver Risser?

For me the two key players to look out for will be Matt Ritchie and Lewis Guy, with both having the talent to play at a higher level. Lewis Guy – currently on loan from MK Dons for a month – is tricky winger and has the quality to give the inexperienced Callum Kennedy a lot of problems down our left side. For us the expectations are always on Matt Ritchie, however he really hasn’t hit form this season and struggled in the last two away games. As Richie showed so often last season he has the presence and the quality on the flanks to deliver a match winning performance, a performance that someone needs to step up and make in any derby game.

Derby matches are won and lost on a single moment and it is normally the team who keep their heads in the electric atmosphere that eventually walks off the pitch celebrating. Swindon are expecting a near sell out for the game and I’m confident home supporters will be going home happy after the final whistle. In victory we’ll keep up our fantastic home record against Oxford suffering just 1 defeat in 25 games. As for a prediction, I can see a very tense game and 2-1 victory to Paolo Di Canio’s Reds & White Army.

Come on You Reds!

Follow @ScotM87

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