First things first and I would like to thank everyone for the very warm welcome I have had as Head Coach at Oxford United.
I have been here many times either as manager or on scouting missions and I have always been struck by what a well-run club this is. Over the last couple of seasons I have seen around 4,000 of you fill the away end at Stadium MK and then the scenes behind the goal at the Valley earlier in the season: a game you will definitely have happier memories of than I do! So I know the fans are great, I know how ambitious Tiger is and I see the potential here. Things do not happen overnight and there are things I have seen in the first week that I know we will need to change, but you build from strong foundations and I am really looking forward to the challenge.
Can I also say a quick thank you to the staff as well because they have been first class and I was more than happy with what I saw in the build-up to the game at Portsmouth last week. I let Faz and Chrissy get on with their jobs and tried not to tread on too many toes and I have to say that the facilities and the preparation here are as good as you will find at this level or the one above. Sadly, it didn’t lead to a win but most of you will have seen the circumstances and I hope will agree that that performance was far better than the final result suggests.
The game literally swung on one incident where Alex Mowatt missed a penalty and then saw red immediately after. I cannot condone his reaction and if anyone was offended by what happened then I apologise; I am a strong believer in discipline and will demand that of my players. But I think Alex was terribly provoked and I do feel that he was as much sinned against as sinner.
It means we are without him today but we do have Canice Carroll and Isaac Buckley-Ricketts available again and it was good to see Joe Rothwell make his return last weekend. That gives us decent competition for places and training has been very sharp this week, as it should be.
Whoever plays, we have a couple of things we need to achieve. We know the situation we are in and we know there are clubs straining to catch us, so the first objective is to win today and then make sure we stay well clear of danger. Then the bigger picture is to move everything forward to the next level. The club has consolidated its place in league 1 for two seasons now but that’s not enough for a club like this. We should be aiming to reach the next level, and if we can end the season strongly and then have a productive summer, I see no reason we cannot be up there competing for a place in the Championship.
It won’t be easy today. I’d like to welcome everyone associated with Scunthorpe, a team who have been there or thereabouts all season and who I am sure will want a positive reaction after Graham Alexander’s departure this week. It will be a good test for us, but we are always going to face our challenges head on and with your support let’s start as we mean to go on here, with a win.