Robinson’s rotation policy paying off nicely for Oxford United


On Saturday, Oxford United’s Olamide Shodipo scored his tenth goal of the season in the 3-2 defeat to Doncaster Rovers after replacing Brandon Barker at half-time. On Tuesday night at Bristol Rovers, Barker scored his first goal for the U’s since arriving on loan from Rangers to wrap up a 2-0 win – he had replaced Shodipo in the 59th minute at the Memorial Stadium.

Whilst this may just seem an intriguing coincidence to those with a passing interest in the fortunes of Oxford United, anyone who has listened closely to manager Karl Robinson in recent weeks will know that this is part of his pre-planned policy of rotation that aims to get the most out of his attacking players.

Following his side’s tenth win in their last 11 games, Robinson was left in no doubt as to how his side had secured the victory at the Memorial Stadium, stating “we showed the strength in our squad today, the starting eleven kept us in the game and the subs won us the game. That’s what a squad does.”

Thanks to this Covid-impacted season allowing EFL managers to make five substitutes within games, Oxford almost always take the opportunity to completely change their forward line. In the past ten League One fixtures, Robinson has substituted at least two of the front three he has started the game with, changing all three on five separate occasions.

Substitute Brandon Barker’s late goal further vindicated Karl Robinson’s rotation policy (Photo Credit:

This policy of rotation has not only made the difference within games but between them as well. The U’s boss did not name an unchanged line-up from one game to the next during the club’s recent record winning run, and the wealth of options at his disposal makes it no real surprise.

Whilst there is now always a plethora of talent for the Oxford boss to choose from on his substitutes bench, there was no place in the match day squad for established League One players like Jamie Hanson, Rob Hall or Daniel Agyei against Bristol Rovers – a common occurrence in recent weeks.

Despite already having selection headaches before the January window opened, Robinson stressed the importance of adding to the squad regularly, saying after the win over Bristol Rovers at the Kassam Stadium in the middle of the window that building on the squad was imperative for ensuring the second half of the season would be successful, suggesting the club needed to be aggressive in bringing in two quality forward players.

Those two arrived on the final day of the window, with Barker joining on loan from Rangers and Elliott Lee making a temporary move from Luton until the end of the season

Whilst it was Barker that stole the headlines with his late, game-clinching goal, the man who opened the scoring on Tuesday was a bright spark throughout in what was only his second appearance in an Oxford shirt.

Lee, son of former Newcastle United and England midfielder Rob, is well versed in succeeding at this level having scored 12 goals in League One for Luton Town during their title-winning campaign in 2018/19, and on Tuesday night his performance for his new side suggested he could be on course for another impressive stint in the third tier.

He played on the right of Oxford’s front three and whilst not possessing the same blistering pace as either Barker or Shodipo on the opposite flank, Lee’s ability to drift into intelligent spaces in between Bristol Rovers’ defensive lines to link with the likes of James Henry and Matty Taylor was a rare source of attacking threat for Robinson’s side on the night.

It was this triumvirate that combined excellently to open the scoring for the visitors. A frustrating opening half an hour in which Oxford saw plenty of the ball but struggled to prise apart the closed ranks of a Rovers side that appeared intent on stifling an attack that has scored 14 goals in its last five games, was brought to life when the forward players combined for the first time.

Taylor dropped deep to nod Cameron Brannagan’s flick-on into the path of Henry, and the former Wolves’ man picked out Lee’s intelligent run with a lofted ball that left him with just ‘keeper Joe Day to beat. He did so with aplomb to show the first tangible sign that he will improve this Oxford side even further.

“Elliott Lee, what a player,” was his new Head Coach’s effusive analysis following the game.

Elliott Lee opened the scoring for Oxford at the Memorial Stadium with his first goal for the U’s (Photo Credit:

Although Robinson’s tactical tweaking eventually paid dividends through Barker’s late goal, an earlier switch very nearly allowed the hosts back into the game. Forwards Taylor and Sam Winnall have been battling for one starting spot upfront for the majority of the season, but when midfielder Henry was forced off with a dead leg early in the second half at the Memorial Stadium, Robinson brought Winnall on to pair him with former Bristol Rovers striker Taylor.

It was an exciting prospect to see two strikers that would not look out of place in a number of Championship squads linking up together, but the experiment lasted just 17 minutes. The change to an unnatural 4-4-2, combined with Bristol Rovers abandoning their conservative five at the back as they chased an equaliser, saw gaping holes appear in the Oxford midfield and it was only thanks to some wayward finishing from the out-of-form hosts that the Yellows retained their lead.

However, Barker, who entered the fray at the same time as Winnall, would prove that Robinson’s extensive use of his substitutes’ bench was more than justified.

The former England Youth international has struggled for both game time and consistency since permanently leaving Manchester City for Glasgow in the summer of 2019, and there were a couple of occasions on Tuesday night where he put his new team-mates under the cosh with a relaxed attitude to tracking his full-back or, quite understandably, backing out of some over-zealous challenges from Rovers’ George Williams. However, two moments summed up the quality that led Robinson to describe Barker as ‘on another level’.

The first came with 15 minutes to play, as the winger finally found himself one v. one against Williams with space to run into. It was no contest whatsoever as Barker used the oldest trick in the book in simply knocking the ball down the line before racing past the defender and delivering a ball into the box that was eventually cleared.

The second came in the 92nd minute. Anthony Forde, another of Robinson’s substitutes, did well to escape some desperate Rovers’ challenges on the far touchline before driving across the pitch to set up the second battle of Barker’s one-sided war with Williams. On this occasion Barker had no intention of setting up a team-mate, he made a be-line for goal and thumped a shot through Day and into the back of the net. Williams made a desperate attempt to block the shot but never came close to halting Barker’s progress.

The two excellent goals from the deadline day arrivals brought life to an Oxford performance that for all of their domination of the ball, lacked ingenuity in midfield or incisiveness in attack. Although this U’s side will always strive to play attractive, possession-heavy football, winning ugly in recent weeks is what has sparked their hopes of another play-off push.

Robinson revealed after the game that Henry, Lee and full-back Sam Long picked up injuries during the game, but with the depth of options at his disposal there should be no problems continuing his successful policy of chopping and changing.

Follow us on Twitter @ProstInt





Comments are closed.