Match wrap: Oxford United 0 Sunderland 1

There was such a lot of focus on Storm Dennis on Saturday I wasn’t really prepared for the Sunderland game to go ahead. Unlike snow, which is more obviously disabling, rain and wind can cause havoc but games are rarely postponed. Perhaps I should have known better.

Wind can be enough to change the course of a game, particularly at the Kassam. I’ve said before that there is rarely one true ‘fair’ result, many games can go either way and it can take one moment to dictate which way that is. When you throw extreme weather into the mix, that moment may not be wholly the result of players’ abilities.

The Sunderland game was a classic in this respect. The weather added countless new dimensions to the game; a high clearance would blow the ball blow in one direction, a little lower in another. These conditions are not the same for both teams, as is often suggested; it changes in force and direction constantly. It’s largely down to luck as to whether you’re dealing with a tailwind, headwind or crosswind; each has to be dealt with differently.

They found the right thermal at the right time. Chris Maguire’s corner was a good one, but the wind helped turn it into something more dangerous. It wasn’t wholly down to luck, but nor was it wholly down to their ability. The differences between the teams were marginal.

The whole game was like surfers trying to catch a wave. Players had to look for the right thermal to get the ball to do what they wanted. Like surfing, you’ve got to have the ability to ride the wave, but you also need the wave and that’s not in your control.

For a while in the second half James Henry looked like he’d found the right thermals; his looping passes held up in the wind dropping for Agyei, Taylor and Browne. But otherwise, it was a dogged battle in which players played against each other and the conditions in the hope they might catch a break. They got theirs, we didn’t get ours and that’s what dictated the result.

Sunderland are like a rusty cruise ship ploughing into a harbour; there’s nothing particularly elegant about them, but they rely on their sheer size to maintain a steady pace towards the the play-offs. While we barely looked more finessed, there was little between us.

The fact we matched them should be evidence that writing off our season now is a mistake. Fans were quick to identify how difficult this month was going to be, but unforgiving when it turned out to be true. They recognised the impact the conditions might have, but ignored them in their post-match analysis.

League 1 is split into two parts – teams who will yo-yo between League 1 and the Championship, and teams that will yo-yo between League 1 and League 2. Our current challenge is to get into the former. Success means having an outside chance of the play-offs; which is pretty much where we are at the moment.

Most teams in League 1 are damaged in some way; crippled by their former Premier League experience or stymied by the economic realities of sustaining themselves at this level. Few can resist periods of turbulence; as we’ve seen, most teams have been on alarmingly poor runs, but they’ve also been capable of strong surges. Like the ball on Saturday, a gust that throws us forward can suddenly turn into a headwind. As a result, teams including us, have been finding themselves at the top of the table before falling away again.

I actually think that 11th isn’t a bad place for us to be at the moment. Wycombe, for example, are now a known threat and teams no longer under-estimate them. If they’re to achieve anything this season, they’ve got to sustain their performances under intense pressure. We, on the other hand, may find we catch a tail wind as the weather improves which takes us close to the play-offs just at the right time. Upcoming fixtures, and recent performances, suggest that this is genuinely possible. Making the play-offs for most teams is now a question of if or when their surge will come at the right time.

Since the New Year results haven’t been great, but we’ve played mostly teams in the top group. We’re about to go through a period of playing teams in the bottom group. The performance against Sunderland suggests to me that any lost ground from the last few weeks can easily be made up. But we need to remember that making the play-offs isn’t a minimum requirement, it would be an genuine achievement.

George Lawrences Shorts: Stormy, Daniel

Saturday 8 February 2020

Which is worse? Being battered by the Coronavirus, being battered by Storm Ciara or being battered by Peterborough? We took a 4-0 pasting on Saturday, who were decent enough to make things competitive by going down to 10 men. 

Sunday 9 February 2020

Maths genius and Peterborough manager Alex’s son Darren Ferguson felt that the sending off of Nathan Thompson – which unequivocally made the teams uneven – was a deliberate act from the referee to ‘even things up’. A Ferguson moaning despite having all the cards stacked in your favour? How unexpectedly shocking.

Monday 10 February 2020

With the transfer window now firmly shut, thoughts are turning to the summer. Impotent flammable Northern Ireland Sunderland striker, Will Grigg, is on high KRob’s wish list of players to just miss out on next season.

Tuesday 11 February 2020

‘Give him a ball and a yard of grass’ is a heartfelt tribute by Sultans of Ping FC to Brian Clough. The quirky indie Irishmen’s follow-up – a tribute to Brian’s son Nigel is called ‘Give him a ball and he’ll guide you to an unremarkable but sustainable mid-table finish’. On Tuesday Oxford twice came back from a goal down to draw 2-2 with Brian’s Son, Nigel’s Burton Albion. Daniel Agyei dusted down his shooting boots for the first before Matty Taylor slotted in a last minute equaliser.

In a story filed under; ‘bullshit people get paid for’, Planet Football have played Football Manager for 17 years to see where Liverpool’s Under 23 team get on. Leighton Clarkson, whoever that is, has a solid but unremarkable career in League 1 with the mighty yellows. Also in the simulation, the Oxford board are hoping for some good news about the stadium very soon.

Wednesday 12 February 2020 

We are a country divided enveloped in a world of injustice, but Brian’s Son Nigel was able to give conclusive proof that Burton’s first goal against Oxford was scored by Lucas Akins rather than an own goal by sulky sixth former Rob Dickie. Now, you may think this is just pedantic crappery, but for GLS this is a deep well of black gold in which real news has been rarer than a Ben Futcher Cruyff turn.

Thursday 13 February 2020

It was the Six Minute Nineteen Second Fans’ Forum on Thursday with Jose’s son John Mousinho. Fans insisted on Mousinho confronting his own mortality with questions the retirement he hasn’t announced and isn’t currently contemplated. Mousinho did say he’s got all his badges – his Level B and Level C and the one he gets for lighting a fire with dry sticks.

Elsewhere, as Star Wars aficionados know there are always two Sith Lords. This thought struck deeply into GLS’ soul when we discovered there is another Robinson, Craig, brother of KRob. CRob is manager of Warrington Town who are currently having a decent run in the Northern Premier League.

Friday 14 February 2020

On Valentine’s Day, try and find someone who looks at you like Sunderland owner Stewart Donald looks at Oxford United. The doe-eyed cash puppy drags his financial millstone down south on Saturday. It’s predicted that Storm Dennis will hit the game with lashings of rain and fifty mile an hour winds. This is not to be confused with billowing hot air about being England manager while wearing a ginger wig; that’s Storm Denis. Oxford will be without the Fun-Sized Sam Deering, Liam Kelly, who was injured on Tuesday. Given the strength of the wind, we probably wouldn’t have had him for long even if he had been on the pitch.

Match wrap: Burton Albion 2 Oxford United 2

Back in 2009 I watched our game at Burton on some dodgy internet feed. It was a famous night; Burton were expecting to confirm their ascent to the Football League before Adam Chapman’s zinger of a free-kick ruined it all.

The picture was glitchy and blurred and surrounded by adverts of exotic looking large breasted women, sat in expensive sports cars who apparently were available for sex right now in a village two miles down the road from me. Last time I drove through there, the only thing available right now are some tulip bulbs which can be bought with a donation to an honesty box.

It was a novel immersive experience with a small community of Twitter early adopters sharing the feed around and Twittering inanely throughout the game.

Fast forward 11 years and we were back at virtual-Burton; the stream via iFollow is legitimate and paid-for, the large breasted distractions have gone, the Twitter community is bigger. The production is better but it’s still pretty poor; even paying £10 for the privilege, I like its raw appeal.

The experience opens you up to the real-time opinions and emotions of hundreds of people simultaneously. It’s an odd feeling, even at a live game amongst thousands, the number of people you talk or listen to is relatively small and most will share similar views to you, that’s why you hang out with them.

In a ding dong draw there was a huge range of emotions; from despair to frustration to anger, to disengagement, elation, acceptance and more. At least with a heavy defeat or rousing win it’s relatively easy to find a consensus, but a draw with mid-table Burton opens up a wider debate.

Personally, in the context of the season, I think the point is acceptable. Burton are a solid and robust team, Nigel Clough is the epitome of steadiness; they’re slap bang in the middle of the table and in their last five games they have drawn four times. You could argue that these are teams we should be beating, you can equally argue that Burton are a tough side and any away point against them is a point gained. On balance, not forgetting who we are – a team punching slightly above our weight – for me it’s a point gained.

Encouragingly I didn’t feel the result was down to fatigue or injuries, I thought we showed good energy throughout. Players like Cameron Brannagan, James Henry and Matty Taylor all looked like they were coming back to form and fitness. The failing was tactical, our fast moving possession passing game is prone to errors, and we’re particularly vulnerable early in games when our opponents are fresh. We’ve been caught several times now early in games conceding possession and giving away goals. What gives me grounds for hope is that this is more fixable than bringing injured players back to fitness.

The final argument is that will always be trotted out in the event of a defeat; any failing is the fault of the board, no better illustrated than through their decision to sell Tariqe Fosu and Shandon Baptiste. This is a convenient argument, but seems over-stated; Baptiste, for all his potential, only started nine league games this season, winning three. Brannagan, Henry, Gorrin, Forde and Thorne have all been as influential. Fosu also had his moments, but looked tired in the final weeks of his time at the club and, in my view, has been more than compensated with the arrival Holland and Browne. The only justifiable criticism is that the club haven’t replaced Chris Cadden.

Back in the summer we predicted a finish between 8th and 10th, we currently sit 10th. This is a division full of teams susceptible to extreme runs of form. For all the challenges that this month offers, the priority for me is as much about limiting losses as it is about making gains.

Maths of the Day: February 2020

This is the return of Maths of the Day, a look at some statistics to try and make sense of our current form.

Robometer

The Robometer tracks our performances over a rolling 46 game period. What does it show? Well, each game effectively represents the end of the season. It removes short term fluctuations in form and the distorting effect of sequences of difficult or easy games. After the Blackpool game we hit an all-time high of 77 points. That took a hit against Peterborough, so we’ve dropped to 74 points. This is some way ahead of our lowest point of just 50 points.

5 game form

Five game form gets a bit more granular looking at the number of points captured in a rolling five game sequence. We are in a bit of a slump at the moment, clocking just five points in our last five games. Look a bit closer and it shows that there have been several times in during the Robinson era which have fallen below this. It also suggests that we’re due a revival. It’s also quite noticeable that while form fluctuates, it shows that we’ve been able to sustain our good form for longer than we used to.

Run rate

The run rate shows how our points have accumulated over the season. The two dotted lines show a target points total needed to make the play-offs and automatic promotion. You can see that we’re still in the play-off ‘zone’ despite being 10th. The health warning on that is that with Bury’s demise, this year’s targets, which are based on the last five years in League 1, are harder to calculate. The darker blue line is our accumulation of points last year, which we’re well ahead of.

Match statistics

If process comes before results, then there are reasons to be cheerful. The graph above shows the number of passes we’ve achieved on a rolling five game sequence. There’s been a general decline in the number of passes we’ve made in a game, but a notable uptick most recently implies that we may be pulling things round again.

A similar uptick can be seen in our shooting accuracy; which is calculated by the percentage of shots on target against the total number of shots.

However, what this shows is an alarming drop in our passing accuracy in recent weeks. What I think it reflects is that teams have learned to press us much harder, giving us less time on the ball and less time to find a man. While passing and possession remains fairly favourable in every game, we are less effective when we have the ball.

Random stat: scoring in consecutive games

Paul Moody scored a record seven goals in six consecutive games to fire the club to promotion in 1996. It started with an iconic goal at Wycombe before goals against Notts County, Bristol City, two against Shrewsbury, Crewe and a promotion clincher against Peterborough. He was largely denied the opportunity for a seventh consecutive goal when he was dropped in preference for Nigel Jemson and Martin Aldridge for the season opener against QPR. He made a brief substitute appearance but failed to score.

Seven players have scored in five consecutive games, most recently James Constable in 2009. Seventeen players have scored four with James Henry being the most recent in 2018.

  1. 6 – Moody (1996)
  2. 5 – Constable (2009)
  3. 5 – Windass (1999)
  4. 5 – Durnin (1991)
  5. 5 – Saunders (1988)
  6. 5 – Aldridge (1986)
  7. 5 – Foley (1982)
  8. 5 – Atkinson (1966)
  9. 4 – Aldridge (1984)
  10. 4 – Cassells (1981) 
  11. 4 – Constable (2009)
  12. 4 – Craddock (2011)
  13. 4 – Duffy (2006)
  14. 4 – Durnin (1992)
  15. 4 – Foyle (1994)
  16. 4 – Henry (2018)
  17. 4 – Jemson (1996)
  18. 4 – Jemson (1996)
  19. 4 – Moody (1994)
  20. 4 – Roofe (2015)
  21. 4 – Roofe (2016)
  22. 4 – Thomas (1982)
  23. 4 – Foley (1978)
  24. 4 – Atkinson (1965)
  25. 4 – Fahy (1965)

Match wrap: Peterborough United 4 Oxford United 0

If you know anything about the NASA Apollo Space Program, it’s probably about Apollo 13. An explosion in an oxygen tank resulted from a thermostat working at 28 volts when the rest of the system was working at 65. The system effectively pumped too much power through a narrow space, it’s failure meant the craft’s oxygen tanks were allowed to heat up to 1000 degrees when they were supposed to regulate at 80. Back at Mission Control, nobody noticed because their gauge only went up to 85.

There was always a chance that we’d take a pasting at Peterborough. They have the most potent attacking force in the division, we’ve just come off the back of a 120 minute marathon against a Premier League team with a raft of players just coming back from injury.

Like the oxygen tanks on Apollo 13, we’ve been overheating for some time now. You can analyse on-field stats to look at why, but also look at crowd sizes; ten 10,000+ crowds this season with at least two more to come. If that’s an indication of the mental challenge of constantly performing, it’s likely to have taken its toll.

The criticism of the team for the Peterborough performance and the outcry at Baptiste and Fosu’s sale is the equivalent of staring at the gauge which only goes up to 85 without realising the temperature has reached 1000 degrees.

There was a question on the Five Minute Fans’ Forum on Thursday asking how you persuade a child to follow Oxford rather than Liverpool when we keep selling our best players.

The over-rationalisation of football; first with money, now with technology like VAR, aims to iron out the imperfections in the game. It teaches you that you can get perfection where the fairest and most desirable result is the best team winning every time.

But football has never been like that; it’s always been about the balance of risk and reward. Of heating up enough to perform without destroying everything. If you’re a Liverpool fan, then with enough money and technology you can win every time. But these become Pyrrhic victories because they barely represent anything resembling a normal struggle to succeed.

Life is also not like that, most people cannot spend their way to a perfect life. If you want to live in a fantasy bubble where you can operate at 1000 degrees without consequences, then support Liverpool. If you want to enjoy a genuine struggle against the elements, then clubs like Oxford offer that experience. Being inside that experience, with everything that goes with it, will always be better than watching perfection from outside the bubble.

As a club we’re not far from operating at the outer reaches of what we can naturally achieve. We’re a 28 volt club amongst teams operating at 56 volts. Sure, we could have bought more reinforcements, or tried to hang on to Baptiste and Fosu, but would it have been worth the financial risk? Would it have been worth unbalancing the evident spirit within the club? That’s the eternal question; when cyclist Chris Boardman was asked how you gauge effort in a time trial his answer was ‘If you don’t think you can sustain the effort, slow down, if you think you can do more, speed up. The perfect answer to the question ‘can I keep going at this speed?’ is ‘I don’t know’.

And that’s the point; are our results due to a lack of effort? No. Are we going too fast? Maybe. Can we make it to the end? I don’t know.

In 2015/16 between the middle of January and the middle of February we won two, drew one and lost five games. We’d come off the back of an FA Cup and JPT run as well as a busy Christmas period and we were overheating. We recovered to gain promotion in what history remembers as a glorious year of unstoppable success. It wasn’t, but the thrill of achieving what we did was all the better for the difficulties we faced.

There were twelve Apollo Space missions, you might know two of them. Apollo 11 was an unbridled success that put a man on the moon. Apollo 13 was an unmitigated disaster saved by endeavour, ingenuity and human spirit. That’s the one they made the film about.

Stick with it, it’s what it’s all about.

George Lawrences Shorts: Karl Mechanics

Saturday 1 February 2020

Blackpool is a famous place for breaking your duck in a gritty and uncomfortable way. Fittingly, Oxford popped it’s 2020 league victory cherry on Saturday with a tough 2-1 win against the Seasiders. Afterwards KRob confirmed that he wasn’t planning to bring in any free-agents unless there were any legends in the Oxford area who fancied a game. Martin Keown is adjusting his shin pads as we speak.

Sunday 2 February 2020

Half-man, half KFC Family Bucket, Gillingham boss, Steve Evans, says he fended off an unnamed Championship team to land former Oxford loanee Jordan Graham who has joined them until the end of the season. The reason Evans hasn’t named the club is due to professional integrity, ethics and the fact he’s lying.

Monday 3 February 2020

Mystery injury magnet and former Oxford winger, Marvin Johnson has definitely not been talking about getting a new contract at Middlesborough. ‘Of course I want to stay’ he said, not talking about it, ‘it’s not in my mind’ he added firmly putting it out of his mind, ‘It’s not important to me right now’ he said, shutting down the very thought of it.

Meanwhile, GLS feared the worst when Joey Beauchamp’s name appeared in a news story with 15 school children from Cardiff. It turns out he was listed as a ‘famous’ member of MENSA alongside TV critic Gary Bushell and former Miss Rochdale Laura Shields.

Tuesday 4 February 2020

It was an avalanche of Lonsdale tracksuits and Donnay golf shoes on Tuesday as Sports Direct’s Newcastle returned to the Kassam for the FA Cup replay. It was an emotional rollercoaster as we battled back from 2-0 to force extra-time before going down 3-2.

Extra-time created a cultural earthquake as Holby City and Silent Witness were both cancelled. Nobody embedded themselves into the national psyche like the Newcastle fan who ingratiated himself with the locals by doing the patented Gavin Whyte Wave while celebrating The Toon’s winner.

The Telegraph has been talking to Gary Bloom who has been working with the club as a psychotherapist. Psychotherapy is about getting inside a someone’s head, a shuddering thought when it comes to Jamie Mackie.

The step-over kid Tariqe Fosu has been talking about his move from Oxford to Brentford, like a 56 year old lottery winner dumping his family for a pneumatic 22 year old pole dancer, he says he was gutted to leave Oxford before shrugging ‘but that’s football’.

Wednesday 5 February 2020

KRob was omnipresent on Wednesday. During the day he met the flippin’ Duke of flippin’ Cambridge to discuss mental health issues. The two shared stories of their mental health challenges. The Duke talked about his uncle befriending a convicted sex trafficker and his brother being hounded out of the country by the racist right-wing press, KRob spoke movingly about the mental challenges of dealing with a foul throw that was wrongly given against Rochdale last season.

This was a mere aperitif as KRob then headed for Oxford’s Senior Cup defeat at Banbury in the evening. There was more cup heartache as a young side went out after penalties. On the upside, KRob drew the half-time raffle with the winner receiving nearly nine pounds in prize money.

Elsewhere, your daughters are safe as Jedward orphan, Mark Sykes may have to pass up his lost week in Magaluf this year to head off to Euro 2020 with Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, Tariqe Fosu could be lollypopping his way to a place in the Ghanian national team.

Thursday 6 February 2020

It was the Seven Minute Fifty-Seven Second Fans Forum on Thursday with, who else? KRob. With the club playing as well as it has for decades, one ray of sunshine asked how he can convince his daughter to support Oxford rather than Liverpool when the club sells its best players. You don’t need to sell it to her, mate, just put her up for adoption.

Friday 7 February 2020

It’s Peterborough tomorrow who are managed by Darren Ferguson, the son of legend Sir Alex Ferguson. Dazza is a chip off the old managerial block being a garralous Scotsman. But don’t let that fool you, he’s his own man as well, one thing that really sets him apart from his dad is his lack of managerial success.

Oxford United’s attempt at taking over the world took one-step closer when it was announced that former yellow Craig Harrington has become the new head coach at the Utah Royals. This answers the questions ‘whatever happened to Craig Harrington?’ and ‘who the hell is Craig Harrington?’.

Match wrap: Oxford United 2 Newcastle United 3

The Kassam Stadium has been corralled by big trucks, small trucks, trucks with small satellite dishes, trucks with big satellite dishes, trucks whose only purpose, you imagine, is to transport other trucks. The BBC doesn’t do much football, but when it does, it stays done.

Pitchside, the FA Cup sits proudly on a plinth. There are blinding arc lights with three cameramen filming three people. One is undeniably Michael Appleton, his cheekbones defined in the bright light. There’s another bald pundit who turns out to be Alan Shearer. Master of Ceremonies is Gabby Logan looking part human rights lawyer, part stay-at-home mum; both an every-woman and no woman you’ve ever met.

In between short bursts of football chat she’s riffles through a clipboard straining to hold a mountain of paperwork. It’s difficult to imagine what it contains. A make-up artist jumps in enthusiastically to brush her hair, Logan doesn’t flinch, it’s all part of the job. Nobody gets the Mr Muscle out to buff Appleton or Shearer’s bald pates.

In between the rabble, the club’s SLO, Kath Faulkner weaves her way through a mountain of people busying herself uploading another vignette from the team’s warm up to social media. And there’s Chris Williams looking like a nightclub bouncer, who with Martin Brodetsky – Oxford United’s Waldorf and Statler – represent the very soul of the club.

Around the pitch the fancy flashing advertising boards are back promoting our game against Accrington Stanley, £20 replica shirts and prescription-free Viagra. We have a sleeve sponsor for the night that fixes scuffed trainers.

It’s clear the club is operating at the edges and perhaps beyond its current capacity. This is the fourth Premier League team we’ve faced this season, the second prime-time live TV game and the sixth 10,000-plus crowd. Emotionally, it feels like we’re at breaking point.

The mood is confident rather than arrogant or apprehensive. Ticketing and the close proximity to the first game means that most of the regulars around me are sat slightly out of position. It’s like when the binmen leave number seven’s wheelie-bin outside number nine and number nine’s food bin in number 22’s garden, everything is familiar but slightly confusing.

Three seats next to me are vacant until moments before kick-off. Normally they’re occupied by season ticket holders, but seconds before kick-off people I’ve never seen before turn up sporting half-and-half scarves.

I’ve made my peace with half-and-half scarves, they’re no different to souvenir programmes and if those attending get an ounce more enjoyment out of their experience from buying one, then that’s a small step closer to them coming back.

It becomes evident that the lady sat next to me is, in fact, a Newcastle fan. She sings quietly and un-self-consciously along with the Toon fans in the North Stand. It turns out she lived near Kevin Keegan back in the 80s, but I guess everyone from Newcastle says that.

The game starts and it’s clear that our confidence is well founded. We’re not overawed or being outplayed. They put pressure on Marcus Browne which limits his scope and press Josh Ruffels and Sam Long. While we struggle to break out as an attacking threat, if we are going to concede, you suspect, it’ll be because of a bad luck or a mistake.

The mistake comes on 15 minutes. Mark Sykes over-plays in midfield, loses the ball and Sam Longstaff races forward to fire home. It’s not a howling error and Longstaff has plenty more to do once in possession, but it’s enough to separate the sides. 15 minutes later, Marcus Browne loses the ball on the edge of their box, the referee is liberal in his appliance of the rules all night, but he’s right about this one; no foul. A long ball to Joelinto creates a one-on-one with Rob Dickie and it’s 2-0.

They’re efficiently good, though it’s closer to Rotherham than futuristic Manchester City space-football. Given that they’re a serviceable defensive unit, it looks like game over.

Quixotically we then find some fluidity; Jamie Mackie goes close, Sam Long has one headed off the line. It’s nice to see us play. What’s lacking is a driving force. Browne is squeezed out, Henry is injured and Baptiste has gone. Mark Sykes becomes an unlikely pivot around which good things happen.

There’s a quiet acceptance over half-time that we’re at journeys end. The main objective now is to avoid injuries and humiliation. The second half is scrappy; their early efficiency has deserted them but we’re stuck between attacking and conceding more on the break.

On the hour Browne goes down and Karl Robinson instantly replaces him; it feels like he’s conceding defeat. We’re not always perfect, but we’re still playing with a signature style. Some of their passing is indistinguishable from the Conference; four or five times the ball simply runs out of play. Still, they have the two goal buffer and we have little in response, so it matters not.

The game becomes painful, Newcastle fans sing songs at Alan Shearer who is holed up in a black box that makes for a studio in the corner – ‘They’re perpetually stuck in the 90s’ says someone near me. But, Shearer is the most glamorous thing about the game, if I was watching this on TV, I’d be channel surfing for Live At The Apollo on Dave, even if it featured Jason Manford.  

The clock ticks on, we’re tiring on and off the pitch. Nathan Holland is mainlining energy gels. With Matty Taylor just back from injury and Dan Agyei and Liam Kelly barely having 90 minutes of football between them this year, even our fresh legs don’t have fresh legs.

Five minutes to go, through all the scrappiness we draw a foul 25 yards out. Liam Kelly stands over the ball, he has the stature of Sam Deering, so the distance looks about three times what it is. Physically we’re drained, but this is a purely technical challenge so we have a chance. Kelly exquisitely lifts the ball over the wall and past the keeper for 2-1. He dutifully trots back to the centre-circle, but a smile on his face shows how pleased he is with it. It’s almost identical to Chris Maguire’s goal at Middlesborough three years ago. Look what happened then.

But that’s fanciful hope rather than expectation. As we tick into injury time, we win another free-kick in the centre circle. Suddenly everything is simple; equalise or lose heavily. Simon Eastwood abandons his goal to make a nuisance of himself up front. Kelly pitches the ball to the back post; Sam Long who’s put in an exhausting shift, pops it up, Eastwood stares into the sky trying to locate it like a village cricketer blinded by the sun. His bewilderment disrupts the Newcastle back line allowing Ruffels to win the second ball which drops to where Nathan Holland is loitering. Holland watches it fall from the night’s sky, swings a boot and connects.

Now we’re in the hands of destiny. The ball arrows its way through a narrow alleyway of opportunity. I’m right behind it; gravity brings the ball down, potential energy transfers into kinetic energy via biomechanics. A confluence of science, a moment of liquid poetry, the ball hits the net and the place implodes. If we’re going down, it’s going to be with grenades and flamethrowers. Holland celebrates like he’s from the 50s with both hands in the air. The stadium is carnage, like a coach crash in an ice storm; bodies are everywhere, shoes are lost, grannies thrown into the air. Even with its imperfections and gaping open end, sometimes The Kassam can feel like home. For moments, live on national TV, the world can see why we do what we do.

And then, the reality. As the final whistle goes, a person on my row nudges past and doesn’t come back, his cup of Horlicks beckons. We start extra-time brightly and threaten again with Dan Agyei. But it can’t be sustained and we run out of puff; only Sykes seems to maintain the intensity, growing more influential as the minutes tick by. Our only option now is to survive to penalties, even with precious few natural penalty takers on the pitch. George Thorne comes on looking like the banjo-tech from Mumford & Sons, it’s good to see him back, but he’s a long way from fit.

Conceding is, perhaps, inevitable and it comes eventually from Saint-Maximin, who is built like an American wrestling figurine. With five minutes to go and no energy to respond, hope slips away. They celebrate wildly; but given the preposterous financial gap between the two clubs, they should be beating us and it shouldn’t take three and a half hours to do it. Exhausted and heroic, the cup dream is over. It’s been a heck of a run.

There are times this season when it feels like we’ve been on loan to somewhere else – the Carabao Cup, Premier League, Sky Sports and the BBC. We depart in a blaze of glory in front of the nation; there’s no better way to fail. Tomorrow, it’s back to normality and the simple reality of seven games in 21 days. Perhaps the 5th Round wasn’t much of a prize after all.