This run defies logic. Typically, you would expect to win games against teams way below you, lose against teams way above you, and draw against teams around you. On this principle we should still be winning games; yet we seem able to contrive draws regardless of the opposition – at home to lowly Cambridge, or away to the markedly stronger Aldershot. When you’re down the bottom, you lose, when you’re at the top you win, it is not logical that when you’re at the top you draw all the time.
Deviation from a predictable sequence of results takes you into an undefinable grey area; a combination of team spirit, ability, luck, weather, fitness, crowd, fans and a million other undefinable factors.
Grey areas can be reduced but not eradicated, as even Chelsea have learnt in recent months. It takes years and millions of pounds to reduce the grey area, you can argue that perhaps only Manchester United have cracked it – developed a consistently winning formula – although even they have seen variants in form and results over the years.
Oxford have rightly started to invest in the infrastructure that will ultimately help them reduce the grey area – enough, at least, to pop them back into the football league eventually. Say it quietly, but this was started by Firoz Kassam when the new ground was opened, offering a sound financial footing. The other, more subtle infrastructure elements, such as investment in coaching and scouting, were missed, but are being addressed now.
In the meantime, however, the grey areas remain and we’re playing right in the middle of it. We’re scratching around to find the illusive formula, form and fitness that wins games. We don’t have the strength in depth, the scouting network to unearth or buy a reliable goal poacher, playmaker or titanic defender, we don’t have the medical expertise to bring players back in half the time, or even a crowd with a positive mindset. Interesting to note Gary Neville’s comments after the England game this week talking about being lucky enough to play for a team with accommodating fans, I know what he means.
Frequently, a manager’s head will roll when a club is stuck in the grey area. Some managers do lose their way never to return – stand up David Kemp, many are victims of their circumstance; of being in the grey area – Ian Atkins, perhaps. In the latter, replacing the manager is not the solution. There have been question marks over Jim Smith‘s position; but this run is not logical – 11 games without a win, but only four defeats. This is not the form of a team that has completely lost its way, it’s the team that is playing the equivalent of Killer Sudoku – the solution is in there somewhere, finding it is another thing altogether. Could another manager, faced with exactly the same factors that Smith is facing do any better? I doubt it.
Our stay in the Conference is not likely to be a long one, although it may be longer than the single season that most hoped or believed it would be. Look at the likes of Weymouth and even Dagenham losing their best players in the transfer window, and you see just how big the grey area can be. It’s not likely that we’ll be thrown into the darker recesses of our grey area like they have been; it will come good, it’s all a question of when we leave the grey and back into the light – will it be quick enough to achieve the ultimate objective this season?
In the short term, a win is step 1. Things may well be falling into place; fans’ expectations have been lowered, therefore the pressure is reducing, the win is undoubtedly getting closer and we’ve got six games coming up; four at home, two away against the two bottom teams. The win is in there somewhere, it’s got to be.