Floating around mid-table with a goal difference of 0 we are having, according to Danny Baker, “the season that never happened”. We went into the season with a goal difference of 0 and an inconsequential league position and we’ll come out of it largely the same.
If that’s true, then Accrington Stanley is the fixture that never happened. Over a period of nearly 50 years we’ve been ships that pass in the night with not so much as a gentle nod of acknowledgement to each other. Then, when we finally do meet, firstly back in August and again on Saturday, we produce two barely memorable 0-0 draws.
Except, of course, 0-0 is not a score we’re particularly familiar with this season. Which is why it was particularly surprising to many that Damien Batt has been voted the best right-back in the league by his fellow professionals.
For a team that managed to go a full 23 games without keeping a clean sheet, the idea that a member of our defence performed better than, say, the right back at Stevenage, who have conceded 15 less goals, seems barely comprehensible.
But whilst your average Oxford fan will look at Batt (and others’) weaknesses when assessing the season, fellow players will view it differently. If you’re playing against Batt, and you have the beating of him then you’re much more likely to put this success down to your strengths, not his weaknesses. What’s more, when you’re on a roll, the opposition become invisible. As Barry Davies famously said when commentating on Great Britain’s third goal Olympic Hockey final in Seoul; “Where was the German defence? But frankly, who cares?”
Batt must be a nightmare to play against; he’s phenomenally fit, blisteringly quick and always willing to push forward. You can see how playing against him would be a daunting prospect.
It does leave him high and dry on occasions, but look at his positioning when we go forward – sitting on the right of midfield, if you look across to Tonkin on the left he’s in exactly the same position. The weakness, therefore, is tactical.
And there’s the quandary, make him sit on the edge of his own penalty box and you lose the impetus going forward. Playing to Batt’s strengths you’re going to give the opposition a hellish ride.
Batt does what he does. We might benefit from a bit of midfield cover when he’s bombing on, because he’s never going to be a sitter but considering who he is and the tactical framework he’s playing in, he’s had a fine season and has improved on last year.