At Christmas parties people accuse me of being boring because I can’t force myself into dancing. What these people don’t believe is that I particularly like dancing. The reason you won’t find me dancing at a Christmas party is because the music doesn’t make me want to dance and I’ve learnt not to force something I don’t naturally want to do.
I’m much the same when it comes to the new season. The first game of the season doesn’t be particularly excite me anymore. I tend to let the season’s story emerge over a few weeks and draw me. It can be as late as October before I’m fully engaged.
I used to love the first day of the season, a burst of relief after months of dormancy. Like most people, I gave far too much meaning to the first 90 minutes. But then, I remember 1999 and winning 2-1 at Stoke. Steve Anthrobus scored on his debut and the Oxford Mail heralded his new partnership with Derek Lilley. It turns out that was the beginning of a two year capitulation; Anthrobus’ goal one of 4 he scored in that time. This game is largely responsible for me not believing the hype of a new season.
That said, I think Saturday’s 2-0 win over Bristol Rovers is significant. In the first six weeks of the season, points look hard to come by and three points away from home against a big spending opponent will go a long way to recovering Chris Wilder’s battered stock.
Looking at our opening fixtures, I hadn’t anticipated us being particularly high up the table early on, although I do expect us to come back later in the year. However, a poor opening will provide others with the evidence they need that Wilder has lost it. If the pressure to make a change grows, then it is conceivable that he would move on before Christmas. Three points against Bristol Rovers on Saturday will help allay the risk of that kind of knee jerk reaction
This season to looks stronger than last year with Wycombe, Rotherham, Fleetwood, Northampton, Chesterfield, Bristol Rovers and Southend all expecting promotion with Cheltenham and Torquay being as hopeful as us of a play-off place.
So there are ten clubs who would expect to be in the promotion and play-off places at the end of the year with only 7 places to fill. It’s going to be a long tough season and more than ever we need to judge the performance of the club on the whole season and not just parts of it or even individual games
But, before we get into the season proper we need to get through the next few weeks unscathed. Picking up points early on will go a long way to achieving that initial aim.