On Monday I tweeted a diagram I called my ‘full-time maths report’ of Saturday’s defeat to Exeter. It tried showed a normal distribution of ‘match types’ – home wins, away wins, thrashings, one-goal wins and so on. It also showed that a 4-2 defeat at home where you come back from three goals down to nearly grab an equaliser and then lose your substitute striker 10 minutes after he comes on could be classified as unusual.
So, what can you take from a game which is unlikely to be repeated for years? Not a lot, it would seem. Our current form seems to be an adjustment to our early season over-performance. At the start of the season we might easily have expected an opening day loss, but we took three points. Against Southend, you’d have been happy with a draw, but got the win. At some point those gains were likely to be clawed back. Perhaps we would have hoped for a point at York where we got none and a win on Saturday, and well, you get the point.
Damien Batt bravely came out to defend the team; he thought we were all over them. That was stretching things a little, but we weren’t outplayed. The game was a decent Exeter team including Jamie Cureton on form against a decent Oxford team without Michael Duberry and Peter Leven (and Andrew Whing, and all the others). Presumably there will be games this season where Cureton’s form and fitness won’t carry him and Exeter will stutter to defeat, meanwhile on that day somewhere else in the country we’ll see Leven unlocking the defence to create a winner. It will all even itself out.
Their first goal was a cracking strike (although we backed off), their second goal resulted from a dubious corner decision, their third scored on the break as we chased the game. At 2-3 we might have equalised through Dean Smalley with an ounce of composure. We lost James Constable to two dubious decisions. An accumulation of marginal incidents which ended with the result we got.
In football, marginal incidents tend to draw dramatic reactions. On one hand this might be some ridiculous fan phone-in rant-fest, sometimes it can result in a manager losing his job. If you’re Paolo Di Canio, you belittle your players.
I doubt we’ll see such a peculiar game next week or perhaps for the rest of the season. What we’ve learnt from it is that despite having a decent core of players, those who can give us a Cureton-style edge are not available.
Being practical about it, it is difficult to know what a lower league club can do when the players who give you an edge are injured. It’s not possible to simply throw more money at players of the quality you’ve lost – even if you can find them in the first place. The long term solution; as we know is improvements in sports science so that those injuries don’t happen. That investment has been made but we haven’t yet seen the benefits.
Perhaps the biggest impact of Saturday’s game was the dismissal of James Constable. For once he seemed back to his feisty best, perhaps buoyed by his contribution to Wednesday’s win over Swindon. Then, by being his old self he got sent off. He seems to have taken a long time to get over last year’s dramas, to suddenly, effectively, be told that his normal behaviour is outside the rules of the game is exactly the set back he doesn’t need.