Has there ever been a more sung unsung hero than James Constable last Saturday? Manager, players and fans were all lining up to give their special mentions to the striker, acknowledging that it would be Tom Craddock who would take all the headlines after the 5-0 biffing of Accrington on Saturday.
Constable’s performance didn’t wholly come out of the blue, he has been looking better in recent weeks. You can chart his problems right back to the start of the year and all the shenanigans with Swindon. Constable strikes you as the kind of person who needs security around him to perform well. The Swindon approach was destabilising putting him in the uncomfortable position of being a striker with a price on his head.
Suddenly there was the pressure of a benchmark to meet. Then, of course, he was sent off in the derby for being little more than being himself; bustling and aggressive. It was like everything that defined him was suddenly considered wrong. Towards the end of the season he got injured, then he eased his way back to fitness, via more money bids, this time from Bristol Rovers, only to be sent off against Exeter. Another blow.
Now he seems to be getting a clearer run at finding some form. Apparently he was helped by the club who supplied him with a DVD of his goals from the Conference. Even without spending a few idle hours on YouTube, one of the lasting memories of the Conference vintage Constable, is of him alongside Adam Murray and Dannie Bulman getting in the faces of referees, linesmen and opponents tipping the balance of games in our favour in the process. That has ebbed away in recent months.
At Oxford, of course, he has been afforded the unusual gift of both time and patience by the fans. Although he has plenty of good will in the bank.
Perhaps he is settling in the role that his abilities are best suited to at this level; as a target man, ready to bully defences. While he lies tangled up on the floor with some lump of meat and gristle centre back, others can capitalise. Craddock is the more natural goalscorer, always looking like he’s soft peddling until a chance comes along; he’s never going to waste energy on things which don’t lead to goals.
We forget that Craddock missed all of last season, another big miss for both the effectiveness of Constable and the team as a whole. It is rather too easy to assume that Craddocks 4 goal haul is a sign that things have turned around, as the result against Rochdale proved. However, having both of them on the pitch understanding their respective roles has got to be a sign that some things are beginning to improve.