Suddenly it seems we’re in the closing stages of the season. We’ve been consumed with back biting and sniping for months. And yet, somehow, our season is still alive. Is it time for a ceasefire?
Perhaps it’s the occasional ray of spring sun, perhaps it’s the coming of the sixth round of the FA Cup; something is changing. The sixth round is the last conventional round of the cup; we call it the ‘sixth round’ as a kind of pet name in preference to the quarter final, which is what it is. Next up is the semi-final; on a neutral territory; it’s different.
The FA Cup heralds the beginning of the end of the season. It only feels like yesterday that we were all hating football for not being as noble as the Olympics; and suddenly we’re seven months later and we still haven’t seen that handball league game we all promised ourselves we would see. Now we’re sorting ourselves for the final dust up.
If football was judged only by the mood of the fans, Oxford would be fighting relegation right now; it has been the grumpiest, most curmudgeonly season for years, yet for some reason following the 3-1 win over Torquay, our 3rd win in four and 4th in six, our chances of a play-off place remain alive. OK, it’s a poor league; we’re nine points worse off than we were this time last season but we’re in the same position that we finished. I don’t know how we’ve done it, but we’re still in there, just.
Before we’d scored against Torquay, news filtered through that Adam Chapman had scored a couple of goals on his debut at Mansfield. The conveniently over simplified argument was that this was proof that Chris Wilder should go. Positions are so deeply entrenched, people are finding any excuse to ‘prove’ the theory of his incompetence. Did the win at Torquay change people’s perception? Well, no, of course. It’s a real question of heads I win, tails you lose. Torquay are a poor side on the poor run, beating them is a minimum requirement, this proves nothing.
Except that we’re seven points off the play-offs and with this fact, there’s a decision to make. We could continue this war of attrition with the management of the club. Continue to press for Wilder’s replacement; vote with our feet and not go to games, or we could hop on the fatalist promotion truck and get stuck into an unlikely and probably doomed quest.
No doubt some will continue to push for Wilder’s removal; a legitimate discussion to have, no doubt; nobody can have enjoyed this season. But what will a replacement do for the squad now? He isn’t going to suddenly make us into title contenders. The season has dictated that we are now outsiders for the play-offs. We’re here now, we might as well get on with it.
There is a scenario here where we end up in the play-offs, even go all the way to promotion. We’d probably be the grumpiest promotion contenders in history.
The promotion side of the mid-90s, now viewed as legends, had a midfield which for long periods was despised. Martin Gray and Dave Smith were unspectacular percentage players who arrived after the likes of Paul Simpson and Jim Magilton had moved on. The expectation of them spraying 50 yard passes around the pitch were not met with reality; Martin Gray in particular was known as ‘the crab’ because of his sideways passes.
Even as recently as 2010, Chris Wilder wrestled with a mid-season slump by trying a series of new combinations up front with Franny Green and John Grant both coming in to try (and fail) to spark a revival.
So, no season, even the most successful, is without its frustrations. But there is a point where you need to put them aside and focus on the end game; in this case, the remote possibility of a play-offs. The continous badgering and bickering may be tempting, but I can’t see how it’ll help the team.
In 2010, when Wilder was scratching around for a solution to his problems with the likes of Grant and Green, he eventually reverted to the Midson, Green, Constable combination which had served him well. He’d over-thought the problem. It showed against Rotherham that when Wilder is put under pressure he can become paralysed by his analysis of the problem. So, there’s little to be gained from adding to the pressure.
Do I think we’ll do it? Probably not. But that’s no reason not to try.
There was a great moment in the Chris Wilder interview on Yellow Player after the Torquay game. Discussing what Wilder might say to the beleagured Torquay manager (and Wilder’s friend) Alan Knill, Wilder turned to Chris Williams and said ‘well we all need a little cuddle sometimes’ before pausing. Wilder looked at Williams, and you could sense Williams staring back. Did Chris want a cuddle? On screen? The two eventually dug themselves out of the awkward silence.
Perhaps it’s time to give Chris Wilder a cuddle, put aside the animosity and let him get on with things. The bigger issues can wait until the season’s end; we’ve got a crazy dash to the play-offs to go for.