The blame game

On the pitch, off the pitch, in the stand or in the board room; apportioning blame when things go wrong seems to be a natural instinct. Just how much further forward does that ever get us?

Recently, Matt Murphy came to the Kassam as a returning legend. I can’t have been the only long-standing fan to suffer some cognisant dissonance resulting from the idea of Murphy being a labelled a legend, a confusion which was compounded by his interview on Yellow Player; where he came across as a genuinely lovely bloke.

The thing is, during the mid-90s Matt Murphy was the London Road’s boo-boy. Every team needs one, they’re a counter balance to the ‘star player’, serving an equal and opposite purpose. With the inevitable fluctuations in team performances, you need someone to constantly love – a star player. This justifies your otherwise illogical devotion to something which is more likely to fail than succeed. Similarly, you need someone to constantly dislike to give you someone to vent your frustrations at. You need his constant because most players are good sometimes and awful at others; you don’t want to appear like a reactionary nut job or undermine any previous absolute statements you’ve previously made about players.

The boo-boy is a constant, a punchbag. It acts like a pressure valve. In the immediate aftermath of our promotion from the Conference, and we were hidebound by that success. A moderate start to life back in the Football League left us in a position of seeking the root of our problem without being afforded the luxury of being able to criticise any of the players who had only a few weeks earlier performed heroically in our name.

It happens at every team; even at Manchester United during periods where silverware was almost guaranteed every year (I’m not kidding, ask your parents, kids). Ryan Giggs became a focus for criticism for those at Old Trafford. To everyone else the greatest player of his generation and one of the all-time greatest British players was a United boo boy because he didn’t tackle like Keane, pass like Scholes, cross like Beckham or score goals like Gary Neville. It wasn’t Giggs they were criticising, it was the collective need to have someone to beat up when things didn’t go well.

Most people will agree the Murphy was very much like Giggs in so many ways. He is the club’s 5th top scorer and played during a period of comparative success. But at the time he was the focus of almost constant criticism.

Deane Smalley is the Matt Murphy for the current age; it seems we have risen as one and decreed him to be useless. Rather like Murphy, the facts tend not to back up the perception. It ignores that Smalley is our most prolific goalscorer this season. It ignores that this is precisely what Smalley is; a goalscorer. It ignores that Smalley, the most prolific goalscorer in the team is being played woefully out of position or at least being slotted in wherever there happens to be a gap.

It beggars belief that Lewis and Melville worked alongside Chris Wilder for over five years and yet seemed to have learnt precisely nothing of their squad or how best to deploy them. Instead, we’ve been treated to Smalley and James Constable playing on the wing with no apparent game plan as to how their particular strengths might be used from that position. Constable, of course, enjoys the immunity that Smalley doesn’t.

Standing amongst the bodies in the immediate aftermath of the 0-3 defeat to Chesterfield, Nick Harris joined the chorus of those claiming that it was no longer acceptable to wait to get the right man in, now was time to get anyone in. Even Jerome Sale, who is usually a rare voice of reason tabled the idea that the only solution now was to get someone like Martin Allen. Now amidst the shock and desolation of a three goal defeat with two men sent off and your best player stretchered off, perhaps rationality was in short supply, but this is the equivalent of deploying ground to air missiles to frighten off the cat that’s been crapping on your flowerbeds.

Yes, there is no doubt that the appointment of the new manager has taken too long. However, panic is not the option right now. It is easy to blame Ian Lenagan, and without doubt the longer it goes on the greater the pressure to make the right decision. But blame is such a destructive quality; blame is something you assign to something or someone at the end of something. But like many things – particularly running football clubs – nothing has come to an end; so if you blame Ian Lenagan, how much further forward has that taken you? Has it put an effective manager in place? No.

The reality is that Lenagan was left in a bind; the mood of the fans was against Chris Wilder and our post-Christmas form was patchy, had he offered him a contract extension then there would hardly have been universal approval. However, sacking him didn’t make sense given that we were in the automatic promotion places. Perhaps he shouldn’t have given him the extension at the beginning of the season; but then what would this season have looked like?

So in a sense Lenagan was in no-mans land and when Wilder eventually found the exit door. It might have been reasonable to assume that Lewis and Melville along with a squad of experienced players might have kept themselves going for a bit. But, instead they have failed Lenagan miserably by simply falling apart. But even with that established, what is the point of laying blame and panicking? The problem, after Chesterfield is the same problem as before it.

History, they say, is a constant process of people clearing up their mistakes. So, wherever the club has got to, there’s no point in kicking through the ashes of recent weeks in order to find out where it all went wrong. Whatever state we find ourselves in, we’ve still got the same players we had before this mess occurred. We don’t need wholsale change or destructive revolution, but we do need a manager. Someone able to provide some structure and discipline to the squad; once that’s been established, then the players should still be able to see us through to the play-offs.

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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