I found the standing ovations for Callum O’Dowda, Brian Howard and Danny Hylton slightly troubling. Not because they didn’t, in their own ways, have very good games against Accrington. It was because it reminded me of a phenomenon that seemed to arise in the late days of The Manor and early Kassam years. Despite ever falling quality of our performances, the frequency of standing ovations at substitutions increased.
There was a time at The Manor when you knew a player had done something special by the wave of people rising to their feet in the Beech Road stand. It happened very rarely. By the end of the Millennium, simply running around in a yellow shirt had become reason for wild applause. Our standards had slipped.
I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon. A win is definitely better than a defeat; I am not one of those people who claims to want to see their team lose to affect a change of manager. For one, that’s a buffoon’s logic and two; from what I hear of him, I quite like Michael Appleton. I’m not convinced by him as a manager for obvious, tangible, reasons, but he speaks well and appears willing to take responsibility for his team. I don’t particularly like myself for not being convinced by him as a professional.
And, I’ve had worse Tuesday nights at The Kassam; Howard’s ball to Hylton for the first was excellent and Collins’ goal was spectacular, Callum O’Dowda’s performance shows he’s developing well and there was plenty of entertaining, attacking football to watch. As an isolated 90 minutes, it was definitely entertaining.
But. This was us winning against a moderate team, at home, who had ten men in order to pull within a point of the fourth bottom team of the whole football league. We hadn’t won in seven games – it wasn’t a must-win game, it was a ‘should win’ game by virtue of the law of averages alone. On other days Collins’ shot sails over, Barnett wouldn’t have been given such a daft opportunity and the referee would miss the sending off and it all ends up decidedly more close than it was. Eventually it was going to come together, but could you say it’s the start of something?
While it would be great to be goldfish-like and receive every victory like it was the best one we’d ever seen, the win remains tempered by the context. Last year; and in fact, for the last 8 years, we have had aspirations of winning promotions. And, particularly early in those seasons wins meant going top, or staying in the play-offs, they dared us to dream.
I don’t expect every game to have the same feeling as a win at Wembley or in a derby, but while I am satisfied with the win over Accrington, I can’t quite get excited about it in the context of our terrible start to the season.
Perhaps this is the start of something; but there’s still a lot to resolve before it becomes clearer as to whether it is or not. Can Hoskins and Howard stay fit? And Hylton? And Clarke and Whing? Has whatever turned Tyrone Barnett from a million pound player to a free transfer in two years been left behind at his former club? Does Appleton have the ability? Does Eales and Ashton have the money?
This will only become clear when looking at the context; in other words, the runs we go on. If we’re to even have an average season we’re going to have to hit a run to compensate the awful start – five or six wins in seven or eight games, that kind of thing. If we’re actually going for promotion; which seems frankly ridiculous right now, that run will have to be more sustained. Was there enough evidence from the Accrington game to suggest we will put that kind of run together? No, because it’s impossible to judge over 90 minutes.
It’s not easy; football should be a visceral and spontaneous experience. But, it’s difficult to divorce the experience of a game from what’s going on around it. Perhaps that’s a plague of growing up; it creates a clutter of history; a ramshackle filing cabinet in my head full of scraps of memories. So, Callum O’Dowda’s performance had me delving into that filing cabinet to try and remember how it compared to Joey Beauchamp and Paul Powell, Collins’ goal was quickly compared to Leven’s. A win is tempered by the context in which it happens; good in itself, but far from conclusive as to whether this is the beginnings of the return of the good times.