‘We’d have lost that last year’ one person inevitably said after the big comeback draw against Luton. It’s one of those phrases that has seeped into the lexicon in recent years.
We’d have lost that most years, I’d wager. It was as freaky as it was welcome. Jerome Sale and Nathan Cooper rightly highlighted the fact that Oxford and Luton share many common traits. We’ve both been at the top and the bottom, we both think we deserve more, we both think that there are other forces at work that prevent us from progressing. We’re both fragile, and that’s key because while others have exploited our own mental fragility in the past, this time it was our turn to be the beneficiary. When Kemar Roofe drilled in the first goal, it stuck the knife in and as Dave Brailsford said of Chris Froome’s Tour de France win – once you’ve stuck the knife in, you have to keep twisting.
Sale and Cooper also got it right when they said that if you win at places like Luton, then you should be fighting for the title, if you draw; promotion should be your goal. ‘Should’ is the operative here. This season should be about promotion not just the isolated ‘buzz’ of freaks and one-offs. We’ve had a few of those in recent years and they become a vague memory by the time we hit May and are soft pedalling our way into the summer.
What it does do is it helps paint a picture of a type of success; that if our backs are against the wall, then there’s no reason to give up. That’s worth having in our locker for when things hairy. It needs to be applied properly – we don’t want to get ourselves in that position in the first place; so it’s an escape pod only to be used in emergencies. Let’s not forget that even going into injury time, the most likely outcome was a defeat. In most cases in the future, that’s what we’ll get; nothing.
And this is not the product of magic, spirit or any of that nonsense, it’s hard work, application, good tactics and intelligent play. One thing that Gary Neville said about Manchester United’s fabled ability to score last minute goals was that where most teams lose their heads when chasing a game, their key was to focus on creating one really high quality chance. Underpinning their mythical status as comeback kings was the application of high quality football. Or, if you like, doing what they should always be doing.
I wasn’t expecting us to get much out of Luton, so the point is a good one, but in the context of promotion it claws back one of the two dropped against Crawley. If that sounds downbeat, it’s not meant to be, but promotion is about being relentlessly effective for a long time. Historically, we’ve been pretty bad at that. But, that’s the real objective.