Inevitable? Yes, the longer a run goes on the more likely it is to end. Being unbeaten for 15 games isn’t normal, so we’ve been getting closer to defeat with every passing week. Only an improbable fightback at Luton, a missed penalty at Mansfield and a wonder strike at Bristol Rovers has prevented this from coming sooner. It’s not a question of luck, it’s just maths.
There was a groaning inevitability that it had to happen against Chris Wilder. But it’s not because of some mystical hoodoo, he can organise teams to beat the best on any given day. That’s his thing; in the three whole seasons he was with us in the Football League he managed to win away at the eventual league champions every year. This was the wrong team at the wrong time.
You might curse our luck with injuries and suspensions, although this is also inevitable. Most of the season will have that feeling of never quite being at full strength. Professional sports people are always in pain because they’re constantly at the breaking point between optimum performance and being injured or exhausted. It’s the same with teams, they’re always broken or close to broken in some way. We need to get used to it rather than wait for it to pass.
On this basis, criticism of Ryan Taylor is slightly unfair. He’s never going to be a direct replacement for Kemar Roofe. No team at our level can have a bank of Roofe and Hylton back-ups. Taylor’s primary role is to create space for others – Roofe, Hylton, McDonald, O’Dowda – and so judging him solely on his goals and his Roofeness is not right. Roberts, on form and fit, would be an interesting partnership with Taylor; but those calling for him to replace Taylor are asking for a Roberts of last year, it doesn’t sound like he’s in the same place at the moment.
What next? We keep going. When Bradley Wiggins won his Tour de France in 2012, Team Sky employed a particular tactic in the mountains. Wiggins isn’t fast or explosive like typical climbers. However, he knew that if someone attacked, they would eventually slow. Wiggins’ trick was to maintain an average pace faster than that of his rivals so that if they did ride away from him, he would, like a diesel engine, eventually pull them back. Aside from the physical challenge, the mental challenge is not to panic, that expends energy particularly if you find yourself pushing too hard.
We’ve dropped back to 8th, which risks all the old insecurities re-appearing. But despite everything, we are still in title winning form. The challenge is to keep plugging away.