The total number people that have watched Oxford United since Christmas is 66,456, that’s more than double the number that watched us over the same period last year. The next couple of games will push that gap even further. Last week, for the first time ever, I bought two home tickets for different games at the same time. As a season ticket holder, I don’t usually need to worry about tickets at all, very occasionally I trouble the ticket office for an away-day or one-off cup ticket. In a normal season I might buy one ticket a year in advance of a home game, now I’m buying two in a week.
If that teaches us anything, it’s that we’re very much not in Kansas anymore. This is not, in any way, a normal season, which means we’re facing a very different kind of pressure. If you look around the squad, there’s no experience of playing in this kind of environment. There are a few promotions in the squad, the odd cup upset and even one or two Wembley appearances, but who has done it all at the same time? If you look in the stands, there’s no experience of dealing with it either.
The win over Portsmouth was critical, but not because of points and league standings. We could afford to drop points in January because, if we apply ourselves, we should be able to pull back any losses in February and March. It’s not so much that those fixtures are easy, it’s just that January has been particularly hard. But things aren’t quite as straight forward as that; a defeat to Portsmouth would have made it two in a row. And, let’s not kid ourselves, the next two games against Blackburn and Millwall will both be significant tests. We could have gone into the game at Exeter off the back of a, technically speaking, poor run, maybe even four defeats.
That’s the sort of thing that puts doubts in your head – the fabled Oxford United post-Christmas collapse, a lack of goals up front. It’s not physical or technical ability, but the mental capacity to cope that becomes the difference between success and failure.
The win over Portsmouth continues to build a template for success. Key reference points that can be used in tougher times. A picture which shows we can compete, and win, in almost every scenario. As an Oxford fan it is very difficult to make bold predictions about the outcomes of a season, particularly in January. But, with the toughest possible month almost behind us, you have to say, promotion is absolutely in our hands.