For a promotion clash, our loss to Orient on Saturday started so slowly I thought it was a deliberate tactic from Michael Appleton. I thought he’d adopted the old ‘Rope-A-Dope‘ approach of wearing your opponent out by absorbing their energy and hitting them at pace late on. Afterwards Johnny Mullins put that one to bed saying that they had planned to start brightly, something Appleton confirmed. Maybe it was Orient playing the same game with us, in which case it really seemed to work.
Whatever the reason for our slow start, there’s no doubt that our home form is not up to much.
Last week When Saturday Comes celebrated its 30th birthday; a journey through hooliganism and European bans to the Premier League and billion pound TV deals. One piece of editorial tracks the game from its origins as a test of raw physical ability to what it is today; a statistics driven TV orientated sport based on technique and tactics. We might think of strong arm tactics of ‘anti-football’, but it was the English who thought the Scottish idea of passing the ball was effete anti-football in the early 1900s. Now passing is considered the only way to play the game.
It’s interesting then, that while we have an endless capacity to accept changes in the game, we still linger on the idea that home form is sacred.
Making your stadium a fortress is an old cliche, but increasingly the idea of home advantage is being eroded. Eleven teams in League 2 have equal or better away form than home. Four more are one away win from joining that club.
Pitches are better, stadiums less intimidating, preparation has improved, travel and accommodation is better and cheaper, plus players are perfectly used to the idea of travelling; Kemar Roofe and Joe Skarz live miles from Oxford, so even our players are playing away to some extent. All the things that might once have provided an advantage to the home team no longer exist.
When Jim Smith was manager his formula for a title was win at home, draw away, but increasingly managers, like Michael Appleton, look at the season in blocks ignoring where the games are played.
But fans still stick to the idea that home form is important – understandable given that’s where they spend most of their money and time, but panics about our home results shouldn’t have the same impact that they used to. One Orient blogger applauded their win on Saturday, signing off that all Kevin Nolan needed to do was work out how to win at home. Sounds familiar?
Maybe we need to look at games as a series of two-legged ties. Averaging four points from each pair of games would give you the title in most years. We’ve taken four or more points from eight ‘ties’ so far. We’ve taken less than four on four occasions. In addition, there are two more games – Barnet and Wycombe – where we can’t pick up four points. That leaves us with eight fixtures in which we can pick up the magical four half of which just need a point. Northampton’s freakish form might be distorting things, but we are still in an excellent position.