When we played Arsenal in 2003 at Highbury, apart from the barracking of Francis Jeffers, there is one moment I distinctly remember.
David Seaman had the ball in front of the mass ranks of Oxford fans. He rolled it out to Robert Pires standing in the right back position who passed it on. Arsenal efficiently worked the ball in two or three passes past our strikers, through our midfield and out to the left hand edge of our box where the ball was picked up by none other than Robert Pires. In a few seconds, he’d gone from one corner of the pitch to the diagonal opposite while our team stood rigidly in position.
It struck me that the great players are not just technically gifted, they work supremely hard for their right to play.
On Saturday, we seemed competent enough at League 1 but we lacked a certain bite that Peterborough showed. Overall, things were pretty even, but there were times where we were overrun by their movement up front and we were obviously frustrated by their willingness to fall to the floor at the slightest contact. In simple terms, they were willing to take risks and responsibility.
By contrast it was as if we were waiting for permission to get into the game, but permission never came and it probably never will. Like Pires taking responsibility to find space, we needed to take responsibility to win the game.
We came out in the second half with more aggression and snap, for which we were instantly rewarded. The change of attitude was typified by John Lundstram, who can be a bit of a slow starter at the best of times. He looked a yard behind the game in the first half, but in the second half he battled for the ball and earned the right to get his passing game going, when he did that he had real impact.
You can see parts of the team are starting to settle to League 1 and a plan and strategy is starting to emerge. Edwards looks comfortable at this level as well as Thomas, Hemmings needs to be a bit braver, and some of last year’s squad need to recognise that they do belong. The youngsters on the bench are there to stretch the game late on with pace and trickery. It won’t come together instantly, but something is there.
Chris Maguire looks most comfortable. He isn’t fazed by the level he’s playing at. Everything about his winner typified what it takes to succeed at this level. He was brave enough to attack the space behind Ryan Taylor to get onto his flick on, he had the awareness to put himself in front of the defender to draw the foul, he showed the calm and technique to put the penalty away, and he showed the arrogance to goad the goalkeeper who tried to put him off.
The celebration was two parts cynical gamesmanship, three parts improvised genius, it’s probably the formula to greater success this year.