Plymouth Argyle 0 Oxford United 4
People, who are paid to do such things, once observed that if you add pot plants to an office, productivity increased. They postulated that it was something to do with oxygenation of the environment or a calming influence of nature. An idea that is still believed in some quarters today. After a while, productivity in these places dropped back to normal levels so they took away the plants. At that point productivity went up again. The only reasonable conclusion is not the relative qualities of the pot plants, but the restorative powers of change.
Saturday’s win was both a surprise, and not a surprise at all. After six games without a win, nobody could reasonably have expected such an emphatic victory over Plymouth. And all after a week which saw us lose two match winning players to long term injury.
Some were predicting the end of our season, and possibly every season after that, but that’s football for you. The injuries, in particular, instead forced a change of mindset and the removal of expectation. Had we traveled to Plymouth with a full-strength team and a winning run, then there was always the possibility of complacency setting in. Instead, there was almost a resigned belief that we couldn’t win, which gave those who did play the opportunity just to get their heads down and see where it took them. In this case, the changes, although negative, had a positive effect.
There have been countless occasions when runs have been broken by goals from usual sources and wins where you least expect them. Consider the derby against Swindon in 2012; a game which had Andy Whing playing centre-back in place of captain Jake Wright. Oli Johnson and Mark Wilson in midfield and Peter Leven nursing an injury on the sidelines. To make matters worse, barely 20 minutes in talismanic striker James Constable was sent off. From weeks of anticipation, all expectation was re-set to zero and any pressure was released. It allowed us to set to the task at hand and secure a famous victory.
So, while losing two key players is a problem in the long term, the mental re-set is created served us well.
Oxford United 2 Blackburn Rovers 4
I get the politics of leaving early. 0-3 down after 20 minutes is enough to tip the balance between watching a game and going home. By leaving early you miss the traffic, it’s generally more convenient and why should you sit and watch the misery when the outcome is inevitable?
At half time on Tuesday, a whole row in front of me went home at half-time, the only woman left on the row said, incredulously, ‘But, what about Jack’s goal?’ referring to Jack Payne’s strike moments before half time which offered a glimmer of hope.
That hope was never likely to see us claw back in the game, but I could wholly empathise. This is the other side of leaving early. If you want guaranteed success, then you go to the cinema or theatre where the outcome is scripted and fully controlled. Sport, of course, has no such guarantees and is all the richer for it.
The other day, a BBC commentator said that Manchester City were playing the best football in Premier League history and long may it continue because of the entertainment it provides. That’s great if you’re a Manchester City fan, or a neutral who watches the game simply as a display of skill and dexterity. But it somehow misses the point.
As a football fan, I would happy sacrifice Manchester City’s slick passing for a five way title scrap which went to the last kick of the season. Recently the documentary 89 was released about Arsenal’s amazing last minute title win over Liverpool. The uncertainty of the destination is what made history, not the quality of football on display. And that’s what makes great sport.
I can only remember us coming back from 0-3 down once. It was 1985 at the Manor and we were being trounced by Ipswich. I remember a John Aldridge hat-trick and cascading down the terracing of the London Road as the winner went in. YouTube offers no clues as to the details of the goals, but that’s kind of what makes it special; the feeling is imprinted on me so deeply that even like on Tuesday, being 0-3 down at half-time leaves me glued to my seat. Perhaps, one day, that feeling might return, even if I have to wait over 30 years to feel it.
It is not the guarantee of success that drives a fan to football, it’s the hope, but it’s the hope that kills us all.