Bury wrap – Oxford United 1 Bury 2

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; the longer an unusual streak goes on, the more likely it is to end. If a sprinter breaks the 100 metres world record, their next race is most likely to be slower, even though their performance trend is in the ascendency. Bury losing 8 games in a row and not scoring for 14 hours was an extraordinary streak, it was increasingly likely that sequence would end sooner rather than later. It was just a question of who their victims would be. In turns out it was us.

The performance on Saturday, though, was worse even than the 7-0 defeat to Wigan before Christmas. There, we faced a very good team who won the game early and, unusually, kept the hammer down. Against Bury, we’d won the game and then conspired to self-destruct. Ironically, one of Pep Clotet’s dependables, Dwight Tiendelli has had a big hand in his demise with the suicidal back-pass that eventually led to the Bury equaliser.
I have a lot of sympathy for Clotet. Firstly, he seems like a thoroughly decent bloke. A truly excellent assessment by the Oxford Mail implied he was awkward to work with, but he didn’t come over as combative or aggressive towards the fans or the press, despite the mounting pressure. He was resolutely supportive of his players and was always focussed on the process of improvement, not on finding blame.

I could even see glimpses of what he was trying to do – our goal on Saturday was typical of a style he was trying to instil – patient build ups designed to draw opponents on, then super-fast in attack. When it worked, it looked OK. It just didn’t work as much as we needed it to and the patient build up was often dull to watch and looked listless.

He’d had his squad ripped to shreds with injuries and transfers and was only been given eight weeks of transfer window activity redress the imbalance. Those coming in seemed to simply be the players he could get his hands on at the time. He couldn’t be blamed for the transfers going out, but the injuries? There did seem to be a lot. Was it something in the way he did things? Overtraining? Who knows.

There were moments on Saturday when Clotet showed his frustration; I’m not sure he really wanted us to play like we did; patient? Yes. Ponderous? No.

We lack pace on the pitch and maybe a bit of leadership. But that’s a consequence of two lost captains, and potentially a third in Christian Ribiero, since he arrived. None of his failings are black and white.

It’s difficult to know if comparisons with Michael Appleton’s first year are helpful or a curse. If they are helpful, then Clotet’s Bury was Appleton’s Hartlepool. They came to the Kassam in 2015 bottom of the table and adrift, but with a new manager. We slopped around sluggishly while they smash and grabbed us with a miserable 2-0 defeat.

I thought Appleton’s goose was cooked after that, but he turned it round; losing the next game then going eight games undefeated. After that, we, and he, didn’t look back. Could Clotet have done the same after Bury? I’m not sure.

Appleton had inherited talismen. Danny Hylton was a player fans could already relate to, who appeared to buy into the new regime. I don’t think Clotet had that player – Ryan Ledson or Rob Hall, maybe, but neither have quite the qualities Hylton had.

Key to the turnaround in 2015 was Kemar Roofe, whose goals dragged Appleton through to the end of that season and then catapulted us into the summer by signing permanently. Clotet implied that he didn’t expect much more transfer activity before the end of the month, which suggests he didn’t have a similar hail-Mary signing up his sleeve.

And Appleton had the unflinching support of Darryl Eales and Mark Ashton, and that, above everything dragged him through the darkness. Clotet didn’t seem to have had the same backing.

I’m not ‘pleased’ to see the back of Clotet, that’s the wrong word, it just feels like everyone had got stuck and the gloom was setting in. Once that happens, it’s much harder to get the momentum going again. The club, fans, players and Clotet himself seem to have lost the appetite for the fight. A new manager, signing or owner can all spark a revival. It looks like our next managerial appointment will be the clearest indication yet as to where Darryl Eales’ ambitions lie.

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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