Even during the darkest days of a relegation season I can’t remember a game being anticipated as negatively as Saturday’s. Even with the weight of the concrete boots that anchor you to the bottom of the table, there’s an ember of belief that somehow good fortune will descend on you and turn things around. Not on Saturday, the mood started bleakly and got darker as kick-off approached.
Nothing seemed to dispel the dark clouds that hung over the club, the Tiger takeover had been largely absent of substance, the disquiet amplified by the brief rumour of the club being served a winding up order. And then, the lack of a manager, an achingly slow process which is apparently resolved, but still not complete.
Perhaps appropriately, there was the strange otherworldliness of the weather; sub-zero temperatures and hours of fine, wispy snow, but not a hint of a postponement.
Into this void steps the universally loathed Steve Evans and his perfectly competent Peterborough side. Evans will mercilessly kick at every Achilles heel until it snaps, and then carry on kicking. Evans doesn’t respect others, he doesn’t care what they think, he won’t just kick a man when he’s down, he’ll use him as a foot stool to reach for the bucket of deep-fried pies that sit on the top shelf asking to be inhaled as a light snack in between meals.
Our talented, put-upon, listless team of juniors – many of whom will not be here for much more than six weeks once the manager is in place – would surely capitulate in the misery and the gloom of relegation would descend further. Their fatherly temporary manager would do little more than protect them from the worst of the criticism, covering their ears, in a vain attempt at blocking out the baying hoards.
Instead, Derek Fazackerley out-thought his rotund counterpart, causing him to panic about formation and personnel barely before the clock had ticked past 20 minutes. Weighed down by more than just the obesity timebomb only he appears not to notice, Evans bounced around his technical area, and beyond, complaining and barking instructions maniacally trying to regain control of what was already lost.
On the pitch we looked more like the Oxford we had hoped we’d become. Brannigan was the key, sitting in front of the back four, given Mousinho more time for messages to transfer from his brain to his feet while Ledson snapped away at second balls and James Henry exploited the holes their tenacity created. Obika and Thomas looked bright and mobile, albeit inevitably for only a short period.
The wind swirled and buffeted, the snow danced lightly without settling. “Farcical”, complained Evans, a man you suspect boasts about how effective his 4×4 is when others aren’t prepared to venture beyond their front door when the neighbourhood’s roads are impassable. It was far from that; it was not so much a question of who would deal best with the conditions, but at what point the game would seize up in the cold.
The answer was pretty much immediately after the break, perhaps it was ‘game management’ but neither side showed much urgency to take free-kicks or throw-ins as muscles seized up and ambition was packed away for another, warmer day. The referee became increasingly befuddled in the blizzard and the game gently descended into a glacially slow, desperately cold, pantomime. The man next to me shivered so much as players niggled each other over something trivial that I genuinely became concerned he might slump across my lap and expire.
Between Henry’s wonder goal and their immediate retaliatory strike, the two teams seemed to bicker and gossip almost as if they were trying to negotiate a way of finishing the game early. All the while Evans bellowed to nobody in particular the frustrations of a man processing unresolved childhood emotional issues. Todd Kane seemed to revel in his bluster, which madden him more, we were totally in control.
Appropriately enough, the assistant referee’s electronic board packed up leaving it to Nathan Cooper to announce seven minutes of injury time. Defending our first win in six, in semi-arctic conditions, it seemed wholly inappropriate to introduce a flamboyant Brazilian into the mix, but Ricardinho showed he’s more than a cliche and helped us see the game out.
The distant threat of relegation has become slightly more distant, thankfully it looks like there will be a reasonable platform for the new manager to work from over the summer. I’m concerned about Tiger’s desire to ‘wow’ us with his appointment. There are three types of wow managers; past-wow managers whose star has faded far more quickly than their media profile, now-wow managers who have jobs and future-wow managers who are untested but will eventually come good. I doubt any of them will be greeted with universal approval from the fans, so I hope that Tiger finds a manager with the right attributes to lead the club forward than try to impress us with a name that still commands a substantial fee on the after-dinner circuit.