The wrap – Oxford United 2 Accrington Stanley 3

Success, it is said, is a fine balance between having enough confidence to believe you can achieve something and enough doubt to convince you to put in effort to achieve it. If you are too confident, you may not put the effort in, if you have too much doubt you’ll give up or you won’t start in the first place.

Performance-wise, I didn’t think Tuesday’s defeat to Accrington was too bad at all. I don’t have a benchmark this year, but it seems to me that Karl Robinson wants to play an intense, high-tempo game and in the main we achieved that.

But that kind of game carries risk; if you bomb forward and lose the ball, you’re susceptible to counter-attack. If you pass the ball quickly, one misplaced ball can cost you. If you close down quickly, mistiming can result in a foul. It is no riskier than, say, Pep Clotet’s or Michael Appleton’s approach.

With Clotet, the strategy was to draw teams on by retaining possession in midfield and defence before attacking at pace. In fact, the team would often get lost passing it along the defence and midfield, unsure of when to attack. While the players bought into Michael Appleton’s strategy of simply out-performing your opponents, sometimes we would be out-thought in the process.

So every strategy carries risk. The fact that we lost doesn’t invalidate the strategy. On Tuesday night, the players seemed to have confidence in the approach and bought into it. All over the pitch there were players stepping up, but the fact every step forward resulted in a step back eroded confidence. It wasn’t just the steps back, but the nature of those steps – an own goal and a penalty – like some higher being has decreed we should struggle. You got a sense of the deflation when the penalty was given, as Robinson said afterwards – it just feels like nothing is going right for us.

This should be short term, but we risk drifting into despondency, a loss of confidence that it’s not worth even trying. Karl Robinson’s post-match interview, I think, was designed to avoid that happening. Everyone did everything right, we were unlucky, if the players keep going they’ll be OK.
On the pitch it’s important that senior pros like John Mousinho and Curtis Nelson step up to provide the leadership. I get a sense that Browne doesn’t lack for confidence and Whyte should be pleased with his start. Most areas had positives.

The most volatile group in all this, of course, are the fans, who stayed with the team and appeared encouraged with what they saw. It’s was quite different to the echo-chamber of social media where everything is bad and will continue to be.

I don’t think we’re far away from getting going, but looking at the upcoming fixtures against two teams relegated from the Championship, it’s important that we get a foothold on the season soon. Maintaining confidence won’t last much longer, and then it’s a long way back from Karl Robinson.

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