The wrap – Oxford United 3 Burton Albion 1

When I listen to arguments about Brexit I often ask myself if those who voted leave genuinely believe it when the Daily Mail or Nigel Farage imply remainers are knowingly lying about them believing remaining is a better option. Or, is it just mock outrage to try and reinforce a more subtle point?

Similarly, how many people in the USA think there is a huge orchestrated conspiracy specifically against Donald Trump who is, in fact, completely honourable and truthful. Do his supporters actually think that somehow millions of people have got together to create a massive factory of lies?
I suspect the answer is there are far fewer conspiracists than we’re led to believe. Most people exist in benign ambivalence. Asked to choose who governs us and we’ll give an opinion, but whether we passionately follow the respective ideologies that sit behind them, I don’t get any sense ‘normal working people’ do.
Onto football, we all possess a hatred for Swindon Town, but do people genuinely believe everyone in a red shirt is wrong or evil? I suspect most know that most Swindon fans are probably like them just with a different affiliation, we just enjoy playing our part in the pantomime.
On Saturday, there was no limit to Karl Robinson’s histrionics on the touchline. Hands on head, hands in the air, arguing with the fourth official about whether standing in his technical area meant standing on or one inch behind the line painted on the ground. Does rational Karl Robinson genuinely believe this matters?
Again, I suspect not. He is either caught up in the moment, like all of us, as a way of releasing stress and tension. Being a manager is undoubtedly stressful, and the longer our losing streak went on, the most chance there would be that he would lose his job. People often argue that if we do a bad job in our regular work, we’d be fired. That’s not really true – lots of barely competent people retain jobs regardless of what they do – in football, even competent managers lose their jobs on a whim.
Apart from stress, I suspect Robinson is playing his part in securing the victory, but not in the way we might think. During the first half on Saturday, Trevor Kettle chose to punish a series of 50/50 challenges rather than give the benefit of the doubt. What he perhaps didn’t realise was he was awarding more of these challenges in favour of Burton, to the point where it was beginning to look very odd. The fans spotted it, Robinson spotted it, the players spotted it, and the anger grew. 
At half-time, the players moved towards Kettle to complain. Nothing particularly unusual about that. Robinson flew onto the pitch towards the referee – with panicking security in tow – looking like he might punch him on the nose. But, rather than complain to the referee, he pushed his players away and told them to get down the tunnel. 
This was a clever move; Kettle was left on his own with his linesmen still some way from the tunnel, flanked by security facing an invigorated home support. The boos were defeaning, I don’t remember them ringing out so loudly. Kettle was suddenly faced with the reality that in the tough game to control, he may have got some of his marginal calls wrong. The ‘performance’ of Robinson and then the fans sent an unsubtle message about a subtle issue. I don’t believe Kettle was consciously bias, it was just looking like that and the aggregated punishment we were receiving was far greater than the individual challenges deserved.
In the second half, he was faced with the option of continuing how he had been – calling things as he saw them – or unconsciously (or consciously) giving us a bit more leeway. If he had continued to give Burton the advantage, not only would be face the ire of the fans, but there are assessors in the stand who would start to question him. I don’t know if he deliberately evened things up – I doubt it – but it may well have made him re-evaluate how he was making decisions.
Having conceded a demoralising equaliser, Robinson created the theatre that served to re-balanced the game. Lets face it; Burton weren’t very good and we weren’t fantastic, but with their threat increasingly muted, we were able to ease to our first points of the season. And thanks god. 
Someone on the radio suggested that the half-time non-altercation could have been a turning point. For the game, yes. Perhaps for the season. Robinson took it upon himself to disrupt the flow of the game, which seemed to be following a similar pattern to Tuesday, helping shift the mindset, giving the players just enough space to perform.

It was a critical three points – we head up to Sunderland on Saturday and would be very happy with a point. The prospect of six games and no points would have seen us in deep trouble literally and mentally. That said, look at the table and by Saturday we’ll have played Sunderland (2nd), Portsmouth (3rd) and Barnsley (5th) all away, plus Fleetwood (6th) and Accrington (8th) at home. In the next six, we’ll be playing Coventry (16th), Wycombe (17th), Wimbledon (15th), Luton (10th) and Southend (11th) plus Walsall (4th). By that point we should have a clearer picture of the reality of our prospects.

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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