On the touchline before the Coventry game stood Michael Appleton working for TV, dressed in a suit which looked both immaculately cut and a fraction too small. It was a timely reminder of what once was.
Famously, Appleton, along with Darryl Eales and Mark Ashton focussed their attention on installing an uncompromising DNA into the club. If Plan A didn’t work, there was no Plan B. They were mocked for it at first, but they were right ultimately.
The DNA of our current incarnation remains something of a mystery. With an hour of unremarkable football gone against Coventry, the game was drifting into a stupefying spectacle. Was that deliberate? The fact that Karl Robinson appeared content to allow our substitutes remain on the bench suggested it was. We barely threatened their goal and that seemed to be OK.
It didn’t help that Robinson was absent from the touchline; his normal animated mania was confined to the gantry at the back of the South Stand. But, having reached the final third of the game with the score still 0-0 and little prospect of a breakthrough, it seemed he was happy with what he was seeing.
Of course, if you stand still, you risk others overtaking you; either by moments of uncharacteristic skill, or unpredictable freakishness; which is what happened when John Mousinho deflected a meek shot into his own net. Then Jonathan Mitchell got himself into a muddle, conceded a pointless penalty and we were 2-0 down. By that point, it was too late to take action.
What was the plan? Just to hold them? It hadn’t been the plan against Accrington or Burton. Robinson kept with the team that played so well against Sunderland. But, that was a team built to contain as much as win; very typical for an away game. Jamie Mackie works hard, but he’s not built to terrify defenders with his pace.
Perhaps the idea was that Marcus Browne was intended as the attacking threat, but Browne is raw so his delivery and dribbling can be erratic. You can’t rely on him to deliver consistently. Ricky Holmes is the other threat, but we seemed reluctant to bring him into the game. James Henry, only really spluttered into life on occasions. But, despite this, we chose not to change anything.
It turns out Karl Robinson wasn’t content with how we were playing. He fumed through his post-match interview. It’s unfair to be too definitive based on a single interview, but he babbled on about the players not doing what they were told, something about their emotional state, he was like an articulated lorry trying to u-turn in a small neighbourhood cul-de-sac as he failed to answer some around some basic questions about individual players.
If there are problems that he struggles to articulate, how does he start finding a solution?
Does Robinson have a plan? Is there an intended DNA? Plenty of people rely on intuition and deal with the next problem in front of them. Flexibility is a virtue, but, if you lack a vision, then how do you know you’re going in the right direction? How do you know you’re solving your problems and not being overwhelmed by them?