It was good to see Alex MacDonald back at the Kassam on Saturday. The little bowling ball in skinny jeans has cemented his legend in the club’s history and will always be welcomed back with open arms.
The 2016 promotion team, and its re-incarnation in 2017 as a League 1 team will always be the benchmark by which all subsequent teams will be measured, up until they are superseded. But, they set a high bar, so it’s going to be difficult to knock them off their perch. But, it’s easy to forget through the giant killings, promotions, derby wins, and Wembley visits the club didn’t win anything.
As entertaining as it was, they fell just short. The margins were always close, their comeuppance pivoting around a few specific games; Northampton in 2016, Sheffield United and Bolton the following year; each team turned up with an unerring efficiency, cutting through our pretty football, taking one touch when we would take four, scoring lots of goals, not perfect goals.
As Michael Appleton famously said, we were the best football team in League 2. What he didn’t say, to Chris Wilder’s chagrin, was that we weren’t the most successful. Like most arguments, the fall out came because each side were arguing from different starting points.
Saturday’s win over Blackpool showed shades of the unerring rugged efficiency that proved to be Appleton’s nemesis. A nemesis which seemed to be critical if you have ambitions for promotion.
There were two opponents, the hideous weather, which could have been enough to turn the game into a complete non-event, and Blackpool themselves, a perfectly competent team with reasonable aspirations for the play-offs.
Neither seemed to trouble us, the job was largely complete in the first half. Given our start to the season, promotion, or anything approaching it, would seem beyond the realms of what is reasonable. But, the seeds are there if we can maintain and build on that core strength.
Marcus Browne will eventually go back to West Ham and Curtis Nelson seems destined to leave at some point, but if we can bolster in January and build in the summer, then after a tumultuous opening to the season, we might actually start to realise our ambitions.
Critical to this is what I think caused our problems earlier this year; not the manager or players, but the owners and senior managers. The amount of money available seems less of an issue than the speed at which it is approved and released. Solve that issue and the sky is the limit.