As FA Cup ties go, the defeat to Brentford followed a familiar script. We were the plucky underdogs toiling away to little real effect against an obviously superior side. Our fans were excited by the novelty, theirs frustrated by the distraction. Eventually we made a mistake and they made us pay.
Of course, all of this was over-shadowed by the injury to Shandon Baptiste. Nobody is going to deny what a blow it is to the player, the squad and even the fans looking for a sign that things are going our way. The nature of the injury – minutes after coming on following a long period out – somehow makes it feel even worse.
What is perhaps most concerning is Karl Robinson’s reaction, it was like he’d lost his faithful dog. He was, he claims, crying during the game, Baptiste had ‘given him everything’ and claimed that he’d be out for a year before any medical assessment had been done.
Robinson prides himself on his honesty and openness; he won’t get much criticism from fans for sympathising deeply with Baptiste, most people would feel the same. But, as a manager, is that quite what we need?
When Robinson arrived at the club he declared Malachi Napa the ‘future of the club’ before he was loaned out to Macclesfield. This season Baptiste took the mantle so much so he was given the captain’s armband against Manchester City and again (more bizarrely) against Luton.
These are huge, sweeping declarations of faith, deep investments in the abilities of young players. Great in some senses, but these players can only fail to meet such expectations. No player can carry a whole club. Similarly, as the emotional response to Baptiste’s injury illustrates, it’s like he believes there’s some greater uncontrollable power writing prophecies and tearing them up.
This is troubling; there’s still a game to complete in. If he was crying on the touchline he’s lost control of his emotions. When that happens, you can’t make clear decisions. That’s not just about winning a game, but also about controlling the emotions of his staff, players and Baptiste himself.
Catastrophising the injury before anyone truly knows its impact makes is worse for the players and Baptiste. Sure, the immediate assessment was that it didn’t look good. But thinking of Cameron Brannagan being carried off against Wycombe in a neck brace or even Joe Skarz returning from a ‘season-ending’ injury to help our promotion push in 2016 show that injuries are imprecise things and you shouldn’t make big claims before knowing all the details.
I’m not suggesting any of this is easy, but the point is that it is not Robinson’s job to represent the emotions of the fans. Nor it is job to be a proxy for a distressed player whose season, and maybe more, is suddenly in jeopardy. it is definitely not his job to spread panic amongst those he leads.
His job is to provide calming guidance; a direction through chaos. Baptiste’s injury looks bad, but let’s wait to see what the diagnosis is. Before that, let’s get the game completed with the best possible outcome. I don’t know whether his emotions on the sideline had anything to do with John Mousinho’s lunging tackle which led to the penalty, but it cannot help instil the discipline needed to hold out when your manager has lost his.
The bigger concern is whether Robinson is capable of leading us out of a relegation fight if he’s in a state of permanent emotional flux. I can see him being the kind of manager who gets a team hyped for a single game – a big six-pointer, but I would like to see us safe before we get to any of those.