Predictably enough, the reaction to our first defeat of the season on Radio Oxford was apoplectic. According to some, the loss scraped away the veneer of a good start, exposing the inadequacies at the club from Board level down.
There isn’t a lot to support that, of course. We were playing the team currently top of the table (albeit after just two games), away from home, we dominated and lost, in part, to a soft penalty.
In a sense, the defeat serves us well. It gets it out the way; had we come away from a sequence of Sunderland, Peterborough (twice) and Blackpool unbeaten we’d have been delighted; which might have caused a problem.
Alternatively, had we come out of it with perhaps a point or none – which would have been far from unrealistic – then the pressure would be bordering on intolerable, and it’s still only the middle of August.
The prospect of us going up automatically remains remote, in the Absolute State of Oxford United survey, it was clear that the expectation was a finish anywhere from 8th-10th, higher than that would be considered over-performance, but it will also be a play-off place.
Maybe we have got a team capable of achieving more than was expected, but blasting out from the front and expecting to maintain that kind of form throughout the year is ambitious to say the least.
Three games in and we’re not panicking about where our first points are coming from, nor are we anxious about what our first defeat will do to us. We’re up and running, with a solid base to work from.
The true picture is unlikely to reveal itself before the clocks go back. In the interim, this period is about completing any transfer business, and setting our stall out and finding a rhythm. Getting a win and a defeat out of the way are both pretty healthy in my view. The nature of the defeat is like the one against Blackpool, far better than a tanking – as we did against Barnsley last year, or a defeat which should have been eminently winnable – as in 2017 against Cheltenham. In fact, this is the latest first defeat we’ve had since promotion in 2016 (defeat to Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup) and the latest in the League since 2013.
That said, we now enter a sequence of games against decent teams we should probably expect to compete with – Burton, Bristol Rovers, Coventry and Fleetwood all represent benchmarks for us in this division. In fact, in the survey, fans predicted they would occupy the four positions between 11th-15th. A positive set of results and maybe we should be recalibrating our expectations upwards a little; poor results and there may be grounds to worry.