I’ve struggled with the idea of teams gaining momentum. Every game starts at the same point with its own unique set of challenges – injuries, suspensions, opponents, tactics. The idea that it’s possible to transfer something from one game into another, and for that to accumulate – thereby having momentum – doesn’t seem to make sense.
I can see that good results change things – slight injuries are more likely to ignored, players are more likely to commit to systems that appear to work, they believe in each others’ abilities; if I was a striker, I’d more likely get into the box knowing Cameron Brannagan was crossing it than, say, Courtney Pitt.
It seems, then, that momentum is fundamentally a product of trust. When you start to trust something, then you’re more likely to commit to it. If you commit to it, it’s more likely to be successful.
It’s taken time to trust the latest incarnation of the club. That’s not surprising; we spent a good proportion of last year near the relegation zone and went through four winding up orders. In addition, it’s easy to forget what Karl Robinson inherited; a few remnants of Michael Appleton’s years – many of whom were on the verge of leaving – and Pep Clotet’s legion of oddbods.
But, trust is coming and perhaps it’s here. The Rotherham result might be the most significant piece in the jigsaw puzzle yet. They are exactly the type of club we aspire to be; apparently well run off the field and a robust capable team on it. Without denigrating the West Ham win, strange results happen in cup competitions, and something like the 6-0 win over Lincoln can be viewed as once in a life time aberration. The game against Rotherham, like the Doncaster game last week, are the workaday league games which determine which end of the table we end up at.
The clocks go back next week, which is when the season really starts; the top eleven teams – with us in fifth – all look like they could threaten the play-offs. Of the others, Portsmouth are the only team you might think capable of joining the scrap.
This is not dissimilar to last year; where we were in a large batch of teams separated by a few points, only that was at the other end of the table. I might be alone in constantly looking down, but when I look at the National League table – which we were in only few years ago – I see teams like Woking, Solihull and Bromley. I can no longer imagine us being amongst them. Even looking at League 2, it no longer feels like a group of clubs like us. My latest breakthrough, and this has only been in the last few weeks, is that we are more naturally aligned to Doncaster and Rotherham than we are teams towards the bottom in League 1.
There’s a point where we have to trust we’re part of that group of genuine play-off and promotion contenders and not there by virtue of a set of short-term freak results. Whether you are ever actually ‘there’ is difficult to say, I suspect many fans of most clubs look down before they look up, we know more than most that past performance is no indicator of future performance.
The last few weeks and our resulting League position have bought Karl Robinson the space he’s needed. His system is working, the players are bought into it, the fans are being absorbed by it. The circle of trust grows – which is also what will grow crowds – and that’s where momentum starts to kick in. If we can settle into this new status; who know where that will take us?