Back in July I ran a survey – The Absolute State of Oxford United – in an attempt to get a benchmark for the season. You can read about it here, here and here. Being impatient, I decided to do a smaller survey to mark the mid-point of the season to see how things have changed. These are the results.
January is a funny month; the transfer window is open, there are hot flushes of optimism from new signings, disruption from cup games with all their highs and lows and then there’s the league. So unlike the summer survey, the Absolute State of Oxford United Mid-Season Survey doesn’t assess Oxford in a steady state.
That said, the results from the January survey remained fairly consistent throughout the three weeks it was open despite moving up to 2nd then down to 5th in the league, progressing in the FA Cup and signing five players.
There’s been a notable uptick in the overall perception of the club. Understandable really, we’ve just come off an excellent run in the League Cup, beat the league leaders, risen to second in the table and progressed to an FA Cup tie against Newcastle on Saturday. In the summer, the overall average rating was 6.7 out of 10, the mid-season survey saw a hop up to 8.7.
This was higher than any of the individual components showing that the club is greater than the sum of its parts. The squad was rated 8.3 out of 10 – up from 6.2. Karl Robinson’s stock has risen sharply to 8.4 from 6.1, recognition that he’s driving the success more than anything.
The board’s ratings lagged behind a little, which is perhaps understandable because there’s always demand for more in terms of investment as well as a general mistrust any board’s intentions. In the summer, off the back of multiple winding up orders, the board were rated just 4.9 out of 10, mid-season it has risen to 7.6.
The relationship between fans and club also jumped from 5 to 7.6. While these scores are lower than the on-field scores, the difference between the summer and now is greatest off the field. I don’t think this is necessarily because the board have made the most progress, more that it’s easier to make progress from a low base. It would be a strange club where the board was rated more highly than the squad.
When it came to players, we’re not comparing like for like; the squad in the summer wasn’t complete and only 12 players picked up votes. Gavin Whyte led the way back then with 31.7% of the vote followed by Cameron Brannagan with 18.4%.
Brannagan has held his top spot this time around with a marginal improvement to 19.3%, but there’s notable movements below.
The biggest mover is Rob Dickie picking up 16.5% of the vote putting him second, a 16.2 percentage point improvement. Shandon Baptiste was third with his share of the vote increasing from 4.1% to 12.8%. James Henry was 4th jumping by 8.8 percentage points. Of the new signings, Alex Gorrin just pipped Matty Taylor to top spot, which is perhaps a bit of a surprise, but showing an astute appreciation that success is not just about who scored the goals, something the average matchday sponsor might do well to learn.
The biggest losers in the vote, perhaps surprisingly, were Josh Ruffels whose vote share dropped by -13.5 percentage points and Simon Eastwood – 6.3. I don’t think this is a significant reflection the performances of either player, these things are relative. I think it’s more a reflection that there are plenty of new shiny toys in the squad to vote for.
A wave of optimism has seen expectations rise; 30.5% expect us to finish second at the end of the season with 13.5% expecting us to win the title. Just 8.5% of the vote don’t expect us to make the play-offs so the bar is pretty high.
The FA Cup was a funny one given what’s coming on Saturday, 93.2% expected us to make the fourth or fifth round, but it’s not exactly the hardest thing to judge.
Oddly, fans see Coventry City now as title favourites despite them not hitting top spot at any point in the season, this was followed by Ipswich Town – who have been on a terrible run – and Rotherham United, who are top. We’re seen as fourth favourites. Early pacesetters Wycombe picked up 3.2% of the vote, nobody seems convinced by them.
At the bottom 74.2% expect Southend to finish bottom with Bolton picking up 24.4%. MK Dons were the only other team voted for, which may just be out of spite.
So, what does this all tell us; it tells us the brutal reality that every time you improve, expectations rise. The ultimate point is that expectations reach such a pitch it is no longer possible to meet them. But, until then, all the signs are good; we’re in a happy place with a lot to play for, we should enjoy it while it lasts.