The palpable disappointment of losing our play-off final against Wycombe shows that expectations grow until you can no longer fulfil them. It’s the reason why I did a survey last summer; to see what people thought about the state of Oxford United and benchmark our performance 12 months later. You can see the initial results here and here and the mid-season results here. We’ll finally know all the teams in League 1 next year, so the 2020 survey will launch shortly. But, back in July, how did we feel things would go? And, how did the reality compare?
Where did we finish? Officially 4th, 3rd when the season concluded. That’s an advance on the pre-season predictions of between 8th and 10th. Just 1.1% thought we’d finish where we did, 1.9% higher. So, despite its disappointing end, we far outstripped our expectations.
In January there was a shift in expectations – we were 5th at the time having reached 2nd at one point. 30.5% expect us to finish second at the end of the season with 13.5% seeing us winning the title. Just 8.5% of the vote didn’t expect us to make the play-offs so expectations were growing and ultimately met, of course.
We comfortably out-performed in both cup competitions. Over half expected us to make only the 2nd Round of the League Cup, so our quarter-final defeat to Manchester City was way in advance of that. Just 5% of people thought we’d get that far or further.
In the FA Cup, 49% expected us to make the third round, so our fourth round defeat to Newcastle United exceeded expectations. Just 17% thought we would make the 4th Round with 3% further.
So, to put it another way, we met or exceeded the expectations of 96% of respondents, which is pretty good going, you’d think.
Pre-season favourites were Portsmouth who finished 5th, Ipswich were predicted to be 2nd but drifted to 11th – the biggest losers of the lot. Sunderland, who were predicted to finish third, ended 8th. At the start of the season Coventry were predicted to finish mid-table and Rotherham 5th. Wycombe were the biggest surprise, of course, finishing third, despite pre-season predictions of them finishing 23rd.
By mid-season, Coventry City had become favourites with Rotherham 3rd favourites. Ipswich were still expected to be in the mix. Even at Christmas, Wycombe only picked up 3.2% of the vote to go up, though they were on a stinking run at the time.
Bury and Bolton’s problems were well known in July and were expected to go down. Rochdale were predicted to join them, but finished 18th. Sol Campbell’s Southend were predicted 17th but were woeful in 22nd. Tranmere, who join them in League 2 next year, were expected to finish 19th.
By January, Bury had gone, 74.2% expected Southend to finish bottom with Bolton picking up 24.4%. MK Dons were expected to be the third team relegated, but survived.
In July, predictions about the Board focussed on winding up orders. We’d survived four and some thought they’d keep coming. In reality, the only problems seemed to come when we sold Tariq Fosu and Shandon Baptiste late in the transfer window, and didn’t replace Chris Cadden in January. Some predicted a change of chairman, but Tiger remains at the wheel. Stewart Donald, who is under major fire at Sunderland, didn’t come to Oxford as some predicted.
Inevitably, Firoz Kassam featured in a number of board related predictions, but he was quiet all year. On the other hand, the prediction that Eric Thohir would leave after being a damp squib turned out to be true. Overall, predictions of instability didn’t materialise.
All sorts of things were predicted of the stadium, but despite some positive noises from the board, we appear to be largely where we were a year ago. The training ground, which nobody talked about, is probably the most important development in that area.
Predictions that Karl Robinson wouldn’t make it to October or would be sacked by Christmas were clearly a long way from the truth. Some pleaded that he’d get some credit, which undoubtedly did happen. He did sign a player he’s worked with before – Tariqe Fosu – but didn’t punch a fourth official. Robinson did blame the referee on a number of occasions, though he’s generally magnanimous in defeat, and Derek Fazackerly didn’t announced his retirement.
Neither Cameron Brannagan, Rob Dickie nor Mark Sykes went in January. Recruitment definitely improved and our top scorer was a loan player; Matty Taylor with 17 goals. It’s not unreasonable to assume he would have score 20 goals as was predicted. As second highest goalscorers in the division, the prediction that we won’t have enough firepower at the start of the season were unfounded and all the strikers we signed made a contribution. We had the sixth best defence, so didn’t seem to suffer from the loss of Curtis Nelson.
It was predicted that we’d sign loan players who would return in January, Chris Cadden fits the bill there, and we did have an injury crisis, or two, for no obvious reason.
Gavin Whyte didn’t go in January for £5m, he went for £2m in August so he didn’t end as top scorer. Someone predicted that Rob Hall wouldn’t start more than 10 games, he started 12, although only three in the league.
There was no consensus about how things would do on the pitch, so we’ve been everything and nothing that anyone was predicted. It has been exciting rather than disappointing. We didn’t get a points deduction and Christmas wasn’t, in any way, poor. We also won during an international break (against Doncaster) but we didn’t beat Sunderland away.
And other things…
Moaning has been largely absent this season, we didn’t draw Swindon in a cup competition and Jim Smith, Womble and John Shuker are all Oxford legends that have passed away – a sadly accurate prediction from someone. I haven’t seen any dogs on the pitch and, as far as I know Ollie and Olivia Ox haven’t had a baby called Oswald.
Overall it was a season that exceeded all expectations, with the club appearing to stabilise and grow. It’s been quite a transformation. The 2020 survey will go live very soon, who knows where we’ll be in a year’s time.