It’s been a frantic and disrupted season, hard to believe that we’ve nearly burned our way through half of it. It feels like we’re in a sprint against the pandemic; surviving is more important than to thriving. In anticipation of the Absolute State of Oxford United Mid-Season Survey results – which you can still take part in – now is a good time to look back at what we were all thinking at the start of the season.
Back in September expectations were high; 23% of people thought we’d get automatic promotion with another 49% seeing us in the play-offs. Currently, we’re 12th – a position just 2% of you predicted – though things are looking up now, objectively it’s been a bit of a disappointment so far.
Of all teams in the division, Wigan Athletic, currently in 22nd, were your favourites for promotion; though in mitigation, many of their problems were still emerging at the time and their slip into administration was viewed as a blip. You had Portsmouth, currently third, in second with Peterborough United, currently sixth.
Lincoln City are this season’s Wycombe Wanderers, and I don’t just mean they feature men with arms the size of a child’s waist. They’re currently top despite you having them down in 12th. That said, one soothsayer out there predicted they’d be the dark horse of the division. Hull City are in second where you had them in 4th.
The overwhelming view was that Swindon would finish bottom, despite our obvious bias, they’re making a good fist of it in 23rd and look in deep trouble. Rochdale, currently 21st, were also expected to struggle along with Wimbledon who are 20th. Nobody really saw Burton sitting at the bottom of the table, you saw them comfortably settling in 16th.
Comparing us to others, you saw us finishing 8th, with games in hand and a bit of form, we certainly look better for that than we did a few weeks ago.
We underperformed in both cups – in the FA Cup 49% you thought we’d make the 4th Round with another 44% the fifth, but there was no charge to Wembley as we tumbled out in the first round to Peterborough. Similarly, in the League Cup, 33% expected us to make the 3rd Round, but we fell to Watford in the second. A lot, of course, depends on the draw in the cups so in the circumstances, that wasn’t a terrible showing.
Hopes for the season
In terms of hopes for the season, there were some common themes.
The biggest theme was the hope that we’d gain promotion; that seems to be a long way off at the moment, though after our early season reality check and sudden return to form, we might still have an outside chance of making the play-offs. From there, who knows?
Resolution of the stadium situation was another big hope, but with everything that’s been going on, it’s barely been spoken about.
More generally, people wanted to see us progress. But in a world which is going backwards, perhaps standing still or only going backwards a little bit, is success. It’s all relative.
A return to normality
People also just wanted a return to normality and we’re nowhere near that. The opportunity to get back to games has been snatched away, though the good news, perhaps, is that so far, no league clubs have gone bust. There’s a long way to go, but we need to count every blessing.
Nine in a row
Sadly, the hope that we might enjoy ‘nine in a row’ was lost in a moment of madness back in November. I suppose it’s not that far from ‘none in a row’.
The prediction that we might see a game in real life by October didn’t materialise, but for a lucky few it happened in December. One prediction was that no crowd would top 4000 all year and that away games would be out of the question, both of seem highly likely. Some predicted another interruption to the season, which seems to be hanging in the balance.
There was plenty of expectation around our strikers – Matty Taylor was predicted to get 20-30 goals – he’s currently on nine, so he needs a bit of a run if he’s to catch up. Dan Agyei was expected to have a breakthrough season with 15-20 goals, so far it’s just two. Rob Atkinson was also predicted to emerge as a key talent; when he’s been fit, he’s shone.
Some predicted Cameron Brannagan would move in January which looks highly unlikely, as is the return of Marcus Browne, which some had hoped for.
One person did predict that Simon Eastwood would be replaced as our first-choice keeper. At the time, that seemed extremely unlikely. Another thought he’d move back north before the season is out, which doesn’t seem out of the question now.
Off the field
Predictions of financial chaos across the divisions haven’t materialised, but clubs can’t live off fresh air forever. We seem to be pretty stable, so the prediction that we might suffer another winding up order is, as yet, unrealised.
Quite a few people thought Karl Robinson would leave, but there’s much less management volatility this year, so a sacking seems unlikely nor the opportunity to go elsewhere.
When it came to individual games, the Swindon derby was in sharp focus; the large minority who expected us to falter had their fears realised. Someone predicted there would be a 1-1 draw with Sunderland and another game against Manchester City, but we’ve seen neither.
In the league more generally, most were predicting a rollercoaster season of ups and downs; it’s reasonable to say that has been the case. One person thought the final game of the season would feature 10 teams with a chance of the play-offs – as it stands, around eight teams could make the play-offs without too much effort but there were 12 points separating the top 10, not two and, as one thought it might. It also doesn’t look like relegation will be determined by point deductions.
In other predictions, there was no red away kit, Jerome Sale is not yet an award winner no has he sworn on air, but there’s still time.
Once again, we see that when you predict everything, you’ll get something right. But, above all, we’ve learnt that fans are mostly terrible at predictions and that the mood can change very quickly. Next week, we’ll look at the state we’re in now and how that’s changed since September.