Match wrap: Oxford United 3 Doncaster Rovers 0

I get a lot of unsolicited LinkedIn requests from people claiming to be ‘wealth maximisation specialists’ or ‘innovation entrepreneurs’. They’re usually President of something like ‘Feelin’ Awesome Inc’ based in Sacramento California. LinkedIn is a world class performance centre for boasting charlatans.

Not if you’re ex-Oxford manager Ian Atkins, he’s toned down his profile over the years as his CV has grown, but he’s not going to tug at your basic instincts; the successes he lists are dry as dust, but real, pragmatic and tangible. No more, no less. His achievements at Oxford include reducing the wage bill by £1m and selling two players ‘for profit’. That’s not a one-off; at both Carlisle and Bristol Rovers he lists his main successes as ‘selling players for profit’.

When we drew Arsenal in the FA Cup in 2003, Atkins’ immediate reaction to the draw was something like ‘Oh I feel a midfield five coming on’. It was a light hearted response to the prospect of facing Arsenal’s potent attacking force, but the interviewer couldn’t be absolutely sure whether it was a joke or not. It wasn’t like it was an obvious comical over-exaggeration like ‘I think we’ll need four goalkeepers for this one’, even Atkins’ gags had a pragmatic realism about them.

Before last night’s win, Karl Robinson was in a philosophical mood about the rest of the season. The remaining games, he said, would be all out effort to see where we end up. There’s no process anymore, he said. Some might question if there’s ever any process with Robinson, his teams seem so driven by emotion and culture his Atkins-like methodicalness seems to be encased in concrete and anchored to the bed of a particularly deep river.

But, he’s right. We’re not going down, so nothing to fear there, we’re still in touch with the play-off spots, even if it looks like it’s two places being chased by seven teams. Between now and the end of the season, why not throw everything at it rather than being boring and cautious and waiting until next year? As he said, your mind gets tired quicker than your body, if you can keep your brain focussed, the body will follow. Carpe diem.

I did a double-take when I looked at the table at half-time with us 3-0 up to see we were in seventh and a point off the play-offs. Only a late winner at Charlton saw drop a place. How did that happen? It was only our second win in seven and we’re still up there.

It’s difficult to tell whether we were particularly good in the first half or if Doncaster were particularly bad. They seemed to invent lots of new ways of playing themselves into trouble. We were bright but not so ferocious that we forced them into errors, although it was clear that once a weakness had been identified we would continue to work on it whether it was their keeper’s poor kicking, their centre-back’s terrible passes or the woes of their full-back trying to contain Brandon Barker. 

A more swashbuckling, disruptive style is a fun way to play our football when the biggest risk is a mid-table finish. Listening to the Ox Files podcast the club put out about the 1995/96 promotion season, it’s something that drove the final phases of that season. Mike Ford said that a pivotal win over Carlisle taught them that being brave and messing with the status quo was more enjoyable than scratching out draws and sneaking intricate tactical wins for a mid-table finish. We got a similar sense of abandon after Jamie Mackie’s goal against Bradford City which fired off a searing run in 2018/19. Whether this result will spark us into life remains to be seen, but there are plenty of parties to mess with between now and the end of May, should we choose.

I’ve written us off about twelve times this season and still think we’re a hundred miles away from being ready for the Championship, but that’s the Ian Atkins in me, dwelling on the mistakes of the past and plotting not to make those mistakes again. Perhaps the reason that, despite our form, we’re still in the play-off fight is because there are lots of teams around us going processing the same problem. Paralysis through analysis, fearing failure. Maybe, just maybe, Karl Robinson is right to take the handbrake off and see where it takes us. We’ve just about earned the right to have a shot; the thing is, with Karl Robinson at the helm, you wouldn’t bet against us prevailing on a tidal wave of emotional energy.

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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