Match wrap: Oxford United 0 Blackpool 2

Comedian John Robins has a joke which goes along the lines of ‘The common denominator in everything that has gone wrong in my life is me’. It’s a self-deprecating observation which has some science behind it.

Our worldview is determined by two fundamental things; firstly, we are all ego-centric; our own experience is the single determining factor in how we interpret the world. And, although Robins’ joke focuses on the negative, it’s even more true about the positive – when we are right about something, it reinforces a general perception that we are right about everything, even to the point where we will subconsciously claim credit for things which have nothing to do with us. As a result, we all view the world in a different way based on our experience and deep down we all think we’re right. It’s like the quote from Robert Evans “There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying.”

Secondly, we constantly seek a sense of our world by finding order within it. We need some kind of order to give us reassurance that life is not a random set of events; many of which are terrible. You wouldn’t walk down the road if you thought there was a chance that a car might mount the pavement and kill you, even though that’s entirely possible, you reason that the world doesn’t work like that. As a result we invent patterns that explain and reassure us, even when they don’t exist. If something disrupts those patterns – our worldview – then we will defend it by blaming those who appear to disrupt the pattern we believe to be right.

These two things converge; you determine a worldview through a distorted version of the truth and then protect it. You might see an MP with a union jack behind them and think – this is a demonstration of the proud country we live in – or you might think – isn’t it a bit weird to have a union jack in your living room? One side thinks the other is disrespecting our proud country, the other thinks someone has had a humour by-pass and needs to lighten up. Who is right? That’ll depend on your worldview. 

It’s difficult to see the world as others see it and to accept any disruption to the world you create for yourself. Take the pandemic, there are those who recognise it for what it is – a naturally occurring, if relatively rare event – and those who fight it because it disrupts their worldview of a generally safe place by inventing reasons why it can’t be real – for example, a grand government-driven conspiracy which even their fiercest critics buy into. To some that makes complete sense, to others, it’s ridiculous.

Yesterday’s game illustrated, again, our inconsistency this season. We have constructed an idea that we are a play-off chasing team; far better than the 11th best team in the division. Tuesday’s win against Doncaster and the win against Swindon was evidence of our resurgence while the Hull defeat was dismissed because they were top of the table and we were away from home. Wins are proof we’re right, defeats are anomalies. Except, we’ve now won two in nine, our first nine games also drew two wins, our second batch of nine – two wins; can you see a pattern? Only a middle section of eight wins in nine disrupts that flow. We’re fans, so we want to believe the eight wins in nine is closer to normal, but to anyone outside that bubble it’s completely abnormal.

But why are we so inconsistent? You can argue that it’s the order in which our games have fallen or being unlucky with injuries, but the overriding truth is we’re not quite good enough. As we’ve seen before, our natural urge to play at pace in an open flowing style was suppressed by Blackpool’s pressing, which was so high it included packing the six yard box at corners. 

Brandon Barker found himself running into traffic rather than the expanses of space, as he did against Doncaster and Swindon. Mark Sykes is a clever player in the sense that he can beat players in a tight space, but he doesn’t carve out chances. Cameron Brannagan was pushed into defensive duties, unable to help unlock the Blackpool defence and Matty Taylor was left picking at scraps.

We don’t have the brains to unlock these teams like we did last year; last season’s axis of success was James Henry to Matty Taylor; both clever players who combined to create and score a hatful of goals. That link has been broken this year due to Henry’s injuries. Rob Dickie’s forward forays were timed to perfection, adding attacking options and relieving defensive pressure; Rob Atkinson is very similar in style, but slightly more prone to mistakes, something that will be ironed out with experience. Then there was Marcus Browne who had the ability to cut through organised, technical teams, not something Brandon Barker has found easy to do.

As much as we want to believe we’re still the team that we had last year, even an improvement on it, we’re not. The world as we want it to be and the world as it is are misaligned. We can blame injuries, maybe referees, maybe negative opponents, perhaps even the manager. I think the reality is that a club like us works in cycles; you build a team that gets to a position of success, the best players are stripped from it by bigger clubs and you have to replace them. You can’t replace like-for-like because you don’t have the resources. The trick is to make the refresh cycle as small as possible; if we can get to a season on and a season off, then we’d be doing well, some teams take years to turn a full cycle and return to a degree of success; some never make it. Our cycle is shrinking, but we’re not ready to sustain success on an annual basis.

Rumours of a takeover this week might help insulate us more from the realities of losing valued assets, shrinking that cycle so that we can sustain success on a more regular basis. But, for now, we might just have to accept the reality of the world we’re living in.

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

4 thoughts on “Match wrap: Oxford United 0 Blackpool 2

  1. As quite rightly stated we are simply not good enough. At best a better than average first division side which however hard we have to accept.

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  2. Yes, I agree. We are certainly not as good a team as we were last year. But look, relegation is not a concern, we can possibly keep an interest in the relegation race for another few games, and hey, miracles do happen.

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