It’s here, the new season; are you ready? Me neither. Well, it’s here anyway, so we’d better get on with it. How will it pan out? That’s what I asked in the final section of the Absolute State of Oxford United Annual Survey. Having found out how you’re feeling and who you are, it’s time to look forward.
Where will we finish? That’s the biggest question; the result was a bit of a mixed bag. Last year there were quite a large number of you who thought we were destined for the title; that’s been tempered a little, but there’s still a lots of optimism that we’ll finish in the top two with 21% of you expecting automatic promotion. 45% of you expect us to make the play-offs, a small drop from from 49% last year. As always there’s a broad range of expectations – eight is always a popular placing, and nobody ever votes for 13th. A very small minority of you expect us to be as low as 15th.
Perhaps the more telling result is found in the question; who you thought would win the title and who will finish bottom. You predicted we’d finish 8th, pretty much where you thought we’d finish last year. The seems to be a growing divide between the haves and have nots in the division; something that’s more stark than ever before. You’re expecting Sheffield Wednesday to bounce straight back to the Championship and win the title. Going with them is Ipswich Town, who has invested heavily this summer. Sunderland, Rotherham, Charlton and Lincoln make up the play-off places.
There’s a notable falling away of teams we’ve previously looked on as a threat; teams like Doncaster, Fleetwood and Portsmouth are all stuck in no man’s land. We’re only just above that, and it’ll be interesting to see if we can stay competitive as the division heats up.
If there is hope, then it’s that many of these teams have experienced a lot of trauma in the recent past; last year you predicted that Wigan would win the title, but they were happy to avoid relegation. The same fate could beset more than one of the bigger teams predicted to do well. Even if financial stability can be achieved, the residual impact of previous difficulties can’t be under-estimated.
At the other end of the table, you’re expecting the three teams that came down last year – Cambridge, Cheltenham and Morecambe – to go straight back down again. Wycombe will join them or is that just a vote out of spite? If it is, then Wimbledon are, again, predicted to drop.
Last year’s poor FA Cup showing has tempered expectations a little, but most of you expect us to be in the competition after Christmas. You have to admire the one person who is looking forward to a trip to Wembley in May.
Similarly with the League Cup; given our history in the competition, there’s always a bit more optimism about our progress even though, given there’s no chance of meeting a non-league club, it’s theoretically a harder competition. Similarly, it’s hard to know whether your path will be blocked early by a big team, as ours was last season. Still, most of you expect us to get past Burton next Tuesday and move on to at least the third round.
Hopes for the season
Getting back to games is your biggest hope for the season, including away days. Many of you are looking forward to seeing a full stadium again after the limited capacity play-off against capacity. While away days are back on the cards at the moment, it’s hard to know whether we’ll make it through the whole season without some kind of restrictions in place.
On the field, the hope is that we’ll achieve promotion but a lot more of you are hoping for resolution around the proposed takeover and, of course, the eternal problem of the stadium.
A vast majority of you are predicting that the stadium situation will be resolved; which perhaps indicates there are a large proportion of lunatics amongst you. One of you claims the Kassam will be renamed Tiger’s Den although that, perhaps, is dependent on the outstanding ownership issues. Most of you are predicting that we’ll have new owners, which is perhaps no major surprise given the noises coming from Anindya Bakrie in recent weeks. That said, one of you is expecting someone from the UK to come in as our new owner, perhaps it’ll be the person who plans to use their anticipated Euromillions winnings to take the club over.
A few of you expect a change of manager before the end of the season, but not before Karl Robinson plays four wingers in a game and hires Steve Kinniburgh as a coach. The general impression seems to be that Robinson will eventually be snapped up by another club rather than sacked.
Elliott Moore is on a watch-list not to sign a new contract. Sean Clare is probably not going to be our best player but will almost certainly not play a single minute for the club, given that he’s been sold to Charlton and it seems Shandon Baptiste is unlikely to come back on loan. Rob Atkinson will definitely leave in a transfer window – this one. The returning hero? Maybe it’ll be Mide Shodipo, who is predicted to score against us. But, maybe Gavin Whyte counts, or Nathan Holland? One of you is predicting that Dan Agyei will be top goalscorer with 20 goals; hopefully that will act as a counter-balance to the ever-injured Sam Winnall.
Some of you have gone completely mad and are predicting a good start to the season, including giving Wycombe a good thrashing. Optimism is everywhere, one of you thinks that Trevor Kettle sends off three players and give us three penalties. And if that happens we’re sure to be going up, or hell will freeze over.
As always, there will be a dog on the pitch and Wycombe will get promoted via the play-offs despite finishing 18th. Perhaps the most accurate prediction is the person who simply answered by saying ‘who knows?’
Who knows, indeed. Full stadiums, empty stadiums, promotion, relegation, dogs on pitches. Frankly anything could and will happen. Good luck everyone.