It’s not been much of a summer, but do I sense that there’s already a slight chill in the air? I was out for a walk the other day and noticed a few golden leaves had fallen from the trees. It’s still August, but already it’s starting to feel like the early onset of Autumn.
I find the turning of the seasons a bit of a relief; if I could choose between excessive heat and excessive cold, I’d always choose the latter. Football fans are the people of the gloaming; we don’t bask in an endless sunshine, we huddle. While others hibernate, we come out to forage through the harshness of the winter months.
I’m a functioning adult, but I don’t feel I have the emotional maturity to make independent decisions about whether to wear a coat during August. What to wear to football is a source of underlying anxiety in the early weeks. It can be positively balmy at home but baltic in the South Stand Upper; which could be a psychosomatic reaction to Jerome Sale’s assertion that the Kassam Stadium has its own microclimate. For me, any chill in the air signals a much welcomed opportunity to wrap up; working my way through from a light jacket in September through to my ‘big coat’ for the darkest months.
And although I’ve started to look longingly at the coat cupboard and even the box in which the hats and scarves are bundled, it’s easy to forget that it’s still August. I was reminded yesterday as I couldn’t go to Lincoln due to one of those family commitments that gets arranged before the fixtures come out. Asking to defer your decision to attend seems disingenuous, so you accept through gritted teeth knowing you’re playing roulette with home games.
The discernable autumnal chill means that things are getting serious – perhaps it’s significant that this seems to have come earlier this year. Convention says that you shouldn’t look at the table until you’ve played ten games (unless you’re top, even after two games, in which case you can stare at it constantly).
After ten games, we’ll have seen enough to work out who had a good summer and who is in crisis. Any short term form or favourable fixture sequence that artificially puts a team at the top of the division will have dissipated into the ether and the real picture will start to emerge.
None-the-less, Lincoln provided, perhaps, the first early test of our longer term prospects. In some ways, they’re hard to judge – they had injuries and their fans will be wondering if they can replicate the heights of last year but Michael Appleton will always bring a competitive team. For us, with two defeats in a week under our belt, the potential for things to become awkward was quite high. A third consecutive loss, and the first at home, may have raised more questions about the strength of the squad and our inability to start seasons well.
Instead, we seemed to cruise, as we always do when James Henry is fit and in form. He quietly gets on with things – I’ve never considered him an out and out goalscorer, but it’s quite conceivable he’ll creep into our top 10 all-time goalscorers this season. Where Karl Robinson injects a boundless enthusiasm into our play channelled via players like Gavin Whyte, Henry regulates us, ensuring we have the intensity and penetration to get the results without snatching and lurching at opportunities.
The table, that we don’t look at, already looks like you might imagine it will at the end of the season. This year, more than most, the division seems to split quite starkly between the haves and have-nots with it more difficult for dark horses to creep into contention. The question for us is which side of the divide do we fall? We might be getting more used to the idea of being a have, but we’re not Sheffield Wednesday or Sunderland, and yet, that’s who we sit with at the moment.
Having navigated one, and not taking Wimbledon next week for granted, there’s another early-season marker in a fortnight when Wycombe come to the Kassam. September will be here and awkward family commitments will be in the past, it’s likely to be a day for coats. The end of the beginning of the season; if we can win that, then by the time the big coats come out, we could be in a very interesting position indeed.