Match wrap – Cheltenham Town 1 Oxford United 0

When you have a baby, your early concerns are fairly binary – you define the baby’s wellbeing by whether it’s sleeping or not. It’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security because as the days, weeks, months and years pass, the things you have to worry about grow exponentially; are they feeding? Responsive? Physically developing? Emotionally content? It’s like a cell of physiological and psychological wellbeing constantly doubling until you’ve totally lost control.

In the end, every child has a thing; you have a thing, maybe you don’t know it, but you’ll definitely have one. Anxiety, depression, compulsiveness, obsessiveness, fastidiousness, or perhaps the opposite of these things. The dad of a friend of mine once had a mental health episode where he became optimistic and generous. Sounds great, but he gave away thousands of pounds and went missing on a trip to the shops because he compulsively decided to visit his daughter hundreds of miles away instead. There’s a thing in us all.

These things shape our world; with a child, it’s not so much worrying about if they have a thing, they do, it’s knowing when to act. Too soon and you’re being neurotic, too late is neglectful.

It’s still early in the season and as we all know from experience, how we’re doing at the moment is not necessarily a reflection on where we’ll be in May. But, there does seem to be a pattern emerging; a ‘thing’; most obviously manifesting in our away form as illustrated by our defeat to Cheltenham. 

There’s a belief that you shouldn’t look at the league table until at least the tenth game. We’re a couple of games from that point, but as some of the other digits click from single to double figures, a pattern begins to emerge. We’ve scored and conceded nine goals; twelve teams have scored more, nine have conceded less. We’re ahead of Portsmouth and Ipswich, level pegging with Sheffield Wednesday, behind Sunderland and Wigan. We’re bang average; a lack of defensive steel is being coupled with a degree of attacking impotence, it’s not a great combination. 

In a sense, that’s OK, we’re well ahead of where we’ve been in the past, but we’re behind where we want to be. But, similarly, it’s not been the hardest opening to the season and we haven’t capitalised. Teething problems? Maybe. 

Mark Sykes almost represents the issue; he’s not lacking in ability, but he’s not a goal threat, goal provider or midfield disruptor. He needs to carve out a role, a reason to stay in the team. It’s not his form or effort, it’s about his contribution and unique selling point. That said, I thought he spoke well after the defeat and took time to talk to fans.

Sykes’ role aside, Steve Kinniburgh was right not to leap on the performances of Herbie Kane and Sam Long, both are easing their way into the season and now is not time to judge whether they’ve a role to play.

But, how long do you wait? When does a thing, become A THING? As a neurotic parent, an experienced doctor would probably provide assurances that every season develops at a different pace and that there’s little to worry about.

But, they might also know that the real tests are just around the corner. There are no more chances to find a way of playing away from home as we travel to Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday at the beginning of October. Before that, we have a homestand against Gillingham and Accrington which, if nothing else, is an opportunity to bank some points as an insurance against that future challenge. While these games still won’t fully define our season, they’ll provide the best indicator as to whether these are just developmental issues, or a thing. Navigate the next four games, then we should be able to relax a little, if we don’t, then perhaps we’ll need to act.

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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