From the London Road, you wouldn’t have known The Manor was there. Like all old grounds, it was woven into the fabric of Headington life, nestled amongst the people who built and sustained it. It was only in the evening when the lights of the regular world dimmed and the floodlights came on that it glowed like a beacon in the darkness.
The idea that games under the lights are special has been transposed to the Kassam. In truth, most Tuesday games are muted occasions, people scuttle back from work to make the kick off, others are unwilling or unable to venture into the night, there is little build up or preamble, it is often a practical, pragmatic affair. Unless the opposition are sufficiently enticing to pump the atmosphere up, the crowd is usually more sparse and often groggier.
Last night the rain pummelled down unrelentingly, it was cold and the opposition was underwhelming; The Bake Off, Champions’ League and central heating seemed seductive alternatives, these factors, and the petrol crisis, thinned the crowd to only the most hardy and/or insane, it’s hard to imagine anyone chose to attend because they fancied a bit of fresh air or play chicken with their fuel gauge.
The concourse looked like an air raid shelter as people left it until the last minute to venture into the stand, once there, with the roof protecting us from the worst of the weather, it was rather calming and bucolic. It’s hard to dislike Accrington or their fans with their Corinthian aesthetic, apart from their obvious limitations, like they’ll only ever look like an over-achieving Conference North team, they’re the club you’d like to be – stable, authentic and rooted in their community. In many ways it played to our our advantage as we’re very content in our own skin at the moment.
Let’s be honest, Accrington were poor, they’re shipping goals left, right and centre, and offered virtually nothing up front. The polite, gentile atmosphere was a catharsis Nathan Holland, who needed game time, a good pitch and an accommodating opposition to stretch his legs and show what he can do. His goals will give him the confidence the needs to make more of an impression this season. Likewise, Matty Taylor and Mark Sykes both buried demons that seemed to be hanging over them while Herbie Kane showed he might be the spark of difference we’re looking for this year. In such a likeable squad, we need a cult hero, Kane could be that man.
With points dropped in recent weeks and Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, we needed the points to stave off any lingering fears or panic. With the Sunderland game likely to be postponed, October is suddenly looking eminently manageable, the relaxed Saturday to Saturday schedule should help manage injuries and fatigue setting us up nicely for the chaotic middle section of the season that will define where we end up.
Overall, a satisfying night, as comforting as a bowl of pasta in front of a re-run of Location Location Location. It was good to feel the chill of winter and to pull the zip of my jacket up to my chin. Not quite a magical night under the lights, but wholesomely satisfying none-the-less.