Match wrap – Sunderland 1 Oxford United 1

There’s a Big Issue seller in Winchester who is one of the funniest people I know. During the festive season, he dresses as a giant threadbare Christmas tree dealing out a series of well rehearsed deadpan one-liners about how rubbish the Big Issue is. I was there on Saturday, walking behind a group of women doing their Christmas shopping; ‘Ooh it’s a girl band’ he said ‘which one’s the gay one? There’s always a gay one.’ They all fell about laughing, it won him another sale.

It reminded me of Viz comic’s running joke about the boyband Bros; there was the twins Luke and Matt Goss, and the anonymous third wheel Craig Logan, who Viz cruelly referred to as ‘Ken’ due to his generic role as ‘other’.

Nathan Cooper could be seen as Radio Oxford’s Ken. He’s not Jerome Sale, with the in-joke about fans phoning to cast their opinion of games they haven’t been to and the fabled (and to my mind, slightly over rated) one-liner about being ‘back on the coupon’ from 2010. He’s not the omnipresent Nick Harris whose gravely voice has soundtracked the club’s progress for more than a generation. Cooper is ‘other’, he’s ‘Ken’.

The Sunderland game was his 1,000th consecutive game, a phenomenal run which is outstrips Sale and Harris who have missed games due to other commitments. The landmark gave him a brief opportunity to step out from the shadows, to recognise his permanent and essential presence. There was a clip on Twitter of Karl Robinson presenting him with a shirt to mark the occasion, he seemed uncomfortable about being the story.

He’s sharper and grittier than Harris, closer to the story than Sale, an essential cog in the Oxford United experience. During one of the lockdowns, the club ran an episode of their podcast with him talking about our relegation from the Football League in 2006, his storytelling is brilliant, it’s a grim, but essential listen.

Cooper’s skills is his relentless consistency; his post-match interviews are a platform for the players, managers and owners to tell their version of the story, not a vehicle for his own views. It’s clever in its understated-ness.

It’s a lesson that the team seem to have learned this season, our play-off push is quiet, savvy and consistent. In the past we’ve had the thrilling cup runs and miraculous play-off charges. This season is different, there was no great fanfare when the covid-hit players returned from their isolation last week, the Sunderland game, which is usually a stand out fixture in the calendar, was treated as just another game, rearranged for practicality and convenience. The draw would be good enough, there was no point to prove, just a point to win.

We’re entering the stage of the season where things get chaotic. Cup competitions, Christmas and the weather play havoc with the fixtures; Rotherham, Wigan, Plymouth, Sunderland, MK Dons and Portsmouth all have cup competitions still to negotiate on top of their league programme. It’s not just the additional games, it’s the tiring Tuesday night trips to the other end of the country they have to deal with. Any inherent weaknesses are easily exposed, causing dropped points and derailed promotion pushes.

We, on the other hand, have the most straight forward fixture run we’ve had in years. No distractions or cup competitions to muddy the waters and skew the focus. With the work done to date there’s no catch-up to do, we just have to continue our quiet, steady progress. We don’t have to push, over-reach for the points, keep the run going, stay solid, pick off the points and let others make the mistakes. One game at a time.

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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