With the Tories breaking their own rules, Covid cases soaring and iFollow on the TV in whatever it is that three grades below standard definition is; Tuesday night made me feel a bit nostalgic. The barren wasteland of the terraces at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium presented an atmosphere not dissimilar to football under lockdown.
Doncaster, like Rotherham, are a club I’ve admired with their nice new stadium and moderately, but not overwhelmingly, successful team. Somehow, they managed to modernise gracefully, keeping their feet on the ground and not losing sight of their wider purpose.
So, its been odd to see their implosion and descent towards the bottom of the division. Like all football clubs at this level, despite everything, they’re still built on the shakiest of foundations where a loss of nerve, a poor managerial appointment or a dodgy signing can see the whole house of cards collapse. Perhaps we should be warned, as good as it feels now, the potential for it all to unravel is real.
It was startling to see just how poor they were in real life, I missed the first two minutes of the game and with it, apparently, two clear cut chances. We then proceded to overwhelm them as their lack of confidence seeped into every pore and chaos wrapped itself tightly around their throat.
The fact we didn’t capitalise on Mark Sykes’s opening goal made the game unnecessarily competitive and it was of little surprise to see them equalise. We’re still quite a leaky team, with only five clean sheets all season, conceding is a standing agenda item.
The response from some fans was that this was ‘typical Oxford’ making meal out of something which should be straight forward. But was it? In the same way that the pandemic is apparently over and, at the same time, far from over, our post-pandemic relationship with the club has perhaps yet to be fully established. We’re back, but but still not fully complete. So, what is ‘typical Oxford’ in 2021/22?
There was a time in the bad old days when we would have been impressed if a player came onto the pitch with their shorts the right way round. Scoring a goal was not the culmination of a highly coordinated, complex and skilled operation, but an accident of chance resulting from solid graft. Cheering wasn’t a celebration, it was a gesture of collective surprise.
There was at least one cross-field pass last night from Cameron Brannagan which was made with such nonchalance it barely raised a murmur amongst the commentators. Marcus Mcguane, who looked a level above everyone else for an hour, sprayed a ball out wide; a 40-yard pass that wasn’t even mentioned. We were so complete and dominant, I’m beginning to think that edgy and awkward is not ‘typical Oxford’ anymore.
Going into the last five minutes, chasing a winner was a case of claiming what we richly deserved. It wasn’t the ‘typical Oxford’ that involved grinding out a result and losing in the last minute. It might be what’s deep in our muscle memory as fans, but it’s not us on the pitch. Not now.
Despite the equaliser we quickly regained our composure and set about seeking justice for a dominant performance. As is often the case in these situations, with them defending deeply, any breakthrough relies on someone being brave and doing something slightly different to change the angles and knock your opponent off balance.
Steve Seddon burst from his full back position, unconcerned by the hole he left behind to break the lines and square it to the ever-reliable James Henry for the winner. I yelped into the silent abyss of my living room, the noise echoed off the walls.
Was this ‘typical Oxford’ one with and an unerring ability and confidence to secure the right result regardless of the difficulties presented to them? Perhaps we’ve changed. It’s almost like we have an identity crisis, but probably one that we all would welcome.