Match wrap – Oxford United 3 AFC Wimbledon 0

Wimbledon wrote to the EFL last week protesting about the number of covid-related postponements across the Football League. They called on them to investigate ‘fully’ all postponements due to covid. The main thrust of their argument was that they’ve done everything properly, so why can’t everyone else?

It’s not clear exactly what they’re hoping to get from this, they talk about how they’ve sacrificed their competitive edge to secure player safety and fulfil fixtures. This ignores the fact since being in League 1 they’ve finished 20th twice, 19th once and are currently 18th – their season looks pretty much on-par with their competitiveness in previous years. What do they want? Special bonus points for self-righteousness?

They’ve become a funny club; the original phoenix club, resurrected from a gross injustice, re-formed as little more than a park team, dragged back through the divisions, now they’ve reclaimed their spiritual home. There’s so much to admire, but it seems that we now don’t admire them enough. The EFL must investigate, and if teams are found not to be as real as Wimbledon, then they should be punished. Idealistic and principled to the point of being unpalatably radical – the Jeremy Corbyn of football.

Ultimately, covid will do what covid does. Wimbledon may have a god-complex with an percieved ability to control the virus, but in reality, the virus chooses who it infects and how far it spreads. In that sense, football is a level playing field and all we can hope to do is manage the situations as they arise. To write letters to the EFL about how great they are and how awful everyone else is seems like an act of hubris.

Wimbledon’s misfortune is that they’ve missed out on a couple of potentially lucrative Christmas games. It’s turned into a strange period; what is usually full of bustle has become more like a winter break. Christmas is usually a great disruptor, testing teams’ true resilience and their credentials for the rest of the season. In fact, for us at least, it’s become an opportunity to recharge the batteries and regain our competitiveness. My own Christmas has been very similar; no less than six plans have been canceled or curtailed due to covid, maybe Wimbledon want me to be investigated too.

As it happens, the one plan which did go off without a hitch was the one I’d managed to double-book with the game. The busy Christmas period usually consists of the Boxing Day game, a regular Saturday fixture and New Year. This year, with Christmas on a Saturday, the regular fixture was moved to Wednesday – the first non-Bank Holiday. I’d forgotten all that and assumed it was an afternoon kick-off; happily booking something for the evening with nobbyd and his family. He’d also planned to go to the game until he’d spotted the clash, so we ended up eating lasagne while furtively checking the scores.

Of course, the corollary to Wimbledon’s complaint about games being postponed when clubs are too weak to field a team is that games go ahead when clubs are strong enough to compete. We’re not only rested, we’re full of antibodies, having survived two outbreaks, if we are going to be battered by omicron over the next couple of months, we may be in a better position than most in terms of surviving it.

Having sacrificed our competitiveness and perhaps a point against Wigan – a game which, by rights, shouldn’t have gone ahead – we surged back to form against Wimbledon. They were the perfect opponents; for all their huffing and puffing about how mean the world is to them, despite their origin story, they’re just another one of those lower-division clubs which have become canon fodder for us this season. 

I don’t know how comfortable it is to admit this, because we all want to retain an earthy authenticity, but this season we’ve evolved into a bona fide promotion chasing side. We’ve bridged the divide from that batch of teams – including Wimbledon – who will bounce between League 1 and 2, we’re no longer on the coat tails of those who have ambitions for the Championship; we’re now one of them. Last night’s performance showed that in spades. For all Wimbledon’s grumbling, their mumbling about the disadvantages they face compared to other clubs, we’re currently in a very different space to them and no amount of EFL investigations is going to bridge that gap.

With the squad relatively fresh and hopefully free of the worst of covid and with fixtures coming at a steady pace, our calm, methodical winning formula seems to be withstanding any test put in front of it, as the dark clouds of covid gather, our chances of promotion seem grow with each passing week.

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Oxblogger

Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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