George Lawrence’s Shorts: A Question of Spore

Saturday 17 October 2020

Peterborough United’s nickname is The Posh because they have an air of undeserved self-entitlement. Mind you, that didn’t stop them winning 2-0 on Saturday. Oxford were without Cameron Brannagain, who missed out due to a problem with his eyes. Concerns were raised after he was heard to say ‘I can see us keeping a clean sheet for this one’ before the game.

Sunday 18 October 2020

Alex’s son, Peterborough boss Darren Ferguson was cockahoop at his team’s display; “I always felt the team who passed the ball better would dominate.” he said from beneath the shadow of his father. Impressive foresight from a man whose team’s passes were objectively less in number and accuracy. Not a mistake his dad would have made, we’re sure.

Monday 19 October 2020

Jedward third wheel Joel Cooper, has been named Northern Ireland Footballer of the Year. Cooper is spending some time with his family after returning from international duty. He’ll be celebrating in the traditional way of filming his phallus and sharing it on social media.

Tuesday 20 October 2020

Soulless empty stadiums, people locked in their houses gazing vacantly at laptops, or what people from Milton Keynes call: ‘everyday’. MK Dons came to the Kassam conceding three goals to Matty Taylor, Headington United’s Sam Long before a proper whoop-dee-doo from Shodipo on his debut. He proper van Kessled it into the net. We also let in a standard couple of goals in reply to make it a 3-2 win.

Off the field, KRob is looking for Cowboy Derick to get on his Osei and ride out on loan to a Conference side. You see, in a team currently shipping on average two goals a game, KRob’s decided he needs to pack his squad with more strikers. It’s a positive attacking philosophy which says if they score four, we’ll just have to go out and score two consolation goals.

Wednesday 21 October 2020

Paolo DiCanio was best known as a striker, but really his preferred position was on the right wing. He was never a real facist, though, he just liked some of the songs. Ahead of Saturday’s derby, the website D3D4 has taken the time to remember the time DiCanio goose stepped his way into Oxford in an attempt to lure the wholesome James Constable to his evil lair. Which ended well.

Thursday 22 October 2020

It was the Eight Minute Eighteen Seconds Fans Forum with Jose’s son John Mousinho on Thursday. Questions turned to our defensive frailties. Mousinho defended the issue, by which we mean he lost his runner and found himself a bit square at the back. He heaped praise on Headington United’s Sam Long as the ‘best squad player in the history of the game’. Which is like being called the world’s nicest mass murderer or sexiest paedophile.

Sad news as it was announced that Chrissy Allen has left the club. To mark his long association with Oxford, he was given his very own commemorative Unipart advertising display board to run head first into in his garden.

Pyromaniac Kemar Roofe scored the goal of this and every other century while playing for Rangers in the Europa League. After beating two players deep inside his own half, he executed a perfect Leven tap-in over the keeper from 65 yards out.

Friday 23 October 2020

Good golly Miss Molly, Saturday’s derby has been postponed after a viral outbreak in the Swindon camp. The Swindon training ground was a hideous sight with people yacking their guts up, doubled over in agony with vomit coming out of their noses. All you could hear for miles around were the primal groans of great sickening anguish and screams for death’s sweet release. And then they caught coronavirus.

Match wrap: Oxford United 3 MK Dons 2

I don’t know which way is up anymore. The hours seem to drag, but the months fly by. It’s nearly November and the football season’s just started. Last night we watched MK Dons’ operate a suicidal ploy of playing from the back using their goalkeeper as a right-back. It was like something Barcelona would try, but in the hands of lower league footballers, the move was so telegraphed, they ended up in a panic each and every time. You wonder how many times their manager might have to look at it before deciding it’s a bad idea. More than twelve, judging by last night.

As if that wasn’t confusing enough, last night’s win has made this Oxford United’s best start to a season under Karl Robinson. That’s Oxford United who were bottom, are now 20th and who are shipping an average of two goals a game. I repeat, never at this stage of the season have we had it so good. 

What that shows is that Karl Robinson’s Oxford are traditionally slow starters. I don’t buy the idea that we should all just accept that, relax and wait for the inevitable tsunami of glory. Coventry lost three games last season on the way to the title, Luton, Wigan and Sheffield United won their League 1 titles with only six defeats. If you have ambitions for the title, you can’t throw four of your six lives away in the opening few weeks.

Admittedly, the play-offs are more forgiving, historically you can make the top six with more 13-15 defeats, such is the inconsistency of teams further down the ladder. But, it’s the height of arrogance to assume you can take a few punches in the face and not find yourself lying on the canvas with your teeth in the lap of a gangster’s moll at ringside. You can’t just accept these things, you have to question why they happen.

Management guru Peter Drucker coined the phrase ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’; you can have the best plans, processes and targets, but if you don’t have the right norms and behaviours your plans are meaningless. 

Michael Appleton was a strategy guy, he famously had Plan A and no Plan B. He literally played things by the book – and that book is Legacy by James Kerr. Pep Clotet was so strategy orientated, he was blind to the impact it had on everything from culture to results. Like Jeremy Corbyn claiming he’d won the argument during the last election when he’d, metaphorically at least, conceded seven at home to Wigan. 

Karl Robinson is more a culture guy; he’s all about developing the whole player and by extension the whole club. But while strategies are written, cultures are grown, they take time, need a lot of tending and protecting and can be unpredictable.

I’ve always thought that Robinson’s slow starts have been down to his hectic way of playing football. New players end up hanging onto the coattails of their teammates as the ball pings round and players switch from one shape to another at a bewildering rate. 

Think of Alex Gorrin last year, he was booked in his first four games for the club with his late lunging tackles. His time at Motherwell hadn’t prepared him for life under Karl Robinson. Then he looked like a liability, now, judging by his performance last night, he looks like the lynchpin to our defensive security. 

Sean Clare, who has looked out of sorts, had a much more assured game against Peterborough, and was better still against MK Dons. Marcus McGuane was similar; last night he had his best game in an Oxford shirt having looked off the pace in the first few weeks of the season.

I wouldn’t want to suggest that Karl Robinson is unique, but short termism in football is likely to promote a more strategic, command and control approach to a team. The average length of a football manager tenure in the Football League is a fraction over a year. That’s all you’re given to make a mark. In most clubs, the only chance the manager has is to drill their players like an army to get them to perform. There simply isn’t the time to develop a productive culture.

So new players perhaps need more time to settle into a culture which wants them to take responsibility for their role and doesn’t treat them like unthinking automatons. Perhaps that’s why we tend to start more slowly, players simply need to grow into their new club. 

Tiger is an important factor in all this; there have been a number of times when he would have been justified in getting rid of Robinson because the results haven’t been good. But we should benefit from the patience he shows, offering Robinson the space to grow the culture he needs. That can only benefit the club; not only in short term goals of play-offs and promotions, but in the longer term by creating a rolling programme of good quality players to enhance the first team and generate transfer revenues. In a world full of distant foreign owners with a short term views of success, I’m constantly impressed by Tiger’s strategic foresight.

That’s not to say we’re out of the woods just because of a win over MK who, let’s not forget, have gone 13 months without winning on the road. We still look shaky at the back and won’t be helped by Rob Atkinson’s injury. This is a microcosm of the issue; there were times that he looked excellent, a worthy replacement for Rob Dickie, but the question is whether we can keep him on pitch.

None-the-less, a weight has lifted a little, particularly when considering what’s coming up on Saturday, if we can ignore the occasion – which will be much easier to do without a crowd – and continue to evolve the culture and embrace the new players into it, then things will begin to look hopeful.

Match wrap: Peterborough United 2 Oxford United 0

On Saturday morning I still didn’t know whether we were playing Peterborough at home or away. It’s all pretty much the same these days, the only journey you take now is into your junk folder to see if an access key has been sent to you or not.

I’m torn on the ubiquitous availability of games nowadays; I appreciate that it’s the next best thing to being there but sometimes I wish it was all a bit more out of reach. I think I’ve said before, I don’t toggle the radio commentary that comes with the feed preferring whatever local radio commentary there is. Otherwise every game would seem almost exactly the same.

Styles vary; Lincoln’s commentators avoided naming Oxford players completely, Accrington’s were well versed, Peterborough’s had picked up concerns about Sam Long and made that the central fact to be repeated as frequently as possible.

There are common themes; the play-off defeat, of course, is presented as if we are a Championship side in the wrong division. Players like James Henry, Matty Taylor and Sam Winnall give extra weight to our reputation. More than once, the commentators have made a point about Liam Kelly being on loan from Feyenoord, such an exotic beguiling creature.

This promotes a disparity between clubs which doesn’t really exist. Steve Evans last week and Peterborough this liked to claim that we’re operating with a stratospheric budget even though Posh have spent more heavily this summer. In many departments we do seem to have the assets to match the reputation – we create chances – but we’re not the full package. 

Putting aside our defensive problems for a bit, have we recovered from the emotional trauma of the play-off defeat, and the intensity of that three-week campaign? Did those games help or hinder our pre-season preparations; many clubs have had months of rest, whereas ours has been disrupted.

Above all, there’s the loss of the emotional thrust that comes from having a crowd behind you.  It seems unlikely that we’d ever simply outspend the division. Despite claims by others, success would in part be down to the momentum we can create as a club, not just a team.  

Let’s be charitable, the pieces are still falling into place. Maybe there’s a readjustment going on; before lockdown we had five wins in a row propelling us into the play-offs but before that we’d won one in eight. Much like Wycombe, our play-off place owed a lot to timing. With hindsight, and looking at Wycombe’s start, perhaps the defeat was no bad thing.

There are other chinks of hope; it’s difficult to know how much home and away makes a difference, but we’ve only played once at home and teams like Peterborough, Sunderland and even Gillingham are clearly going to be competitive this season. On the other hand, we do need to be competing with these teams if we expect to make the play-offs or better. 

There’s also time now to settle the squad into the season. Time will tell as to the wisdom of the decision to not replace Rob Dickie, but the die is set, the players can at least focus on their performances without having to think about the disruption of new players coming in. Perhaps, once fit, a back-four of Clare, Atkinson, Moore and Ruffels will become a solid unit.

The key now is to do the opposite to what we instinctively want to do. Rather than panic, we need to stay calm and ease into the season. We feel like a dragster which is so powerful its wheels have ripped off the second the engine engaged. Time to reattach the wheels, ease off the power a little and accelerate away more slowly. 

The prospect of the derby next week leaves me completely cold and, ironically, it’s likely to be the first game I miss this season, at least in part. I’m OK with that; for me it’s always been a visceral experience, outside of the fan experience Swindon doesn’t stir much emotion. In a sense, that might be the best attitude; objectively on paper MK Dons and Swindon at home are both winnable games. Getting too emotional about it – with Karl Robinson being an ex-MK manager, of course – adds weight to these fixtures we don’t need.

Our current struggles may be no bad thing; we could do with not being the Harry Potter of League 1 – The Team That Would Be in The Championship, The Team That Played At Wembley In A Pandemic with The Boy from Feyenoord. 

Despite being bottom of the table, there’s no sense that Karl Robinson’s position is under any threat from within. Managers are probably safer now than ever before because clubs can’t afford the compensation. But with next week’s game now looming, we risk teetering on the edge of a crisis.

Quite how that will manifest itself is hard to tell. There’ll be no barrage of abuse from the stands, no toxicity hurled in the direction of the technical area, but Karl Robinson is a rare manager in that he thinks like a fan. He knows what this means and is all too aware of the difficulties fans are facing more broadly as a result of the pandemic. He’ll be desperate to win the derby for us, to avoid being the man who broke the spell. But, he needs to avoid trying too hard, too much overcompensation could blow up in his face. This was something that Chris Wilder was a master at; while Paolo DiCanio lost his mind in the ballyhoo, Wilder stuck to a game plan and even with a weaker team masterminded three famous wins. Keeping your head when all about you are losing theirs and all that will be key. The next week feels important, otherwise the biggest crisis the club could face may be inside Karl Robinson’s head. 

George Lawrence’s Shorts: The Artell of the Deal

Saturday 10 October 2020

Thirty-one shots and sloppy at the rear? That’s not just a night out with GLS’ bae squad, it’s the story of our defeat to Gillingham on Saturday. Oxford suffered their third loss in four games to fatberg Steve Evans’ latest charges. Star of the show was former loanee lollipop merchant Jordan Graham who made one and scored one. 

Sunday 11 October 2020

Like some wholesome Disney film where a kid lives in a sewer and befriends a talking fatberg, Steve Evans has been chatting about his team’s win on Saturday. Evans lives in a parallel universe; for example, there was that time he lived in a world where the law didn’t apply to him. So, it’s no real surprise to hear him spaffing on about how young and inexperienced his team are compared to the multi-millionaires in the Oxford team.

Monday 12 October 2020

If you go to the KRob palatial family home, standing pride of place in the grand entrance hall is a painting. In it, KRob is stood stripped to the waist, wearing just riding boots and green corduroy jodhpurs. In one blooded hand is the carcass of a hare he’s caught with his bare hands. In the other he is gently cupping the chin of a great stag. All of this is set against the great vista of the Milton Keynes glens, you know, the ones near Hobbycraft. The painting is mesmerising and you fear taking your eyes off it. Don’t fear Project Big Picture, says KRob

Tuesday 13 October 2020

Crewe didn’t turn up to play football.

Wednesday 14 October 2020

Good ventilation is key to reducing coronavirus infections, which is why the transfer window is still open. Round the clock football website Football 24/7 claims that we were in a race to sign Wolves striker Niall, is it Niall or Niall, Ennis. Sadly Ennis has decided he can’t play in Oxford’s seventeen striker formation and so has signed for Doncaster instead.

Thursday 15 October 2020

It was the Six Minute Thirty-Eight Second Fans’ Forum with Niall, don’t call me Niall, it’s Niall McWilliams. McWilliams was asked why Crewe didn’t turn up on Tuesday (he didn’t know), why games are kicking off at 7pm (it let’s Liam Kelly get to bed in a good time for school the next day) and The Big Picture (at least it was a plan, which is a bit like saying at least the Holocaust was a plan). Inevitably, he was asked about the stadiumsituation at which point McWilliams told Jerome to ‘fuck off’. 

(He didn’t) 

In football, Jedward third wheel Joel Cooper who’d been invited over for a sleepover with the Northern Ireland squad this week, was on the bench for their game against Norway. Which, in these days of social distancing, actually means in the stand, which is where he also pointlessly spent the last two games.

Friday 16 October 2020

We’re heading into the mouth of the revenge tiger on Saturday as we visit Peterborough. We’ll go with new loan signing QPR winger Olamide Shopido, which also happens to be the line which clinched GLS’ National Skat Singer of the Year title in 2002. ‘He’s unpredictable’ says Karl Robinson, so perhaps he’ll unpredictably play in the back-four this weekend.

Very credible Covid superspreader Crewe manager David Artell has been talking calmly about the game HIS CLUB CALLED OFF, blaming it on KRob. Artell’s argument is that his team were given the all clear (the day after the game was scheduled to be played) before calmly referencing the KGB and Stasi coming to the training ground. Dave, you OK hun?

Midweek fixture: Oxford United micro-stories

A pivotal moment on the London Road

At 3.45 on the 29th December 1979, my life is about to change forever. Oxford United were playing Hull City, it was half-time and my dad and I were on the London Road on one our occasional trips to The Manor. It was bitterly cold and the scorching hot Scotch Broth my Granny made before we headed off to the ground was long gone. I loved football and couldn’t get enough of it, but the score was 0-0, it was so terrible, even I knew it.

My dad, knowing that I was cold, asked whether I wanted to go home. I suspect this wasn’t much to do with my welfare, more that he didn’t want to be with a whining 7 year old. I pondered; the terrace was empty; the crowd was small and most had dipped behind the stand to stock up on Bovril and chips. I thought about his offer – go home and get warm; or stay and, well, stay?

I don’t know how long I thought about it, but I eventually concluded we would stay. It was uncharacteristically resolute of me. Oxford came out in the second half kicking down the slope towards the London Road. We roared to a 3-0 win, our performance in the second half was as good as the first half was bad. I’d made the right decision. Going to football was making the right decision, as was staying to the very end and not giving up on your team. My lingering memory is of the pride of sticking with it more than any of the goals. Going to football, not just watching it on TV, was my path.   

Richard’s dad

Richard’s dad was brilliant. He was big in sweets. Well, his job involved getting boxes of chocolates, which he stored in their larder. If my dad couldn’t take me to games, I’d go with Richard and his dad where he’d produce chocolate from various pockets in his coat like Willy Wonka. We’d flit around him like baby birds waiting to be fed. My dad once got his hands on a ZX81 computer and spent all night programming it to print a picture of Mickey Mouse. The printer broke down halfway through due to a bug in the programme. Working with sweets was the best.

We were resolutely Osler Road at the time, but Richard and I would occasionally venture to the wall on the corner with the London Road so we could pat Garry Barnett on the back when he took a corner. It was a sort of training ground for the London Road and for soft boys like us, it was a rough place to be. Occasionally we’d get a prime spot stood on the wall leaning against an advertising board, but mostly we’d end up being faced down by some kids from Barton or Blackbird Leys and would be chased away back to the safety of our dads. The next day we’d report back at school about being at the match and dealing with the ruffians. Nobody really believed us, but were probably quite impressed we were allowed to stay up after 9.30pm.

Nottingham Forest, 1996

It’s 1996, it’s the FA Cup and we’ve drawn Nottingham Forest. The game was postponed and then re-arranged. I fell out with a friend who claims he’s didn’t want to come after I got him a ticket. I’m irritated because of the money, but I don’t want to go alone. In the end, he feels guilty enough to come.

We get there and mill around under the stand; we’re chatting with a steward. Rather naively, my friend asks whether it’ll be a full house. He mouths ‘no’ while observing the Oxford fans suspiciously. He’s not wrong, it’s a cold night, but it’s almost as if someone forgot to tell the people of Nottingham that a game is on.

Forest are in the Premier League and have Brian Roy in their ranks. It’s like he floats, he drops his shoulder and sends the whole away end the wrong way. We’re not playing badly at all, but they’re a class above. It’s no surprise when they take the lead. It looks like we’re heading out, but nobody can be disappointed by the display. Into the last minute and we get a corner. Bobby Ford sweeps another elegant cross into the far post, Stuart Massey fearlessly crashes through a bank of players connects with the ball and grabs the equaliser. In an involuntary spasm, I leave my seat and run down the steps towards him, I’m engulfed by fans, players, stewards and policemen. A briefly make eye contact with Massey who screams in my face. I can’t stop myself, at that moment I’ve truly lost my mind.

Mickey Lewis tells a story

It’s 2004 and I’m at my sister’s wedding. Mickey Lewis is married to one of her old school friends. My mum and dad went to Lewis’ wedding, the bar was full of the great and the good of 1990s Oxford. Dave Penney was the best man. Lewis’ in-laws love him; his father-in-law came round to our house once and told a story about how when they go out to pick up a curry, Mickey would have a pint in the local pub and a bag of chips from the chippy while he waited for his takeaway. For cosseted local folk, this is an adventure beyond boundaries. 

At my sister’s wedding Lewis is at the bar for most of the night holding court with a number of Oxford and Derby fans. He breaks free just once as the opening bars of Baggy Trousers comes on the disco. He gently pushes me aside as he enters the fray so that he can put in a solid 3.34 seconds of skanking. 

As the evening’s celebrations draw to a close and the numbers dwindle, I’m one of a handful of stragglers left in the hotel bar. Mickey’s gravelly voice is getting worse with every passing story. One of our number is a Wycombe Wanderers fan, so I prime Mickey with a mention of our 1996 win over Wanderers at Adams Park. Suddenly, Mickey’s animated; ‘We SPANKED them, didn’t we?’ he says, ‘SPANKED THEM’. His voice echoes across the empty bar. Suddenly he’s on his feet, he grabs his chair and starts to hump it, a metaphor for the beating we gave them that day. His volume increases to the point where he wakes the wife of one of our number who comes out and puts a stop to the party – with Mickey mid-hump – dragging her husband to bed. 

Match wrap: Gillingham 3 Oxford United 1

I was talking with a someone at work this week who’d been beating themselves up about a conversation they’d had with our Chief Executive. In the preamble to a meeting, the CEO asked a couple of questions about something she was working on. She didn’t know the answer one of the questions and felt exposed and unprepared.

It was likely our CEO was just asking the question to pass the time. She readily admits she hasn’t got time to think everything through, prepare for every meeting, she’s not even very keen about being the polished, indefatigable leader people expect her to be. She likes to chat, she understands that people don’t always have all the answers at their fingertips.

My colleague said since she’d started managing people, she noticed how much they expected her to know everything and how every decision was taken as gospel, even though she was only ever making a judgement. She didn’t really like the pressure of being the sole decision maker, she wanted people to help her, question her if they felt the decision was wrong. But, at the same time she felt the pressure to be seen to know everything.

It’s very easy to assume that people in charge know everything, that decisions are precise, objective and well thought through. The illusion of control is part of leadership. Except, we are, ultimately all flawed humans winging it the best we can.

As a result, I’m not really keen on criticising people with responsibility for one-off decisions, most people are trying to do their best, single mistakes shouldn’t define a person. We all act irrationally sometimes, we all suffer anxieties, stress and blind spots. We make mistakes that we regret. Trends, data and track record should be the key to assessing someone’s abilities, strengths and weaknesses. 

Karl Robinson is over 900 days into his time at Oxford United; it’s been a progressive and positive experience. It’s hard to criticise both in the sense that it seems so unfair in the context of his success, but also because it’s not easy to find anything to criticise.

But, in that 900 days he’s never signed an experienced centre-back. Elliot Moore and Rob Atkinson were both signed with no league experience to speak of. John Mousinho, at the other end of the spectrum, pre-dates Robinson’s appointment. Likewise, he was gifted Curtis Nelson and Rob Dickie from previous managers.

It’s not like he’s lacked resources, he’s signed an array of strikers and midfielders. He’s been less successful with full-backs; perhaps over-ambitious. He got Chris Cadden over the line, but only by sacrificing control over how long he had him for.

This has been exposed this season, no more so than in the defeat to Gillingham, we had 31 shots and dominated possession. Robinson thought we deserved more, and we did. But it wasn’t a case of converting one of the chances for the three points, we needed to convert four because of our porous backline.

We’ve had a decade of success with centre-backs – a rolling programme through Mark Creighton, Jake Wright, Johnny Mullins, Chey Dunkley, Curtis Nelson and Rob Dickie. Dunkley, Nelson and Dickie are all in the Championship, a destiny that was evident long before they left. There was lots of time to prepare for their succession. John Mousinho has provided stability to allow the others to develop, but age is no surprise, and even Karl Robinson tried to encourage him into semi-retirement at the beginning of last season. This is a problem that has been over a year in the making.

Maybe Elliot Moore was expected to step into Dickie’s shoes, but Dickie stepped into last season with significantly more games under his belt than Moore has now. There’s absolutely no blame on either Moore or Rob Atkinson, it’s a more deep-rooted issue than individuals and their ability.

I’m generally satisfied with a manager if I can see the logic of what they’re doing, I could see what Ian Atkins was doing even if I didn’t like it, for example. If this is all planned, I can’t see how we’ve got to a position where we have such a lack of experience at centre-back. 

It isn’t quite as simple as that, of course, effective defences are units, full-backs, centre-backs and goalkeeper. They become greater than the sum of their parts – Joe Skarz and Jonjoe Kenny were improved by Jake Wright and Chey Dunkley, Mark Creighton and Jake Wright were improved by Damian Batt. But weaknesses in the unit impact everyone. Sean Clare seems to be taking some time to settle in, Simon Eastwood, Josh Ruffels and Sam Long all seem a bit out of sorts. It’s not likely to be a simple solution as each area will affect another, so isolating the cause is a real challenge. But, the lack of an experienced, mid-career central defender is an undeniable fact.

Simon Eastwood made a great point in the Oxford Mail this week, he doesn’t watch highlights, he said, because you never see any saves, just goals. it supports a theory I have about football fans; they love strikers, watch them all the time, they’re the ones that make the edit. We learn about their movement and ability. Midfielders are similar, we see the passes that make the chances. You rarely see a back-line simply shutting up shop, we’re not that interested in it, it’s boring. Ian Atkins is the person who Chris Williams described as ‘the man who taught him everything he knows about football’. Atkins was a master at creating defensive units. Fans have almost no idea what goes into that, more so about what makes a good goalkeeper, they’re judged only on how spectacular their saves are or how big a howler they made. The fundamentals – organisation, distribution, positioning is mostly lost on us. Andy Woodman never made spectacular saves because his positioning meant he never had to. 

I recently heard Bradley Wiggins talk about his Tour de France victory in 2012, it’s widely viewed that the course was suited to his ability because it contained lots of time trials, his speciality. He pointed out that he still had to ride the other stages and win those time trials. “Perhaps you should try becoming a world class time trialist.” was his trade off.

The same with goalkeepers; we have virtually no idea what it takes to make a good one. They train separately from the team, with specialist coaches. Even a penalty save is frequently described as being ‘at a good height’ as though it’s easy. Perhaps you should try saving a penalty that’s ‘at a good height’. 

One of Karl Robinson’s great qualities is how he relates to the fans’ experience of football. He gets it like no other manager I can think of. His football plays to the fans’ sensibilities – exciting, attacking, entertaining. It’s the stuff that makes the edit. Perhaps that other side, the technical, organised defensive line is simply a blind spot. He takes a fans’ view; defensive organisation is boring, goalkeeping saves are at a good height. He’s not as interested in what that takes; it’s the bit of his job that he puts off and puts off until it becomes a crisis. We all do it. 

There was so much in the Gillingham performance that suggested we’re ultimately going to be fine. But fine and successful are different things. We genuinely could have scored four. But, if we are a team that expects to concede one or two goals a game, then the margin of success narrows. If promotion is the goal, that’s a pressure we don’t need.