Match wrap: Oxford United 2 Blackpool 1

Over Christmas someone posted a tweet about how quickly the feeling of returning to the warm bosom of the family home on Christmas Eve can turn to an overwhelming urge to throw acid over your family just for them wanting to watch Holby City two days later.

If last Saturday’s game against Newcastle was a loving family Christmas Eve and Friday’s transfer shenanigans was a fractious Boxing Day argument, then Blackpool was the first Sunday lunch together a few weeks later.

The Oxford United family returned to the dinner table where we’d laughed and loved, then argued about calling a Chinese takeaway a ‘Chinky’ and if Uncle Alan was ‘shoving it in everyone’s faces’ posting pictures of his new boyfriend on Facebook.

Gathered together at the Kassam, everyone was torn between the need grin and bear it and the urge to address unresolved arguments; about Fosu and Baptiste, about our failure to sign a right-back or our reliance on loans. Do we address the elephants as they sit quietly in the room? Should we get it all out in the open? Or do we just get on with it and leave the elephants be?

As a result, the atmosphere was as subdued as the family lunch; the gentle clanking of knives and forks, the chinking of glasses. The loudest noise of all was the aching silences as everyone trod carefully to avoid a mistake that would destabilise the precarious status quo.

Then, almost as if we were trying too hard to avoid one, there was a mistake, like your dad quietly muttering it was good to have some ‘proper British food’ and everyone thinking it was a reference to an old Brexit argument. John Mousinho and Josh Ruffels clatter into each other, giving Gary Madine a free run at goal. He takes an age, but slots home to put Blackpool 1-0 up.

A goal down could have ignited a barrage of arguments and recriminations, turning the air blue and the atmosphere toxic. People held their breath, bit their lips and hoped it might pass.

It did, then there’s a moment of levity that unites everyone, like mum bringing in a plate of Yorkshire puddings. The ball is worked to Sam Long whose cross drops to Marcus Browne to blast in the equaliser off Mark Sykes. Suddenly and briefly, it’s like the good old days again.

Everything is holding together. Just. We haven’t descended into a mass argument, nobody has stormed out. Perhaps it will be OK.

It gets better, dad cracks a joke that’s a bit close to the bone, but there’s a flicker of a knowing, unifying smile on his face. He knows his prejudices and his cantankerousness. Marcus Browne picks up the ball and curls it round a crowd of players into the top corner. The moment of pure quality brings us all together, momentarily.

But, now this new state of equilibrium has been reached, the second-half is slow and awkward; we’re pensive and don’t threaten much. We don’t want to lose what we’ve gained. It’s a slog as the conditions neutralise any scope for craft or ability. There’s a tension in the air, it could get better, it could get worse, nobody is really prepared to risk anything just in case.

Time ticks by, nearly there. An unnecessarily heavy pudding is served to the over-stuffed guests. Custard? Yes, why not? The injury time board goes up. The family are putting their coats on and saying their goodbyes. Soon, you’ll be in the car and be able to release the tension, free to dissect everyone’s behaviour on your way home.

Then, just as you think you’re alone and got away with it, while putting a bag in the boot of your car, you quietly say to yourself that your dad is ‘a stupid old twat’. You turn around and he’s standing behind you with a Christmas present you’d forgotten, closer than you’d thought. Would he know it was a reference to him? Did he hear? If he did, he’s not saying. After all this, are you going to pay for your error at the death?

Deep into injury time Josh Ruffels woefully under-hits a back pass putting Madine clean through. Oh, god, this is it isn’t it? At the very death, this is the moment it all collapses in a heap. Improbably, his shot skims the outside of the post. We breathe again, let’s get out of here.

The final whistle goes, we’ve made it through. Mum turns to you quietly in the bustle of everyone leaving and says ‘You’ll be coming to us at Christmas won’t you? Your dad really likes you coming, you know.’ You smile a reassuring smile, it may not be always be happy and harmonious, but yes, we’ll be there next time and ultimately everything will be OK. Probably.

Match wrap: Newcastle United 0 Oxford United 0

I’ve had a sense of foreboding and dread all week, a mild, manageable mental health wobble that occasionally creeps up on me. As it turns out, the week ended on a bad note, not directly for me, but for some people near me. It turned out to be a mentally challenging week that I was pleased to see end.

Saturday’s game rather got lost in the fuzz, at times like this I particularly appreciate the bubble that the club and its community provides; the familiarity of a game on Saturday, the simple consensus of our common cause, it provides welcome, necessary insulation from life’s less predictable challenges.  

But, what was Saturday’s game against Newcastle? People talked about it being a great occasion, making a day of it, on the Friday night the club had Karl Robinson, Matty Taylor and Cameron Brannagan do a meet and greet at a local hotel. There were a few who fetishised the dystopian presence of VAR, like we were going to a Premier League theme park with all its horrors. The whole thing could easily have been treated as a fantasy or a PR exercise, because in a sense, we couldn’t lose, even if we’d lost.

Would we remember there was a game to play? What kind of game? Newcastle are a curious club; in the same way we were defined by the Firoz Kassam business model; tenants to a slum landlord, Newcastle United are defined by Mike Ashley’s business ethos; take a premium brand past its sell-by date, strip it of its value and sell it cheaply back to any remaining customers.

So, after a sluggish week, Friday slipped into Saturday and the yellow caravan mobilised; by car, by train, by coach. The giddy excitement of the adventure. Into the bubble, moving north. But for what purpose? In hope? Simply because it was there to do?

St James’ Park looked great, a true cathedral of football; 52,000 fans, 3,700 of us packed into the seventh tier of their huge Leazes Stand. We even loved the indignity of being exiled to a spot closer to the moon than the pitch, like captives with Stockholm Syndrome. Apparently in awe, it could all have gone horribly wrong come 3pm.

As it turned out, with the battle finally joined, we were ready. Newcastle are on the right side of the financial chasm between the Championship and Premier League and are built for one thing, to stay there. Not the entertainers of the 1990s, they’re survivors of the 2020s. Like one of Ashley’s high street shops, chugging away doing whatever it takes to survive. Steve Bruce is the perfect manager; focussed and pragmatic, building his team around formidable physical units; Allan Saint-Maximin and Joellinton as much the front line of defence when faced with Manchester City and Liverpool as an attacking threat. 

They’re not built to win games, snatch them, yes, but there are few teams in the Premier League that Newcastle would simply try to outplay. Points in their last two games, causing an upswing in optimism, have come from last minute goals. A team of elite desparados.

Playing our third Premier League team of the year, our own well-disciplined conservatism is partly drawn from our surroundings, but also from our personnel. Sam Long and Elliot Moore are building careers on doing their job, not thrilling the crowd. We’re becoming accustomed to how this works now.

We allow Newcastle the ball, but they don’t know what to do with it. They’re simply not used to it. Set plays are a threat, sheer brutish physicality stretches us from time to time, but we’re not outclassed. Karl Robinson talks about exhausted bodies, we’ve played 11 more games than them this season, but our minds are fresh.

Their hope is that we might eventually wilt under the pressure, succumb to mental and physical tiredness, the occasion and the prize on offer. But, there’s no craft, Saint-Maximin burns himself out despite a couple of forays against Sam Long, Joellinton grows frustrated at his own short-comings. This is a player who might realistically hope to score no more than ten times a season, for a striker, it must be maddening; doubly so when your supporters expect double.

We don’t wilt, later on Alex Gorrin has the clarity of thought to draw a foul and a booking when caught out of position, Mark Sykes does the same a couple of minutes later. It’s a pivotal moment; when you’ve got 52,000 people howling at you in disgust it takes a brave, clear headed and mature man to accept the berating for the greater good. Sykes comes of age in that moment, Gorrin is his mentor. The fouls were cynical, but necessary, a reward for the discipline; any early bookings and those moments wouldn’t have been an option.    

Into the final moments and the game loosens up, it feels like we’re growing into our more natural game while they seem to be falling apart. Marcus Browne, who looks like he has the physical match of his highly paid opponents, sees a gap, but can’t quite re-organise his feet and shoots weakly. Nathan Holland, more slender and louche, nearly converts. Far away in the sky, the noise of 3,710 fans tumbles down the stands. 

And there you have it. Through all the hullabaloo, there was a match. We were ready. Physically and tactically ready, but more than that, we were mentally prepared in a way I hadn’t expected. In a week where I’ve lived mostly in my own head, it’s a joy to see the team using theirs; the clarity and maturity and the reward at the end. Saturdays are a gift for the difficulties that life can throw at you, players often praise the commitment of the fans, but sometimes we understate the importance of their efforts and the impact they have beyond the 90 minutes on the pitch. Saturday’s result and performance illustrated that perfectly.

Still in the Cup, always in the bubble.

Match wrap: Gillingham 1 Oxford United 1

I went viral last week. In Rotherham. My match wrap said enough nice things about them going top that lots of Rotherham fans picked up on it. As a result I got hooked into a sidebar conversation about their Championship potential.

Something similar came up in the Five Minute Fan Forum on Radio Oxford; could Oxford compete if they were promoted given the average wage bill in the Championship is five times that of League 1?

In the hullabaloo of the last few weeks it’s not something I’d really thought about. I was in the moment, I hadn’t given much thought to what it means.

The draw with Gillingham brought up some concerns that our season was becoming derailed. We haven’t won in four, we’ve got injuries to key players. The worry is that having got into this position, we’re about to blow it.

Back in 2015/16 we played Hartlepool three games from the end of the season. Joe Skarz climbed off the treatment table, ran himself into the ground to help give us three critical points. Quoting from that match wrap; “The week started with MacDonald on a drip in hospital, O’Dowda on his sick bed, Skarz out for the season, Lundstram breaking down in training and Roofe nursing an injury.” We were in bits, praying that we could claw our way to the end of the season.

Then, like now saw November through to January as the ultimate stress test on a squad, by the time we got to the end of the season we were nearing collapse and it was only the heroism of people like Joe Skarz and the adrenalin from what we might achieve that got us over the line.

We were promoted by a point, winning our last three games to do that. That’s 46 games of almost unrelenting success and still just 1 point in it. Seasons have to be long and challenging to really decide who’s best.

You can see similar pressure on the current squad now; injuries to Matty Taylor, James Henry, Ben Woodburn, Cameron Brannagan and others, the form of Tariqe Fosu and Simon Eastwood. There are challenges everywhere.

But, it’s something we should expect. The club can’t insulate itself from these challenges by signing a bottomless pit of perfect replacements. As much as we’d like certainty, we have to expect the squad to be battered, it’s a necessary part of the process.

We’re far from alone; most of the teams competing with us will be in a similar position. They also don’t have the resources to simply spend their way out of difficulties.

Gillingham are 14th and on a reasonable run; they’re just ahead of Blackpool and behind Fleetwood, Bristol Rovers, Peterborough and Doncaster, all teams that have had their moments this season. If we are having a dip in form, then to do that and still be fifth is good news.

We’d face exactly the same challenges if we were at the other end of the table. Once January is out of the way the objectives of the season become crystal clear; last year it was about avoiding relegation, this year it’s about potentially going up. I’ll take that.

So rather than worrying about injuries and fearing dips in our form, or even concerning ourselves with what we might achieve if we did get promoted, we should simply embrace that we’re here. There’s no guarantee that should we not get promoted or make the play-offs this year that we will simply kick on next. As they say in mortgage adverts; past performance is no indicator of future performance.

The truth is that we probably aren’t ready for the Championship; but we do have an opportunity to have a crack at it. It’s not likely to be pretty, but that’s sort of the point.

Match wrap: Oxford United 0 Ipswich Town 0

As much as we may not want to believe it, football is increasingly predictable. Players and managers come from the same vast academies and are taught to similar FIFA approved standards. Money is the main differentiator between success and failure. Even then, the minimum stake in the game has been pushed so high it’s only the multi-billionaires that can disrupt the status quo. 

I have a soft spot for Ipswich Town having supported them briefly in my unenlightened pre-Oxford days. I liked their kit and when they started winning trophies it was good being the only Ipswich fan in school. Bobby Robson and his meticulously crafted team brought success to an unfashionable club, I liked being part of that. 

It’s unlikely that’ll ever happen again. At the top of the game, modern football seems to act as a data provider for other pursuits; betting, fantasy football, FIFA and Football Manager, this is where the fun is, the games themselves are entertainment products with mostly predictable outcomes.

When the rain battered Tuesday’s game, we witnessed a rare moment of unpredictability in an increasingly predictable sport. When the referee suspended play, Ipswich players stayed on the pitch to stay warm, Oxford players went off to the dressing room to stay warm, there was no precedent or protocol to follow.

The referee’s decision was understandable, considered and ultimately correct; we earnestly talk about player safety and it was true that Marcus Browne, Sam Long and Josh Ruffels all ended up sliding into tackles which were dangerously out of control. It was also clear the ball wasn’t running true but if you want evidence of the increasingly mechanistic nature of the game, just look at the pass Alex Gorrin played directly into the middle of the boggiest part of the pitch creating panic in our back line. Even the physical evidence in front of him couldn’t override the training that was ingrained into his muscle memory. 

But it was more than that, the physics of the game changed; a referee’s judgement is based on a range of visual clues; how a challenge is made, how a player responds, the direction of the ball before and after the challenge. All those norms were washed away with the rain. The main talking point was John Mousinho’s challenge on James Norwood, it looked untidy, though Norwood took an age to go down. Could the referee definitively say that the mess was created by Mousinho, by Norwood or by the conditions?

Tactically there was no provision for the conditions. On Saturday against Rotherham there were clear tactical patterns and intent, on Tuesday it was impossible to know what each team was trying to do or whether there was any attempt to adapt their plans to suit.

On paper, the game was a key promotion match-up, with both teams’ season on a knife edge. In normal conditions, the fixture could have given some signals about the direction both teams were heading. Ipswich had just ended a run of 12 games without a win, we’d suffered two defeats on the bounce. Was their performance a sign of recovery? No idea. Was our performance a sign of decline? No idea. Did Nathan Holland seem quiet? No idea. Was Simon Eastwood rusty? No idea.

The conditions removed any capacity for informed decision making and the game descended into park football. Afterwards, Nick Harris claimed we eventually got ‘a decent game of football’. A game of football? Yes. Decent? Less so.

With the conditions dictating more than any individual could, once the game became playable, the first half became a long meaningless meander. In the second-half, we emerged with half a plan – with the swirling wind and wet pitch, the idea to shoot at every opportunity was a sensible one, but eventually even that petered out as the players were battered by the conditions. What could have been a significant and entertaining game simply descended from farce to non-event, by the time the final whistle came everyone just seemed happy for it to be over.

Karl Robinson came to terms with what was going on much faster than Paul Lambert. At one point there was a disputed throw-in, Lambert was apoplectic – a default for him – Robinson walked over smiling, grabbing him as if to remind him to stop applying normal rules to abnormal conditions. Robinson, the hyperbolic gobshite calming the cosmopolitan sophisticat, Champions League winner and former Premier League manager Lambert? It was that kind of night.   

Match wrap: Oxford United 1 Rotherham United 3

It’s funny how a pair of slim fitting trousers and a nice new stadium can influence your perception of a club. I always had Paul Warne and Rotherham down as a progressive bolthole, someone for us to aspire to being like. As is patently obvious, I don’t follow the fortunes of other teams that closely, I’d read about our clash of styles and their reliance on set plays but I was still surprised at their sheer physical presence on Saturday. I had to look it up; on average we conceded nearly 4cm in height per player.

Matt Crooks, their number 17, was case in point. Officially standing at 6 ft 3 inches (but looking bigger) you’d expect him to be in the centre of defence, or attack, or in goal, not in the centre of midfield towering over Cameron Brannagan. It was like a stunt you see in the Conference, where physical freaks are played in unusual positions to flummox the opposition.

This wasn’t anti-football though, Crooks can play as could the others, it was a souped-up version what we have seen previously from promotion winning teams at this level – physical, direct, organised. Unusually physical, but not a total abomination. It wasn’t complicated, but it was overwhelmingly efficient. There was a lot of talk about our failings, but much less about how good they were, it was as close as we’ve seen to a title winning side as anyone this season.

They double-teamed constantly, attacked with pace and aggression and when they didn’t have the ball, they expanded to make it impossible to get around them. Conceding early was only part of the story, the physical mismatch meant we were playing two teams – the actual team and the team that was in our heads. That’s what happens with bullying; it goes beyond the physical.

As a result, we were less committed in the tackle, less assured in the passing, less vociferous with the referee. Generally, the confidence drained out of us and there was nobody able to take control of the situation.

It was all done and dusted by half-time, so the post-mortem was a long one. Did Karl Robinson make the wrong selections? I could see the logic of keeping the same core side as we’ve had all season. Jamie Mackie was the more obvious selection in a physical match-up. Simon Eastwood looked understandably rusty and Cameron Brannagan was out of sorts, but the thinking was sound and that’s all I ask.

3-0 down at half-time, Karl Robinson did exactly the right thing, rather than trying to play them at their game, we played them at a completely different one. Mark Sykes was the only player in the first half that looked like he was getting any joy, so pace was clearly something that they would struggle with. We doused them with it with the introduction of Browne and Holland and suddenly they looked a little more human. The result was a reassuring display which occasionally teetered on a comeback. Had Matty Taylor put away his one-on-one and the referee been a fractionally less inconsistent we may even have scraped an unlikely point. In Rotherham we may actually be watching the title winners, but we’re not done yet for promotion or the play-offs.  

The other positive is that it’s out of the way and that future threats we face are more obvious. When the Rotherham fans were singing about being top of the league, I had to look it up; they’ve arrived at the top by stealth. Like League 1 is a Trojan horse; Wycombe were supposed to be the physical industrial unit that were streaking to the title, suddenly they collapse and there’s a new threat. We just happen to be the first team to properly face it. We knew they were good; I think we were surprised at just how good. 

What comes next is no less straight forward, but at least we know that. Our League Cup run benefitted from players like Sam Long and Elliot Moore, straight forward percentage players who wouldn’t leave us vulnerable when faced with quality. Games against Ipswich, Sunderland and Portsmouth may be more like League Cup ties than some of our more swashbuckling League displays of earlier in the season, but, let’s face it, that served us OK.

George Lawrences Shorts: The Kitching sink

Saturday 4 January 2020

Oxford cruised into the fourth round of the FA Cup with a 4-1 win over Hartlepool. After eight minutes, sulky sixth former Rob Dickie scuffed a backpass like he was kicking a stone after arguing with his mum which allowed Hartlepool’s Mark Kitching to nip in to score. After that, it was The Shandon the Baptiste Show who invented more new angles than a Daily Mail columnist racially bating Meghan Markle. Baptiste then weaved through the Hartlepool defence and half of next week’s Rotherham line-up to score our second. 

Sunday 5 January 2020

With Charlie Methven hanging up his suede moccasins last month, lonely Sunderland doe-eyed cash puppy Stewart Donald was seen looking lovingly at Oxford’s FA Cup win over Hartlepool rather than supporting his own team in their game against Lincoln. Donald recently bowed to the demands of entitled Mackems and put his club up for sale

Elsewhere, round the clock football website: Football 365 thinks Tariqe Fosu is ready for the Premier League. He will, just two promotions to negotiate first.

Monday 6 January 2020

There was more fondling of velvet ball bags on Monday as the FA Cup draw was made. Oxford will make the trip to Rochdale or Sports Direct’s flagship football club Newcastle United. Like zero hours Sports Direct factory workers seeing how many of their oversized mugs they can stack – it’s a big cup game.

Tuesday 7 January 2020

* cue: A Team theme tune *

In 2020, a crack football manager was banned from the touchline by a FA Tribunal for a crime he didn’t commit. This man promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Oxford underground. Today, still wanted by the FA he survives as a manager of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them….maybe you can hire The KRob-Team.

At the same time, Hartlepool’s Gime Toure has been given a three match ban after decking sulky sixth former Rob Dickie on Saturday behind the ref’s back.

Wednesday 8 January 2020

Holland and Kelly is a local friendly High Street estate agents in the town where GLS lives. Their attentive nature and unparalleled local knowledge is invaluable when we are looking at houses we can’t afford and have no intention of buying but need to waste time before the pub opens.

So, we were pretty surprised when its founders Nathan Holland and Liam Kelly signed for Oxford on loan, there’s a six bedroom town house on Arcacia Avenue we wanted to look around.

Thursday 9 January 2020

I mean, we’re not pretending it was an edifying sight, but Thursday saw KRob, buoyed by even more signings of Marcus Browne and Rob Atkinson, moonwalking into Radio Oxford giving flirtatious ‘call-me’ signs to the receptionist for the 5 Minute 48 Second Fans Forum.

In it, he confirmed that he didn’t expect Matty Taylor or Cameron Brannagan to go in the transfer window, but did suggest that Leeds have an interest in another player.

Friday 10 January 2020

It’s Rotherham tomorrow; ah, the tradition of football – the end of the working week, 3pm kick-offs, the smell of Bovril in the stands, yet another 1500 word essay on how Christophe Wilde dragged himself up by the bootstraps. The cosmopolitan sophisticate has just signed a new contract at Sheffield United.

Match wrap: Oxford United 4 Hartlepool United 1

I tend to park in a little side road about 10 minutes from the ground. Apart from the busiest games, there’s always space. Not many people know about it and there’s a small group of us who do know how to make the most out of the space available.

I was looking forward to getting back to normal after three 10,000+ attendances. I left the house at my usual time and arrived at my usual spot. Someone had parked on the wrong side of the road creating a chicane, limiting the space available. There wasn’t space for me, so I had to park in my ‘big-game’ spot instead.

The ticketing strategy for the FA Cup win over Hartlepool undoubtedly worked, but it did create a lot of irregular behaviour. There seemed to be a lot of newbies; kids in brand new merchandise, queues outside the South Stand, which is unheard of. It was a real success.

I happened to be sitting in my regular seat thanks to Brinyhoof, but nobody else was. The unallocated seats seemed to change the dynamic of the crowd, making it a much more passive, expectant experience. At times it felt like we’d turned up to watch a training session or friendly. People were here to be entertained.

The pre-match gathering to recognise mental health and/or John Shuker and/or everyone who died last year was confusing. They were all important things to mark, but all at the same time made the atmosphere even stranger. Thankfully, nothing touched the farce of the Armistice ceremony at Portsmouth. But then, nothing could.

On the pitch, we stroked the ball around reassuringly, Karl Robinson, usually a hyperactive lunatic on the touchline, spent much of the first half rolling his eyes in a professorial way at the incompetence around him. Nobody seemed that bothered about turning it into a competitive, must-win game.

Then, in a moment reminiscent of San Marino’s goal against England in 1993, Rob Dickie scuffed a back pass and they darted in to score. It created an even more peculiar atmosphere; there was an expectation in the stands that this would be put right, like taking back an over-ripe pack of peaches to Waitrose.

But initially there seemed to be no reaction. They didn’t look threatening, but then neither did we. What was needed, and is needed in all games, is someone to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. Usually we rely on Cameron Brannagan or James Henry, but neither were available.

It was possible that we’d simply let the game slip by, compressing the time available to get the equaliser, then a winner. They never looked particularly threatening and they seemed to have vulnerabilities we could exploit. This was no better illustrated by Michael Raynes; a great guy who had a solid game, but let’s not forget he was a second string League 2 central defender for us. Five years ago. They were nothing special. It could have been the strangest giantkilling in history; driven by apathy with the risk staring us in the face.

Shandon Baptiste can cut an insouciant character, he doesn’t dart about finding spaces, driving people on, he’s rarely stretching for balls, he can look like he’s waiting for the game to come to him. Without Henry or Brannagan we needed someone to change the patterns of the match. Their role was to put bodies behind the ball, ours was to find a way through. Baptiste is the one with the tools to do it, but whether he had the will was another question.

Then, suddenly he was finding a breathtaking range of passing with new angles that cut out lines of Hartlepool’s defence and stretched them in ways they didn’t know they could be stretched. One ball out to Sam Long was simply breathtaking. He has such presence of mind, that there was one foul on the half-way line where he fell while staying on his feet until he was sure the referee had given it. He was in complete control.

His goal, of course, was the culmination of it all. Barrelling through players with step-overs, dummy’s and a dropped shoulder. Like an extended remix of his goal against West Ham.

In the end, it was all quite comfortable and hopefully some of the day-trippers enjoyed their time enough to come to games which aren’t determined by the size of the opponents or the price of the tickets. That has to be the aim; with Rotherham, Ipswich, Sunderland and Portsmouth to come, as well as the next round of the Cup, there’s plenty of entertainment on offer in the coming weeks.

We have a number of flight-risks this transfer window – Dickie, Brannagan, Baptiste. But, where Dickie and Brannagan are most likely to be targeted by teams in the Championship, teams we could be playing next year, you sense with Baptiste that he has the potential to go higher. My hope is that whatever path he does take, its developmental and he doesn’t find himself stuck in a Championship squad keeping their head above water, his home should be at the very top of the game.