Match wrap: Oxford United 0 Peterborough United 0

There’s a point in a bike race known as ‘the selection’; it’s usually towards the end at a short, sharp incline. It’s a notional point where the route ‘selects’ those that are in the reckoning for the win and those who have run out of energy. A good bike rider will time a burst of energy at the point of selection to break the link between the contenders and everyone else.

Something similar happens around this point of the football season. Last season, when there were discussions about the accuracy of a points-per-game calculation, I calculated that by this stage it was very likely that the selection had been made and those at the top would stay there

There’s usually a game in the season where our fallibility is conclusively tested. Last season we were strongarmed by Rotherham United, which showed to me that we weren’t ready for automatic promotion. In the past we’ve faced Sheffield United, Northampton Town, Bolton Wanderers and found that, as good as we were, we weren’t good enough. We were deselected.

I was expecting the same from last night’s game against Peterborough United. But, where in previous selective games, I’ve gone in hoping for the win, last night I was fully expecting a defeat. It’s an interesting psychological shift; when I go to games, no matter who the opponents are, my working emotional precept is that we’ll win, it’s what gets me off the settee and into my car. Now we’re stuck at home, the assessment is more rational, perhaps more realistic, but much less fun.

The game itself reminded me of our League Cup successes last year. Caution doesn’t come naturally to Karl Robinson or his teams, but playing better sides forces us to be more conservative. It suits us well; we were less in a rush to get on the front foot, more comfortable moving the ball around the back-line probing for an opportunity. 

Whereas we struggled to calculate the moments when we could pounce, it was a much improved all-round performance. Against MK Dons, the decision to attack was much simpler; we did it at every opportunity, against Peterborough we needed to pick our moments, but that relies on having thinkers on the pitch. Unfortunately, the likes of James Henry and Liam Kelly aren’t in the starting line-up.

That said, where in past selective games there’s been a sense that we’ve been brave but ultimately humbled, last night I felt the gap was much narrower and we competed more as equals. Rob Atkinson has looked very comfortable all season, but was tested in a way that he hasn’t been before. He came through with flying colours. I can’t remember us ever having a young and exciting back five before. We still need more depth in defence, but we’ve probably still got another season before Atkinson, Moore and Stevens will properly enter anyone’s radar, it’s good to know there should be more to come from them all.

The challenge, it seems, is not so much other teams as ourselves. We have the ability to compete with anyone in the league but we have to cope with the style of play that Karl Robinson promotes, which burns through players with injury and fatigue. 

The injuries to Sam Long, Marcus McGuane, Sam Winnall and Elliot Lee leave us struggling for numbers. On top of this, a quick calculation shows that Dan Agyei, Sam Long, Elliott Moore and Matty Taylor are all playing more frequently than they did last season. Taylor is averaging one day less between each game this year; that doesn’t sound a lot until you think that’s over a month less recovery time over a season which is already compressed. 

The inconsistency in results isn’t limited to us though; Lincoln, Portsmouth and Doncaster are all suffering wobbles having topped the table recently. We may be seeing a selection in terms of the automatic positions; Peterborough remind me of an old boss I once had who I couldn’t stand, but tended to make the right decisions. Everything about The Posh is odious, but they are worthy promotion candidates and have been building to this for a while. Their success is no fluke, which you have to admire, albeit grudgingly. Hull City also should have enough to get them over the line, if they can keep their heads. It remains to be seen whether Michael Appleton can kickstart Lincoln again, but I can see them fading. 

As for the rest of the table, outside the top two, five of the next eight, six including us have won once in the last five. Although the distance between us and the play-offs is creeping up again, there may still be another selection before the final places are decided. In all honesty, I think we have no more than an outside chance of making the cut, but last night offered both short and long-term hope.

Match wrap: MK Dons 1 Oxford United 1

It was the Scots who invented modern football. Their ‘combination game’ introduced passing between players as a guiding philosophy. Technically, it was far superior to the English code where dribbling was considered the highest skill, and where brute strength, handling the ball and hacking were all admired qualities.

The English considered the style effeminate, a dereliction of personal responsibility. It caused some to break away and create rugby, but even today there’s still admiration for players who are physical and aggressive despite England’s comparative failures as a national team. At club level, English teams started importing players from Queen’s Park; the great innovators of the combination game and so the philosophy travelled south. In 1882, the Scots beat England 5-1 at Hampden Park; part of a sequence of seven wins in eight and the combination game firmly took root. Passing was the underlying feature of the Hungarian team which destroyed England in 1953, the Brazilian World Cup winners of 1970 and the Spanish dominance of the 2010s. The English were left behind kissing their badges, getting stuck in and knocking it long.

It’s hard to imagine a tactical innovation with a greater impact; I’d argue that pretty much all tactical evolution since has been underpinned by improvements in fitness and sports science. Take, for example, the tactic of taking a goal kick to a defender stood inside your own penalty box. In the past, goal kicks were all about territory; the ‘keeper launching the ball to the halfway line.

This is an innovation of Pep Guardiola’s at Manchester City, presumably to counteract the ‘gengenpressing’ of Jurgen Klopp and the German school. If you can draw your opponents deep into your own territory, it’s possible to play in a counter-attacking style even though you have the ball. But, this is only possible if your players have the fitness to play with high levels of technical ability from one end of the pitch to the other. It’s hard to imagine Gary Briggs and Malcolm Shotton passing the ball to each other inside the six yard box with strikers baring down on them.

MK Dons have an almost kamikaze version of this approach. It’s like a public information film warning teams against it. The goalkeeper passes to the defender and then acts as an auxiliary full-back to receive the return ball. At one point yesterday their keeper was more advanced than their centre-back at a goal kick. More often than not, they find themselves in trouble, with strikers closing down as they dither. They were doing it in the first game earlier this season and seem not to have learnt a single lesson since.

In the iFollow commentary Eddie Odhiambo made the point that with 4-4-2 largely extinct, players now have one and a half jobs to do. Again, the improvements in fitness mean we expect players to do more than they did in the past. 

Karl Robinson’s obsessed with pace and energy; a reflection of his personality. Everything is breakneck, fitness levels need to be high, injuries are more likely. Against Portsmouth, that was used against us; creating such a noise that we couldn’t settle to anything. Against MK Dons, we came up against some shrewd heads and a decent amount of defensive discipline meaning that though we were dynamic throughout, they were able to cushion any blows we tried to land.

Take Brandon Barker, in full flight he’s an exciting player, but yesterday he found himself running into the traffic of a packed MK defence. With a bobbly pitch, he couldn’t quite carve out an opportunity. But, all over the pitch it was the same, Mide Shodipo and Elliot Lee struggled. We’d advance at a fierce pace but ran into trouble and the attack would break down.

There’s a lot about this that works; Dan Agyei’s impact was stunning; watch the highlights on YouTube almost everything we do involves him, even though he was only on the pitch for 19 minutes.

Against many teams, we’d get a couple of goals and be cruising by this method, but when we concede or struggle to make the breakthrough, the insistence of playing at the same breakneck speed works against us. Earlier in the season we’d tire, as we did against Swindon, but more recently we keep pounding away for the 90 minutes. But, it’s like in rugby when the ball is passed to the number eight with the intention of simply gaining a few yards before being bundled to the floor. We advance, but there’s little hope of making the breakthrough. We need someone to change the dynamic.

What was lacking yesterday was what we lack generally; leadership, someone to calm things down a little. We don’t lack experience, but it’s hard to see who is dictating the tempo or changing the angles when things aren’t working, or if we simply need a breather. John Mousinho was an organiser, John Lundstram could do it with his passing, we have James Henry, but presumably he’s not fit at the moment so is unable to act as the brains of the operation. 

It’s not on the YouTube highlights, but in the build up to the goal the ball is worked down the right flank. In a split second James Henry realises he may be offside, and leaves the ball to Anthony Forde. Henry stands still, allowing the play to move past him, bringing him onside and into play. It’s a smart move; it would have been easy for Henry to get caught up in the urgency of the situation and take a touch, potentially conceding a free-kick for offside. Forde and Henry exchange passes giving Forde the space to cross for Agyei to head across goal and Lee to bundle home.

Lee takes the glory and Agyei not only the assist, but hopefully the congratulations of his manager, but it was Henry and Forde’s clarity of thought which allowed the attack to develop. I was always struck by something Gary Neville once said about the Manchester United side under Alex Ferguson. In the last minute, the objective is not to bombard your opponent, but to create one quality chance. That’s what happened here.

In our 1996 promotion season, one pivotal, but underplayed aspect of our success was the prominence of Stuart Massey in the latter stages of the season. We had started with Chris Allen, who was fast and exciting, but working at that speed meant he was more prone to mistakes. When Allen fell out of favour, Massey came in. He had a bit more experience, and was a little more one dimensional, but he demanded the ball in a certain way; he didn’t have the pace to run half the length of the pitch, so he wanted the ball at his feet within the final third. Once he had it, his crossing was pin sharp. This alone unlocked the goal scoring ability of Paul Moody, whose job was to get on the end of the crosses.  The modern game doesn’t really allow for a water carrier – a Martin Gray, Dave Smith or Simon Clist – as Odhiambo said, players are expected to be fit enough to do the job of more than one person. But if we are going to take the step from play-off hopefuls to play-off contenders, we might need a little more brain and a little less brawn.     

Match wrap: Oxford United 0 Portsmouth 1

I went to Las Vegas years ago, I didn’t gamble much, I found the experience too intimidating with people slumped over the fruit machines unable to move and pneumatically enhanced women serving free drinks to keep the punters lubricated and spending. 

There was one experience that stood above everything else. Wandering through one of the casinos, I found myself watching a game of blackjack at a table. Everyone looked very serious with chips stacked high next to every player. I gradually found myself at the front of the crowd of onlookers with nothing between me and a vacant chair. The croupier caught my eye, gesturing for me to sit. My blood ran cold, couldn’t be sure how to play, didn’t have much money and everyone looked tense and intimidating. I wasn’t ready to take my seat at the table. Thankfully, someone was ushered into the spot before I found the right words.

It was years later I realised what was going on. The players were hardened gamblers, Nevada gambling laws mean that private games are illegal and I’d found myself standing next to a high roller table which required a mere $10,000 to join a game. 

Last season, I felt we were ill-prepared for The Championship, a high roller table with a minimum stake beyond our means. Promotion would have been bitter sweet, as Wycombe are finding this season. Our notional fourth place finish last season was largely due to the points-per-game calculation and the quirk of our five winning game run that preceded the curtailing of the season. We still had Coventry, Wycombe, Fleetwood and Portsmouth to play, and in all likelihood we’d have dropped back by the end of the season.

That early ending gave us a false picture of our status in the division, which created a surge of optimism and expectation. Something that was eventually readdressed when the new season started.

While last night’s defeat seemed to confirm that we’re still not a sure-fire high stakes play-off contender, there’s no reason to be concerned. Only two teams in the top 10 – Peterborough and Sunderland – have won more games than us in their last five, Lincoln and Hull have both stumbled in recent weeks. Teams around us seem to be feeling the fatigue of an intense and disrupted season as much as we are.

Last night was typical of defeats we saw earlier this season; Portsmouth hurried and harried, forcing us to play at a pace that made constructing anything meaningful very difficult. We play at pace anyway, but it leaves little time to think. If we don’t slow the game down, then we need the opposition to tire to give us space. Perhaps that’s a reason for our slower starts to the season; when opponents are fresh, regardless of their ability, they can sustain the disrupting tempo that makes it harder for us to control the game. As the season wears on those at the bottom of the table lose that ability and we benefit.

It was close, we could easily have come away with a point; which would have been our sixth consecutive draw against Pompey. We’re not yet out-performing the best in the division, but we’re staying with them.

Beating the better sides is definitely a goal to aim at before the end of the season, it’s a slight obsession that we’ve not had a win against a top six side, although that’s another way of saying that we beat the teams we’re better than and don’t win against those who we aren’t. Which is pretty obvious really, I’d be more frustrated if it were the other way around.

Still, beating top six sides will help enforce the belief that we should be competing at that level. The idea that we can sit at the same blackjack table is becoming an increasingly comfortable reality, it’s a mindset that needs to soak in.

It’s possible that we’re ready for the play-offs and promotion, but not yet equipped to play in The Championship. Culturally, I think we’re very close, but structurally we’re a long way off, we need to build that infrastructure, which takes time and Covid has been a massive distraction. The alternative springboard to the next level is a super-rich benefactor, but I’m not ready to sell my soul yet.

We should still be hopeful for this season, for all the concern, the result was our second league defeat in sixteen off the back of a record breaking run of wins. It took 128 years to achieve that feat, fans expecting a return to that kind of form in a matter of weeks are kidding themselves, we were always going to fall back a bit. 

It is quite normal for teams at our level, competing for play-off and promotion spots, to go on strange runs of good and bad form. We saw it last season with Wycombe whose form was abject when the season ended, but benefitted from a quirk of maths. We also saw it with us and the run which got us into play-offs in the first place.

I think we have another run left in us this season; we don’t have an excess of injuries and our two defeats to Doncaster and Portsmouth were very close against good sides. Whether it’s enough to sneak us into the play-offs may be determined by the timing of that run. Getting into the play-offs may not mean we’re good enough for the high roller table that is the division above, but that’s a concern for another time.  

Match wrap: Ipswich Town 0 Oxford United 0

Myles Kenlock battling with Elliot Lee.

There’s a woman who lives in a village near me. Of all the people I don’t know very well, she’s among the most friendly, very happy to strike up a natural conversation about pretty much any subject. It’s rumoured that she previously worked in adult entertainment, anything from glamour modelling to porn. Plus, of course, it’s rumoured that she’s sleeping her way around her village, though nobody seems to be able to name a single man in the village she’s bedded. Whether she’s aware of these rumours, I don’t know, but she strikes me as someone who built herself up to withstand this sort of thing.

She recently posted something on a village Facebook group offering some old tat from a lockdown clearout she was having, which led me to idly peruse her social media profiles. She posts more than once a day, often memes about empowering women. She seems to make money from multi-layer marketing businesses – health foods, beauty products and cryptocurrencies. And, she does a fine line in conspiracy theories about vaccinations, lockdowns, face masks and Donald Trump. In short, the only real cure for coronavirus is organic vegan produce, because Bill Gates wants to control you through vaccinations. This is while also selling vitamin supplements and something called ‘super-water’.

I’ve recently been reading about the part of the brain called the hippocampus. Part of its role is to create a perception of control. At one level, the world is a series of entirely random events. If you drive up a motorway, you don’t know who else is on the road and what they might do. However, we also have to believe there is some kind of accepted order, that most people will broadly follow the rules of the road, otherwise we’d never leave the house. The book I’m reading uses a nice analogy – it’s probably better to believe you have a drunk pilot flying the plane than no pilot at all. 

Those with a small hippocampus are more likely to perceive the world as out of control, a series of entirely random events bumping into each other. This is more likely to lead to mental health issues – essentially the brain going into survival mode in response to all the danger it perceives. Those with a large hippocampus perceive that it’s possible to have absolute control over the world we live in and our role in it. This sounds great, but these people are also more likely to construct elaborate conspiracy theories about secret controlling forces that govern our world because it’s the only way they can process randomness. They actively seek order and explanation where there is none. To them, the current pandemic, an apparently unpredictable random event outside all societal norms, must have someone controlling it because they can’t perceive a world in which a tiny viral spore can just turn society on its head. 

Whether it’s the self-empowering memes or the conspiracy theories, the woman in the nearby village clearly believes in a sense of order and control. Whether it’s achieving it for herself through her various business ventures, or the construction of elaborate conspiracies about controlling forces preventing her from achieving her goals.

All of which is a sage reminder that there was very little to report from our 0-0 draw with Ipswich Town. It probably signals the end of the middle and beginning of the end of the season. Having had a poor start and a spectacular mid-season, we’re heading into the final phase of the season broadly where we’d expect to be. But, because of our streakiness, it’s difficult to know where we’re heading.

Ipswich was the first of the big bears of League 1 that we’re set to face in the coming weeks alongside Portsmouth on Tuesday, Charlton Athletic, Hull City and Sunderland. These are all teams that have suffered in recent years as their constructed world as a big club got gradually undermined, dumping them in a world they barely understand. They now play in cavernous empty stadiums, a constant reminder of who they should be, while struggling for points against clubs they would consider to be beneath them. The stadiums represent the controlled world of status they crave, the opponents are the reminder that the world is more random than they’d like to believe.

I don’t know where we sit in all this; we’ve been at the top, but don’t have the constant reminder of being a big club. We’ve also been to the bottom, playing Ipswich or Portsmouth is more motivating because we know what it’s like to face Farsley Celtic and Droylsden as equals.

But, of course, those memories don’t sit with the players or management, they sit with the fans stuck at home. I suspect our recent form would have had us pack out the away end at Ipswich, which may have been enough to push us on and further undermine their brittle confidence. Our form doesn’t help; do we have the confidence in our own ability to power our way into these fixtures, bowling them over with our confidence? Or will we be simply be dragged into the same lethargy that’s engulfing the likes of Ipswich at the moment? We seem capable of doing both.

Yesterday didn’t feel like we really believed the prize of promotion was in our grasp. A small hippocampus, prone to accepting randomness over control. Despite their problems, Ipswich weren’t to be taken lightly, but at the same time, there was an opportunity to chip away at any perceptions of control over their own destiny that might remain. We didn’t really take that opportunity, but we’ll need to, particularly at home, if we want to sneak into the play-offs.

What happens next is likely to be determined by whether we perceive that we control our destiny or simply take each game as it comes to see where we end up.

Match wrap: Oxford United 2 Wigan Athletic 1

To many, football is a pastime. On the outside, a passive experience, but for those inside the bubble, it’s visceral with the ability to leave a thumbprint on your soul.

Take the postponement of a game; to the outside world that means nothing happened. But, something did happen, a postponement happened; the weather watching, the existential battle of the groundsmen to get the game on; the heroism and grovelling gratitude if they do, the referee inspecting the pitch to see if the ball runs true; like a roman emperor passing definitive judgement on a defeated gladiator. If the game is called off, attention turns to watching other results and the impact they have. Calculations are done about the advantage of your game in hand; football’s cryptocurrency; invaluable and worthless at the same time. 

The point still stands when there is a game. The journey up the motorway, the officious stewards, the last minute goal, a stonewall penalty that wasn’t given, the manager’s persistence with a player who is clearly not performing, and the lack of chance for one who deserves a start, the three points or the one point or the no points at all. Spat back out into the working week, you might get a ‘I see your boys won again.’ from a half-interested colleague. You nod; how do you explain the meaning of a Sam Long goal to someone who doesn’t know the Sam Long backstory? 

For obvious reasons, these experiences have been mostly taken from us. Watching football does not leave you battleworn and beaten, adrenaline coursing through you as you spit your teeth onto the floor. The experience ends when your laptop is turned off, and that happens moments after the final whistle. There is no post-match decompression, no walk back to the car, no feeling of emotional exhaustion, no picking through the rubble of people’s opinions. Suddenly, I’m missing the ill-informed, poorly developed reactions from the phone-in. Even the run we’ve been on doesn’t give you that same feeling.

This is the age of slow-living; patience is everything, we no longer rush, we have time. In the past, the working week catapulted you into the weekend, which projected you back out, which sucked you into the Tuesday game, which hurled you back into another weekend. It was a physical assault, now we’ve got a gentle babbling brook of slowed experience.

Not this weekend though; the postponement of Saturday’s game, followed by the hour’s delay dragged the game into the unknown, predictability seeped away. From the usual routine of plugging my laptop into my TV 20 minutes before kick-off, I was forced to change my schedule in real-time. It felt a bit like going to a game – all those micro-adjustments to your plan. Someone’s parked in your space, nobody warned us about the roadworks on the M6, that pub’s packed, we’ll never find them in there. Each infinitesimally small change, another little gut punch.

The team selection showed that while we have strength in depth, it’s not a ready-made spare first team. That’s probably too much too ask. Sam Winnall isn’t as sharp as Matty Taylor, Brandon Barker isn’t as polished as James Henry, Anthony Forde isn’t as dynamic as Sam Long. While we didn’t look significantly weakened, the changes levelled the field a little.

The conditions didn’t help, or did, depending on what you’re after. The ball pinged around on all axes; forward, back, up, down. Wigan remain a curiosity; they should collapse in a heap under pressure, but they were sturdier than we thought. Someone said it reminded them of the Southend game last year, a team you expect to crumble, standing resolute.

And all this before the fire that threatened to bring the whole thing to a halt, there was talk of an abandonment, fire engines arrived. People were speculating about Tuesday’s game let alone the second half. At home dinner arrangements were adjusted, no doubt a few terse re-negotiations of Valentine’s Day plans had to be made, all with one eye on iFollow. I sat in my living room, ironically overheating from the furnace of my wood burner, my day, planned around an hour and forty-five minute window, stretched out towards three hours from start to finish.

There was a photo taken of the scene outside the ground; a number of nurses who’d been giving vaccine injections were lined up shivering in the cold. It was a reminder that as we were drawn more deeply into drama inside the stadium, the abnormal normal world we live in now continued methodically, calmly and resolutely unabated outside.

Once the restart happened, the game seemed to compress into 45 minutes, then, even less; the opening 10 minutes flew by. Their effort was rewarded, and our sluggishness, punished.

This was the final sobering reckoning; the bubble of our winning streak about to be popped by one of the worst teams in the division. Typical us. Then, Brandon Barker, at fault for their goal, pitched up a perfect cross for Sam Winnall to nod home the equaliser. If this campaign is to become A Thing, then Winnall may be this season’s Jordan Bowery, who made a critical, but often forgotten contribution to our promotion five years ago. 

As night fell, a point seemed secure. We’d take that. Then, up steps Elliott Moore. 

Nobody talks about Moore; we talk about the young upstart Jack Stevens, the club stalwarts; Long and Ruffels, even the grace and potential of Rob Atkinson, but focus is rarely on Moore. 

He lopes around at a seemingly glacial pace. A gentle giant, rarely angered, endlessly willing, too polite to use his physicality to gain an advantage. Then, there’s a point where he seems to have had enough, he snaps and takes charge. 

Then, suddenly, he’s swatting away players, the colour of their shirt barely a relevance, bodies fly as he forages for the ball. Watch the goal back as Cameron Brannagan works the ball out to Mark Sykes. With the attack still building, Elliot Lee looks over his shoulder towards the bench, then, both he and Rob Atkinson sprint in the opposite direction towards the half-way line. They hand all responsibility of the attack over to Moore who’s in the box battling for position with two Wigan defenders.

He makes contact with the cross, but it’s unconvincing, it looks like it should be cleared. But, the urge to get things done drives Moore to barge his way through and slot the ball home. Matty Taylor twitches like an excited bystander, Moore in action is a strangely mesmerising sight. 

The game is won, when the ball hits the net for the first time in weeks I spontaneously cheer a goal. As the whistle goes, I feel that sense of mental exhaustion from being tumbled around in the washing machine of emotion that football is all about. The feeling is real and physical, I miss that so much.   

Match wrap: Bristol Rovers 0 Oxford United 2

There are many things which puzzle me about the building of the Death Star. It was the size of a planet, took twenty years to build, was begat with construction and political problems and yet somehow its completion took everyone by complete surprise. “That’s no moon” says a wide eyed Han Solo “That’s a space station.”

I feel somewhat the same about the current squad – how did we get here? We seem to have built a fully operational battle station on the quiet. 

I have no real tactical understanding of football, but I’m aware of the concept of ‘gengenpressing’; the overwhelming high pressure game championed by Jurgen Klopp. I remember watching Match of the Day when Klopp first took charge at Liverpool. The analysts identified a new intensity in the team, at least for a short while, it’s hard to overstate the physical and mental challenge of executing the philosophy and eventually they fell away, but it was a sign of things to come.

We didn’t outplay Bristol Rovers last night or even outthink them. We just seemed to overwhelm them. They tried very hard, but we just seemed to strong-arm them out the way. This has never been the Oxford way, we’ve never been a dominating kind of team, sure, we’ve been good enough for promotion before, but we’ve never had this kind of personality.

I’m beginning to develop a theory that a manager’s football style is very similar to how they might be in the pub. Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce would be all nobbly glasses of real ale. Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola would be wine and spirits only – sophisticated, but boring. Jurgen Klopp and Karl Robinson would invade your personal space, tell you stories they find much funnier than anyone else and slop their lager over your shoes. An assault on the senses, a density in the experience, we have a team which is everywhere all the time, if you’re down on your luck, like Bristol Rovers are, it’s crushing. 

So, if Doncaster was Robinson being told to ‘SHUT UP!’ by someone across the bar, Bristol Rovers was him ignoring them and starting another rambling story about a mad night out in Prestatyn he once had. There is no story too boring, no joke too unfunny, confidence just oozes from every pore. 

I tend to watch games on a Tuesday while cooking dinner, then often with the sound down so as not to disturb programmes about architects with small penises who build massive houses or the Great British Tapestry Quest, or whatever. I tend to miss bits of the game as a result, not least substitutions which are a constant rolling theme rather than an occasional punctuation. Last night was a great illustration of the strength we have; not content with Matty Taylor, Mide Shodipo and Elliot Lee up front. In the blink of an eye there was Sam Winnall, Brandon Barker and a revitalised Mark Sykes. All garnished with an ever fragrant James Henry and Cameron Brannagan. It must have been terrifying and, when you’re on the run Rovers are on, endlessly dispiriting. Steve Kinniburgh didn’t so much call for the referee to blow his whistle to end the game, but plead with him to show some mercy.

The immediate impact of our January signings has been very apparent. Where often players need to grow into a Karl Robinson team (hence the slow starts to seasons), Elliot Lee looks like he’s been with us all season while Brandon Barker is a dragster in the mould of Marcus Browne. If anything, we look like we hold him back.

We are still wafer thin at the back, it’s our ventilator shaft, we just need a cocky kid whose been shooting Womp Rats in his T-16 back home, and the whole thing could be destroyed. We’re solid in terms of the first choice back five, but there’s little in reserve should anything go wrong. Against lesser teams, it’s not so much of an issue, because if a team is struggling to control the ball along their backline, they’re unlikely to construct any kind of effective attack. Against the better teams yet to come, they’ll inevitably see more action. Form, fitness or pressure could strike at any time; I’m reminded of Joe Skarz in 2016, when everything seemed to be heading to an inevitable successful conclusion and Skarz himself appeared bombproof we were suddenly plunged into an injury crisis. Something similar is still entirely possible this season.

But, at the moment, I’m just happy being tossed around in the swell of success. The unrelenting force of our battleship, I’m not, yet, anxious about where it’s all heading. It’s a strange thing to be following the club simply to be entertained.