The results are in; Oxblogger’s mid-season survey reveals a club on the up and expectations of the play-offs still burning brightly. And this was before Cameron Brannagan and Mark Sykes rumours, or Jordan Thornily’s return to Blackpool, or Stratfield Brake. So things have probably changed a bit, but, what did we find? Read on…
With the return to stadiums seemingly a permanent thing now, and the fact we’ve enjoyed a much better start than in previous seasons, the overall mood is good. We’ve not quite hit the peak in mid-2020 – which we can call ‘pre-pandemic levels’, but some way ahead of where we were at the start of the season or, indeed, a year ago. It seems that the general mood is influenced by two factors – short-term form and relative performance to six months ago. So, a few good results can really shift the mood and you don’t necessarily need to be pushing for promotion to make people happy as long as it’s better than it was a few months ago.
After taking a bit of a dip, the squad is looking healthier than it has done since mid-2020. The mid-season assessment is always a difficult one with the transfer window distorting opinions as the month progresses. To date, there’s been virtually no movement – the results came in after Jordan Thornily went back to Blackpool. Despite a degree of anxiety about the lack of movement, we’re generally very happy with the quality we’ve already got.
Karl Robinson’s stock remains very high, registering an average rating of 8.7. It’s not as high as his highest peak – an 8.9 coming directly after the play-off defeat to Wycombe in 2020 – but a huge improvement on his starting rating, which was just 6.1.
The survey came before the news of the club went public on the move to Stratfield Brake. Despite this, the directors rating of 7.9 represents a new peak. One of the most noticeable things about the survey has been the growing appreciation of those running the club. Back in 2019, we’d just come off the back of a difficult season which had seen a number of winding up orders. Ever since, the owners have strengthened the squad, bought the lease to the training ground and kept the club afloat over the pandemic. The fans seem to really appreciate that.
The relationship between the fans and club returned a solid 7.8, a slight growth from the summer. This isn’t bad considering that we still seem to be in a bit of limbo with regards to who actually owns the club. Considering this, there seems to be a lot of trust that these issues will be resolved as there’s no sign it’s souring the relationship with the fans.
The fans’ favourite players always fluctuate wildly, although Cameron Brannagan is consistently in the top two. This time around, he’s topped the table with Mark Sykes, Matty Taylor and Herbie Kane making up the big four. Mark Sykes surge to second place reflects a remarkable upturn in his form.
Back in July Sam Long topped the table, but he’s dropped back to fifth with just 3.6% of the vote. The graph below tracks Cameron Brannagan’s scores over the years compared to Sam Long. Brannagan has always been a pretty consistent performer, whereas Long seems to be pretty boom and bust in the eyes of the fan.
Where will we finish?
Obviously with half-a-season of experience in our back pocket – predictions of where we’ll ultimately finish become more certain. At the start of the season 21% thought we were in line for automatic promotion, this has dropped to 7%. 45% thought we’d make the play-offs, that’s shot up to 87% with the most likely finishing spot being 5th. Hard to know whether we’ve become more pessimistic or optimistic, but, there’s at least a growing consensus.
Who wins the league
In terms of where this all ends up, it looks like the title is a three horse race between Rotherham, Sunderland and Wigan. Wigan are over-performing given that you predicted they’d finish 16th at the start of the season. Pre-season favourites Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich Town are a bit lost in a large no-mans land.
At the other end, Doncaster Rovers and Crewe Alexandra look doomed along with Gillingham and Morecambe, who were pre-season relegation favourites. Cheltenham and Cambridge were both predicted to go down at the start of the season, so will be happy to be in mid-table.