Sunderland Till I Die was a Netflix smash chronicling The Mackems’ glorious march to Premier League promotion that built, like a classic Hollywood fairytale, to a humiliating relegation. They are now led by former Oxford United saviour Charlie Methven and his doe-eyed cash-puppy Stewart Donald featuring a side-order of Wondertroll Chris Maguire. Filming for series two wrapped at Wembley yesterday with defeat to Charlton in the League 1 play-off final. The producers now face the enviable task of committing to film a redemptive story of how this once great club fell to League 1 and heroically stayed there.
The original man-bun, Ryan Williams has been called up to the Australian national team. Williams was the break out star of the 2013/14 season on loan from Fulham. If that doesn’t ring any bells then perhaps the words ‘Waddock’ and ‘Animaletes’ will jog your memory. Williams, who was like Ricky Holmes with a more serviceable back, has just left Rotherham, whose relegation has resulted in a call-up for The Digerisoccerdoos’ game against South Korea.
Friday 31 May 2019
The Oxford United Jedward Mark Sykes and Gavin Whyte will be finishing each other’s sentences and doing attention seeking peace signs in Estonia and Belarus after being called up to Northern Ireland’s squad for their Euro 2020 qualifiers. Expect KRob to make a statement about wanting to play them in a kickabout in the park he’s organising for his kids at the same time.
There’s only one question asked for more often by Oxford United fans than ‘What is Danny Philliskirk up to these days?’ and that is; ‘Who the hell is Danny Philliskirk?’. Well, he played four memorable games on loan from Chelsea for us in 2010 scoring no fewer, and no more, than zero goals. Like Sam Smith, but less prolific. Having largely disappeared off the scene for a while, he resurfaced on Sunday to win the FA Trophy with Fylde against Leyton Orient.
In a tactic straight out of Theresa May’s Brexit playbook of doing the same thing repeatedly in the hope of getting a different result, the club will put aside 20 years of animosity and vitriol and return to Firoz Kassam with a proposal for a better relationship. That’ll work won’t it?
Fulham, who were accidentally promoted to the Premier League, but righted that particular wrong last season by being relegated at the earliest opportunity last season will visit The Kassam in July. This is the game in which our new signing will score his fifth goal of pre-season and his last before Christmas.
They neglect to mention that White Clarke and Black Dyer have just worked together with great success at Kilmarnock, which might have been an influencing factor. Obviously Black Dyer isn’t quoted in the story because he might say some black things; that honour has gone to White Steve and Kilmarnock’s owner White Billy Bowie.
Ah summer, the gentle caress of the sun on cheek, light summer dresses, birds chirping happily in the trees. Time to freshen up, let air flow through your soul, and renew. Fling those windows open, for light is here to replace the dark!
Except if the window is a transfer window, then a swarm of wasps will consume your head, sting your eyeballs until pustules ravage your eyelids. But, football is dead, long live transfer windows.
So, what can we expect? New contracts for Rob Hall and Curtis Nelson? Freedom for Jon Obika, Jonte Smith and Scott Shearer? Players returning to their clubs to continue their long and winding journey towards an two-year contract at Fleetwood Town? Let us not forget, Fierce Keheller’s mission to play for every Conference South team in the country.
So, welcome to the summer’s transfer window, what a ride it’ll be.
Callum O’Dowda appears to be on his way out of Bristol City. There’s a familiarity with the story, O’Dowda has a year on his contract and is refusing to sign an extension. With a number of clubs interested, Leeds especially, he’s suddenly gotten himself injured, though not injured enough to miss the Republic of Ireland’s upcoming internationals.
Chelsea have finally decided that Todd Kane, who has had more clubs on loan than Tiger Woods after his luggage got lost on his way to the British Open, isn’t going to make the grade. Hull City are interested.
As they say in Game of Thrones; The North Remembers, unfortunately the south forgets. In the hullabaloo about new contracts and released players last week, the name T’ony McMahon was completely overlooked. The whippet worrying full-back remains on our books despite spending a good chunk of the year on loan at Scunthorpe who he helped steer to a comfortable relegation spot last season. KRob doesn’t expect him to return south next year; he doesn’t want to take a “bad signing and make it into a good signing.”; applying his trademark bewildering logic. Some would argue he spent a decent part of last season achieving the exact opposite. Not us, though, not us.
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; so we can say with a degree of confidence that nobody killed Robbie Cundy during his time at the Kassam. With his career solidly rooted in a single Oxford United appearance against Dagenham and Redbridge in the JPT in 2015, Cundy dropped out of the Football League in 2017 eventually joining Bath City. As a result of his performances as The Romans’ Jake Wright to their Ryan Clarke, who also happens to be the actual Ryan Clarke, Bristol City have signed him up on a two-year contract.
Johnny Mullins has retired. Mullins was part of the promotion winning team of 2016 before leaving for Luton Town. He was at Cheltenham Town last season, but has chosen to jack it all in. Mullins was known as as The Magnet because he twice scored from a corner in 127 games. At approximately 5 corners a game, that’s a magnetism of 0.2%. Coincidentally, he also has an excellent, if slightly pricey range of kitchens.
KRob has spoken. Let’s face it this is not an unusual thing, he seems to have spoken continuously since the end of the season. So much so that it’s possible he’s still standing pitchside at Kenilworth Road speaking to an increasingly weary Nathan Cooper. That’s probably not true, although it’s exactly the kind of thing he’d do, isn’t it? His latest ejaculation focuses on his wish list for next season. Nothing remarkable about the list, although he did mention that he was hoping to bring back Wonderfoot Luke Garbutt and ban-magnet Ahmed Kashi and the sloth in the box, Jerome Sinclair.
Saturday 18 May 2019
It’s theday that the whole nation stops, gathers together around the TV set and watches a great annual institution play out in front of them. As well as Eurovision, it’s also the FA Cup final. It’s Watford’s first appearance since 1984 when they were captained by former Oxford United player and now Youth Team Officer Les Taylor. You can read him banging on about it like your drunk uncle here.
Our week closes with the news that conscientious objector Callum O’Dowda has joined us the the Republic of Ireland squad. Nothing unusual about that except he hasn’t played for Bristol City since March due to a mystery injury. Always a highly principled young man, O’Dowda and his medical team have searched for a diagnosis. It appears that it could be suffering from a broken contract resulting from an inflated ego with a number of Championship and Premier League teams interested in his signature. All very treatable if you apply a great pile of money to it.
A goalkeeper who saved his team more times than any other player is ironically most well known for dropping the ball into his own net with the score at 2-0. Clarke went on to play more than 200 times for the club before moving to Northampton Town. His career stalled a bit and he failed to make a single appearance, later admitting to depression. After a brief spell at Wimbledon he moved to Eastleigh and Torquay and is currently at Bath City.
Signed midway through the season to replace Luke Foster, Wright evolved into a formidable centre-back and leader. Wright steered the club through the League 2 years and into the Appleton era where he captained the team to promotion in 2016. He signed for Sheffield United, rejoining Chris Wilder during that summer and promptly won promotion with them to The Championship.
A sanguine full-back signed in the January before the play-off final. Tonkin drifted out of the team after promotion, but had a moment in the sun against Swindon Town. In 2012 he moved to Aldershot Town before moving onto Frome Town. A business graduate, he had a sideline as a property developer during his playing days. He became a Financial Advisor on retiring before becoming a Quantity Surveyor.
Bulman was signed at the start of the promotion season after leaving Crawley Town. He had already played over 350 games for Wycombe, Stevenage and Crawley. Bulman was quickly moved on back to Crawley following promotion; Chris Wilder’s biggest mistake. After that he moves to Wimbledon where he was the Football League’s oldest player in 2018. Currently back at Crawley.
A player with a deft touch and great poise; Midson was another player who undeservedly was moved out of the club by Chris Wilder following promotion. He eventually settled with Wimbledon, taking them back to the Football League and having the honour of scoring against the Dons’ nemesis MK Dons. Following a number of moves he became assistant manager at Concord Rangers. He’s also a director of M&M Sports Coaching with his team mate Sammy Moore. Recently appointed manager at Hemel Hempstead Town.
A bona fide club legend. Constable scored over 100 goals and just one short of the club’s goalscoring record left for Eastleigh. After four years he moved to Poole Town one loan, recently announcing his semi-retirement and became a patron of Oxford United in the Community. Left Eastleigh permanently in May 2019.
A peculiar career which started at Cardiff, he had a brief loan spell at Oxford before controversially moving to Torquay. He came back in 2010 and became part of a formidable three pronged attack. Another player who was moved on a little too quickly, in 2013 he scored a bucketload at Mansfield earning him a move to The Championship and Birmingham City. Injury stalled his career and he moved back to Mansfield before moving to Lincoln and Salford.
A character and a dying breed, Turley lost his place to Ryan Clarke at the beginning of the season. He was released immediately after the final before spending some time at Brackley Town.
An early Chris Wilder Signing, he lost his place to Anthony Tonkin at Christmas. Released after the final he went to Mansfield before drifting around the non-league and disappearing.
Potter came on to score the iconic third goal at Wembley. He played on until 2015 enjoying moments in the sun such as a winner over Swindon and a leading part in a 4-1 win over Portsmouth. Joined Chris Wilder at Northampton in 2015 before moving to Mansfield and Billericay Town.
A diminutive forward who set up Alfie Potter for the third goal. Deering drifted in and out of the team until 2011 before moving to Barnet. Enjoyed an FA Cup giant killing with Whitehawk before ending up at Billericay.
Manager: Chris Wilder
Battled on with the club until everyone forgot what a remarkable job he had done. Left acrimoniously in 2014 for Northampton who were, at the time, bottom of League 2. He saved them by beating us on the last game of the season. He followed it up by winning the title while we came second. Shortly after, he moved to Sheffield United where he won promotion to the Championship and then, in 2019, The Premier League.
Like Cheers or The Simpsons, Oxford United have launched a spin-off show which threatens to be funnier than the original. The latest episode of the new show – The Oxford United Board – aired yesterday following the successful pilot episode; Whose Tax Bill Is It Anyway? and yesterday’s season opener The King and I.
Curtis Nelson and The Aylesbury Ashley Young, Rob Hall, have been offered new contracts, Jose’s son, John Mousinho and Son of God, Jack Stephens have had their sentences, sorry, contracts, extended.
Friday 10 May
Like the time GLS ate that four day old paella, Oxford United endured an unfortunate Spanish incident a couple of years ago when it hired Pep Clotet as manager. It all passed in a blur of Dwight Tiendellis, but one little Spanish aberration has been largely forgotten.
When Oxford United appointed Chris Wilder I thought we’d given up. We’d tried the ‘been there, done that’ appointments (Atkins, Talbot), the emerging talent (Wright, Rix), the messiah (Jim Smith) and even the South American Alex Ferguson (Diaz). None had worked, and so in 2009, with finances biting, this nondescript appointment seemed like a sign we were hunkering down for a long dark winter of simply being a non-league club.
In fact, there was one recruitment tactic we hadn’t tried – advertising the role; applications, interviews, a selection criteria. Where his predecessors were heavily networked into the footballing establishment, Wilder was a hidden gem. He’d taken Halifax to the brink returning to the Football League against a backdrop of crippling financial problems, then working alongside Alan Knill at Bury to win them promotion. What he needed was a chance to get into the system; it came via Kelvin Thomas and Ian Lenagan and a dose of good practice.
Wilder’s first move was to create a siege mentality around the club; he declared Sam Deering – who broke his leg in his first game – to be our best player. Deering wasn’t, but the sense of injustice was galvanising. This was immediately followed by the revelation that the club was being deducted five points for not registering Eddie Hutchinson as a player. Hutchinson had been with the club for three years, but was on his way out and unregistered, then played due to injuries. It was a harsh punishment for an admin error, made all the worse by the fact we missed out on the play-offs by those five points. Wilder’s parting shot for the season was about his desire to get out of ‘this poxy league’ – the club and fans were as one on that.
Wilder’s ‘poxy league’ comment would be repeated countless time because it encapsulated both him as a person and the team he wanted to create – scratchy, awkward, aggressively ambitious and strangely relatable. Wilder knew we didn’t belong in the Conference, but he also knew getting out of it had to be earned.
The following season’s promotion will always be remembered as nothing but glorious, but it wasn’t without issues. Wilder was apoplectic at the apparent apathy after we’d raced to a 4-0 win over Chester in an unbeaten start to the season which saw us topping the table. He ranted about the club being backward looking, wallowing in its Milk Cup glory, much to the considerable chagrin of many fans – a rift that, for some, never healed.
He was right, we’d spent too long expecting a revival, like success would come from the push of a button – a different manager, new player or just some kind of natural justice. What was really needed was culture change, a reality check of who we were. The culture shift came in the form of players who would thrive in the environment, not freeze in it – Dannie Bulman, Mark Creighton, Adam Murray, Ryan Clarke, Jake Wright, James Constable. All players who shared a mindset, the relentless pursuit of success.
The coup de grace was the 3-1 win over York in the play-off final at Wembley. In many ways, a greater achievement than the Milk Cup Final win of 1986, certainly more important in terms of our survival as a club. It should have cemented Wilder as sitting alongside Jim Smith as one of the club’s great managers.
One of my lasting memories of that win was not so much the elation of winning, but the relief that Wilder’s efforts hadn’t gone unrewarded; in many ways the fear of failure, even when things were going well, drove him forward.
Back in the Football League, his elevated flight instinct – running away from failure – seemed to get the better of him. Fans interviewed coming out of Wembley were already talking about back-to-back promotions, so expectations were high. Wilder’s impatience to progress caused him to break up the promotion team – Jack Midson and Matt Green were loaned out, along with Mark Creighton and Dannie Bulman. The dumping of the heroes of Wembley – the spine of the team – didn’t do much for Wilder’s stock with the fans.
To some extent it killed our momentum, steadying the ship took time. The bi-product of the stall was a first league meeting with Swindon Town for 10 years the following season. It was perfect for Wilder; who got under the skin of the more celebrated Paolo DiCanio. A home and away double was as much about outfoxing DiCanio as it was a footballing victory.
The success wasn’t without collateral damage. A proposed move to Swindon for James Constable dragged on for much of that season, damaging the relationship between manager and his on-the-field talisman.
There was another win over Swindon the following season in the JPT Trophy, but after an underwhelming campaign, with promotion missed and financial constraints biting, Ian Lenagan presented a new vision for the club; of homegrown players leading the club’s future. There was a short term contract extension for Wilder, barely an endorsement. Wilder looked haunted, subservient to his owner’s will, constrained by a triple lock of promotion expectations, a falling budget and the burning platform of a short-term contract.
Time was running out; like many managers who have got teams promoted from the Conference Wilder remained a decent bet for any struggling team. Portsmouth were first to bite, and Lenagan barely blinked allowing him to speak to them, he didn’t get the job, but it was the clearest indication yet that Wilder wasn’t wanted.
Then Northampton came sniffing; they were bottom of the league and heading for the Conference, any manager would have been mad to take it on. But, for Wilder, it was perfect; an opportunity to get angry, invigorate and agitate, to shake them out of their slumber, no excuses. At Oxford, his fight had gone, he could please nobody. But also, things were running themselves, Wilder couldn’t be a hands-off manager strategically shaping the club, he needed a problem to solve. The impact was instant; Wilder sparked an astonishing revival, they went into the final game of the season within a win of saving themselves from relegation. Their opponents? Oxford United.
It goes without saying that Northampton swept to safety with a 3-1 win, it was such a Wilder thing to do.
As Wilder steadied Northampton, Michael Appleton arrived to transform Oxford. Appleton was the anti-Wilder – a theoretician and strategist – process, not results. Very modern.
Over the next year Appleton remodelled the he inherited from Wilder; jettisoning many of his players. Ryan Clarke, Alfie Potter and Danny Rose all eventually reconnected Wilder with his Oxford past.
With both managers battleplans fully in place; 2015/16 put Wilder’s resurgent Northampton side in direct opposition to his previous club. For once, we were the progressive modern affectation, they were the rugged survivors. The Cobblers task made all the more difficult in a backdrop of implied corruption and near bankruptcy. No Oxford fan would trade Michael Appleton, but it was difficult not to be impressed by the way Wilder rounded on those who were putting the club in jeopardy, imploring them to accept an offer for the club from his former Oxford boss Kelvin Thomas.
Thomas eventually took over, and Wilder took Northampton on a long undefeated streak to the top of the league. We weren’t doing bad ourselves, but were burdened by cup runs in the JPT and FA Cup. While we took plaudits from the media, they streaked to the title, inflicting a typically Wilder-esque defeat at the Kassam in February. We secured the second promotion spot, with Michael Appleton claiming we were the best footballing team in the division. Wilder raged, but it showed the difference between the two managers – Appleton the scientist and theoretician, Wilder, a results man through and through.
Inevitably, Wilder’s success brought the attention of others, and finally a club he couldn’t resist – Sheffield United. There’d been talk, even at Oxford, about how they just had to ask and Wilder would go, but now was his opportunity. Like his two previous clubs, The Blades needed organising, shaking out of their slumber; perfect for Wilder. The only question was whether he could scale his skills to a club of their size.
Yes. He took them to the League 1 title in his first season, swatting us out the way, yet again. Mirroring his Northampton days; he acquired Oxford captain Jake Wright. Following a period of consolidation in The Championship, George Baldock and Jon Lundstram – a chunk of the best footballing team in League 2 were now gunning for the Premier League. Marvin Johnson was added, albeit on loan and not really playing.
While it is likely that maybe only Baldock will expect to play in the Premier League, it is telling that no less than four former Michael Appleton players were in Wilder’s promotion squad. Appleton found the players, Wilder got them winning. If there wasn’t animosity between the two of them, they’d probably be a dream team.
So, Wilder is now one of the elite managers in the country, fourth or fifth in line for the England job, you might argue. Weirdly, the Premier League might suit him. Nobody will fancy his team to stay up so he’ll have plenty to rail against, he can create the siege mentality and rage against the uneven playing field as he did in his first season with us in the Conference, he can get under the skin of the suave European managers like he did with Paolo DiCanio.
And yet, his time at Oxford, which started it all has left a stain with all parties. You only have to see Wilder celebrating promotion; middle aged spread, a weak lager in his hand frothing over to tell you everything you need to know about how Oxford fans should feel towards him. Should we be proud of what he’s achieved, and wish him well in the future? Yes. Is he a bit of a tit? Yes also. When it comes to Oxford’s relationship with Wilder, that’s probably about as good as it will get.
In other ways, it’s heartening to see Luton succeed, it gives us a glimmer of hope. In truth, if you look at all our ups and downs over the decades, mid-table in third tier is probably our natural place, despite ambitions stating otherwise. The biggest challenge is that the increments needed to navigate beyond where we are grow by the year. A team can spend £4m on a striker and finish fifth in the third division now.
Luton’s promotion means that three of the four teams you’d think have Championship infrastructures – Sunderland, Portsmouth, Charlton and Doncaster – will still be with us next year. Of those coming down, Ipswich, Bolton (if they survive the summer) and Rotherham are all similarly capable of competing for promotion despite their woes.
For us, bridging the gap and breaking into the top six has to be our target. This season reminds me of Eric Morecambe’s famous line to Andre Previn – we played all the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order. If we want to progress, then we have to be more organised; our season was killed by our form in the opening weeks, which was preceded by a chaotic summer.
The last few weeks have been as entertaining as anything we’ve seen in the last decade or more, even the promotion seasons, which have been laced with anxiety. We’ve been swashbuckling and daring, sparking life back into the club just as it seemed to be on a downward spiral. Even narrowly avoiding relegation in our 125th year would have been a grim way to celebrate.
Any sign the problems that caused us to fail so badly are sorting themselves out may come in the next couple of weeks. Our previous two promotions were characterised by high quality early signings. Fans will always get jittery during May and early-June because signings aren’t flowing in. In the main, that’s not justified because football slows down during those months as people take a well-earned break. However, if our results on the pitch in the last couple of months are a reflection of us getting our act together off it, then maybe we’ll see some signs of that in the coming days.
The season is nearly over, our form is good, but why should you buy a season ticket or even be an Oxford United fan? Here’s a handy guide:
Because anything is possible
You are joining an institution which is 125 years old and has experienced everything there is to experience in professional football from national honours to the ignominy of falling out of the Football League altogether. Only one other club has done that, Luton, and, well, have you ever been to Luton?
Because it’s good for you
Life can be pretty overwhelming sometimes. School, college, work and home can get quite chaotic and become hard to process. But, there’s always a game on Saturday and the objective is always to win. You need this, because sometimes it gets you through the day.
Because you’re only truly alive if you mean something
Have you ever listened to people talk about the Premier League? It’s Ozil this and Aguero that, regurgitated opinions that have been replayed a thousand times on TV. Did you know Harry Kane is a good player? Opinions become worn out by relentless media coverage. When you’re not in the media spotlight and you talk about your football club, your opinion is yours, not that of some saggy ex-pro or wizened old hack with a deadline to hit. You mean something because it means something.
Because when you know, you know
You’re part of an undercover movement. If you see someone in a Spurs or Manchester United shirt, you don’t know whether they’re going to football or to Westfield shopping centre. See someone in an Oxford shirt and you know they’re part of the secret society. If you see someone in, say, a Rochdale shirt – preferably their away shirt from 1994 – you know they’re also part of the resistance network, a counter-culture people don’t understand.
Because you’re always on a secret mission
Let’s face it, people don’t care about your club; at best they’ll ask what division you’re in and shut down before you finish telling them. But they don’t know that your Saturdays are spent screaming for an undeserved away point at Scunthorpe courtesy of Jamie Mackie. They don’t even know what a Jamie Mackie is, and they are less of a person because of it.
Because you’re not just watching history, you are history
If you do get to Wembley, draw a big team in the cup, get promoted or have a moment in a game which makes national headlines, people suddenly want to know: were you there? You can say, heroically, that you were because you’ve invested the time and deserved to be part of that moment in a way they haven’t. Then you can watch the sadness in their eyes as they cower in the dawn of their meaningless existence.
Because they’ll never understand
Sometimes you’ll draw a big team away in the cup and join an armada of 3,000 or more on a pilgrimage across the country. When you arrive, watch as the opposition fans – mere extras in the Premier League media product – look at you like you’re an exotic, beguiling creature. And that’s because you are. They think you’re there for the day out, they don’t know you’re there for the win, and if not the win, then a glorious death trying, a death we don’t fear. They can’t figure you out, they don’t know why you do it, but they’re jealous that you do.
Because it puts everything else into perspective
You go to a game on a Tuesday night when you’ve got work or school in the morning and the world is fixated on the Bake Off quarter-finals. The next day, your colleagues talk about under-cooked macarons as though they’ve got a purpose in life. You have a meeting with your boss where you thank them for trebling your workload because you ‘thrive on the pressure’. Secretly, you don’t give a crap about their meaningless existence and hierarchy because last night’s point means you’re eight points clear of the relegation zone and that is life.
Because it’s the lows that make the highs
Don’t do it for the wins, do it for the mission, do it for the journey, not the destination. Week in, week out, you’ll be cold, you’ll be bored, you’ll be frustrated. Then sometimes, just sometimes, you’ll be deep into stoppage time, 100 miles from home in a game nobody else gives a damn about. All seems lost, when a final, desperate ball is launched forward, their full-back slips and suddenly your striker – four goals in thirty-six games and a contract that expires in four months – is bearing down on goal. He looks terrified, he can’t feel his feet, he scuffs his shot and it squirms under their keeper and rolls into the net. Suddenly he transforms into a god. And you? You’re tumbling down the terrace, arm in arm with a 64-year-old retired gas fitter from Wantage, careering into a steward like he’s a luminous crash mat in a gym. Your world becomes blurred and muffled because your face is embedded in the armpit of an overweight ginger teenager. Someone has their hand on your backside, and you can’t be certain that you’ve still got your phone. You gasp for clean air. When you surface all you can see is Sheila, a South Stand regular, whose been going to away games on the London Road coach for 30 years and insists Billy Whitehurst was a lovely polite boy, claps hysterically and waves the scarf she bought when Ron Atkinson was a boy. It’s a blissful momentary release from her sciatica. When you do finally extract yourself from the bundle and the final whistle goes, you want to tell everyone what happened, but the convenient faceless industrial estate where you’ve parked your car is empty. You go onto Twitter and share the moment with hundreds of others until the feeling fades and all that’s left is a vague sense of needing that moment again, and more. And so, despite the rain, despite the misery, despite the fact Saturday is your only chance to fix the broken guttering which threatens to wreck your house, you make a silent pact that you’ll do it all again next week.
It took a double take for me to realise that we’d made eight changes for the draw against Doncaster. At first glance, it looked like a fairly predictable starting eleven. That’s probably because there were only four from the starting eleven that played against Charlton just over a week ago.
With Kashi serving a customary ban, Hanson’s inclusion was no shock. Whyte and Browne for Garbutt and Sykes didn’t feel particularly experimental given both have featured regularly throughout the year. Only Nico Jones coming in for Rob Dickie was any real surprise.
Karl Robinson was back to his babbling best, if that’s what you can call it. Beforehand he said he wanted Jones to make mistakes – because that’s how you learn – and said afterwards that he ‘loved’ his own goal. Thankfully Nathan Cooper gave him an outball on that by suggesting that it was because of Jones’ reaction. Yes, said Robbo, moving incomprehensibly into a detailed description of some ‘diag’ Jones made shortly afterwards.
For all his nonsense, what I will say about Robinson is that he’s got a nice tone when talking about prospects, although referring to every young player as the future of the club does wear a little thin.
It’s a fine line though, there is undoubted benefit in giving young players the opportunity to experience the pace of first team football and the feeling of playing in front of a crowd. But, asking him to play the full 90 minutes against a decent team whose season is still very alive was a big challenge.
I thought it was a step too far, if I’m honest. It wasn’t a bad display in the context of his age and experience. The own goal and a couple of critical slips can be written off as unfortunate, but, more experienced players’ have the deep muscle memory to adopt starting positions that mean they’re less likely to get into similar muddles. Giving Jones the full 90 minutes asked a lot physically and mentally, and gave him a lot to process afterwards. Apparently Robinson took time to talk to Jones afterwards, perhaps he knew he had work to do to maintain his confidence after a challenging afternoon.
Will it make him a better player, or damage his confidence? Time will tell, but it was a gamble that, perhaps, wasn’t needed. I’d have preferred Mousinho for an hour – assuming he was fit – perhaps giving Jones half an hour.
Whatever, against a club whose season isn’t over, we were the better team. It was heartening to see that for once, we showed a bit of savvy with the wind. You could see Browne’s long-distance daisy cutter just after half-time which led to Sinclair’s wrongly disallowed goal was pre-planned. For his failings, Karl Robinson will use every tool he’s got to win, we haven’t seen since the days of Chris Wilder.
People have said that they don’t want the season to end, but I think it’s coming at just the right time. There’s no guarantee that we could keep up our current pace and a couple of defeats could have knocked us back to where we were. Instead, we can head into the summer on a big positive, which should help with season ticket sales and general positivity towards the club in general. Meanwhile, the owners and management get a break to sort out the messy backdrop against which the season has been played out. Then perhaps, just perhaps, we can come back in August and achieve something closer to what we expected to achieve this season.