George Lawrence’s Shorts: Tattoo fixer

Saturday 14 September 2019

After a seven game winless streak, KRob was thankful for the fact that toothless Tranmere were in town and that Tariq Fosu is made of helium. Fosu collided with a gust of wind to win the first of two penalties which set us on the way to a 3-0 win. James Henry hoovered up both spot kicks with Cameron Brannagain, again, slamming home a third, which was the second, and his fifth of the season. Elliot Moore was due to start but was struck down with The Newlyweds Curse, a back spasm.

Sunday 15 September 2019

Scotland manager Steve Clarke may be set to turn to Chris Cadden to shore up his leaky defence. Scotland have had a torrid start to their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign having conceded 9 goals in their last three games. Clarke’s looking for someone to better that, though with Cadden being part of a back four who recently conceded sixteen goals in six games, it might not quite be the betterment he was thinking of.

Monday 16 September 2019

The slayer of Edgar Davids and owner of Coventry’s most prodigious chin since Jimmy Hill, Andy Whing has a new job as coach at Hereford United. He’ll be bringing all his experience to his new role, creating a team of tough tackling midfielders with a never-say-die attitude. “All we want is a team of Andy Whings.” said Hereford owner Geoff Hereford.

Tuesday 17 September 2019

A live-streamed video of a bunch of kids from Bolton beating up some lame old men surfaced online on Tuesday. KRob’s approach to our away trip to Bolton Wanderers was the equivalent of holding a child at arm’s length by putting his hand on their forehead while they swing punches just out of reach. Sadly, KRob badly misjudged their range and took one clean in the knackers, limping away with a 0-0 draw.

Wednesday 18 September 2019

Lincoln City are planning to roll out the big guns in order to replace messanic manager Dan Cowley who has gone to Huddersfield. And there are no bigger guns than perpetual managerial bridesmaid Michael Appleton who is odds on to take over at Sincil Bank. MApp could be facing KRob in the technical area for our visit to Sincil Bank on Saturday. KRob is seeing whether he can get a girdle ordered on his Amazon Prime account as we speak. 

Thursday 19 September 2019

It was the Six Minutes Forty-Seven Second Fans Forum on Radio Oxford where Niall, don’t call me Niall, McWilliams was the Johnny Byrne on the spot. Fans nearly missed the opportunity to ask about the stadiumsituation which will be 100% resolved before the end of the year. McWilliams also publicly backed KRob in his role. Uh oh.

It’s a name synonymous with wanton violence and the destruction of humanity. But, enough about Christophe Wilde; the Bin Laden family are lining up to take a stake in Sheffield United to become Wilde’s boss.

Cameron Brannagain was subject to The Daily Mail’s Secret Scout report. The report admired Brannagain’s passing, competitive spirit and the fact he’s a white English man because they’re a minority in this country nowadays ain’t they?

Friday 20 September 2019

It’s Lincoln tomorrow, and who’s that sitting in the opposition bench doing bicep curls? Holy cow, it’s MApp. The man with more tattoos than Tatu on Tatooine has taken over the hot seat just in time to unleash an unedifying defeat on his former charges. Hold onto your hats everyone, MApp’s back in the game.

Midweek fixture: Michael Appleton’s Forty-Two

Michael Appleton’s time in charge at Oxford will be remembered as nothing but glorious. It didn’t start that way though. He lost his first four league games in front of an increasingly suspicious home crowd, flirted with relegation and chugged along to finish 13th in his first season. During that time he played no less than 42 different players, performing what he now calls ‘major surgery’ on the squad as the season progressed. Have you ever wondered what happened to them all?

Josh Ashby

Once so much the future of the club (yes, another one) Chris Wilder named him on the bench of a Conference game just so ensure we could maximise any transfer fees we might get for him. Made a total of seven appearances before being released. Now at Oxford City.

Jamie Ashdown

An old mate of Michael Appleton’s from Portsmouth and former FA Cup winner. Ashdown came in late in the season to replace Ryan Clarke. Made a decent fist of it as we started to turn the corner. Now retired.

George Baldock

Gorgeous George was brought in with the help of Dave Jones from Sky Sports from MK Dons. Signed for another year on loan in 2015, but only lasted until January when one Karl Robinson dragged him back to help out with their relegation fight from the Championship. Bought by Sheffield United in 2017 by Chris Wilder.

Tyrone Barnett

For a short while Barnett was the answer to all our problems. The big strong target man that Michael Appleton had been looking for. At the end of his loan period, despite efforts to sign him permanently, he moved to Shrewsbury. Now at Cheltenham.

Richard Brindley

Sometimes there are players who play for minutes before disappearing, and for some reason you remember them when everyone else forgets. Richard Brindley is one of those players for me. Made 3 appearances on loan from Scunthorpe, now plays for Bromley.

Junior Brown

Part of an original batch of signings at the start of the Appleton era. Showed precious little, lasted eleven games, including a half decent performance against West Brom in the league cup before being shipped out to Mansfield. Moved to Shrewsbury and was part of the team that nearly won promotion in 2018. Moved to Coventry City at the end of that season. Great hair.

Wes Burns

A little glimmer of hope when signed from Bristol City showing plenty of pace down the flank. Lasted nine games before heading back to his parent club. After a series of loan moves, he eventually settled with Fleetwood.

John Campbell

Perhaps the weirdest of all the signings that season. Rumoured to have joined from Jarrow Roofing, it was announced that he’d gone on loan to Torquay before anyone had confirmed he had signed. Lasted three games before heading back north. Now at Whitby Town.

Ryan Clarke

A club legend in the twilight of his Oxford career. Appleton stuck with him for most of the season before passing the gloves to Jamie Ashdown. Clarke joined Northampton Town the following year, but despite winning promotion, didn’t play a single game. He joined Wimbledon and Eastleigh before settling with Torquay and then Bath City.

Michael Collins

One of the inherited players having been signed in 2014. Saw his contract out and left at the end of the season in 2016. Headed out to India for while before returning to play for Halifax and Leyton Orient. Eventually ended up coaching at Bradford and was somewhat thrown under a bus when he became head coach briefly in 2018

Max Crocombe

Perpetual understudy to Ryan Clarke, Crocombe was a New Zealand international whose highlight at Oxford was keeping goal in a heroic League Cup defeat to West Brom at the start of Appleton’s reign. Moved to Carlisle after being released, then ended up at noveau riche Salford in the National League.

Chey Dunkley

Came from Kidderminster but spent much of his early career on the bench. He described himself on his Twitter account as the club mascot. Eventually overhauled Johnny Mullins for a first team spot, did a Cruyff turn at Wembley, scored a goal that clinched promotion, played his part in everything we did that was good for two years before going on to play for Wigan in the Championship.

Armand Gnanduillet

A player with legs like out of control fire hoses. Seemed to specialise in finding new and interesting ways of not connecting with crosses or misreading through-balls. Went back to Chesterfield where he joined Blackpool.

Aidan Hawtin

Most famous for being the ball boy who got in an altercation with a Swindon player during the 2012 derby win. Played just 1 game before moving to Norway. Retired due to injury in 2017 aged just 21 and became a personal trainer.

Patrick Hoban

A battering ram of a striker who came from Dundalk with a decent goalscoring reputation. Never really got going at Oxford, although scored a critical equaliser in a draw at Luton in the promotion season. Went to Mansfield before heading back to Dundalk where he’s started banging in the goals again. Very much found his level.

Tareiq Holmes-Dennis

Yet another bright young thing signed on loan from Charlton. Holmes-Dennis started with a man of the match performance against Tranmere, but in his subsequent 14 games ran out of steam. Headed back to Charlton before going to Huddersfield. Managed a handful of games before heading to Bristol Rovers.

Will Hoskins

Arrived from Brighton with a decent reputation but only managed four games before being released at the end of the season. Played for Exeter City, Hemel Hempstead and is now at Northcote City.

Brian Howard

Signed on a short term contract after leaving Birmingham City, expected to be the player who would run the team. Only made seven appearances before disappearing off to Eastleigh. Last heard of at Whitehawk.

Sam Humphreys

One of many youth team products who rotated through the first team. Made one first team substitution before having his contract cancelled so he could move to Norway. Returned to Hayes and Yeading, then Banbury.

David Hunt

When Michael Appleton talks about doing major surgery on the squad David Hunt frequently springs to mind (also see: Tom Newey). A tediously dependable full-back in a slowly decaying squad, he was eventually shipped out to Barnet and slipped into non-league with Margate and Wealdstone.

Danny Hylton

A strange bearded wizard, signed by Gary Waddock and adopted by Michael Appleton. Appleton described him as not very bright, but he carried him through the early months with an prodigious work ethic. Joined the glory train in 2016, winning promotion before joining Luton to everyone’s dismay that summer. I love Danny Hylton.

Alex Jakubiak

A too-much-too-soon loan signing from Watford teenager Jakubiak made nine games before being recalled by his parent club. The Hornets have persisted with him loaning him to a variety of teams, most recently to Bristol Rovers where he’s scored two goals. Both against us.

George Long

Goalkeeper who signed on loan from Sheffield United to cover Ryan Clarke’s injury. Played 10 games before returning to Yorkshire. Played a season at AFC Wimbledon on loan before being signed by Hull City.

Sam Long

A true survivor, despite crippling injuries and changes of management, Long is still with the club in 2019 despite only ever making very occasional appearances.

Alex MacDonald

A little bowling ball of a winger from Burton and an early sign that things were going to improve. Became integral to the team that clinched promotion in 2016. Inexplicably moved on the following season to Mansfield.

Jonathan Meades

Adopted by Michael Appleton having been signed in 2013 by Chris Wilder. Crippled with injuries meant he was limited to just seven appearances before being released. Played nearly 100 games for Wimbledon, winning promotion to League 1 in 2016, but retired in 2018 following a persistent injury.

Carlton Morris

The first of many big strong target men Michael Appleton tried. Signed on loan from Norwich, the job of leading the line in a formative team was too much for the teenager. Scored in an early League Cup success over Bristol City, he returned to Norwich after seven games. Still at Norwich now and has had a range of loans, most significantly at Shrewsbury in 2017/18 when he nearly got promoted to the Championship.

John Mullins

A dependable leader and a rare beacon of consistency. Mullins partnered Jake Wright for a majority the season and a good chunk of the promotion season in 2015/16 before being slowly overhauled by Chey Dunkley. Ended the year on the bench, was released in 2016 where he signed for Luton Town. Won promotion in 2016/17 before slowly falling out of favour. Signed for Cheltenham in 2018.

Tom Newey

An icon of Chris Wilder’s latter years at Oxford, a soul-destroyingly dependable full-back. Followed Wilder to Northampton Town making no more than a dozen appearances over two years. Retired due to injury and turned to coaching. Currently back with his first club Leeds as Under 16 coach.

Callum O’Dowda

One of many juniors rising through the club’s ranks at the time. Looked lightweight in 2014/15, but bulked up considerably the following season. A marginal rather than key player of the promotion squad, he was signed by Bristol City in 2016 and capped by the Republic of Ireland.

Alfie Potter

Lovable, jinky winger, Alfie Potter is the boy who never grew up. Signed by Chris Wilder, he seemed to have a knack of scoring memorable goals including the winner at Wembley in 2010, one in the opening game of the season against Portsmouth and a JPT winner over Swindon. Lost his way under Michael Appleton. Moved to Wimbledon, then Northampton Town back with Wilder. Now at Billericay Town. If you want to feel old; he’s thirty.

Giorgio Rasulo

Signed from MK Dons, played one game and leaves a legacy of being one of those players fans reference when trying to make an ironic point. Chugged along with MK Dons until 2018 when he joined Bracknell Town.

Michael Raynes

Perpetual bridesmaid centre-back, but one who put his heart and soul into everything he did. A graduate from Manchester Metropolitan University and brother of England Cerebral Palsy Goalkeeper Jordan, Raynes left for Mansfield, had a good couple of years at Carlisle before moving to Crewe. Currently on loan at Hartlepool.

Joe Riley

A full-back signed on loan from Bolton, played over 30 games before joining Bury just as we thought we’d found a decent player. Signed for Shrewsbury in 2016, one of a number of players who became important to their unlikely promotion push in 2018. Left for Plymouth in the summer of 2018.

James Roberts

Perpetually the answer to all club’s goalscoring problems for three years, Roberts scored a couple of top class goals in about 30 games. His brother was tragically killed in a car accident in 2017, Roberts’ career slowed and stalled following a series of loans. Left in 2018 for Hereford.

Kemar Roofe

Arrived from West Browm almost undercover in a blizzard of loan signings, initially Roofe looked like he was just another lightweight destined to disappear. Then scored two in a win over Wycombe and couldn’t stop scoring. Signed permanently in 2015/16 scoring over 25 goals as we were promoted to League 1, scored against Swindon and Swansea in the FA Cup. Bought by Leeds United for over £4m in 2016. After a bit of a slow start, grew to become an integral part of Leeds’ push for promotion to the Premier League.

Danny Rose

Originally joined as a teenager in our first season in the Conference from Manchester United. Enjoyed promotion to the Football League with Newport and Aldershot before returning to Oxford in 2013. Chalked up over 80 games, but never really enjoyed a consistent run in the team. Briefly followed Chris Wilder to Northampton before moving to Portsmouth. Played a marginal role in their promotion to League 1. Went to Swindon on loan in January 2019. Urgh.

Josh Ruffels

Signed from Coventry City as part of a policy of solving the club’s financing problems by nurturing youth. Ruffels became one of the squads most dependable players, winning promotion with the squad in 2016 and playing at Wembley twice. Still with the club where he’s enjoying an extended period in the team at a full-back.

Joe Skarz

The best defender in the land was signed in 2015 from Rotherham. Became an integral part of the promotion winning back-four, heroically playing through injury to get us over the line in 2016. Slowly fell out of favour and left to join Bury, his previous club, in 2017. Dogged by injury, he’s yet to play a dozen games in the in the two years he’s been at the club.

Kyle Vassell

Played a mostly forgettable six games towards the end of the season, his only goal being a critical winner against Carlisle which was a great stride towards safety. Enjoyed a productive two years at Blackpool where he won promotion from League 2, joined Rotherham in 2018.

Andrew Whing

A grizzled old pro signed by Chris Wilder, all we wanted was a team of Andy Whings. Injuries and age slowly crept up on him, and he announced his retirement to take up a coaching role with the club in 2015. Left the club in 2017 to coach Kidderminster Harriers. Last year joined Coventry City as an academy coach.

Jake Wright

Surly, mercurial centre-back Jake Wright joined in 2010, won promotion to the Football League. Led the team through Chris Wilder’s reign and the chaos that followed. Was Michael Appleton’s captain during the 2015/16 promotion season, voted best player of the first 10 years of Oxblogger that year. Left for Sheffield United in what looked like a reshuffle that had gone wrong. Enjoyed promotion to the Championship before injury limited his game time with the Blades.

Close season round up – part 1 – on the field

I don’t really like the summer. I don’t relish the prospect of having to expose flesh. I don’t like the way the world slows down and cricket becomes the epicentre of excitement. I like the safety of layers of clothes, I like the tetchy-ness of the cold; the quickened pace to get everything done before the dark. Summer, for me, is really just preparation for winter. It is the close season.

The first month of the summer has been more exciting than the season itself. The euphemistically termed ‘retained list’ was released, which could just as easily be the redundancy list. That’s what it is. No major shocks there, I don’t think. There rarely are with these things as it simply acts as a method to discard the shrapnel of the squad. Those who are getting game-time are usually quite happy to get another couple of years. There’s always one or two that hang in the balance, in this case it appears to be Andy Whing.

I remember once telling someone that Barry Quinn wouldn’t be offered a contract in the summer and he started treating me like Ewoks treat C3P0. But it stood to reason; Quinn had been out for the season and it was fairly obvious the club wasn’t going to risk the guarantee of a couple more years. Same with Whing, he knows, we know, the club knows that he probably hasn’t got much left in the tank. I hope the club can find him something.

Wright, I’m pleased about, I think he gets a bad rap. He broods, but commands the respect of the squad. Just don’t ask him to play like Johan Cruyff as Appleton tried to do earlier in the season. Rose’s retention I’m less convinced about; his late season form was essential for our surge to safety, but it was out of character with the rest of his time at the club.

Then, unexpectedly, Kemar Roofe signs on a three year deal. I say unexpectedly, because I was expecting one of those long fruitless slogs, excuses about him being on holiday, or in the toilet, or on his way to sign before appearing in a Chesterfield shirt or some such. Mark Watson did it, Matt Green did it, surely Kemar Roofe was going to do it. But no, Michael Appleton wanted his business done early and that’s exactly what he’s done.

Roofe’s signature means we already have an interesting mix of strikers for next year; Roofe himself is the creative type, Hoban a battering ram who, I hope, will benefit from a proper pre-season. Hylton will let no-one down with his effort (although, as much as he was obviously the only choice as player of the season, it will be interesting to see whether he replicates his goalscoring next season. Goals haven’t been his strong point previously, last season’s total was a quarter of his entire decade long career haul). Finally we’ve got a goal poacher in James Roberts. As a mix of strikers, that’s as good as you can get in this division. Men for all seasons.

The signing of Ryan Taylor, then, was a bit of a surprise. In some ways, he is reminder of the risk of getting carried away with all of this. On one hand, he scored 10 goals last year, which is a respectable return at this level and would have proved handy had they been for us. He’s also a strong target man, which is often useful at this level.

However, on the other hand, I know about him because he looks like Dave Kitson. And he used to play for Portsmouth, who look like a Premier League team, when in reality, they are still wrestling the failures of their past, like everyone languishing in these pits of hell.

In other words, it’s a signing that looks like Dave Kitson from the Premier League, but is, in fact Ryan Taylor from League 2. A rough facsimile of something far better. That’s not to say that Taylor isn’t welcome or can be a success, but it’s easy to get carried away with how things immediately appear.

Of course, one of the challenges is getting the ball to these players in the first place, so the signing of Liam Sercombe seems like a solid choice. I don’t know much about him, but as a product of Paul Tisdale, he’s been well schooled and he’s knows how to get out of this league; which is, let’s face it, what it’s all about.

Good Friday agreements

The last minute draw against Morecambe brought the most vocal complaints yet from the East Stand. However, the more concerning thing has to be the fact that come the end of the season, we’ll have something like 18 players free to leave. 

The temptation, after Friday’s draw with Morecambe, is to launch into another debate about the future of Chris Wilder. But his fate is surely sealed one way or the other; whichever side Ian Lenagan falls on, he’s not likely to need anymore evidence to aid his decision. Friday’s performance was not bad, it was average and massively frustrating, like our season.

I do take some exception to two key criticisms of Wilder, however. The first is the complaint that his interviews on the radio are full of excuses, when in fact they are merely explanations. His explanation of the mistakes that were made in the lead up to the equaliser were descriptions of fact not excuses.

I also doubt that Wilder is not aware of the link between the players’ performances and his responsibility as manager. So while he talked about his players actions – not taking the ball into the corner, Constable getting caught offside – he’s not simply absolving himself of his ultimate accountability to deliver performances.

The question that Lenagan needs to answer is whether Wilder can establish forward momentum and more crucially, what impact his presence might have on the club in the short term, not least in terms of season ticket sales.

So, that’s me not debating Chris Wilder. The more concerning thing is the number of players who are about to go out of contract. By my reckoning 19 players can walk away come May.

The club have options on Crocombe, Marsh, Potter and Davis, and it seems fairly logical that they will be taken up. Crocombe and Marsh are a sign that there have been improvements, at least, in youth development. Davis can be a bit heavy footed, but he has pace and strength and gives options down the left. Potter’s form is fitful, but he offers creativity and, though its often difficult to see it, something approaching a goal threat.

You’d expect Damian Batt and Andy Whing to be offered new deals. However, I think Whing may go; he’s not stupid and will know that he has value in the market at League 1 or 2 level. The club’s potential is not what it was when he originally signed, there’ll be no Leven or Duberry type signings this summer, will he want to stick around to see whether things improve when there’s a risk he’ll spend another two years treading water? He’ll be 32/33 at the end of another contract, so you’d think this was his last chance at commanding a reasonable salary before he retires. Batt seems settled at Oxford, he’s got other interests, the manager likes him, and it’s difficult to see why he wouldn’t sign.

Last season, alongside Whing, there was a glut of comparatively big time signings. Tony Capaldi barely featured in his first year due to injury, and has done little to suggest he’ll be the first in the queue for a new contract. Deane Smalley has had a torrid time, although there’s something about his general application  that makes me think that he’s worth another year. Jon-Paul Pittman whose injuries suggest he hasn’t got the robustness we need; I can’t see him staying.

The big two from 2011 were Peter Leven and Michael Duberry. If Leven is offered a new contract, then it’s surely going to be on terms that reflect his general lack of availability. I doubt he’ll take that sort of offer and, while he still maintains some kind of reputation, will move on. Duberry, I think, may be interested in another season, especially as this season as been so wretched for him. I think there’s a chance the club may oblige in the vein hope that he’ll recreate the commanding form of his first season. I think that’s a mistake. When fit, he’s the best defender in the club and can be one of the best in the league, but age plays against him. Duberry was part of a strategy to have accelerated success, this doesn’t seem to have worked, it’s time to move to something else.

We’re also seeing the expiration of the post-promotion contracts with Tom Craddock, Simon Heslop and Harry Worley all up for renewal. I still think Craddock is a class act, but his style (less aggressive than Constable and Smalley) and his injury record play against him. His future, I think, is based on whether alternatives can be found, but I also think that his goalscoring record will see him getting other offers. I’d be surprised if he was at the club next year.

Simon Heslop has continuously flattered to deceive. Scorer of howitzer goals in his first season in particular, he now looks like someone who doesn’t even want to play football anymore. Worley also just doesn’t seem to have the extra gear in his development. He was part of a error prone defence in the first year back, it seemed Duberry could come in and steady the ship while Worley found his feet. While I think that he may have a future as an impact striker, there’s no way the club will take the time to test that theory. Neither will be at the club next year.

Which leaves more recent signings; I like Scott Davies and think it worthy of a new contract, and O’Brien offers reliability we’re looking for. Parker is willing, but replaceable. And I can’t see the club using up unnecessary wages on McCormick if Ryan Clarke is coming back with Crocombe and Brown as cover.

All of which could leave us with a gaping hole next season. All of which suggests summer risks becoming a massive scramble just for bodies let alone the class we need or that Wilder will be going and the decisions are being delayed to give his replacement more options.

Calling out for an unsung hero

The Radio Oxford phone-in is like crack, you know it’s not good for you, but there’s something that can’t stop you from taking part. On Saturday after the draw against Torquay, Dougie, a regular I think, came on to put his point across. Lenegan was a liar, Dougie said, he lied when he said he couldn’t spend any more on players because of the salary cap. Because Dougie knows better; he could spend more, if he put more money into the club. Which reminded me of the Paul Merton joke about the Olympics; they had to double the budget in order to come in under budget.

Jerome Sale, who is always good in these situations pointed out that the salary cap was in place to prevent clubs from chasing an unrealisable dream. Endless spending puts you in a falsely elevated position; like Portsmouth or Luton. Swindon did it, said Dougie. To which Sale pointed out that the chairman had been removed and they had been placed under a transfer embargo as a result.

Now, the natural law about Oxford United is that the longer any debate goes on, the more heated it gets, the more likely that someone will mention Firoz Kassam. Dougie was on the defensive and blurted out that Lenegan is just another Kassam. All he wanted was the stadium and surrounding land. To which the slightly exasperated Sale responded that Lenegan didn’t own the stadium and the surrounding land. Which makes Lenagan at least one stadium and surrounding land less than Kassam. What he didn’t mention, but could have, is that he’s also largely given up on acquiring it in the short term. If Lenagan’s only interest is the facilities, he’s going a pretty terrible way about it.

Just before Dougie, was an American interloper who has been working in the area and following our fortunes in recent weeks. Despite occasionally sounding like a Floridian life-coach he offered perhaps the most intelligent assessment of us I’ve heard in years. Fans are inconsistent, said The American, fans do the easy bit in celebrating success, but are hysterical when things don’t go our way. It is very difficult to find consistency when one key component is so bloody inconsistent.

Amongst the many things I’ve been thinking about doing with this blog but never get round to is a series on unsung heroes – in which I will make a case for Joe Burnell. It strikes me that we don’t currently have an unsung hero. Inconsistency has blighted us this season on and off the pitch; one of the things unsung heroes offer is a steadying hand. During our last two promotions key to our success has come from an unsung hero. In 2010, Simon Clist regulated the surges of energy that came from Dannie Bulman and Adam Murray and back in 1996 Stuart Massey got the ball down and passed when the temptation was pump the ball up to Paul Moody. There was more thrilling talent elsewhere in the team, but Massey and Clist offered an understated, but essential, contribution to our successes.

On Tuesday, when we flip flopped to defeat against Dagenham a lot of the focus was on our inability to defend corners; and specifically (and probably rightly) the decision to play Raynes over Mullins. But while we dithered, nobody took control and took us back to basics. On Saturday we barely registered a performance in the first half and pounded them in the second. But we needed someone to regulate Peter Leven’s indulgences; which, at the moment, seem to involve waiting for the game to slow down enough for his prodigious talents to flourish.

Similarly, we need someone to regulate Adam Chapman’s complacency. Chapman’s problem is that he doesn’t care. This is a virtue sometimes; during big games he just plays without fear of the consequences, for example; Wembley, Swindon at home and the penalty he scored against Rushden in the Conference when we were going through a particularly scratchy time. Late last season he described his productive relationship with Asa Hall as having a laugh trying stuff out. This is just what we need when the pressure is on. But then, like on Tuesday, sometimes Chapman needs to play percentages to give us some rhythm.

Cox, I think, is supposed to be the one to play this role, but it needs some serious personality to exert influence in the squad that’s needed. He hash’t yet grabbed the midfield as firmly as he needs to.

The obvious candidate for this role is Andy Whing, not exactly unsung, but someone who has improved us, even from his Siberian posting out of the right. If we can get Damian Batt healthy then perhaps Whing can move into the middle to give the creatives something to work off. Of course, continually having to stir the pot is a central theme of our season. In the meantime weeks drift by and we’re still floating around at the foot of the table.

The good news is that every other team seems to be in a similar position regarding inconsistency. Automatic promotion seems beyond us, but it still looks like there’s going to be an almighty shit fight for the play-offs. If we can find our unsung hero, we might just replicate the successes of ’96.

2012 squad review – midfield and attack

On stable defensive foundations can a successful squad be built. In midfield and up front, however, despite having a decent pool for fish from, Chris Wilder struggled to find the right formula, at least not one that he could keep on the field for any length of time. The crucible of the argument about Wilder’s worth centres on whether the seasons failings were one of incompetence or bad luck.

Peter Leven showed moments of genius; not least his 40 yarder against Port Vale and the flick to play in Liam Davis at Barnet. Injury didn’t help him, but he lacked the consistency you get from the more industrious types like, say, Dannie Bulman.

Or Andy Whing; Whing’s Supporters’ Player of the Season award is wholly understandable. There are stories of people with anaemia who chew on metal in a vain attempt to get iron into their system. The Whing vote reflected a call for dogged consistency. He let nobody down and you suspect he never will.

While Leven, when fit, and Whing, when not deputising in the back four, probably makes up two of our first choice midfield three, the final member of the team is somewhat less clear. Paul McLaren, who was the steadying hand during 2010/11 faded from view. Not unexpectedly, his age suggested that he was only ever a stop gap while the club found itself a firmer footing in the league. Perhaps that was the role expected of Mark Wilson when he arrived, though he failed to make any impact.

Simon Heslop started in fine form, but was one of the early victims of this year’s curse of the folk hero – Leven ‘doing what he wants’, Ryan Clarke’s penalty saves, Asa Hall’s goals – as soon as their feats were verbalised, they stopped doing them. Heslop was struck by only moderate form and then injury; the two of which may have been related.

Perhaps the most interesting combination was that of Chapman and Hall. They were, in many senses, less explosive, but more consistent. Chapman’s return was remarkable he had a composure and awareness that others just don’t seem to have. His only problem is whether he can hold it together mentally; which is often the difference between good and great players. Hall had less crafted, but benefited hugely from the base that Chapman offered. Hall’s form also benefitted from having a bit lump, like Scott Rendell up front to follow up on knock-downs.The fact Hall has decided not to sign is disapointing; he and Chapman seemed to have a partnership that could be built on.

James Constable needs a break; not in terms of a goal off his backside, but a break from being James Constable; Oxford Icon. Last season he was the focal point of most of the drama involving Swindon; three transfer bids, two goals, one sending off. He seems mentally fatigued by it all, the sparky aggression that gained him so many bookings, but also so many goals in the Conference has been replaced by a subdued and isolated figure. There’s a point in every player’s career when they need re-engineer their game. Constable needs to be less of a focal point. A glimpse of what might be was seen on the arrival of Scott Rendell. Momentarily, Constable was freed from all his responsibilities, he was able to feed off the balls from the ever willing Rendell. That was blown apart with Constable’s sending off against Swindon. It may give us some clues as to how to play next season.

Controversially, amongst fans at least, Chris Wilder’s preference is to play 4-3-3. Which either means you end up with a proven goalscorer playing out of position (Midson during the Conference years) or you have players that frustrate and delight with equal measure. John-Paul Pittman had a curious season with his loan to Crawley, momentary spike of form, then – again due to injury – anonymity. Although I have a huge amount of affection for Alfie Potter as a member of the promotion squad, he seems to be rated more highly by others than me. He has his moments, but he puts lots of pressure on the likes of Constable. When Potter was injured, and Craddock struggle to return, Wilder turned to Dean Morgan – who wasn’t as bad as people say, but is clearly a bit of an oddball and Christian Montano – who was raw and inconsistent. Oli Johnson, however, was the most surprising omission from Wilder’s retained list. He of all the flanking strikers combined a decent supply of creativity with a reasonable number of goals.

For different reasons, we missed Tom Craddock and Dean Smalley. Craddock isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I saw him as being an essential component to the season’s success. His sustained absence could easily have cost us 10-15 goals, which would have made all the difference. Similarly, Smalley should have contributed double digits in terms of goals. He didn’t seem to do much wrong, but similarly he didn’t do much right. If he lasts the summer, let’s hope we’ll seem him rejuvenated come August.

Do we really want to know more about players?

Sir Alex Ferguson is almost certainly correct in saying that footballers could do with choosing improving literature over Twitter, but he will almost certainly be ignored. Footballers live for the vaguely homoerotic surrounds of the dressing room and the inter-player ‘banter’ within.

Twitter has turned this fun filled roister-doister into a professional sport, although, anyone who has witnessed the exchanges between Robbie Savage and Rio Ferdinand will see that this apparently rich vein of self-affirmation consist of them arguing over which looks more like a horse.

This insight into the cosseted world of football proves that a player’s life isn’t really worth knowing about and that the most interesting thing they’ll ever do is on the pitch. It makes you wonder why we’re expected to care about the Ryan Giggs affair. The media paint Giggs as a manipulating superstar protecting his sponsorship deals, keeping it from his wife and the baying public. But the revelation is unlikely to make a significant material difference to his wealth, and it’s beyond all credibility to think that his wife only found out after the details were released on Monday. She looked someway short of distraught when walking the pitch after Manchester United’s final game against Blackpool on Sunday. One may reasonably assume that the Giggs’ are resolving any issues the affair has caused – which they’re entitled to do.

Giggs is probably just a bit embarrassed about it all, as you might be if, say, your neighbour caught you scratching your bum in the garden. He’s just been a bit of an idiot, particularly considering Imogen Thomas is one of the country’s more careless girlfriends having previously been subject of a leaked sex tape. But in the end, Giggs is what Giggs was; the finest footballer of his generation what he does in his spare time – whether that’s playing away or going to Tesco – is his business.

The separation of the footballer from the person is a tricky one. Twitter is a hugely positive force amongst Oxford fans with Paul McLaren, Harry Worley, James Constable, Tom Craddock, Ben Purkiss, Jack Midson and new signing Andy Whing all registered and engaging with fans. This builds trust and can only be good for the club, tweets between the players on the bus going to Shrewsbury gave a really nice added dimension to the match day experience.
But I’m not particularly keen on taking it much further than that. My only real experience of a professional footballer outside the stadium was spending some time with Mickey Lewis at a wedding. Whilst he was a lot of fun – at one point rear ending a chair in a deserted hotel bar telling some Wycombe fans of the ‘spanking’ he’d been part of in 1996, there was a point where I just fancied going to bed. I like Mickey, but I’m just not that hardcore and now I prefer the version which bowls around picking up cones before a game.
Adam Chapman is another who has challenged our moral fortitude. But as I said last year, we should maintain a dignified separation between Chapman the footballer and Chapman the dangerous driver. Football is not so important that it should be used as part of the justice system – rewarded to those who do well, or deprived from those who are bad. Prisons are a perfectly sufficient punishment, Chapman’s justice should be serving its course any time soon and, if we do see him in a yellow shirt again, he should be welcomed back as we would any player.
And then there’s Paulo Di Canio, who is a fascist off the pitch and taking over at Swindon Town on it. Should we really care? Certainly the GMB think so, and, well, it’s just a bit too easy to ignore. But footballers don’t engage in improving literature as Ferguson suggests they do; they engage in illicit sex, banal banter, dangerous driving and fascism.
Di Canio is perfectly entitled to his opinion, as misguided as it is. And Swindon are perfectly entitled to appoint him as manager, as misguided as that is. Perhaps it’s just in the nature of football culture and its environment that creates a higher proportion of morons. This may be specific to their type – studies have shown that American football college players are more likely commit rape because they are trained to be unthinking pack animals. Perhaps we only hear about the morons and that football mirrors the rest of the world in having a broad spectrum of views and types. Generally speaking it is probably advisable to keep the player and the person separate, as they say; you should never meet your heroes.