Barow 3 Yellows 1

Following Tuesday’s woeful performance against Barrow, one forum contributor said; “surely Kelvin Thomas impressed on Chris Wilder the importance of winning tonight’s game”. Really? Did he need to?

Nobody loses a game deliberately; unless you play in Eastern Europe, that is. Chris Wilder didn’t forget to win the game. Let’s face it; Barrow started with the impetus, which they had the moment Foster was sent off in the first game.

In addition, if you’re like me, the prospect of playing Sunderland away in front of a half empty, half disinterested crowd was wholly underwhelming. Perhaps it’s the distance, maybe it’s the pernicious influence of the Premiership, which has boiled the FA Cup down to a financial transaction, making it little more than a intra-season friendly.

Perhaps it was the humiliation of representing the “non-league” on such a platform, perhaps it was that the league which is much more interesting and intense than any FA Cup game.

Whatever, we started Tuesday’s tie several metres behind the start line. Which is not to devalue Barrow’s success, which everyone acknowledges was well deserved. Our heads were wrong from the start and it was too much to claw our way back.

And onto the Trophy and Yeading & Hayes, which matters only to prevent two defeats in a row.

Yellows 1 Barrow 1

True story: back in 1964, my dad and his mates were playing with an ouija board. Having connected with the all-seeing otherworld, they asked a question of global import: the score of the forthcoming league game against Barrow.

‘6-0’ replied God, or whoever, ‘tell nobody’ He continued. The prediction was immediately dismissed as hokum. The following Saturday Oxford were teaching Barrow a lesson down in scoring town. When the sixth goal went in, dad turned to a friend who hadn’t been at the séance and told him of the prediction. At which point Oxford scored their seventh. Spooky.

On Saturday I was sitting in the bath contemplating the likely result of the day’s game whilst playing with my own… um…

Ouija board?

I couldn’t see us losing; however, call it law of averages or over-familiarity, I couldn’t see us taking two victories against the same opponents, two weeks in a row. Only then did it dawned on me: it’s going to be a draw.

Spooky. Although less so. The draw against Barrow was the worst result possible, which was compounded by Stevenage closing the gap to two points in the league creating the very real prospect of not being top by tomorrow night. With Green’s injury, Foster suspended and wee Stevie Kinniburgh collecting a knack, we can’t quite get the first eleven all on the field together. This is a period is not of sight or of sound but of mind; the next stop is the wobbly zone.

We’re not doing anything wrong, Stevenage doing things more right but it’s a funny period of the season. There’s a whiff of loss in the air – driven by the cups and the inevitability of being knocked out sooner rather than later. We’re also in that phase where we suddenly look over our shoulder to find our nearest rivals sitting right behind us.

Look at how true winners deal with this; Sir Steve Redgrave or Victoria Pendleton, they know that an inch is enough of a winning margin. We only need to be a point ahead of the pack in April, so we have to look forward not back.

We’ve been grinding out results for weeks now, which could carry on into the New Year, when, hopefully, the cup competitions are behind us. It’s all about points now, we shouldn’t give a shit about the performance.

Yellows 1 Barrow 0

In the Dog Days of August and September the mood was buoyant. In part it was the sheer bloody relief that the season had promise. Confidence was growing, everyone was supping their fancy-Dan European lagers, wearing their shirtsleeves and going on about the strength of the squad. By November, the lager’s been replaced by doughty pints of The Parson’s Left Bollock and the mood has turned more sombre. A few injuries and suddenly the squads not good enough and we’re a bit stretched.

It was all feeling a bit ‘Brian Talbot’ as I trudged in sodden silence up the Grenoble Road on Saturday. We were on a (one game) losing streak, the pressure was on to get back to winning ways, we faced a gnarled northern opponent, key players were out and the weather was bad. Without strengthening, if you’re to believe the media, it seemed that relegation is almost inevitable. No doubt about it, this is us after all.

OK, yesterday’s win over Barrow lacked the fluidity and not a little of the sunshine of early season, but the squad proved more than capable of handling this kind of fixture. It was a 1-0 mauling, we tired and sat back in the latter stages, but that was down to the introduction by them of Paul Rutherford on the right and Jamie Cook’s inability in shutting him down. Rutherford helped push us back, but all-in-all, Barrow barely had a chance all game.

At right-back, Kevin Sandwich came in for ‘wee’ Stevie Kinniburgh. Wee Stevie is generally preferred to The Sandwich both in the stands and the dugout, but there’s not a lot between them.

The loss of an influence like Mark Creighton should hurt, but there was little to worry about. I particularly enjoyed ‘wee’ Ross Perry’s debut. There’ll be no nifty step-overs on the six-yard line from this man, if he goes for a clearance, he’s going to try and hit the moon with it. That’s my kind of defending.

Greedy Matt Green has been the difference between simply being top and being top and five points clear. His pace and ball carrying has given us another dimension in attack, one that nobody has lived with so far this season. Damien Batt is on pace and ball-carrying detail and both Constable and Midson stepped up their game yesterday. Whilst we were nowhere near as glossy as we’ve been with Greedy in the side, we missed him less than I’d anticipated.

What have Steve Wood, Wayne Biggins, Simon Marsh, Mark Jones and Brian McDermott all got in common? They were all players who played in our most successful seasons. When history re-writes these successes fringe players get wiped out. We will remember the first eleven, not the likes of Sandwich and wee Ross, but now we’re in the sludgey stage of the season their contribution will set us up for success or failure in April.

Yellows 3 Crawley 1, Barrow 1 Yellows 1

It’s been over sixteen years since I missed a game at home due to reasons that weren’t holidays, work or weddings. For Tuesday’s win against Crawley, I had to make do with Internet message boards, streaming radio, Twitter feeds and live text commentary.

It wasn’t always like this, in my university days I might get the half-time score, if I was in the house to hear it. Teletext could give me the full time score, but that was about it, unless you count half a paragraph on the game in the Sunday People. As a result, a whole generation of Oxford players are little more than vaguely recognisable names to me.

Now it’s a multi-channel experience, and that’s without any TV rights. The streaming radio is pretty familiar – gravely Oxford icon Nick Harris’ is supported by Jerome and Nathan, who are much more in the camp mould of modern BBC commentary. Harris is like the amiable dad taking his boys to the football. He tries to get involved with the banter, but fundamentally he doesn’t understand most of the jokes and target references. Let’s face it he probably doesn’t understand why players wear white boots and probably calls trainers ‘sand shoes’.

You can ‘read’ the BBC’s robotic text commentary, which I can only think is useful for people following the game at work and those suffering from autism. A typical commentary goes:

“15.03 Murray passes right footed into open play
Correction: Murray passes left footed into open play”

The discussion forums act as a useful counter balance as they are vitriolic by comparison. Most people seem to be channelling information from the radio broadcast, goals for are usually followed with: “Yes, Yes, Get In, Yes, Chappers” whereas conceded goals typically follow a “Shit, bugger, shit” pattern. What is truly baffling is when a discussion breaks out about an incident they clearly didn’t see and have virtually no insight to. On Tuesday following Jefferson Louis’ goal, one commented that ‘He’ll regret that celebration’ as though he’d pulled down his pants and shown his arse to the crowd. On TV the next day it looked pretty innocuous – the irony of shh-ing the South Stand presumably wasn’t lost on the gangling oaf.

It all sounded rather routine on Tuesday and so Saturday’s draw with Barrow probably should be seen in context of the last couple of weeks. We can’t complain at four points from the two big away days and seven since the Mansfield defeat. I have found that I’ve become more paternal towards the club when they go away. It all seems such a long way away, they put in so much effort, what happens if it’s not rewarded, how are they going to feel? I hope the big boys aren’t mean to them. Still, it sounds like they’re doing OK.

Yellows 3 Barrow 0

Before the game on Saturday there was all the reassuring talk of how Barrow were part-timers, how they were hovering above the relegation zone, how they’d had a seven hour trip south and how they arrived like cub scouts on a day trip to Alton Towers.

On that analysis, it was a surprise they didn’t turn up playing in pyjamas and sleeping bags. The supposition that these amateurs were incapable of giving us professionals a game was always a load of nonsense – and has proven to be so many times in the past. The net benefit can’t be more than, say 5% (of whatever you measure these things in) – which is significant over a season, but not over a half of football.

But both our team and fans have learnt the art of patience. Since Christmas, we’ve scored just four before half-time and two of those were against Ebbsfleet. Partly, I suspect, we’re all a little scared of Chris Wilder still, he’s very demanding and we don’t want to upset him. Also, Wilder’s team is structured around a short game, which allows the likes of Clist, Murray, Farrell and Constable to keep probing and possession. This is a significant shift from the team whose plan B was made up of Adam Murray launching long Hoddle-esque balls for Yemi to run half a pitch to get.

So, for now, another demon is laid to rest. But we may need to remain patient for some time yet – no matter how many different ways I try to predict how the remaining fixtures will go – we still don’t have enough to make the play-offs. And then will come the summer and the inevitable merry-go round of players in and players out. Stability may be something we crave, but we’re still some way from achieving it I fear.

Barrow 3 Yellows 0

Why was our opening game against Barrow switched to the 8th August? Because Setanta didn’t want China to be the only institution with an appalling human rights record to open a sporting competition this year.

I haven’t found it easy engaging with the new season – it doesn’t help that for the first time in a decade or more, holidays and weddings have finally conspired against me and I will miss three of the first four home games of the season.

As such I didn’t take a great deal of notice in the build up to the 0-3 defeat (Barrow on a Friday hardly sounds like a season opener). Also, I’ve quite enjoyed the summer break from Football and feel a bit reluctant to get back into it.

On the way to picking up a takeaway, I tuned into Radio Oxford to hear James Clarke get sent-off and that sinking feeling returned. We’re a hard team to love.

Many teams have had poor starts and good seasons – in the last two years we’ve beaten Dagenham and Burton in August and they ended up champions and play-off finalists respectively. Pre-season optimism can be a bad thing and a bucket of cold water early on can do you a lot of good.

There’s every chance we will get to Sunday at the bottom of the table, but perhaps, like me, we shouldn’t expect to start the season in anger until September.