Match wrap: Bolton Wanderers 0 Oxford United 0

I was looking forward to the novelty of watching us play Bolton on iFollow. I was never going to travel north on a Tuesday night, so the opportunity to see the game with one eye on The Bake-Off was a little bit of joy to break up the tedium of the week. 

The result was a faded facsimile of anything we might consider as being football; the limited production values meant that it wasn’t TV football as you know it, and it’s not even close to a replacement for being there.

Despite Bolton’s evident problems and the fact they’d conceded 21 goals in the previous four games, I shared the view that we definitely had it in us to make the game more difficult than it should have been.

Perhaps that’s just natural pessimism and fear – nobody wants to be the first team that gets beaten by such a beleaguered club. Dig a little deeper, though, and it was clear that they weren’t to be under-estimated. They’ve taken a point from Coventry at home and took the lead on Saturday against Rotherham, most of the goals they’ve conceded have been later in games when they got tired and lost shape. 

The presence of Jake Wright in their starting line-up should remind us that they are not the team of juniors they were at the start of the season, plus, by the law of averages, they will pick off points here and there. They’re like a non-league team in the cup – most of the time they’ll lose to more established opposition, but that doesn’t prevent them from winning once in a while.

The onus was on us to control the game; but in fact we were the ones who showed immaturity. Their shortcomings were evident but we were still overrun by youthful exuberance for the opening 20 minutes. Afterwards, Karl Robinson wanted us to acknowledge their performance, but we looked woefully under-prepared.

A more disciplined and organised side would have absorbed the pressure. Extinguished the enthusiasm. Strangled the life out of their rawness. Watching it on an iPad, it looked like a game of FIFA on the Playstation; two teams attacking without any obvious plan. For them, there was little to lose for us, it was unforgivable.

As the game progressed, thankfully, things seemed to balance out a bit and we started to edge back into it. But at no point did we look more than an average threat. 

There was no craft, no calm and little shape. Professionally, it was little short of pathetic. There are things I like about Robinson; he gets football clubs at an emotional level, he has time for people. He serves his club in a way managers rarely do. But, he’s not there to think like a fan; he’s there to plan, establish structure and instil discipline. Quite simply, we should have won comfortably. We’re facing teams that are set up not to lose first and foremost and yet we simply hammer away thoughtlessly and expect to cut through them. I’m a long way from calling for his head, but his approach, like his touchline persona, is childlike; you have to question how far it can take us. 

Weekly wrap – Oxford United 2 Scunthorpe 1, Oxford United 2 Bolton Wanderers 4

Sometimes football feels like it’s a rock in life’s raging river. As the river flows around it, it remains steadfast, always there just where it’s always been. Then, sometimes, the river rises and the current speeds up and the rock becomes submerged, lost from sight.

That’s been me this week; the river has engulfed the rock, football’s become a bit of an aside. On Saturday morning work pulled me to a meeting in Canary Wharf, which turns out not to be the most direct route to the Kassam. I ended up on a journey which involved car, train and boat, at one point I calculated I might actually make the game with four minutes to spare but time got eaten up and it became clear that I wasn’t going to make it.

It was a bit of a relief because I don’t get any sense that even with the Scunthorpe win anyone realistically harbours expectations of us making the play-offs. Even a last minute goal didn’t seem to ignite that feeling that the gods were with us.

Instead it feels like we’ve seen the fixtures and recognised that even if we did make the play-offs, we probably wouldn’t go up and even if we went up, we probably wouldn’t stay up.

I had a similar feeling for the game against Bolton; they had that sense of urgency that you get when the prospect of promotion looms. That desperate need to make sure it happens and not pass up the opportunity; like us last season. We, on the other hand, seemed to want to compete only on our terms, put the effort in when we were ready.

The difference was in the margins; it wasn’t like we were lazy, we played well, but having conceded two early goals there was a feeling that if we got back into the game then great, if not, then whatever. Truth is, had Marvin Johnson’s astonishing strike gone in, then we are likely to have taken a point. So we’re not that far away from being good enough for the play-offs or better. But, we just don’t seem to have the energy to really make it happen. It’s not a surprise, it’s been an exhausting couple of years.

We are simply playing too frequently, just like last year, but unlike last year, the prospect of us going up is just not big enough to blow a gasket to achieve. Instead, it’s like we’re taking a brief intake of breath before we go on another promotion drive next season. The question, I suppose, is whether we can keep the core of the squad, and the manager, together over the summer, and that depends on the depth of funding available.

Bolton wrap – Bolton Wanderers 0 Oxford United 2

I’ve been reading about ice ages recently. Apparently we’re in one at the moment, which is one reason I’ve ordered extra logs for my wood burner. Thankfully we’re in a fairly mild period of an ice age which means we’re not all dying a horrible death. At least not yet.
One of the startling things about ice ages is just how quickly the earth can go from our current survivable climate to a solid ice ball that perishes us all. Geological periods are typically measured in millions on years, but it is possible for an ice age to engulf us in as little as a decade. Think about that for a moment; imagine watching Andy Burgess skulk around the Kassam in 2006 completely unaware that a decade later we wouldn’t be beating Swindon (again) we’d be encrusted in ice.
In simple terms, which is pretty much the only terms I work in, if the temperature drops to really quite chilly and it becomes icey, as it does most winters, the sun’s rays rebound off the white surface of the earth and back into the atmosphere. The sun doesn’t melt anything so the ice builds up and the planet cools causing the ice to build up some more. Before you know it we’re all buried in metres of ice and football is postponed for several millions of years.
The point is that we are living in a narrow band of time which allows us to thrive, but that could quickly change and the world could return to the state it was in millions of years ago. Nothing is fixed, everything operates in a cycle.
On Saturday, our win over Bolton was seen as a sign that we are, in the words of the song, on our way back. Just 10 years ago we were in the Conference and they were beating Liverpool in the Premier League, now we’re equals.
However, while the Macron Stadium provides the facade of Premier League class, Bolton haven’t stood still while we’ve climbed the divisions. They’ve fallen as far as we’ve risen. In truth, teams orbit each other meeting periodically before heading off in different directions. Some come into contact on a regular basis, others less frequently. Some, like Chelsea or Manchester City can invest billions to break their natural trajectory, but most can’t do that. Bolton were semi-regular visitors to the Manor during the 80s, then they headed to the Premier League before heading back down the divisions.
This is a shock to some Bolton fans – teams ‘like’ Bolton shouldn’t be beaten by teams ‘like’ Oxford. Bolton are in shock in the same way we were in the Conference and the way Portsmouth were in League 2. They don’t feel they belong in the environment they are in, but they keep getting beaten by teams who they think do.
League 1 is an elephant’s graveyard of teams suffering from the toxic shock that results from tasting brief glory before being catapulted back into oblivion.

In charge of Bolton ten years ago was that paragon of virtue Sam Allardyce, they were the club who proposed adding Celtic and Rangers to the Premier League, they’ve been part of the Premier League’s key moves to protect their status and break the natural law. But, ultimately they failed. Sadly for their fans they are heading for a great ice age while we seem to be warming up nicely.