The wrap – Brentford 1 Oxford United 0

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As FA Cup ties go, the defeat to Brentford followed a familiar script. We were the plucky underdogs toiling away to little real effect against an obviously superior side. Our fans were excited by the novelty, theirs frustrated by the distraction. Eventually we made a mistake and they made us pay.

The reality is that most FA Cup ties follow this pattern – we all hope for a Swansea or Newcastle, but in the main you get a Sheffield United or Blackburn.

Of course, all of this was over-shadowed by the injury to Shandon Baptiste. Nobody is going to deny what a blow it is to the player, the squad and even the fans looking for a sign that things are going our way. The nature of the injury – minutes after coming on following a long period out – somehow makes it feel even worse.

What is perhaps most concerning is Karl Robinson’s reaction, it was like he’d lost his faithful dog. He was, he claims, crying during the game, Baptiste had ‘given him everything’ and claimed that he’d be out for a year before any medical assessment had been done.

Robinson prides himself on his honesty and openness; he won’t get much criticism from fans for sympathising deeply with Baptiste, most people would feel the same. But, as a manager, is that quite what we need?

When Robinson arrived at the club he declared Malachi Napa the ‘future of the club’ before he was loaned out to Macclesfield. This season Baptiste took the mantle so much so he was given the captain’s armband against Manchester City and again (more bizarrely) against Luton.

These are huge, sweeping declarations of faith, deep investments in the abilities of young players. Great in some senses, but these players can only fail to meet such expectations. No player can carry a whole club. Similarly, as the emotional response to Baptiste’s injury illustrates, it’s like he believes there’s some greater uncontrollable power writing prophecies and tearing them up.

This is troubling; there’s still a game to complete in. If he was crying on the touchline he’s lost control of his emotions. When that happens, you can’t make clear decisions. That’s not just about winning a game, but also about controlling the emotions of his staff, players and Baptiste himself.

Catastrophising the injury before anyone truly knows its impact makes is worse for the players and Baptiste. Sure, the immediate assessment was that it didn’t look good. But thinking of Cameron Brannagan being carried off against Wycombe in a neck brace or even Joe Skarz returning from a ‘season-ending’ injury to help our promotion push in 2016 show that injuries are imprecise things and you shouldn’t make big claims before knowing all the details.

I’m not suggesting any of this is easy, but the point is that it is not Robinson’s job to represent the emotions of the fans. Nor it is job to be a proxy for a distressed player whose season, and maybe more, is suddenly in jeopardy. it is definitely not his job to spread panic amongst those he leads.

His job is to provide calming guidance; a direction through chaos. Baptiste’s injury looks bad, but let’s wait to see what the diagnosis is. Before that, let’s get the game completed with the best possible outcome. I don’t know whether his emotions on the sideline had anything to do with John Mousinho’s lunging tackle which led to the penalty, but it cannot help instil the discipline needed to hold out when your manager has lost his.

The bigger concern is whether Robinson is capable of leading us out of a relegation fight if he’s in a state of permanent emotional flux. I can see him being the kind of manager who gets a team hyped for a single game – a big six-pointer, but I would like to see us safe before we get to any of those.

Weekly wrap: Crawley, Brentford and The Woodmans

Crawley wrap – Oxford United 1 Crawley Town 1

Never judge anything from a single result a trend is always a more effective measure of where things are at. For all the changes and improvements that have been made off the field over the summer, the draw with Crawley gave the clearest indication that we continue to evolve on it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; we’re too obsessed in football with the power of genius and passion to recognise that success comes from funding and its consistent application in the right processes. While it is possible to jump-start a revival, the effort required to do that is formidable and potentially destructive. If something feels too good to be true, it frequently is. So moderate progression is OK.

This is something to worry about and yet not worry about at the same time. While the overall performance is broadly in the same place as where we left things at the end of last season, the result puts us somewhere between a solid, if unremarkable start and two points dropped. It is only the first game, after all. But, at the same time, we’re a club with a brittle ego and you might reasonably question how long Oxford fans will continue to believe that the summer was anything other than a publicity stunt if results, and the promised revival, come too slowly. If we do have ambitions to win promotion, and even the title, then we should expect to beat a team like Crawley at home.

Brentford wrap – Brentford 0 Oxford United 4

The first round of the League Cup is a bit like the aftermath of a bomb blast; after it happens; it’s difficult to work out whether you’re dead or alive. Two games into the season gives you a sequence, of sorts, on which to judge yourself. Two poor results and you’re tanking, two good results and you’re on a charge. And then there’s all the grey space in between. You really have no idea whether your opening league game is against a title contender or a relegation certainty. Your League Cup fixture adds to that mix with the uncertainty that your opposition is even trying.

Brentford are the hipsters choice now that Bournemouth have sold out and gone into the big time. On one hand they’re the epitome of the moneyball culture in which data is sexual chocolate, but, look at them another way and they’re another rich person’s plaything that is destined to implode spectacularly. This is the club whose MASSIVE DATA SET calculated that their manager was no good when they were sitting in the play-offs last season.

So, did we beat a prospective Premier League club or one that’ll be rattling a collection tin when they’re fighting for survival in a few years time? Who knows, but I find their decision to play a weakened team utterly detestable. When it comes to strength in depth, they’re clearly paper thin so what did they achieve? A clear run at the Championship title? If that is their genuine ambition and this was part of that process, then they’re effectively throwing the game, which is fraud. Or is it just that this is what their algorithms tell them this is what proper modern football clubs do, even if they have no idea why? In reality, I reckon they’ve ultimately come out of it devalued and humiliated.

None the less, credit where it’s due; to come out and demolish a Championship team like we did harms us in no way at all. What it actually means in the context of our season, I haven’t a clue… and neither do you.

Any other business

In goal for Crawley on Saturday was Freddie Woodman, son of former United ‘keeper Andy. Such was Ian Atkins’ devotion to the long ball, it could be argued that Woodman was also one of the greatest our playmakers of the modern era. Significantly, Woodmans senior and junior became by my reckoning, the first father and son duo to have played at the Kassam. Rather chillingly, this makes the Kassam a stadium that has spanned the footballing generations.

We haven’t won at home on the first day of the season since THAT win against York in 2009. The Crawley game had similar hallmarks in that it should have underlined a hectic and positive closed season, catapulting us into the campaign with vigour. Of course, it ultimately did none of those things. I missed that game against York meaning the last opening day win I saw was against Halifax in our first Conference game. This was a remarkable game for two reasons – the first was the Chris Wilder was in the opposition dugout. The second was that the game was sealed by an Andy Burgess wonder-strike, that’s when we thought Burgess was the non-league Lionel Messi.

I followed the first two games of the season on Twitter through a ropey 3G connection while on holiday. I’ve always liked the romantic idea of being an ex-pat fan; following from distant lands, treating every visit to the Kassam as a visit to Mecca and wearing your replica shirt as a counter-cultural statement in a sea of whatever the locals are into (in my holiday’s case, Marseille or Paris Saint Germain). In reality, from this limited experience, there’s just an overwhelming sense of distant despair as the Twitter feed clicks through the 90 minutes.  Either the helplessness of a result going sour or the sense of loss from missing out on a spectacular win. On balance, I think I prefer the communal despair of actually being there.