George Lawrence’s Shorts: Parker, Pens

Saturday 24 August 2019

Like your gran after she’s eaten her bodyweight in Turkish Delight, there was some pretty obnoxious Gas around on Saturday. The club put on extra security for Matty Taylor’s return to his former club, Bristol Rovers. Fantasies around Taylor’s return turned out to be just that as he limped off after half-an-hour and we went down 3-1

Monday 26 August 2019

Like a railway announcer during autumn leaf fall; KRob has pinpointed why we’ve gone 3 games without a win – the wrong kind of goals. Our problem is that we’re scoring great goals, not scruffy ones, ‘if you take away the goals, we dominated’ he said possibly ignoring a key aspect of professional football.

Tuesday 27 August 2019

Oxford entertained East London millennial snowflakes Mi’Woh in the Type 2 Diabetes Cup on Tuesday. After going 2-0 down, two super-late goals from Jedward orphan Mark Sykes and James Henry forced the game to penalties which were won by Jose’s son John Mousinho who broke the net to settle the tie. They didn’t like that, but they don’t care, though they really do, because they’re actually very sensitive.  

Wednesday 28 August 2019

Dean Saunders is a former Oxford United goal machine turned TalkSport shock jock – the shock being how little he knows about football. On Wednesday Deano followed a well trodden path for Oxford goalscoring legends like Steve Anthrobus and John Durnin by being sent to prison, this time after refusing to take a breath test when stopped by the police. Saunders is appealing the decision on the grounds of diminished intelligence. 

In less incarcerated news, The Type 2 Diabetes Cup draw had an extra shot of insulin in it when we drew bubble-based buffoons We’stam at home in the next round

Thursday 29 August 2019

Former Leicester City player and Kidlington local Garry Parker, has been appointed Head of Setting Up The Reserves To Play Like The Opposition. The new role will be a blessed relief to Parker, who – if his club photo is anything to go by – got lost on a holiday trek through the jungle wearing just shorts and a pair of flip flops this summer only to be found looking tired and bewildered by local tribesmen.

This year’s Tsun Dai Remind Me Why We Signed Him has been announced as Kash Siddiqi. Siddiqi is a 33-year-old Pakistani international who will instantly be sent out on loan and forgotten. A sub-continental Tony McMahon. 

Friday 30 August 29

Tomorrow sees the visit of Coventry City in which Oxford are hoping to break a losing league streak longer than Jimmy Hill’s chin. Meanwhile in last night’s Six Minute 29 Second Fans Forum on Radio Oxford it was Tiger who came to tea. On the stadiumsituation nothing has changed since the club were asked about the stadiumsituation last week, but Mr Chairman did imply another signing might be on his way.

Match wrap: Bristol Rovers 3 Oxford United 1

For all the brouhaha around Matty Taylor’s return to Bristol Rovers with the personal security and amnesty bins, the real issue for Oxford United was probably nearly two hundred miles away.

Curtis Nelson hasn’t started a game at Cardiff City, he’s been sat on the bench waiting his chance. Meanwhile, after an encouraging start, we’re shipping goals like there’s no tomorrow – nine in a week. It’s possible his greatest impact this season is our defensive problems.

Although we can’t really hope to replace Nelson like-for-like, his departure was no surprise. It was nearly a year ago that Karl Robinson took the captaincy off him because of his reluctance to sign a new contract. Even before then, it was difficult to see him; given that it’s the most important contract decision of his career, choosing us over a chance to play in a higher division.

John Mousinho’s age is similarly predictable, age is like that. He was brought in principally as an emergency cover for Nelson when he damaged knee ligaments in 2017 – a leader without doubt – it’s clear he would have physical limitations. Also, let’s not forget that Robinson didn’t really have him in his plans, offering him a coaching role during the summer.

Rob Dickie is at the other end of the spectrum; an excellent prospect and developing well, but with some way to go before becoming the commanding presence of his defensive partner from last year.

In fact, after nearly 18 months in charge, Elliot Moore is the first centre-back Karl Robinson has signed. And that was days before the start of the season. Moore may become the towering defensive unit we’re looking for. He’s certainly got the physicality, but there’s more to being a top class centre-back than being called Elliot and having a Leicester and Oxford connection.

The issue goes further; our first choice full-backs are Josh Ruffels and Chris Cadden. Ruffels is a converted midfielder and, although I haven’t seen much of Cadden, I can see what Radio Oxford match summariser Steve Kinniburgh means when he says he prefers Cadden’s attacking threat to his defensive capabilities. Few will want a return to the days of Hunt and Newey, but something a little more defensively minded – think Ford and Robinson – might give more confidence. Or perhaps the Baldock and Skarz approach of one bombing forward while the other provides cover.

Whereas in midfield we’ve built a bit of a dynasty from Lundstram to Ledson to Brannagan, in defence we seem to have ignored all the signs that we were always likely to run into difficulties. It’s a far cry from 2016 when we released Jake Wright because we had too many central defenders.

Perhaps Karl Robinson has been too eager to please, bringing in exciting talent like Gavin Whyte or Tariqe Fosu, and trying to fulfil the endless bleating about needing a ‘twenty goals a season striker’, while ignoring the more mundane realities of our defensive capabilities.

There’s more to come from Dickie and Moore, but there’s little cover if that goes wrong. Mousinho can’t play every game and it isn’t his best position anyway. I still think we’ll surprise the good teams with our attacking threat and overwhelm the poorer ones. However, beating teams like us, like Bristol Rovers and Burton, are going to need more balance between our attacking threat and defensive ability. Everyone is so similar, the wins will come in the margins.

There’s still a week to go until the transfer window closes but those who are available are likely to be in the mould of Moore or Mousinho – youngsters looking for game-time, or older players who are moving to the margins of their squad. It looks like we’ll have to deal with what we have. It’s time to get organised.

The wrap – Oxford United 0 Bristol Rovers 2

Whether you see it as another set of excuses or simply telling things as they are, Karl Robinson was open about the problems we currently face before Saturday’s defeat to Bristol Rovers

For weeks, we’ve been playing pretty much the same starting eleven which has held things together and put in a decent run in the process. But there’s been no release, no opportunity to freshen things up, if a player from outside that starting eleven comes in, we look weaker. It stands to reason that eventually someone will get injured or lose form and suddenly we look vulnerable.

I have a theory about why Bristol Rovers hold a hex over us at The Kassam, which I spoke about last season. Off the back of the defeat to Southend on Boxing Day, it was always going to be a tall order to get something from the game, particularly given the situation we find ourselves in.

Perhaps Robinson’s use of Slavi Spasov as a second-half substitute was a message to the owner of just how threadbare we are rather than a genuine attempt to retrieve something from the game. The fact he was too young to wear a sponsor on his shirt should tell you something about the options we have.

Before the game Robinson announced that Tony McMahon and Sam Smith would be leaving in January. McMahon has some personal issues which have hampered his ability to settle, which is fair enough. Smith is a slightly different issue.

Lots of people have criticised Smith, but I think the issue is more strategic. He hardly had any league experience before arriving from Reading, so expecting him to suddenly lead the line in a senior team was always asking a lot. 

Lots of people criticise the use of loans to bolster the squad, but they are an opportunity to bring in players that we couldn’t otherwise afford. However, strategically, we’ve got to decide the profile of loanee that will work for us. They need league experience and will have been loaned out previously. Presumably there are young players who simply join a club on loan and light things up, but not often. Kemar Roofe wasn’t much older than Smith when he joined us, but he’d been on loan at three other league clubs before he came to us. Rovers’ goalscorer Alex Jakubiak was with us in Michael Appleton’s first season, he’s had five loan spells since and looked a far better player for it.

We should also only expect them to stay for half a season, even if they’ve signed for the whole year. Jack Payne and George Baldock both left early and there was nothing we could do. We need to assume they won’t make the whole season and be ready to bring in a replacement if needed.

Talking of which, I can see Marcus Browne leaving. I’m not enough of a body language expert to know if he has stopped trying or whether he’s injured or tired, but it makes sense for West Ham to accelerate his development by sending him out to a bigger club for the rest of the season if one can be found.

Along with Browne, it won’t take big bucks to see Curtis Nelson leave. He’s really got no reason to stick around and plug away in a League 1 relegation fight when he should be playing in the Championship. A few hundred thousand and a decent sell-on clause should be good enough.

Jordan Graham may plug the gap left by Browne, Nelson will be harder to replace even with Charlie Raglan and John Mousinho available. All told, without movement, we look set to get weaker before we get stronger. We need to put some depth into the squad, or we could be in for a particular uncomfortable ride.

The wrap – Bristol Rovers 0 Oxford United 0

I’m in Devon. It’s partly Michael Appleton’s fault. In his first terrible year, I was so bored, I started to form my exit strategy from football fan to football consumer. Before giving up my season ticket completely I decided that I’d no longer wait for the fixtures to come out to make non-footballing plans. So, in 2015 we decided to go on holiday in Devon during half term week regardless of how the fixtures fell, and have been doing it ever since.

Then we had the best season ever and I never gave up my season ticket.

As the result of a traumatic traffic based experience around Cribs Causeway one summer a few years ago which resulted in a similarly traumatic mercy stop at the lawless Gordano Services in peak season to relieve aching bladders and ease mental fatigue, we decided this year to leave early to avoid delays.

We always stop at Chieveley Services, it acts as the gateway to our holiday. I like Chieveley for this and other reasons. If I’d had the foresight to spend my life doing something fulfilling, it would have been to undertake deep anthropological studies of the nation’s service stations on Saturdays.

I love service stations on Saturdays, particularly around lunchtime. You’ll be idly choosing whether to spend your last six pounds on a Mars bar or a single packet of peanuts and you’ll see someone in a Barnsley or Newport shirt come in. Or better still Cindeford Town or Bromsgrove Rovers. Then there’ll be others, bursting for the toilet, or a coffee. They’ll have just decanted from a supporters’ coach, like bees in a smoked out hive, the journey has made them soporific and so it’s time to stretch the legs. It’s less intimidating than a pub, the most aggressive thing that happens is someone asks for an extra gherkin in their Big Mac.

If they’re really daring, there’ll have their eye one of the naughty top shelf magazines. The pack mentality emboldens them. They wouldn’t buy it for their own gratification, obviously, just for laughs; a trophy to take back to the coach.

Incidentally, in a world of plentiful bosoms and vaginal exposure in digital form, this cannot be the way Razzle or Men Only survive in print form. Our local village shop maintains a small selection of specialist gentlemen’s literature. How big is the market for people who are desperate enough to seek sexual stimulation from pictures of naked women, and have enough bravado and means to happily buy this stuff – often from a thickset judgemental woman in her sixties who knows nothing of professional client confidentiality – but who are also not able to access the internet? That’s one venn diagram with a small intersection; which is no reference to something you’d see in Readers’ Wives.

Back at the services. So, ever since I was a child, whenever I’ve seen fans from other teams I’ve followed their fortunes for the day; who they’re playing, what the score was and what that means to their league position.

It’s an underrated branch of study, we know all about football through the lens of the media, and by attending games, but we never talk about the bit in the middle. Service stations are an administrative necessity for going to football, but they act as a cultural clearing house for fans dedicated to their own petty cause. Each one, heading off on a campaign to foreign parts from which a story, of some kind, will emerge. Football is a commonwealth, but it’s only at a motorway service station do we ever meet and accept each other as equals.

So, we’re at Chieveley, but it’s a bit early for most football fans, there’s a hockey team milling around in their team kit, and a couple of people in the colours of Jersey Reds, whoever they are. I still enjoy the hubbub; the curious mixes of inter-generational groups, a woman on her own with more children than she can have reasonably conceived, a couple of such an age that you wouldn’t trust them to leave their own front garden let alone drive down the M4, and another, so appallingly obese their bodies slide at a 45 degree angle from the roles of chin fat as though they’ve been inflated, they are not so much sitting in their chairs as being propped up against them. They are staring in opposite directions furtively as though the empty plates of full English breakfast they have evidently just inhaled are the only thing to have given away their dark secret that heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes are mere moments away.

Within this swill of people and their stories, I see a familiar light-blue top and an even more familiar yellow badge. Chieveley is only 60 miles from Bristol, so it is possible I will see the odd Oxford fan, although unlikely given that there’s still nearly five hours until kick-off. My heart lightens, this must be what it’s like for a panda to have a prospective mate introduced to their enclosure.

But, it’s not a fan, it’s Luke Garbutt, on his own, in his training kit with his washbag under his arm. He looks a little lost, and perhaps he is, he’s a long way from the changing rooms at the Memorial Ground. I hope to see John Mousinho shaking the last drops of wee into a urinal in the gents, or Derek Fazackerley trying the travel cushions fashioned to look like slices of watermelon outside WH Smith, or maybe Shandon Baptiste panic buying an over-priced iPhone accessory from a small kiosk. Perhaps Jamie Mackie is outside contemplating AA membership now he’s over 30 and has to think about his future. But there’s nobody. He’s on his own in what I assume to be a practical measure. Presumably it’s more convenient for him to be picked up by the team coach than to drive down to the Kassam and back along the M4.

I wasn’t bold enough to talk to him, after ‘I’m an Oxford fan’ we have nothing in common. And, let’s face it, being an Oxford fan isn’t something we have in common either. I point him out to my largely disinterested family; “I thought he was just a normal person” said my daughter afterwards. So did I, there he is ambling towards Costa, like, well, a normal person. I feel a bit guilty about whatever I might have said about him in the stands when I didn’t think he was a normal person, but just a footballer. Luckily, it probably isn’t much; he seems to have been OK whenever I’ve seen him.

Obviously I follow his day – which ultimately involved him not playing in our 0-0 draw. I’m pleased with the point; it’s another step in a slow recovery, and also sympathetic to Garbutt whose day seems to have been a largely pointless ball ache. I just hope he knows that they start charging if you park for more than two hours.

The wrap – Bristol Rovers and Rotherham

Oxford United 1 Bristol Rovers 2
There is a very tangible gloom descending over the club at the moment. The highs of Charlton were more than mirrored by the lows of Bristol Rovers.

I don’t think the performance was as bad as most suggested. There seemed to be more energy and movement, and a willingness to move the ball around, but having scored so early, we slowly lost our way.

This seemed to be down to experience and leadership. To score so early is a shock, the prospect of defending for 90 minutes probably seemed daunting, as is the idea of taking a risk to go for another goal. We were lost in between two mindsets, and where we often think of a football team as being a single unit, you’re actually faced with eleven people trying agree, in real-time, what to do with a situation they were not prepared for. In most games, the opening stages are about establishing a hierarchy, a pattern or platform from which you can build, very rarely do you expect goals.

Once you’re through the opening 20 minutes or so, the game tends to set down to a pattern, players stop thinking and start responding. In the last 20 minutes, the tactical options narrow further – you’re chasing the game, or defending a lead, sometimes the game is all but over. With more experience the team should have decided that the early goal was a bonus but carried on as if it hadn’t happened. One of the signs of a good team is their relentlessness, a complete disregard for the score.

Bristol Rovers are a difficult team for us to face at home. We often regress to the idea of voodoos or magic to explain difficult opponents, but I think it’s a combination of factors.

A short blast down the M4, Rovers will always bring large numbers to the Kassam, they are grouped together and the banking makes them look larger than they are. In addition, there’s the away mindset, there is, effectively little to lose. This is just one big day out, winning is just the icing on the cake, not the cake itself. And so, any encouragement is amplified ten-fold, players are less likely to fear failure, they take more chances, they get more rewards.

All of this is bundled up in the leadership issue, we don’t lack for talent in the team. But you do need enough players to know what to do when a plan is knocked off course, in this case, ironically, by scoring a goal. Instead, as soon as we drifted into unknown territory, we looked increasingly lost.

Rotherham 3 Oxford United 1
Even without the gloom, it would have been hard to envisage us winning at Rotherham. The only lingering hope was some sort of reverse pyschology that we would probably go and beat them because that’s just the sort of thing we’d do.

The idea that Derek Fazackerley will somehow fix the issues he inherited, implies that Pep Clotet was the sole problem, which he wasn’t. He didn’t help himself in some cases, but he faced similar problems to the ones Michael Appleton did after we got promoted.  

 
What I think we’re seeing, is a reflection of the club’s current strategic challenge. Take Rotherham, they have the infrastructure to invest in players that will see them push towards the top of League 1, perhaps above. They are surrounded by teams in a similar situation; Wigan, Blackburn, Charlton, Portsmouth. We are currently performing fairly close to the highest level our infrastructure will allow. Darryl Eales’ is sometimes criticsed for losing interest in the club, but I think it’s more that he can only fund the club for so long before he needs help. If we are going to progress, the funding needs to grow, often exponentially. I have a massive amount of sympathy for him, he’s invested heavily, and his only reward is to invest even more.

As a result, we can compete sometimes in this division, but not all the time, and you can see that in our results. What’s worse, is that this year League 1 has so many teams in the mould of Rotherham. There is a relentless procession of decent teams with the ability to push towards the top of the division. It’s not so much that we’re going backwards, its more that too many others are going forwards at a faster rate. Week after week, while we’re trying to fix issues like the manager, limited striking options, a ponderous defence, another team comes along.

People question why John Mousinho still holds down a place in the team and why Charlie Raglan was sent out to Port Vale on loan. I think it’s about needing experience to steady the ship. If we’d gone with Raglan and Dickie, chosen by fans because, mostly, they’re not Mousinho and Martin, we’d have had a centre-back pairing with one player with little experience and another with little fitness. I believe the hope is that Mousinho is the best hope to steady things.

Relegation seems very unlikely; our poor form alone will not cause that, we would need several other teams to go on winning runs they show no sign of having. If you think we’re bad, those below are, by definition, worse. We can’t switch off, of course, but we can look at the remaining games as pre-season games for next year. It seemed to work for Shrewsbury last year.

The wrap – Bristol Rovers and Charlton

Bristol Rovers 0 Oxford United 1
You’ll often hear people talking about us having aspirations to reach the Championship. It’s where we belong, what we deserve. Looking objectively, most teams feel that their rightful level is slightly above that which they’re likely to achieve. Tottenham have aspirations of winning the Champions League, Nottingham Forest of being a Premier League club, Eastleigh of making the Football League. As an outsider to those clubs, most people will argue that they might want to bring it down a peg or two.

Typically in order to break out of your natural position, something extraordinary has to happen – for example, Salford’s investment by the Peter Lim or Manchester City’s takeover by Sheik Mansour. For most clubs, this will never happen, and so, in the main, your normal level is one below where you’d like to be.

Where you believe our natural level is may be defined by your age. If you’re an Oxford fan in your forties, for example, you’ll have seen us in the Championship and can envisage us being back there. Maybe if you’re in your 20s, your formative experiences have been of the Conference and League 2, and League 1 might represent us punching at a level above our natural weight.

But, if you want to benchmark our progress, then look to teams like Bristol Rovers. In the last 30 years we’ve been in the same division 18 times, and only two divisions apart on five occasions. Rovers represent a kind of parallel us, if we perform better than them, then we’re ahead of ‘normal’ us, perform worse then we’re behind where we should be. Like the football equivalent of a tracker mortgage.

So, the win on Saturday was another tick in the box of progress. We are outperforming our norm, not conclusively so, but as a one-off test. The result has us back among teams who genuinely might  aspire to be in the Championship next season. The next three games, against Charlton, Rotherham and Fleetwood should go a long way to confirm whether we’re slightly ahead of the norm, or genuinely pushing up to where we feel we deserve to be.

Oxford United 1 Charlton 1
When the news came through that Craig Shakespeare had been sacked by Leicester, I searched my soul for a reaction to the news that Michael Appleton’s job was suddenly under threat. The thing was I couldn’t find anything.

It’s not that I don’t feel sympathy for him, he’s found himself, once again, at the helm of a listless ship, one which has had three managers in three seasons, each has delivered a miracle of sorts (Nigel Pearson avoiding relegation, Claudio Ranieri winning the title and Craig Shakespeare taking them to the Champions League quarter final). Each has been sacked within months by unforgiving owners. You can’t not feel some sympathy for Appleton’s predicament given his experiences at Portsmouth, Blackburn and Blackpool.

And if I was forced to watch only one season for the rest of my life, it would be our promotion season in 2015/16. Chances are we will never experience the likes again. We should be eternally grateful for that and for Michael Appleton dragging us out of the dark ages.

But, could Michael Appleton sustain what he did at Oxford for much longer than he did? Finding players for a pittance and selling them on for millions, while still building the club and moving it forward? Last year did feel like we were reaching the peak of our potential, that had we been promoted to the Championship, that it would have been a step too far and that we were performing on the edges of what we could hope to achieve.

In truth, I doubt it we could have kept going in this way. Initially, I felt his departure was a significant blow, but while it was sad to see him go and bring to a close a particularly exciting era, now I’m not as sure. With hindsight, maybe Oxford didn’t need Appleton as much as Appleton needed Oxford.

Under Pep Clotet we’re beginning to look more robust, more at home against those we aspire to finish above. Charlton, like Bradford, looked a very good team and we comfortably competed with them. But, not only do we now have a settled team and clear options coming from the bench, there is more depth in the squad. Under Michael Appleton we relied heavily on youthful exuberance and talent, now we have John Mousinho, James Henry, Wes Thomas, Simon Eastwood and others; all have the experience to manage and think through games in a way we haven’t been able to previously.

We also have a steel that we haven’t seen before. Last season, and earlier this, we were being bullied out of games, but Tuesday was intense, blood and thunder with not an inch given, and yet we competed and beyond that, we thrived.

It is possible to want two competing things simultaneously; I would love to relive the Appleton era and by extension I hope that he does well, but I think we’ve moved on and, if we haven’t reached it yet, we are moving into a better place under the new management.
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Weekly wrap – Oxford United 0 Bristol Rovers 2, Oxford United 2 Sheffield United 3

The way my timings work for home games I typically see our subs bench before the starting eleven by scrolling through Twitter. When I saw the bench for our game against Bristol Rovers it was clear something was up.

Losing Chris Maguire, Rob Hall, Curtis Nelson and Kane Hemmings, plus Wes Thomas was always going to have a significant impact on the overall quality of the squad. It highlighted other anomalies; Liam Sercombe being too good to be dropped, not quite good enough to oust Ledson and Lundstram from his preferred position. The best defender in the land, Joe Skarz, being somehow less effective than the worst defender in the land, Marvin Johnson. We don’t know whether Conor McAnley is the next Kemar Roofe or the next Jordan Bowery. Add to this Charlie Raglan playing as though he was wearing someone else’s legs and you had dysfunction from the start.
We’re not a team built on a rigid system like an Ian Atkins team where you can take a player out and put another one in without a significant impact. Where players have such a tight brief that as long as you stick to it, you won’t go far wrong. Michael Appleton’s teams are more reliant on players playing with freedom and taking responsibility. It makes for a much more entertaining offering, but if you lose some of the talent it’s a real problem.
Rovers exploited the disjointedness by harrying in midfield and pressing on the back-four. Both goals came from Charlie Raglan and Joe Skarz being over-powered. Those positions in recent weeks have gone to Marvin Johnson who doesn’t get put under pressure in the same way because he’s usually on the offensive and Curtis Nelson who is also a ball carrier. Had they been playing, it’s possible that Rovers wouldn’t have been given the chances they got.
Michael Appleton seemed to know things were a bit threadbare making only made one substitution despite being 0-2 down at half-time. It almost as if he considered it a tactical defeat.    
I’m sure he didn’t quite throw the game; football teams are like blast furnaces; you can’t just turn them on and off. But with so many games to play, I wonder whether he was trying to keep people fresh by not playing Maguire et al. We have a punishing month ahead of Wembley. With all things being equal, we should go into that game as strong favourites, but with the number of games we’ve got, fatigue and injury could jeopardise that game, plus rob one or two of a Wembley experience. I wonder whether the injuries were as bad as suggested, or did Michael Appleton just turn the furnace down a little?
As if by magic all four returned to the starting line for Sheffield United on Tuesday. Only Chris Maguire showed any after-effects of an injury.  There’s no doubt Appleton wanted to win this one; we were at home, Sheffield United were top and the spectre of Chris Wilder the club. 
The fact is that Wilder is a better manager, and certainly better than many fans are prepared to admit. What he’s good at is taking big failing fishes in small ponds and using their strength as an asset; he did it with us and he’s doing it with Sheffield United. You have to have a very big and belligerent personality to force a change of direction when you take on a beast like Sheffield United. You have to give him some credit because he’s done it time and again.
Ultimately Chris Wilder teams are a Nokia 3310 to our Apple iWatch. The Nokia does simple things really well, we’re more sophisticated, but we don’t work quite as well. We competed gamely for two-thirds of the game but we fell away while they kept motoring at the same pace. That’s fundamentally the difference between the two teams.
Michael Appleton said after the game that we were 3-4 players away from competing consistently at the top of League 1. It might be stretching things to think that Michael Appleton has conceded the season completely, but he must be aware that on and off the pitch we’re barely ready for an unlikely ascent into the Championship. With Cup wins, a Wembley appearance and derby double already in the bag you get the feeling he’s pacing himself through the rest of the season.