Crawley wrap – Crawley Town 1 Oxford United 5

Winning is about two competing mind-sets – the first is the sense of being unbeatable. If you don’t believe you can win, then any set-back will crush you. The second mind-set is about recognising that you are not, in fact, unbeatable. More specifically, winning comes only from the application of effort and not a god given invincibility. If you don’t put effort in, you get beaten.

Get the balance between the two mind-sets right and you’ve got the winning formula. Following the mauling of Crawley, you get a sense we’re right in that sweet spot.

Six days after Wembley, three teams breathing down our neck, several key players out and a goal down; that could have punctured anyone’s confidence. Instead, a belief in our ability added to the rigorous application of a tried and trusted system resulted in a spectacular second half display. And with it emphatic confirmation of our promotion credentials.

The net result is that, from a position where we looked like we were being dragged into a dogfight, we’ve once again stretched the gap between us and fourth.

All of this was achieved without Roofe, Lundstram, Skarz, Taylor or Wright – certain starters before Christmas. There’s a moment after Maguire’s opener where he celebrates with Josh Ruffels and Jordan Evans – three players who weren’t on the scene pre-Christmas now playing a key part in getting us up.

All of which points to the durability of the squad; the players change, the system doesn’t, the results are the same. If we can go into a game without these players and still win, you’ve got to be confident about the future both short term and long term.

Wembley, which could have been a destructive experience, may have had the galvanising effect we need. We are good enough to get promoted as long as we rigorously apply the process we’ve followed all season. We’re top of a four horse race, we’re four points clear; sometimes it feels like those horses are gaining on us, but none are showing a run of form to worry about. With Wembley out of the way and promotion within our grasp, it’s difficult to see what will stop us now.

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.

Crawley In Space

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…

Turmoil has engulfed the footballing galaxy, Jabba The Evans has amassed a vast clone army that threatens to overrun all that opposes it. Using their ill gotten gains and mysterious resources, the army from Mos Crawley – a wretched hive of scum and villiany – is sweeping away all that stands in its way bringing fear and darkness to the galaxy.

But there is hope in Luke Skywilder and his Rebel Alliance. Jabba the Evans doesn’t believe in his sorcerer’s ways, he thinks Skywilder’s sad devotion to his ancient religion has not given him clairvoyance enough to fire the Rebels to promotion. Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, says Evans.

But, the force is strong in Skywilder and he approaches the battle by launching a damn fool idealistic crusade. He deploys R2DLewis to Jabba’s lair to shut down his garbage mashers on the detention level. Meanwhile the Mel-ville-PO, the protocol droid, translates the battleground into one of his 6 million languages.

Wilder squares up to Jabba…

Jabba – He doesn’t like you (pointing at Jabba’s sidekick Doctor Raynor).
Skywilder: Sorry.
Jabba  – *I* don’t like you either. You just watch yourself. We’re wanted men. I have the death sentence on twelve systems.
Skywilder – I’ll be careful.
Jabba – You’ll be dead!

Meanwhile, in the stands, the Fanwoks, a friendly but ferociously brave tribe, follow the lead of Skywilder’s motley band by throwing down rocks of abuse onto Jabba’s forces and whittling tree trunks to destroy its AT-ST’s (which are both surpringly brittle and wholly inappropriate for the terrain).

Anyway…

Under a constant battery, Yellow 5, using his might and battle experience, fights a gallant rear guard action with the A Whing Interceptor, Yellow 16, picking off anything that comes in the ground attack.

Then Pittmanakin emerges from the swamp, a new hope. This is the boy who can do it all but was lured to the darkside by Jabba. He returns to strike a blow against evil. Great shot, kid, that was one in a million.

But just as it seemed that Jabba had been defeated, he strikes back, escaping with a point, able to fight another day. The stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerf herder.

Skywilder lowers his head and says forlonly “Told you, I did. Reckless is he. Now matters are worse.”

Credits roll.

Crawley Town 4 Oxford United 1

When these things happened, where are all those people who think that Chris Wilder should resign? It seems almost too obvious to say but, we’ve had two league games away to the top two in the division, we’ve had a cup game away to one of the top teams in the division above and we’ve had a JPT game which was as freakish as it was meaningless.
During this time, Michael Duberry has been injured and Robbie Hall went back to West Ham. Their obvious replacements; Harry Worley and Tom Craddock have been returning from injury. The uncharitable might argue that we should have better cover for Hall and Duberry. But Hall and Duberry are in many ways unique for this level. Hall is considered to be a better prospect than Jermaine Defoe  – one of the best English strikers of the decade. 
Michael Duberry is almost unique in the division in that he’s a player of genuine class who loves football so much that he wants to play for as long as he can. In the past, these players were dotted around the lower leagues; unlike now, it wasn’t possible for a moderate top-league player to retire after a single Premier League contract. Now Duberry is pretty much the only player from the Premier League in League 2 still willing to put in the graft. 
Although I don’t quite subscribe to the adage that cup competitions are a lottery and that anything can happen – they are typically won by the top teams – I also don’t think you can really count them towards anything resembling ‘form’. The form book is skewed during November because the fixture list is punctuated by cup competitions. In reality, therefore, we’ve lost two away fixtures to the division’s two top teams. If these two games had been six months apart, nobody would have batted an eyelid at the result. And certainly nobody would be questioning Chris Wilder’s ability.
The reaction to the 4-1 defeat to Crawley is further skewed by who they are. In the natural course of events Crawley would have gone bust 5 years ago and would be scratching around the Conference South or below. In any other industry, Steve Evans’ criminal record would almost certainly have seen him struggle to get another job. We are frustrated by the Crawley freakshow because it cynically corrupts the competition. They are an effective team, but a moribund club and concept. Football is at its best when there is competition; a small variation between the chances of winning and losing. Crawley have corrupted the competition through their spending and cynicism, but we should rise above it. Let them do whatever it is they want to do. 

Crawley Town 1 Yellows 2

War is a primal and pure expression of man, yet it is waged as a quest for justice, logic and truth. In a distant time a war is being waged. It is a war for which the prize is the greatest of them all: one of hope. The citadel of Stevenage is rampaging towards the remote trading post of Ebbsfleet, while the clansmen of Oxford are engaged in a battle of attrition with a stubborn foe in Crawley.

These two battles, though miles apart, are crafting the destiny of the war. it seems that Oxford are conceding territory, decisively and fatally so. In an encampment adjacent to the Broadfield battleground; two generals sit considering the brutal carnage before them.

“But he is just a man” said Lewisius as he surveyed the struggle before him.

“Mad Dog” replied Wilderius resting an arm on his lieutenant’s shoulder “Do you remember when we were both young trainees at the academy? Do you remember the cedar tree?”

“Ha” replied his old friend, his tired eyes lighting up at the thought of less troubled times “you would spend hours shying stones to hit it”.

“And what did I say?” continued Wilderius

Lewisius laughed looking at his feet; the brothers smiled together, a moment of solace from the tribulations of the war. “You said, if I hit this tree three times, then it proves that Toutatis is with me today.”

“And what happened?” encouraged the general

“You hit it. Every time.”

“Then, my old friend, let us hand our future to the Gods once more.” Wilderius extended his arm around the shoulders of Lewisius and together they strode to the crucible of the battle.

Wilderius beckoned over his physician, “How is his back?” he asked.

“I have treated it with a balm of ferns and monkjack tail” said the Soothsayer. Wilderius glanced up to the starving souls watching on the sidelines. He saw the hunger in their eyes.

“Unleash him.”

“CONSTABILIUS” cried Lewisius raising his fist in defiance.

Constabilius twitched and growled, straining and pulling until they could hold him no more. “Let us see what the Gods have for us now” pondered Wilderius.

From over the brow of the tor came a messenger; “What news of the outpost, rider?” said Wilderius.

Catching his breath the envoy spoke; “Ebbsfleet is holding; the ramparts were breached, but they are refortified.”

Wilderius turned to the battle in front of him; “Where are you?” he wondered out loud.

Then, Champanius smited the foe and the lost ground was regained. Constabilius ran amok, breaching the defences once, but was pushed back, dropping his weapon. Enraged and indignant, he regrouped and came again unarmed. Blows that would floor lesser men left no mark. As the battle reached its peak, Champanius picked up Constablius’s sword and threw it; the warrior caught it, and with a single movement beheaded the Crawlian Chief. From defeat, victory, perhaps delicious decisive victory, was theirs. Wilderius turned from the celebration…

“Raise the standard Lewisius, Toutatis was with us tonight.”

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.

Crawley Town 0 Yellows 1

Good decision from the club regarding the points appeal. The Oxford Mail suggested it was ‘stick or twist’ as though the decision was a game of chance. What was needed was some level-headed analytical thought.

And so it came. To fight the league on a point of principle was always a loser. The rule is the rule whether it’s a bad one or not. The arbiter of any appeal, the FA, would have been challenged to rule against the league, because above all it needed to maintain the credibility of the competition. To rule with the club would have opened the floodgates for appeals left right and centre.

The club messed things up and Hutchinson played when he shouldn’t have. We can argue until the end of time as to whose responsibility it is to make sure a player is registered. But, for now, it’s the club. The punishment for this is clear; you forfeit the game. There goes three points.

The point that the league needs to take responsibility for spotting the error is well made. But to argue this point for the sake of two points, or a badly defended corner, is as futile as claiming your season is dictated by a dodgy offside decision.

And, let’s face it, deduction or no, to be five points off the play-offs in January suddenly feels like mission impossible 2 is on. Our last successful season, 95/96 had mission impossible 1. A ho hum season burst into life at the end of January with a 2-0 win at Burnley – the first away win. We lost 3 in 21 after that and got promoted famously destroying Wycombe and Swindon along the way. Every season we start badly, I live in hope that we’ll have a late season surge. This year, maybe this could be the one.