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.

Yellows 1 Crawley 2

Back in the mid-eighties, Margaret Thatcher was dismantling everything that Britain had previously stood for. She replaced a socially orientated industrial economy, with one based on capitalist individualism.

Britain resisted these changes. Social frustration spilled into all areas of life, including football. Hooliganism and football went together hand in hand. Thatcher’s response was to try and control football fans by issuing identity cards and putting fences up around stadiums. Including one right down the middle of the London Road.

The song ‘We are the left side…’ rang round the ground during yesterday’s defeat to Crawley. Most singing it were too young to understand why a song depicting the different sides of the London Road was required. Some will never have even been to the London Road. One or two may not even know what it is.

The point is that ‘We are the left side…’ was Oxford fans taking ownership of something that had been imposed on them. In short, it’s slave music. It was fitting that it was sung yesterday.

Everyone knows what the problem is. A combination of an obstinate landlord and an uncertain financial climate means the club are struggling to buy the ground. The main financial backer appears understandably reluctant to keep ploughing money into the club. This is diversionary and undermining.

Everyone at each other’s throats is not going to help. Radio Oxford described Darren Patterson’s team selection as ‘shit or bust’ saying that ‘if it’s not working after half an hour he’ll have to change it – let’s hope we’re not a goal down by that point’. 45 minutes before kick-off we were fearing Crawley and expecting it all to go wrong.

When we went a goal down there was instant booing even though we were still in the game. At the end there were all the comments about ‘not being fit to wear the shirt’ and that the club doesn’t deserve it’s fans.

Darren Patterson is sometimes a bit naïve – using the transfer list as his own version of the naughty step and openly criticising players may work sometimes, but he needs to learn to use it at the right time. However, it is no individual manager or player that is causing the current problems; it’s the pre-occupation with the stadium purchase.

Not that players or fans can influence this greatly – so, we are where we are. Crawley are a fine example; two years ago they were in administration, they played their way out of a massive points deduction and have rebuilt themselves into a team at the top of the table. We are all slaves to the circumstances we’re in. It’s time for unity not separation; whether the players, manager or fans are good enough is irrelevant.

Crawley Town 2 Us 0

The defeat to Crawley concludes the Busy Christmas Period ™ with four points, one goal and a question. Where now?

The play-offs seem a remote prospect to say the least. Relegation seems equally unlikely although another 17 more points will see us safe. The end of the season will conclude our Great Conference Experiment; the one which spent heavily on expensive 2 year contracts for good, but flawed players. It has failed.

Next season will inevitably see a significant change in direction; the likelihood is that a lot of players will leave. There is a clear indication that Patterson will put emphasis on a younger squad. This is no bad thing; a core of young, local lads, showing commitment and a little talent will help rebuild the fractured bond between players and fans.

Between now and then, aside from the points we need to avoid an unlikely relegation we have nothing to focus on. Eight or ten players are on death-row contract-wise; they will be playing in front of dwindling crowds of the angry and disenfranchised. There are no cup distractions, no derbies, no highlights in a grey and meaningless fixture list. There appears no way of ending this season on any kind of high.

Who knows, maybe Patterson will pull something out of the bag in the transfer window. A signing that will inspire a revival. Even if things do start to look up; it seems unlikely that anything is going to ignite a charge to the play-offs and promotion. Patterson will argue, rightly, what’s the point in being negative about it? We have to believe and play for promotion otherwise what’s the point. It’ll take quite something to get others’ to subscribe to this conviction.   

Us 1 Crawley Town 0

In my first job our inept office manager put a secret dossier on the publicly available shared drive. It said of me that although I had potential, they weren’t going to invest in any training and development because I was too young. This was great news; to paraphrase Supergrass; I was young, I was free, no expectations were on me.

Expectations were so low going into the win against Crawley, most people seemed impressed that the team was running around and putting in any effort at all.

Even the club are hoovering plankton from the seabed of expectation. Last year’s Boxing Day game was all about the world’s biggest Conference crowd ever ever EVER. This year tickets were being sold on the basis of the gate being slightly higher than average. Hyberbole has been replaced by practicality. Mostly the crowd was made up of the usual miserable faces and a handful of wide-eyed Canadian cousins who had flown in for the holidays.

The Oxford Mail Stand argument that developed at half time seemed to focus on the crux of the issue. The two main combatants couldn’t agree whether the first half performance was to be applauded because of the general improvement in effort, or booed because it wasn’t in keeping with the traditional (and mythical) ‘Oxford way’. Is it the team or the brand you support? It’s an interesting issue, but possibly not one over which you would threaten to slit someone else’s throat.

The catalyst for the fracas was the fact that Bloke A threw a pie at Billy Turley. Most people seemed to support the view that the improved effort was to be recognised, even if it didn’t take us back to The Glory Years. Therefore having a go at Turley, at half time with the scores equal was misplaced, to say the least.

Most fans would leap to the defence of Turley, regardless of the issue. He is Mr Untouchable when it comes to the fans. Objectively his performance up to that point had been poor; his distribution in the first half was rushed and unproductive leaving Duffy and Yemi to pick up scraps. Perhaps if the closest player to the Oxford Mail Stand were Alex Jeanin or Phil Trainer, others’ would have supported the pie throwing protest.

Both men were ginger, I read somewhere that the ‘ginger gene’ was dying out through natural selection. These two would do well not to tear each other to pieces. Do it over a woman or a piece of raw meat, fellas, not this.

Panic not

Even footballers who aren’t preened with media training have stock phrases they use in interviews. The important thing is the three points, spirit in the camp is good and, when you’ve just signed, I like to get amongst the goals.

This phrase is rolled out whether they’re a striker, left back or goalkeeper. There’s an interesting concept in communication; what is said and what is interpreted from what is said, so ‘getting amongst the goals’ is often interpreted as ‘getting goals’.

Now, of course players like to get amongst the goals; who wouldn’t? Therefore the phrase is a meaningless sop for the media revealing precisely nothing about the player and his aspirations.

What’s more you don’t want a left back to get amongst the goals? Well, it’s OK if you’re Paul Powell in his pomp, but not if you’re caught trying to ghost in on the back post whilst the opposing team are marauding down the right wing through the massive gap you’ve left behind.

Most players need to stick to the job their bought in to do, not everyone can be Rooney and Zidane. It is therefore not always preferable to have left-backs getting amongst the goals. Earlier in the season when the weather was better, the pitches were more even, and injuries and tiredness weren’t key factors, the more cultured artisans such as Duffy and Burgess were able to thrive. But as the bleak midseason hits, players with more obvious though limited talents are needed.

This is where the return of Marvin Robinson may help and either a new dogged central midfielder or a Hutchinson/Hargreaves/Pettefer midfield trio would be better at this stage in the season. But Robinson is injured, as is Hutchinson; and a dogged central midfielder is cannot come in until the New Year.

The fans, however, are offering no sympathy to the situation which is all leading to the culture of panic. The atmosphere on Saturday was appalling. Earlier, a conceded goal would have been greeted with a rousing positive roar of encouragement; now it’s a tirade of boos. Objectively we conceded a sucker punch of a goal, dominated throughout but struggled in the conditions.

It’s hardly time to write off the season; second on goal difference, third highest goalscorers, best defence, two defeats, all the big teams still to come to the Kassam, undefeated at home and Dagenham with two more away games than us. It’s not over yet.