Match wrap: Burton Albion 1 Oxford United 5

Back in October 1995 Wycombe Wanderers arrived at The Manor; it was their second visit as a Football League team having smashed and grabbed a 2-0 win the previous year. Despite that, we retained an arrogance towards them that exists to this day; we were the bigger team and would sweep them aside because of our sheer Oxfordness.

In fact, they did it again, only worse, taking home three points in a 4-1 win. The situation then was not dissimilar to this season; the previous year we looked set for promotion but fell away, the assumption was that having retained the core of a good team, we would finish the job and be promoted.

The defeat to Wycombe was a sobering experience, while the real story of that season would come later with a scintillating run to promotion, it was a key stepping stone as it represented our last home defeat of the year. 

That season is regularly used as a reference point for what can be achieved when things get tough, in the same way our 5-5 draw against Portsmouth in 1992 is often the reason a whole generation of Oxford fans don’t leave until the final whistle. Truth is, if you’re 5-3 down with a minute to go or 15th with half-a-season gone, the most likely scenario is that you’ll lose or remain in mid-table. But, you never know.

Strangely, the Swindon defeat in November may have been just the tonic we needed; sobering us up in the same way the Wycombe game did in 1995. There were no more excuses, the hangover from the previous season needed to be dealt with. Suddenly, there was discord which also gave Karl Robinson the opportunity to make key decisions; not least about the goalkeeping situation that has been nagging away since the end of last season. It would have been harder to make that decision had we scraped a win or even a draw; dropping Simon Eastwood might have looked spiteful in the way the apparent freezing out of Mark Sykes does at the moment.

Let’s face it, the fixtures have fallen well for us recently; in the last ten games only three have been against teams above us in the table. Burton yesterday were terrible and us scoring five was fairly moderate when you consider the three or four other clear chances we missed. The game was nothing short of a riot.

But this is what watching Karl Robinson’s Oxford is all about; a rollercoaster of emotions, the best party and the worst comedown. You’re just as likely to be dancing on a table top with people putting fivers in your thong as you are crying about lost love in a dark corner.

Watching the team is like a Soul Train Line; where dancers line up in two rows and take turns to freestyle their way down the middle, showing off their best moves. Last year there were moments when James Henry, Cameron Brannagan or Shandon Baptiste threw the best shapes, at the moment it seems to be Josh Ruffels and Sam Long, along with the quietly emerging Mide Shodipo.

What we were crying out for in the early stages of the season was leadership; I don’t think anyone expected Ruffels and Long to be the ones to show it. Their roles seem to be under almost constant threat, Long, in particular, seems to have been treated like a stopgap solution until something better comes along even though he’s played in every game, starting all but one – it’s already his best haul of league games in a season.

But, perhaps we need a different kind of leadership at the moment. Sheer technical ability is not enough nor a clear head to cut through a febrile atmosphere when the stands are full of fans baying for blood. Perhaps the qualities that Long and Ruffels show are that they need the club to survive because their careers are interwoven with its fortunes. Where others can look at the club as a stepping stone to something else or maybe another contract in a career that’s coming to an end – neither of which is the wrong way to think – you don’t get a sense either are hankering for a move; the club’s success is their success.

Their longer term view is helping to drag us through the quagmire challenges the club face; where for others there’s always another club and another season; that’s not a luxury afforded to Long and Ruffels. Other players play for a team or a squad, Long and Ruffels play for a club. That reminder to keep going until we find a better place has pulled us from the despair of the pandemic, Wembley and Swindon to a much healthier position. It’s their sheer Oxfordness, which is showing the way.

January looks critical; we’ve a few more fixtures against teams below us until we meet Fleetwood at the end of the month, then we’re back to facing all the teams that gave us problems at the start of the season. We need points and players because if we are to challenge for the play-offs the last couple of months look set to be a proper pile-on. 

Of course, January is set to be critical in terms of the pandemic too; with cases surging and postponements growing, getting to the end of the season hangs in the balance. I think it’s right that the season should continue for as long as it can; all industries are having to find another way to do business and football is no exception. But, we can’t ignore the reality that every scenario remains likely – that we’ll end the season on time, that there needs to be a break or that it needs to be curtailed. 

Now is the time for the EFL to make plans for all those scenarios, we can’t find ourselves in the same situation as last year where it took weeks for a re-start plan to emerge. You can’t help thinking that we’re set to step into the same trap as the one we fell into in March, hopefully with the likes of Ruffels and Long showing the way, the club has the muscle memory to be ready for what comes next.

Match wrap: Plymouth Argyle 2 Oxford United 3

The Christmas holiday offers a rare opportunity to catch the odd film or two. I’m not a great cinema goer, so I’m often behind the curve with the latest releases. This is a bit of an understatement, the other day I found myself watching the 22-year-old Deep Impact, one of those generic turn-of-the-millenium disaster flicks built entirely around its special effects budget.

Between the end of the Cold War and 9/11, Hollywood struggled to find a palatable enemy to fight. Where it was once the Russians, and before that The Nazis, there was nobody. At least after 9/11 they could turn their institutionally racist attentions to anyone of generically Middle Eastern extraction. 

With no real enemy to fight, their was on meteorites, tornadoes and non-specific alien life-forms. Things that would bring about the end to humanity, but wouldn’t offend or exploit anyone. Apart from women, of course, they didn’t really count back then.

These films open innocently; a dorky, but undeniably handsome young male star – let’s call him Sam – has an unhealthy interest in a subject relevant to the plot – meteorology, astronomy, geology, that kind of thing. They find something that the entire established scientific community have failed to spot; a dot on the moon is an invading alien army, a shrub falling over in the garden is a sure-fire sign there’s a fault in the earth’s crust which is about to split it in two.

The opening scenes establish Sam’s position in the social strata of his local High School. While putting his books away in his locker, he’s bullied by a couple of ‘jocks’ one of whom is probably called Brad. Brad’s girlfriend is with them, she’s kind and homely and probably called Jess. Jess seems desperately uncomfortable with the bullying; the confrontation over, she’s apologetic and smiles with weak reassurance.

If the shitshow that is 2020 was a disaster flick, then Sam Long is its unassuming breakout star. Long is the high school Regular Joe (or Sam) who seems to take great joy in simply being who he is. His unhealthy interest is in the subject of Oxford United. He’s been surrounded by jocks throughout his career; a series of players brought in from the outside to bully him out of the first team. Though there have been countless attempts to replace him, he’s seen them all off with his quiet resilience.

The arc of the film involves Sam trying to convince those in positions of influence that he’s discovered evidence of an imminent extinction level event. The priority, though, is first to convince Jess. Consuming his convolutedly argument with a PhD level comprehension, her heart melts and they fall instantly in love. With the stirring in their loins now satisfied, the newly consummated couple must focus on getting to the top of the institutional forces of government to avert disaster.

Long’s career has spanned seven years, fighting the club’s own institutional forces; five managers and three owners have had his destiny in their hands. All have been impatient for success and set about revolutionising their playing staff. Long has survived every turn; every attempt to replace him or send him out on loan, he’s battled the seas of change, and countless injuries, which could have drowned him. Battered and bruised, his spirit and steely resolve shines through.  

The end of the film sees Sam and Jess scrambling to save the earth. Society, faced by its seemingly inevitable end, is descending into chaos and anarchy. The grotesque failures of the establishment has left just one person capable of averting disaster – an unassuming teenager from a small town High School, obviously. The solution inevitably involves sparking a chain of events which are so linear, you might argue that they’ve been oversimplified for a mass-audience. It’s a long shot, but it might just work.

The final act of 2020 was against Plymouth on Tuesday, Long picked up the ball deep inside his own half, abandoning his admirable conservatism, he set off his own improbable chain of events. Lurching forward, thrusting deep into the mouth of his faceless enemy, he exchanged a pass with Sean Clare – one of the jocks brought in to bully him out of the team – now an admiring comrade. Beyond the point of no return, Long has no choice but to continue his journey into the beast; it’s now death or glory. No longer is he the dependable high school nerd, he’s the action hero saving humanity. Everyone looks on aghast as he picks up Clare’s pass inside the box to slide the ball past the Plymouth keeper into the net. It was a Long shot, and it just worked.

Has 2020, with all its thrills and spills, been a fable of our times? Meaningless escapism? Calculated genius? When Disney released The Force Awakens, George Lucas, who conceived the franchise, was dismissive of its reductive, crowd-pleasing plot, saying that his own Phantom Menace – a critical catastrophe – was a triumph in the Star Wars canon because of its state of the art CGI. 

Lucas’ genius was his innovation, not his storytelling. He was an experimental filmmaker, the original Star Wars trilogy broke new ground in terms of technique and special effects, it was almost fortuitous it also had a coherent story. If it hadn’t, it would have been written off as an indulgent folly.

If Long has been the on-screen star of the show, Karl Robinson seems to be the George Lucas football management. Set aside the fact we had two right-backs combining for the second goal, or that it followed a goal from our left-back, at one point in the first half our attack seemed to be made up entirely of defenders. There was a passage of play where Elliott Moore, was lolloping around in the Plymouth box waiting for a ball to be delivered into him. Even when the initial attack broke down, rather than racing back to resume his defensive duties, he simply waited while another attack developed down the left hand side. Whether it was madness or genius is anyone’s guess.

It’s all very exciting and when it works it can be magical, but this season seems to constantly teeter on the absurd. Long getting two yellow cards but no red just seemed to be accepted as a fitting plot hole in the story. We’re still prone to the defensive muddles – both goals were avoidable – but hopefully there’s a story in there somewhere; one that is a bit more Han Solo and a little less Jah Jah Binks.

Match wrap: Oxford United 4 Northampton Town 0

During the Conference years I’d get a mild anxiety about us scoring in the first eight minutes of a home game. My routine was so established that 3.08pm was when I finished my pre-match coffee meaning holding a hot drink as Matt Green gave us early lead would have me at sixes and sevens. 

There were far fewer disruptions to the pre-match routine in those days; you could park in the same spot, rarely had to queue and there were fewer people to bump into. I could leave my house at 2pm confident in the knowledge that by 3.08pm I’d be draining the last of my cup.

Now the matchday routine is determined by a long list of Covid rules, so many that I was worried that I might miss some. I suspect Covid rules are like the old saying about advertising; we know that only some of it works, which just don’t know which bits. While face masks and social distancing are clearly effective, I suspect the benefits of not throwing a ball back to a player is marginal. All in all, now is not the time to quibble, let’s just do everything to sort this out and figure out the science later.

Returning to the Kassam on Tuesday night wasn’t quite the fantasy I’d imagined when the lockdown first happened. I’d pictured a jubilant, throbbing crowd full of dashing Brycreamed Tommys kissing unsuspecting landgirls in bright red lipstick in the street. Somewhere between VE Day and Rochdale at home.

Instead, the return is necessarily cautious and gradual, the virus won’t surrender, it needs to be killed off and that takes time. I was torn between wanting to get back to football and it shattering my illusions by being awkward and underwhelming. I figured I needed to lean into it, surrender myself to the rules which are there for a far greater good. 

It’s an undoubtedly a more sanitised experience, the pre-match hubbub is missing; the bubbling of conversation isn’t there, simply standing together is a risk so everything is geared towards funnelling you to and from your seat. Nathan Cooper takes to the PA to warn people against facing each other when going to the toilet creating a troubling mental image of people peeing on each others shoes in the gents.

Ultimately, compliance is absolute and not a burden. No liberties are being taken away although wearing a mask with glasses is a challenge. When I secure my mask tightly enough, it minimises the misting, but doesn’t stop it completely. For much of the game it feels like I’m watching through a thin fog, which is just preferable to following a number of vividly coloured blobs chasing a small white blob around a big green blob. 

The atmosphere, though, feels familiar and genuine, voices aren’t as muffled as you’d think so despite its size, it feels like a proper crowd. It helps that fans are spread across all three stands creating an illusion of being more than the permitted two thousand that are here. With people sat in their bubbles, there’s no artificial symmetry you see at some games with fans regimentally sat in vertical rows one behind another. It all helps.

It’s the gaps where you really notice the difference. There’s usually a continuous ambient hum from the crowd, but when the action lulls, the stadium falls into near silence. It does give you an opportunity to hear the players and managers going about their business. I’m struck by Elliott Moore barking instructions at Alex Gorrin by calling him ‘Alex’ rather than ‘Gorro’ or some culturally appropriated nickname, like ‘Manuel’.

At one point the Northampton keeper launches the mother of all Hail Mary goal kicks deep into the Oxford half. The Cobblers manager Keith Curle screams ‘GO! GO! GO!’ at his front four as they chase the ball, trying to locate it dropping from the sky like happy labradors in a park. Sophisticated, this is not.

Curiously, I found I can read a lot from the general noise of the crowd, not just the roar of a goal or chance, but the less obvious hum. Normally, you can sense a change in atmosphere towards half-time, the sound of thousands of people trying to organise who’s buying the Bovril and what flavour crisps you want – which is always ‘whatever they’ve got, but not prawn cocktail’. During the first half I realise without those audible signals, I lose track of where in the game we’re at.

At the start, the players dribble out onto the pitch without fanfare. The taking of the knee can look tokenistic on TV but feels real and necessary in real life. Mide Shodipo holds his fist in the air, a reminder to the almost exclusively white crowd that this stuff happens to him and people like him. Racism not some abstract notion invented to annoy white people, it’s very real. Taking the knee is a political statement, make no bones about it, its message is to force change, those claiming to misinterpret it are choosing that path. It’s not simpering left wing woke-ism, people are bored of this shit. Taking the knee reminds us to make good decisions.

Once the game gets going, you realise it’s the immersive wide screen 4k experience of being there that you’ve missed the most. Going to games allows you to appreciate the endeavour and effort, even in a strange way, the pettiness. At one point a Northampton player throws the ball away while the referee isn’t watching and we are appalled and outraged, someone behind me calls the referee a ‘prick’; it’s great.

At first the performance mirrors the atmosphere, it’s good but a little disjointed, like we’re still trying to get the glue to set on this team. Marcus McGuane is a bull in ballet shoes; he looks like he should be used as a battering ram, but there’s a cultured ball player trying to get out, he just seems to lack a decisiveness which will turn his good work into chances. It’s not just the new players, James Henry seems a bit lost in the margins and Matty Taylor is either isolated or disengaged. It’s all not quite happening.

On the touchline, though, Karl Robinson seems calm, his only animation is due to his exasperation towards the referee, but he doesn’t seem overly concerned. As with last season, it needs something, or someone, to bond all the good stuff together. 

It comes, perhaps surprisingly, from Sean Clare, John Mousinho’s half-time replacement. Mousinho, it’s reported, is walking a tight rope, with the prospect of season ending surgery should his knee give way. When he goes down holding it, some assume his career is over. Robinson afterwards says Mousinho feels he was letting the side down. His performance doesn’t come across like that, but perhaps his body is just not doing what he wants anymore. It reminds me of one of Wayne Brown’s last games where his playing career seemed to end in front of our eyes, we chastised him in frustration, but it must have been awful for him.

It takes bravery to get down the flanks when you’re a full-back, you need to trust your team mates to cover for you and not berate you if you mess up, Clare seems to be growing in confidence and glides down the flank looping a ball to the back post for Matty Taylor to nod home for the first goal. The squad head to Clare rather than Taylor to congratulate him, then everyone comes together, bringing Clare into the fold gives us cohesion.

From then on, it becomes comfortable, Shodipo seems to only score one type of goal; cutting in from the left and sending a bouncing bomb into the bottom right hand corner for 2-0. Dan Agyei comes on and crosses with his first touch for Matty Taylor to head home the third. The two crosses from Agyei and Clare are so good, Taylor almost seems embarrassed to take the glory of putting the ball in the net, though there’s plenty for him to do on both occasions.

By this point we’re totally outclassing our opponents, confidence and the fluidity of last season is back. Josh Ruffels seems to be playing the role of jazz full-back, a defender who is given licence too act as an improvised attacking force with a free reign.

Then, into injury time Agyei picks the ball up again, glides past two players and bends in the fourth. It’s reminiscent of the win against West Ham with the joy of a perfect finale, the best goal of the night. Altogether it’s a thoroughly satisfying and convincing win; it’s not West Ham, of course, it’s Northampton Town, and while, in many ways, this falls short of the glory of that night, in others, given the intervening 291 days since I was last here, it’s better.

Afterwards we’re funnelled back out of the ground, the players are clapping the fans, but the steward needs us out so I’m gone before they get to us. Once out of the stadium, out of the grips of The Rules, people remove their masks and trudge back to their cars, I’ve missed that trudge more than I could have imagined. We’re not quite back in the old routine yet, but just being back will do for now.

Match wrap: Blackpool 0 Oxford United 0

If Countdown teaches us anything, it’s that there’s more than one way to skin a maths problem. The allocation of tickets for the upcoming games appears relatively simple on the surface until you consider the complexities of bubbles, availability, capacity and logistics. There was a bit of surprise that only 60% of season ticket holders applied for tickets, but two games are midweek and the other is Boxing Day. If you’re in your seventies, midweeks may less appealing and Christmas could be the first opportunity to see family for months, it’s not the most attractive sequence. 

Everyone had an alternative solution, all of which had equal merit but none – as far as I could see – were objectively better. Each solution appeared moulded to the proposers circumstances, not to gain advantage, but because that’s the evidence base we all tend to work with. 

I’m pretty relaxed about the system, doing it in batches of three allows the club to allocate at least one game to all season ticket holders. Game-by-game would be a frantic process of opening the ballot, doing the draw with all its various complexities, and allocating the tickets. Doing it more than that would expect fans to cast too far forward. I suspect the club will work to help fans whose circumstances change, as they do for all-ticket games, but to guarantee that would be a mistake, you want most people to follow the process to give you capacity to deal with the outliers and exceptions. 

The issue I do take exception to is the guarantee that 1893 Club members will get tickets to all games. As far as I know, the members pay a premium to access a lounge pre and post match, but are otherwise regular season ticket holders. I also pay a premium to sit in the South Stand Upper, but don’t expect my opportunities to be any greater than those in the East Stand. The fact the club didn’t mention it is strange, like they’ve being held to ransom by octogenarian ultras.

The discord might be helping our gradual recovery, there’s been a cosy oneness about the club for the last few months, but it’s a bit like a deeply loving marriage where the sex is underwhelming. We’re endlessly forgiving and understanding and we know ‘that’ doesn’t happen all the time, but in the dead of night we lie awake wondering what we’re doing with our life.

Nobody wants open warfare, which is ultimately destructive, but a diversity of views is no bad thing. We’ve now negotiated a tricky batch of games with fairly limited damage, the one that mattered, against Swindon, weighs heavily towards the negative but that was a last minute and freakish defeat. Otherwise, there is evidence that we’re turning the corner.

The 0-0 draw with Blackpool may have been the best result of the whole batch given the form of the Seasiders and the clean sheet. After the game Karl Robinson claimed a degree of victory for the clean sheet, saying that he always said we’d get there. It reminds me of the joke about the magician whose trick was to be hit over the head with a hammer, then after six months in a coma he opens his eyes and exclaims ‘Ta-da!’. It’s not a real triumph to ‘get there’ by stringing together a series of draws 35% into the season, if we have ambition to get promoted, then we need to be better than that.

It does seem the season could be defined in the upcoming games, they appear winnable, the key now is to win them. It remains true that at this stage I’d be happy to tread water this season if access to games is limited. Of course that might change on Tuesday when I push through the turnstiles for the first time in nine months.

Match wrap: Oxford United 1 Hull City 1

We all know stories should have a beginning, middle and an end, but they also follow a common pattern of symmetry/asymmetry/symmetry. A great story will begin with a period of stability; of normality, a sense of what is about to be lost by what’s to come. There will then be asymmetry or instability, a disruption, something ultimately to be resolved. The characters then work to re-find symmetry or stability before the story closes.

It’s such a compelling structure, we seek it in real life. Take the pandemic, we’re looking for something to switch it off, to re-establish stability. There’s a fantasy that a vaccine will be discovered and in no time at all people would be returning to their normal, perhaps better, lives. That’s what would happen in a film, there’d be no ongoing post-trauma, no gradual resolution, no long term repercussions or rebuilding.  

Our own stability was ended on the 13th March when professional football effectively enforced the government into action against the growing threat of coronavirus by postponing all fixtures. You know when something as attention seeking as football seeks to hide away that something is up. I remember The Fence End Podcast talking about focussing on that feeling when things would be resolved and we’d all be back in the stadium. I thought that too, when the pandemic’s over, the doors would be flung open and we’d flood in. Imagine what that day might feel like. 

But, pandemics don’t work like that, we won’t have our coronavirus VE-Day celebration. It won’t end just like that – even the war didn’t end just like that, though that’s how it’s characterised, it took three months between VE Day and the surrender of the Japanese. Then there were decades of rebuilding. We’re still dealing with the aftermath now, for some English national football and Brexit is just a continuation of the war effort.

So, in real life, any return to symmetry would be messy and gradual but the first step was the announcement of fans returning to the stadium after the second lockdown. My reaction was… ‘Oh, so soon?’.

Is it Stockholm Syndrome? Have I fallen in love with my captors? My world has shrunk, I’ve done 60% less mileage than last year. Football used to be the thing that straightened me out after the week had messed me up. I valued the routine and singularity of purpose against the discord of a working week. A week ago I had a day off, it made me more anxious than a routine day working from home. My symmetry, returning to football, seemed to have become my asymmetry.

I hadn’t planned to watch the Hull game anyway, I’ve seen every league game this season, it’s chained me to my settee. Weekend routines became moulded around kick-off times, but the experience was sanitised and underwhelming. Only by consciously doing something different would I be able to break that sequence. In normal times, I would have been away during this weekend, so it seemed to make sense.

But, following the announcement, I could have re-arranged, I could have argued how important it was to go to the game. But I simply didn’t feel it. I knew that demand would outstrip supply and financially it wouldn’t make any difference, I was inconsequential and decided not to join the scramble for tickets.

I imagine if I’d been alive on VE Day, I wouldn’t have been in the streets sexually assaulting any passing filly, I’d have stayed in and watched whatever the 1945 equivalent of Come Dine With Me was.

I had flashbacks to the opening of the Kassam Stadium, that feeling of a new dawn, then getting to the ground to see it unfinished and covered in dust, my seat so low in the East Stand I could barely see what was happening. I thought we’d sell it out, but it was just over half full. The weather wasn’t even great. Then we lost because the new surroundings didn’t give us the new stability we craved, it was the same old chaos we’d left behind the previous May.

I feared going back to the stadium, buoyed by the sense of renewal and enduring a miserable defeat. It was always possible, particularly against the League leaders, and my first trip back to the stadium when it happens will still suffer that jeopardy. But, I didn’t need it, not at the moment.

I wasn’t sure I could join the chorus about what a spiritual experience it was to get back to a game. How 1,000 fans would sound like 100,000. Like telling a bride at a wedding they’re the most beautiful you’ve ever seen and that the day has been perfect, when that’s probably, objectively, not true. I mean, that’s not a time for personal critiques, it’s not about your opinion, of course you just go with it for the greater good. The person on the radio who complained that wearing a mask would steam up his glasses was the kind of person who thought the bride’s dress made he look a bit hippy. 

Perhaps you went and had that very feeling of renewal and redemption, perhaps you even wanted to read something which tried to articulate that feeling. This is probably not what you were expecting.

Of course as the game approached kick-off it was nice to see the pictures being posted on Twitter of people in the ground, I felt a little bit jealous, a little bit out of the loop. Like those times when I passed up an away day only to regret not putting in the effort. I was pleased there was a goal and a good performance and the day worked out well.

But, this was something for the whole, not the individual. I will apply for tickets to our next games, my diary is clear and I want to get back. I’m just not sure I wanted that first experience to be ruined by teething problems or an abject performance. The Hull game was symbolic of a move to something else, a chapter in a much bigger story. It didn’t switch off the asymmetry and bring us to resolution. And it didn’t need me telling people that.

In the end, the point was a very good one, the logistics seemed to work well and everyone seemed happy. It should open the door to a bigger crowd next time, which is good. Our league position remains grim, but the re-connection of fans and club will hopefully act as a reminder that there is a reason to do this. This, along with a clean sheet, acts as a balm on the wounds inflicted last Saturday. The return to symmetry will be gradual, and will likely be different to the one we left behind, we may never realise when we achieve it, but that’s how real stories work.

Match wrap: Oxford United 0 Ipswich Town 0

Football kits can speak volumes about a club’s state of mind. Block colours and classic designs suggest confidence and stability, outlandish combinations scream of a club wanting everyone to believe they’re OK, when probably they’re not. This season Ipswich Town have gone for a beautifully classic Adidas home strip and a grotesque away kit which looks like it’s been washed with a tissue in the pocket. It seems to characterise them well.

I hadn’t realised what a mess they’re in until I read this article in the Guardian yesterday. On paper, they’re one of the bigger teams in the division and sitting in 6th you’d think they were a solid promotion candidate. 

It’s clearly a climbdown from the team of the early 1980s which I supported before being seduced into the world of Oxford United. At that impressionable age, I thought all clubs won the FA Cup and conquered Europe before their manager and captain headed off to lead England. It was a heady few years, until Oxford turned my head and nearly did the same in the latter part of the decade. 

I suppose most League 1 clubs are on the brink of one disaster or another, it’s why they’re in the division they are. They live beyond their means and operate on short horizons, they fear League 2 or worse, but crave The Championship or better. Volatility is baked in. But, there’s something about Ipswich which always suggested a certain stability. Unlike Sunderland, Wigan or Bolton, who plummeted into League 1 like falling from a sixth floor window, Ipswich seemed to glide in by parachute destined to dust themselves off and glide back up again.

Oddly, our own position is much better, although our league position suggests otherwise. We seem to have a stable base and a proactive and ambitious board which is quite the opposite of the ghost club that fell asleep on the job, as the Guardian puts it. 

We are, however, going through something akin to a period of mourning after the defeat to Swindon on Saturday. It’s understandable, to some point, the end of a near-twenty-year unbeaten run is a shock. The specific nature of the collapse makes it all the more galling. 

Another way of looking at it, of course, is that we were also seconds from extending that unbeaten run, though there’s little comfort in saying that now. Like saying a dead loved one had a good innings. 

There’s been a lot of over-reaction to the defeat, accusations of people not caring or not getting ‘it’. Suddenly everything is wrong and someone has to be to blame. Inevitably there has to be a scapegoat and a lot of that anger has been directed at Simon Eastwood.  

Yesterday, almost everything Jack Stevens did was, according to someone or other on Twitter, something Eastwood could never do. Peter Rhodes-Brown described a routine clearance by Stevens as though Eastwood had never successfully kicked a ball in his life. Granted, his form has been sluggish, but his miskick against Swindon was a freak, not a sign of universal incompetence. 

I feel for Eastwood, a recent interview suggested that he had a healthy attitude to the game and that football was a job to him. His family are based in the north, it seems likely they’ll be in, or close to, a Tier 3 region. With the current frequency of games, it must be hard to see his family, recover from games and get his head right mentally. It’s harder to perform when you’re not happy. The temptation is to demonise him to satisfy our own frustrations, perhaps we need to think about what he needs.

Jack Stevens was largely untested on Tuesday and the game felt like an EFL Trophy tie at times. Ultimately, both teams needed a result to stem the tide of defeats they’ve suffered recently. On paper a clean sheet against a top six side looks like a good result, but looking below the surface, at all Ipswich’s problems, we might have expected more. Ultimately, it represented a symbolic victory over our inner demons, in another circumstance we might have demanded more, but at the moment, it’ll do. 

There were opportunities to win the game in the first half. On Saturday we took a chance, on Tuesday we hit a post. That’s the way it is sometimes. In the second half we did what we should have done against Swindon and strangled the life out of the game, Ipswich too seemed to be of a similar mind, and understandably so. Neither team needed the win more than they needed to avoid defeat. 

It wasn’t a great spectacle, but it met our immediate need. I, for one, will take that given the circumstances. Sometimes you can reignite a season with a jolt, as we did last year with a blistering win at Lincoln, other times you need to turn the corner more gently. These are strange times, and people are facing all sorts of struggles, perhaps we need to ease our way to recovery.