Us 0 Southend 0

It feels a bit like pre-season at the moment. A performance like yesterday – full of endeavour, but few chances – is encouraging but ultimately meaningless.

I like the FA Cup, but I can’t quite get my head around us giantkilling a team like Southend. Nor can I see us getting much out of the replay. Even the prospect of a third round tie against one of the big teams feels a little flat; with no hope of victory and even likely humiliation, I’m not really sure I can get excited by the prospect of going to the Emirates or Stamford Bridge. After all we have ‘done’ Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United in recent years – each time with better teams.

That’s not to say yesterday wasn’t good. The work rate was great, it’s a wonder Clarke hasn’t been used before, the shape and pace is coming. There’s no doubt that Southend are a good team, but we matched them for long periods. If we can build during this mid-season pre-season of Cup, Trophy and Setanta Shield games maybe the season it still alive.

Us 3 Northwich Victoria 1

Maybe it’s the new regime, maybe it was my decision to watch yesterday’s win from the upper tier of the South Stand. For weeks our form flummoxed me, though from my vantage point yesterday it became a bit clearer where the problems are.

As a team, we’re don’t press enough. Phil Trainer drifts around midfield, when clearing a corner Yemi has a tendency to wait for the ball whilst the opposition’s defenders attack it. St Ameie looked ponderous, though he improved. Anyone who’d never seen Matt Day before would have thought he’d won his place as a right wingback through a competition on the Internet.

Matt Day, of course, is no wing-back and with such a horrific injury problem it’s not easy to read anything into the first game of the Patterson era. It’s good to hear that he’s already spotted an insightful area for improvement. His feeling is that simple patient possession play will help unlock teams. This is possibly a marked departure from Smith’s style who wanted things done swiftly – which maybe over-estimated the ability of his players. Patience worked yesterday, though the opposition was sub-standard and in front of an impatient crowd, it may be more difficult to replicate in the future.

A win is a win; progress in the cup will help with confidence, finances and dignity. It may even help in the league if we can get a couple of league postponements it will buy a bit more time to get players back. There’s still much to be done, but this is as good a place to start a recovery as anywhere.

Merthyr Tydfil 1 Us 2

The annual media blackout that surrounds the 4th qualifying round meant I didn’t catch much about the win at Merthyr. I listened to the build up on Radio Oxford, but that was largely it.

The texts being read out summarised that the team selection was rubbish and we were about to be tanked. The Smith-Out onslaught is in full effect.

Prior to the game, Smith reiterated the current problem we have with injuries. EXCUSES! Cried the Smith-Out brigade.

There is a fine line between an explanation and an excuse, but the injury issue is an unavoidable fact, we are short of players, especially strikers. An injury crisis is like climate change; an individual episode cannot itself explain a problem, but it may be the beginning of a concerning trend. We had a similar problem less than a year ago, so maybe there is something to be addressed.

In the short-term however, quietly, we have built a sequence of one defeat in seven. Its ugly and dogged, but it does look like a foundation is appearing. Come Christmas, returning players and the transfer window opening, we could be positioned for a good second half to the season. If the naysayers back off both Smith and the team there may be life in this season yet. I suspect, however, there is little chance of this happening.

Next up in the cup is Northwich Victoria at home. A good draw, and an opportunity to build momentum. Last year, we had Wycombe, which proved a nasty distraction, this year, however, a run in the cup may help lighten the mood.

Elsewhere, there’s an interesting parallel developing between us last season and Torquay this. They’ve had a storming start to the season, with fragilities (ours was not scoring, theirs is conceding). Now, they’ve been drawn against higher placed local rivals Yeovil. Like us last year, the next few weeks could have a significant impact on the rest of their season.

Take a chair, boys

There’s rarely a fair result, it’s more that there is a range of fair results from which one will derive. In yesterday’s case, the fair result ranged from a defeat to a draw. It wouldn’t have been unjust to come back for a replay, but we didn’t quite offer enough for the win.

We lacked a creativity in midfield; although had Andy Burgess been fit, I fear we may have been a little on the soft side in this department. His absence allowed us to be strong and compact, but though Eddie Hutchinson looked better again, there wasn’t enough craft to release Yemi and Basham. We certainly missed Duffy, not for his goals specifically, but for the lack of options. You suspect Duffy and Basham would have softened up the Wycombe centre backs and there would have been an opportunity late in the game to introduce Yemi to press any advantage home

There was no gulf, and Wycombe are a strong side, but there was little venom. It’s a derby in geography alone; there isn’t the ire that you want games like this to have. The rivalry is more socio-economic – who is higher in the division – than cultural and is probably what makes Wycombe such a nice, but ultimately dull, club.

There seems to be so little about them; the music before the game was Harry J All Stars – Liquidator, a Wolves staple, Daydream Believer (Sunderland); and I wonder what they’ll play when they score… what a shock it’s Tom Hark by the Piranhas. Nothing about them is particularly unique, nor particularly offensive. Perhaps this makes them the ultimate post-modern club but like house prices in High Wycombe, Wanderers’ rise seems to have resulted more from macro growth trend rather than anything else. For the Us to muster 1,835 away fans for a derby feels like we’re engaged in some sort of football community service than battling for local pride.

Jim Smith, before the game, said the objective was to get to the third round, get Manchester United away, take the money and run. That may have been the stretch target, but perhaps the key requirement was to register our presence in this year’s competition and then go out without derailing the bigger objective. Job done in this respect.