Yellows 1 Kidderminster 2

The fact I listened to the Kidderminster defeat while shuttling back and forth to the local dump gives some indication where my subconscious prioritises the FA Trophy. Don’t get me wrong; winning a trophy at Wembley would have been great, and I wanted us to win. But when the scores were level and the discussion turned to fixture scheduling, I found my interest waning; when Kidderminster scored, I was relieved it was going to be resolved on the day. It was like the death of a frail elderly relative; ideally you want to keep them going but, in the end, artificially sustaining their life, delaying the inevitable, benefits nobody and it becomes a relief to see them go.

Talking of which, surely it’s time to kill Chester off. As much as I hate to see a club going under, and whatever the reasons for the doom, there is a point where the option of starting again is far more preferable to chasing down a lost cause.

They’ve continuously proven that they are a stricken ship; even if they do survive the chucking-out order on Friday, what chance they’ll complete their fixtures in anything resembling a competitive way? And what would the point be anyway as surely the prospect of surviving the summer remains wafer thin. The greatest they can hope for is to shift from one farcical situation to another. In the meantime, everyone suffers from their continual ineptitude.

Instead of getting wrapped up in the minutiae of saving a grand old club or the evil doings of dodgy businessmen, it’s time to look more broadly; for everyone’s sake, why can’t we just wring its neck and be done with it. Let them start afresh, let us get on with the season.

Yellows 0 Kidderminster Harriers 0

With Turley, Creighton, Midson, Hargreaves and Green on the bench, this wasn’t a team that had strength in depth more than one that was bursting at the seams. Has there ever been an Oxford manager with such a (pound-for-pound) embarrassment of riches at his disposal?

The challenge is how to fit them all in. Yesterday’s draw with Kidderminster was a case in point. Constable was knocking the ball down to Deering, who would, in turn, try to pick out Constable only to find the striker 15 yards behind the play recovering from his original knock down.

Or Deering would be found naturally drifting out to the wing where Potter was detailed. Or Cook would be both providing balance on the other wing and trying to pull the strings Murray-like in the middle. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with what any of them did, but it was a mess of ideas.

The introduction of Hargreaves and Green simplified things greatly with two holding midfielders, wingers providing balls for the two strikers to latch on to. By that time, however, the game was concentrated into half-an-hour and the breakthrough never came. Constable’s two game ban may not be such a disaster, at least it eases the decisions that need taking up front.

To sacrifice structure and discipline for a galacticos policy of flooding the opposition with talent seems a bit back to front at this level. If you’re chasing the game then throw the kitchen sink at them, but surely you start by suffocating their threat and enthusiasm.

Chris Wilder is rightly irritated by suggestions that things aren’t going well, we’re top of the league with two games in hand, for heaven’s sake. However, comments like “people want us to play with wingers and we’ve done that…” suggest he’s bowing to the pressure of criticism. It’s his team, and he should be free to put together an eleven that will grind out results. His strength has always been to see things clearly and make simple decisions – more than keeping players and fans happy, this is the quality we need more than ever at this stage.

Kidderminster Harriers 3 Yellows 1

Darren Ferguson’s firing from Peterborough raised the first credible threat to us keeping Chris Wilder at Oxford this season. Peterborough have ambition, a bit of money and a policy of recruiting from below. There was a casual enquiry, whatever that is, which was quickly repelled (Kelvin Thomas waving a burning stick as if to fend off a witch, springs to mind).

Presumably Wilder’s contract is a good one, it’s certainly unusually long for a football manager. Maybe there’s more to this than money. Professional football is a mercenary business, but perhaps Wilder does feel a loyalty to the club, perhaps he does see that’s he’s onto a good thing and maybe he and his family are settled where they are. In most other lines of business, these would be taken into consideration when other jobs are available. What is a surprise is that The Posh walked away so easily, especially when Mark Cooper was who they eventually landed.

We shouldn’t fear Wilder’s departure, in the same way we shouldn’t fear defeat. I had yesterday’s game against Kidderminster as a likely nil-pointer. Kiddy are a capable side, we were due a blip, the weather was bad and we’ve just come off the back of a titanic effort against Yeovil.

And it certainly could have happened at a worse time; if we’d lost to Yeovil, then we’d now be looking at two defeats in a row. Looking forward, we now turn into a period of six games with only two away and a run up to Christmas that looks like it’s got a few points in it for us. It’s been a turbulent week; but one that ends as it began – top of the league and with the best squad and manager firmly in place. We have little to complain about.

Dorchester 1 Yellows 3 (aet), Histon 5 Yellows 2, Yellows 1 Kidderminster 0

Boo! We won.

Have we become drunk on failure? We know it’s bad for us, but we’ve consumed so much in the last decade, we can’t live without it. The penalty on Tuesday was greeted with apoplexy, the final whistle with boos. We don’t know how to enjoy our football.

But we won, against a team in 4th, and rarely looked like surrendering the lead. Kidderminster were prettier, but it was all a bit ineffective.

Of course, most of the booing was an echo from Saturday’s hammering at Histon. First, however, some perspective. As unfashionable as Histon is, they are the best team in the division. Take the names and reputations out of the equation and a defeat to the best team in the division is not quite the shame it might be.

But that’s too simple; of course, we have our pride built from our glorious history. We don’t get beaten by teams like Histon. So while Darren Patterson grapples with creating a squad that can compete with next to no money, his biggest challenging is taming the beast that is The Club and all it stands for.

It’s not Patterson’s team that’s failing; it’s his ability to exert authority over the club. His repeated use of the phrase “I’ve got to be honest with you.” opens him to ridicule, his use of the transfer list as a ‘naughty step’ seems cack-handed.

A manager needs to demand the respect of not just his players, but the media and the fans. In this respect he seems a dead man walking; every home game is one to save his job, and when that happens it’s only a matter of time before he goes. After all, we will, inevitably, lose at home at some point – which is likely to be the tipping point.

Still, I say keep him, we’re in the cup following the win against Dorchester – where, again, we obsessed over the manner of the win rather than the win itself. This is Patterson’s lifeline at the moment.

Kidderminster 1 Yellows 0

Denis Smith’s summary of yesterday’s defeat to Kidderminster went along the lines of ‘great game, magnificent effort, Oxford deserved something out of the game’. The first text said ‘doesn’t matter what the performance was like, we still lost’, the second said ‘questions have to be asked about the management’.

This week I heard a sport psychologist give a presentation; he was brought in at West Ham with ten games to go two years ago to try and help save them from relegation. When this guy first went to West Ham he asked the squad what was going wrong. Amongst the moaning, Carlos Tevez – who had no real reason to care whether they were going up or down – eventually piped up ‘Why are we all moaning?’

Tevez came from a humble background, he is badly scarred with a burn on his neck. He knows that shit happens. Playing football at the highest level – for whatever the reason – is a privilege to him. It got me thinking about the values around which the club should be built.

The first is maximum effort. Fans can say stupid things, but they aren’t stupid. When a team has given its all, win or lose, it is appreciated. The second is no fear. Whether we’re chasing a game or defending a narrow lead; doing it without fear (of missing shot, giving away a foul, of falling further behind) will always recognised.

And that’s it. Winning every game is too prescriptive and unrealistic. You can play expansive attacking and tight defensive football whilst subscribing to the same values. The fans can contribute, the board can contribute. If we all invest maximum effort and no fear, we won’t go far wrong.

Teams at the top of the Conference are largely characterised by the fact they are boxing above their perceived weight. Simply being involved in a promotion battle is an achievement (in some cases, simply being in the Conference). The results start to look after themselves.

We need to shed the fixation on winning games and focus on what we can fully control – and that’s the inputs required to win games not the actual output of winning the game. Maximum effort and no fear will see things come good.

Us 0 Kidderminster Harriers 0

Where some teams look exciting going forwards, we’ve become the world’s first team to look exciting going backwards. The blocks are coming in from everywhere. The tackles are flying about. We’re not conceding goals and we’re pretty bloody spectacular doing it.

We’re not programmed to receive this as entertainment. Creativity in midfield and goals are what get our juices flowing. Of this we have none. I don’t remember a single moment when the crowd rose to its feet in anticipation during yesterday’s draw with Kidderminster.

It’s difficult to anticipate a goal when there’s no pattern or tempo coming from midfield. In the past we knew once the ball had been worked out to Joey Beauchamp, Chris Allen or George Lawrence that something was likely to happen. Last year, although they all petered out as a creative force eventually, Burgess, Johnson, Brevett and Analclet (to a lesser extent), offered creativity that is simply unavailable this year.

The midfield is so chaotic. Pettefer works a like a dog trying to break things up, but Hutchinson, who is a like an eager puppy, doesn’t pick up the scraps in order to recycle the ball to the creative players.

These outlets; Trainer and Ledgister, don’t offer consistency. Ledgister looked good against Crawley, but disappeared yesterday – perhaps he’s still not fully fit. Trainer offers a trickle of goals from midfield and a half decent array of passing – but he over elaborates with the long balls and tends to fade as games progress.

Nothing sticks in midfield and as a result it’s not progressed forward. This reduces the back four to simply pumping the ball forward to Duffy and Yemi. Duffy gets a brunt of the stick – unfairly in my opinion. Service to him is dire, and he is reduced to winning scrappy flick-ons –with nobody from midfield joining the attacks, there’s nobody to pick up the pieces.

Yemi, who should be able to benefit from these flick-ons, is an altogether more endearing character, and avoids much of the stick. The truth is he’s been found out. He doesn’t have a particularly sharp football brain – he runs in straight lines and needs big patches of grass to exploit his blistering pace. If the centre backs can remain reasonably compact, he drifts wider and wider to the lush grass of the flanks. That’s a long way from goal and a long way from Duffy.

There is an argument that the front two could do more to create chances in the Johnny Byrne, Tommy Moody mould. But neither is likely to become such a beast. Undoubtedly this is going to have to come from outside. In addition we need someone who can offer some shape and order in midfield, and possibly, some pace and delivery on the wing.  It’s a tall order, but with Twigglet and Gilchrist already gone, rumours that Duffy and Trainer may have alternative places to go (plus Patterson promising a possible surprise during January) there should be the money to give it a go.

Kidderminster 0 Us 2

There’s a lot in the news about the Englishness of football. My take on that is that traditional English qualities work brilliantly in cosmopolitan Premiership sides because they offer the drive that characterises the English game. Johnny Foreigner offers complimentary technical skills which makes the whole thing work. However, put all that Englishness together in one team and you get one marauding mob.

This stage of the season is, in the psyche of traditionalists like me, where the season is at its best. Dark, dank, cold, wet, muddy and miserable. Warming cups of tea or soup and pints of ale that are as thick as clay. I wear as many cloth caps as I do drink ale, but the point is that football is not the point, the experience is.

The reality is different, of course, and these traditionalist features are slipping through our fingers like sand. Its being replaced by branded pies, goaltime music and text messaging your man of the match.

Its also one of the worst stages in the season. Yesterday’s 2-0 win over Kidderminster put us just 8 points behind the play-off places. Your heart says the season is still alive, your head looks at the statistics and thinks that maybe it is. But deep down you know that goalscorers Barnes and Green are not going to be around all season, they’ve got more important things to worry about then spluttering Conference promotion campaigns. Deep down you know that another flaccid performance is just around the corner. But then, maybe with a signing or two in January it will all click into place and 2008 will be a breathless charge to glory.

I guess it’s that eternal flame that burns over the season that makes us leave the house on a dark, wet, dank Saturday afternoon.