Stevenage 0 Yellows 0, Morecambe 0 Yellows 3

From Stevenage…

Out of every team in the country, I really hate Luton Town. I’m kind of programmed to dislike Swindon, but our paths haven’t crossed enough in recent years to really develop any extreme emotional reaction to them. What about Reading? Well, meh.

But Luton really make me wretch. We seem to have had a parallel existence for nearly a quarter of a century. Their most recent ‘glory years’ coincided with ours in the mid-80’s. We won the Milk Cup in 1986, they won it a year later. More recently, as our Football League life was sucked dry by criminal negligence, theirs seemed to thrive for the same reason. Eventually they got their comeuppance and we crossed swords in the Conference theatre of war in what were brilliantly fractious affairs.

Whilst being in the Conference we seem to have picked up a number of other rivalries that I can’t get my head around. Crawley is one. OK, Steve Evans is a pretty odious character, but all the time we were in the Conference, he and they barely had any impact on our fortunes.

Stevenage is another I find completely baffling. OK, you might argue that they took ‘our’ title, but I always had them down as favourites last season because they’re a stable, well run club. Perhaps it’s just because they’re relatively local and we take a lot of fans there. Perhaps Westley said something mean about us that I missed.

In truth, Stevenage are a neatly run professional football club who are doing well considering who they are. We’ve shared a brief period of our history with them. I suspect over time we will ease away from them eventually.

I really think it’s possible to hate too many things. All in all, Tuesday night’s anodyne 0-0 draw is more significant for our play-off ambitions than it is to stoke an ill-conceived rivalry.

… to Morecambe

The atmosphere at Old Trafford during the fifth round cup-tie between Manchester United and Crawley was akin to those Soccer Aid games in which fat old pros and thingy-from-Holby-City celebrities wheeze around in the name of poor kids from Africa and thing.

The crowd, who couldn’t tell Crawley’s Bulman from Crawley bullshit, were there out of curiosity or obligation, but certainly not because they saw it as a thrilling sporting match up. In short, for all their money and brouhaha, Crawley and their 9 fans didn’t belong at Old Trafford.

Following Stevenage on Tuesday, Saturday saw the impressive demolition of Morecambe. But it was like we’d never left the Conference. With over 25% of the crowd at Morecambe being made up of Oxford fans, I’m starting to wonder whether we even belong in League 2.

Our time in the Conference saw League 2 change dramatically. Stevenage, Morecambe, Burton, Aldershot, Accrington and Hereford have all established themselves since we slipped out of the division. As a result League 2 feels like an upper class Conference. A bit like when you’re a teenager seeking a bit of sophistication by graduating from McDonalds to a Harvester. Yes, there may be some of the trappings of a resteraunt (waiters, salad), but fundamentally, it’s still a fast food joint. Likewise, League 2 doesn’t really feel like the promised land.

Not that I feel like the Premier League is our rightful place. My palette is not yet sophisticated enough for that. But a place in League 1 amongst those on the rise like us, plus a few fallen giants feels like a good place to be. After the performance against Morecambe, the likelihood that we’ll achieve that grows by the week.

Yellows 4 Morecambe 0

Did Kelvin Thomas get Chris Wilder to close his eyes before he presented Tom Craddock to him? The striker’s signing, it was claimed before yesterday’s annihilation of Morecambe, was more significant than simple squad reinforcement. This was the man that Chris Wilder wanted, like, forever. Like the toy you always wanted for Christmas. Only better.

Wilder agreed, it was a sign that the club wants to develop as fast as he does. It’s true, 8 games on from Wembley and we started yesterday with six new faces.

The team and how it plays is changing in front of our eyes. Last season was all about the dominance of our personality over frankly inferior opposition. Two immovable objects at the back (Foster and Creighton), rabid terriors in midfield, and endless energy up front. We overwhelmed the opposition.

The 2010/11 vintage is more athletic, it’s about pace and movement. Is Worley better than Creighton? Not necessarily, but he fits with the strategy better. With Craddock in, Matt Green’s pace gives him preference over Midson and Josh Payne’s more efficient use of the ball works better in the system than Dannie Bulman’s all action tenacity.

This is not to write off Creighton, Midson, Bulman, or, for that matter, Clist. We may yet see them coming to the fore, particularly when pitches get stodgier or we need to grind out some points away from home.

The fact we have a manager with the foresight to develop an already successful squad, that we have a thrilling expansive A game and a reliable B game, and that it’s all being achieved against a backdrop of apparent financial stability and club/fan cohesion seems almost anti-Oxford.

Rose and Saint George

There was distinct disquiet in the Oxford Mail stand on Saturday and not just because of the performance. Many of the Oxford faithful are on a hair trigger, when the going gets tough, the Us start booing. Others are trying to maintain a stiff upper lip and ride the storm. The two schools of thought are becoming increasingly agitated with each other.

Jim Smith‘s angry reaction on Radio Oxford pointed to this. Some would say that the fans have the right to boo and abuse when things are going badly, after all, they’re the people paying the players wages… blah blah blah. What’s more, they’ve had to endure years of decline, and no one feels the pain like a fan. There were others angrily pointing to the fact that this is no good for anyone.

Frustration, yes, but booing a draw isn’t going to help; 1 win in 8, also contains only 2 defeats. Only 6 goals scored, but only 7 conceded. No, it’s not championship form, but it’s nor is it a capitulation. It will be if the sweeping sense of panic continues. When Lewes venture over the half way line on Tuesday don’t be surprised to hear screams of ‘GET STUCK IN! WHERE’S THE MIDFIELD!?’. There was an interesting cameo during the improbable sequence of world class corners Morecambe were putting in during the second half; Georges Santos stood in the middle of the penalty box and gestured for everyone to just calm down. Perhaps we need a few of those old heads in the stand.

A few years ago Reading were in a similar situation to us, languishing in the lower divisions with a sparsely populated stadium. The fans looked around them and became increasingly disillusioned at the lack of progress. They then did something unprecedented; they changed their minds. The decision was taken to simply have fun at games. Games had themes; Hawaiian beach party fancy dress that kind of thing. They decided not to boo, they decided that regardless of the result they would cheer and have fun in the stands. You could argue that they decided to act like an away following. Results improved, not just because the fans had smiles on their faces, but at least the fan-pressure part of the equation was removed. Why not? We’ve got the flag, what about a samba band? silly hats? A charter of positivity.

On the pitch it’s simple; we need goals. When Duffy hit the bar (via a Morecambe arm, apparently) the ball bounced down through the legs of Anaclet to Yemi who blazed over. It says it all really. There are mitigating factors in the goal drought; Basham and Robinson are out, and Yemi is clearly not fit; his demeanour throughout was of someone who didn’t really want to be there and his pace rarely ventured above ‘blistering’. Duffy was better, although no one took a risk to pick up his knock-downs, perhaps Yemi’s injury didn’t help, perhaps he’s simply lost the belief that there will be something for him to run onto. Burgess is playing wide when surely he needs to be sitting behind the front two. The return of Robinson or Basham could free up Yemi to move out to the right where he could do some serious damage. The left is more of an anathema; Johnson looks to be struggling, but he’s not going to go past players and he’s not supported as Anaclet is on the right by Pettefer and Yemi.

Of the new players, Santos looked strong and capable, and offered a new dimension in terms of playing the ball out of defence. Rose bedded in well, if you excuse the pun.

The other great cameo yesterday was the booking of Curtis for angrily batting the Nationwide Building Society badge on his sleeve in front of the Oxford fans. Perhaps he got a good mortgage rate from them or something. As the ref raised the yellow card the shrimpers captain, Bentley, ran fifty yards to protest. Not at the booking, but because he believed it had been a case of mistaken identity; he was the balding fatty who been enticing the crowd two minutes earlier.