Is Karl Robinson on the brink? Not really. The results of the Oxblogger Oxford United Survey show that the club is in a good place with solid results in all areas. But, there’s a but. There are signs that the improvements are slowing. That might just be because as ratings get higher, it’s harder to get the top marks; it’s relatively easy to move from, say, a four to 4.5, but very difficult to go from 9.5 to 10 because few people are going to describe something as perfect. But, it might also be that people are gradually losing patience and want to see promotion. Either way, it does feel like we’re approaching a pivotal season. This is part 1 of the results from the survey, next week I’ll do part 2 – predictions for the season ahead.
The overall mood has dropped since Christmas, when we were in the play-offs and seemingly heading for promotion. However, the overall picture remains pretty static compared to this time last year. Last year the overall rating was 8 out of 10, this year it’s 8.1 or, more specifically, 8.06.
My view is that we’re now in nearing a perfect equilibrium, balancing the literal – we’ve gone backwards because we’ve gone from the play-off final to semi-final to missing out – with the comparative; we’re as good, maybe better, but the opposition has become tougher. These two forces are cancelling each other out at the moment. My guess is that eight out of ten is close to the highest rating we’ll see now without promotion. That means the only way is down, which means the pressure will begin to ramp up.
This shows the distribution of rating this year. the spikiness of the curve is important because it shows the level of consensus amongst fans. This seems to show that we’re all in agreement as to our current mood with nearly half of people rating us eight out of ten. What it doesn’t explain is why people feel like that, for that we might need to look elsewhere for clues.
Karl Robinson’s rating has gone down from this time last year, but again by a tiny margin. There’s an obvious calming of the wave over the last eighteen months suggesting we are satisfied with his performance. We’re not on a rollercoaster ride of delight and disappointment. Looking back to 2019 and the first survey, when he was rated by 6.1 out of ten, this year’s rating of 8.2 shows a strong upward trajectory. But, again, have we become a bit spoilt and is patience running out?
The distribution might give us more evidence of the mood around the place; there’s a strong consensus that Robinson is an objectively good manager – there’s little to suggest any movement towards wanting him to be replaced. But there’s a bit of indecision creeping in; is he an eight or a nine? Compared to last year’s curve, there is a slight shift to the left showing a very gradual loss of confidence. It’s not a trend yet, but worth keeping an eye on.
Is the issue the manager? Compared to last year, the quality of the squad has increased, but they consistently rate a whole point lower than Robinson. The other thing to note is that the line is still quite wavy, unlike in other areas, it still doesn’t appear we have total confidence in how the squad is progressing. Although good business, the sale of Luke McNally after just thirty-three games probably illustrates that we’re still quite vulnerable in terms of fluctuations in the squad’s quality.
There will be those who will blame Robinson for that, he either signs the wrong players or doesn’t sign enough of them. Most likely, any problems are systemic, a combination of finding the right players, having the money to sign them, for those players to perform to their potential, plus the economics of needing to sell players to keep the show on the road.
Consensus about the quality of the squad his strong, over half gave them the rating seven out of ten. I wouldn’t normally look at the outliers; the lunatics rating the manager or players ten out of ten, or who think of them as perfect – but it might be relevant. Only 1% of you rate the squad as perfect, but 10% think Robinson is. So, is it that confidence in Robinson is wobbling or confidence in the squad? This would suggest the latter.
The board have enjoyed a significant improvement in their rating from the doldrums of 4.9 in 2019. As elsewhere, the rating has improved very slightly since this time last year, but broadly flatlined. This seems a bit odd to me, the downtime and a lack of activity in the transfer market might explain why the summer tends to poll lower than Christmas, but the investment in the training ground and, more importantly, the tangible progress made with the stadium doesn’t seem to have filtered through to the ratings.
This is reflected in the distribution of ratings – a relatively high 5% rate the board as only five out of ten as well as the longish tail of low scores you don’t see in other questions. The bulbousness of the bell seems to reflect a degree of uncertainty. Despite the progress with the stadium, its future is still not certain and that might be a factor. Is there a distrust because they’re not British? That might be simple xenophobia, but there’s a valid argument to suggest that one of the issues with foreign owners is that you can’t be absolutely certain that they have the emotional attachment to the club to keep going when things are tricky. The owners seem committed to long term investment, but will it be sustained if, for example, the stadium situation drags on. Another clue may be in one of the comments that was left; we still don’t officially know who owns the club, and that is taking a long time to resolve.
There’s a clear appreciation of what the owners have done for the club, but there is a detachment that they probably need to keep an eye on. Poor results, a lack of signings or a stalling of progress on the stadium could see fans start to turn.
The slight (and it is only slight) uncertainty around the club seems to reflect in the relationship with the club has with the fans. There is a slight improvement on last year and not that big a drop from mid-season. This is all solid stuff and a significant improvement on 2019, but it has been higher and appears to be tailing off a little bit. Like most of the survey; something to keep an eye on.
There are few additional clues from the distribution curve, there’s a reasonable consensus – a solid 39% rated the relationship with the club 8 out of ten, but a not inconsiderable 16% rated the relationship six or lower. It’s worth noting, this is all an improvement on last year (after a year of lockdown, of course) when 32.8% of people rated the peak of 8 out of ten and 24% rated the relationship six or less.
Compared to five years ago
Looking a bit longer term, and you are unequivocal about our progress; 75% of you agree things are better than they were five years ago. I don’t know how many people think closely about this, but five years ago was the end of the Appleton years. Factor in the ‘no-change’ numbers and 99.3% of you agree that things are either the same or better than five years ago. There will be plenty of clubs who would kill for that kind of stability and progress.
What you can see here his the growing satisfaction with our long term development. Back in 2019, the jury was out about whether the club was progressing with less than 20% thinking it was ‘considerably better’ even though we were in a higher division. Even last year, less than half thought things were considerably better, but there is quite a hop upwards for 2022.
In five years time
Casting forward to five years time, and over 75% think that things will be better in the mid-to-long term. Only 0.7% think it will be a bit worse. Despite the apparent flattening of ratings, there is a underlying confidence and satisfaction in how the club is progressing. There will always be people who will look at seasons and even individual games to draw their conclusions, but the underpinning long-term stability of the club its as important, if not more-so.
Again, you can see the confidence growing as the curve shifts to the left. Even compared to last year there’s been a massive increase. No doubt the stadium and return from covid have contributed to that.
Cameron Brannagan’s dominance of the favourite player chart its pretty remarkable, polling nearly 60% of the votes. More notable still is that Matty Taylor is a distant second place despite being local and our top goalscorer. Is Brannagan moving into legend status? I can’t think of too many players who would have dominated similar polls in the past. There’s also the consistency with which he’s polled at the top of the table over the years, often being in the top-two. Now, he’s struck out on his own – the perfect combination of ability, loyalty, competitiveness and an affinity with the fans. Luke McNally came third, and was dominant in terms of the player who has developed the most, it’s a pretty amazing result given that he was a regular for little over half-a-season.
In conclusion, the reason this survey exists is to keep tabs on our mood. It’s easy to be disappointed that we don’t make the play-offs when we lose the last few games of the season, but if we didn’t expect to make it in the first place, is that really a disaster? What I think this is showing is that the club is in rude health, the squad is strong, the manager liked and the board are trusted. However, fans are a funny group, there was a time just over ten years ago when just being a league club was an aspiration, then getting into League 1, then surviving League 1. We’re now edging towards the point where staying in League 1 is an underachievement. So, this season may be pivotal, not because we’re failing, but because we’re not succeeding enough.