Yellows 1 Salisbury 0

Whilst I was panicking that a blocked nose was a sign of acute renal failure or some equally slow and painful death, a doctor once said to me a truism; that I shouldn’t worry because ‘common things are common’.

Truisms are true because they’re true. So, it is true that winning is simple, but difficult. Yesterday’s win over Salisbury, whilst lacking the technical quality of earlier in the season demonstrated the simple values of a winning team. A dominant defence prepared to take responsibility, a midfield working doggedly and an attack taking risks.

In a number of games recently we’ve tried to play with the force of our own abilities and reputation. We’ve ignored the key qualities; get these basics right and the results will come.

Here’s another one from Gordon Strachan; coaching is easy, management is hard. Coaching is to strive for perfection. Management accepts that perfection isn’t possible and finds a way around it. This ability to accept risk, absorb the pressure that comes with the uncertainty and give freedom to the players to play without fear is a role few master.

Chris Wilder’s only mistake this season is to try and mould the squad to perfection. Prior to Christmas he had a squad that were imperfect but effective. So, rather than trying to find the perfect centre back pairing or strike partnership, he should have been developing these players’ confidence to ignore their weaknesses, thus creating a sense of championship winning invincibility.

Look at Stevenage; are you telling me that a squad that contains Yemi, Tim Sills, Jon Ashton and Eddie Anaclet are perfect? No, they’ve focussed on what these players do well and worked around their weaknesses. Now any perception they have any weakness has all but evaporated and they are rocking onto the title.

The margins between success and failure are tiny; you try to improve the squad, but every time you do you risk destabilising it. Some have suggested that price of getting this wrong should be Chris Wilder’s head. If he fails to learn from the experience, then the question might be a legitimate one. But anyone who thinks that every mistake should be punished with the manager’s job is utterly barking mad.

And finally, one from Chris Hargreaves on the subject of our current position: “that’s football, it’s hard”. True that.

Salisbury 1 Yellows 1

Blimey, talk about the wisdom of crowds; there isn’t anything the Oxford United public doesn’t know about stadium management, matchday profit margins, groundsmanship, frost, blown pitch covers and leaky sprinklers. The messageboards have been awash with such discussion, even Radio Oxford, with time to kill and a skeleton staff on hand, dedicated a whole sports special to it.

Frozen Pitch-gate can now be filed next to Complacent Against Eastbourne-gate and Wilder Dissing the Fans-gate in this season’s folklore. Can we now get on with the real matter at hand? That of irrational panic.

It seems a bit churlish to predict our inevitable post-Yule slide based on us taking a one point over the Christmas period when only three have been on offer. Even if we let slip a win with the last minute equaliser against Salisbury.

The single premise upon which these jitters lie is that we always collapse post-Christmas – look at what happened three years ago. The parallels are evident.; the big Boxing Day game which ended in an anti-climax, followed by a disappointing draw, then there was a New Year’s Day defeat and no win until the middle of February. It feels like Groundhog Day. It’s ‘fate’. We’re fucked.

Except the only person left from those days is Billy Turley. Oh, and us. We can’t be blamed, of course, we’re perfect. So the inevitable failure that has no sign of happening must be Turley’s fault.

The loss of the big Boxing Day payout is clearly a blow to the business, but it may play to our advantage on the pitch.

The Rushden game was only afforded ‘big’ status by virtue of its date. Like Christmas day itself, for all its build up and anticipation it was always likely to be a bit flat simply by being too normal. The effective cancelling of Christmas should allow us to focus on success in April, not December.

Yellows 2 Salisbury City 0

Beware false promise, we’ve been here before. But it’s a New Year, and the year of the ox so let’s indulge ourselves. Two consecutive comfortable wins, nine points off the play-offs with plenty of games to play. Chris Wilder may be playing down our play-off chances – and rightly so – but a late drive can’t be dismissed in this league. Not least because, as a business, we could do with the added revenues of league football in 2009 rather than 2010. Failure to make the play-offs would hardly mark a disaster for Wilder, but why wait until next year?

It’s easy to be impressed with new signings. Between the crowd and the player there’s a mutual feeling of wanting to impress. So the first game is usually a love-fest. We’re impressed they’re prepared to put some effort in, they’re happy to lap up the applause and put the graft in. It’s not until you get to the comfortable patch of the relationship that you really start to understand the relationship. We shouldn’t read too much into a players’ debut performance.

That said, I was impressed by Ricky Sappleton, great touch for the first goal, great finish, laid Haldane’s open goal to him on a plate, had another shot parried and dominated in the air. He’s just the big lug we need, and it was noticeable how much more effective Constable became when he didn’t have to do all the donkey-work.

So all is happy in the church of the Ox although you might not believe it from the crowd yesterday. I don’t buy a programme anymore, but presumably they list all the things we need to boo because it is difficult to keep up – Lewis Haldane, their keeper, Ruddick, the referee, the list is almost endless. What’s more, we’re terrible winners – yesterday at the final whistle their keeper turned to the Oxford Mail stand and applauded the fans. It was a competitive game, we won fair and square, he’d enjoyed a bit of banter, time to go home… what do we do? Boo him. Idiots.

Salisbury 2 Yellows 1, Yellows 5 Ebbsfleet 1

My daughter was born on the 6th May 2006 at about 9.50am. Significant enough for me but it should be a significant date for you too. That was the day we were relegated from the Football League. At her mother’s suggestion, I made both events, which made it a pretty mind-scrambling day.

This Christmas Baby-Girl Oxblogger got her first Oxford kit. She looks ace, it comes with yellow shorts which I was pretty excited about – it seems they only to make them for the first team and toddlers. Unless the toddlers’ shorts are just left-overs from Sam Deering’s match kit.

As an aside, I don’t think the Sam Deering is “a racist” as it would suggest that he’s put some thought into the issue and adopted a considered position. I think he’s probably just a dimwit. Even the best footballers in the world are capable of getting themselves arrested when they might do well to lounge around safely in their multi-million pound mansions. Ultimately, I suspect that Deering’s dimwittedness is a contributing factor in him playing football in the Conference. I’m a firm believer in natural law and so a fine and warning should be adequate for now. If there’s something more serious afoot, he’ll be found out eventually.

The fact that you can only get yellow shorts for the first team and babies is probably a subtle joke about our away form from Carlotti. So it was proved on Boxing Day with our abject defeat to Salisbury. They were always going to be a dangerous opponents – financially crippled, losing players, losing games, generally in crisis. As we’ve proved time and again, we can’t cope with teams like that.

Then it all changed round with the 5-1 win against Ebbsfleet. Admittedly we’re in good form at home and they were abysmal, so it’s easy to get carried away, but if Wilder has had time to influence our play it was in the fact we were more compact than we have been. The defence played a high line so everyone was supported a good start for Wilder.

Salisbury 3 Us 1

Whilst I nestled in the bosom of my oldest and most valued friends I allowed my other pre-occupying obsession to toil their way to another defeat. I didn’t check the result until nearly 9pm, and have no idea really what happened. I didn’t care that much, which was a cleansing experience.

Aside from the hysterics on the messageboards, I seemed to be the only one who hasn’t ruled out a relegation fight. Maybe that makes me a hysteric; but not a very good one. Complacency could still be our undoing, we don’t want to plod our way to May and find that we have meaningful games and not the legs, or thirst for the fight.
It is unlikely, admittedly, but not for the first time in recent years this is because of others’ inadequacies, not our own capabilities. However we are burning off games without reward at an alarming rate. I have this lurking fear that our inadequacies will catch up with us and we’ll drop with a thunk into a world which we are ill-equipped to deal with.

Us 2 Salisbury City 1

That was so much better. Playing an expansive passing game suits us. Paul Shaw pulled the strings in the middle allowing Phil Trainer the chance to play. It relieved Jeannin and Anaclet from much of their defensive responsibilities giving us pace down the flanks. With so many options and angles available, space opened up for Yemi to exploit. For twenty minutes it was really clicking.

The Histon result may have done us some good. Last year, I remember Phil Gilchrist saying, following a frusrating draw, that it was only a matter of time before we gave someone a hiding. A hiding that never came. It was assumed that some sort of natural law would deliver results. The bumbling start we’ve made smacks of a team that’s been expecting to win. A beating from Heston is pretty sobering.

It wasn’t all good, Shaw’s early departure saw us lose momentum; Danny Rose is a willing worker, but doesn’t have Shaw’s assured class. Confidence is a fragile thing at the moment, and we seemed to become increasingly insular as the game progressed. When we did claw our way back in front, the confidence, the passing, the class flooded back. A promotion charge is in there, but without a solid platform to work from, it’s easily snuffed out. More wins is the only solution.

Has there been an uglier team at the Kassam (or the Manor) than Salisbury? I don’t mind playing to your strengths, if that means playing it long to the big bloke up front, then so be it. If it means defending deep as a unit, no problem. If you nick a goal and spend the rest of the time wasting – if the referee isn’t going to do anything about it – go for your life.

The tactic of kick and niggle is the pits. Its so debilitating. The game becomes meaningless as a spectacle. There’s no fooballing talent in standing a big oaf in front of the Billy Turley while he lines his wall up. How are we supposed to respect a team whose management team can’t control itself enough to avoid violent confrontation with opposing players on the pitch? The win was not only desparately needed, it was a moral victory.